WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Neighborly love. Community sharing. Companionship. Home sharing. These are but a handful of phrases beginning to pop up in the literature and social media surrounding sharing housing. At the same time, I hear others’ asking “What’s wrong with liking to live alone?” Nothing I say, as I loved it myself until I was ready for a change.
I moved in as a companion to a woman with Parkinsons’ Disease 2 and a half years ago, and feel as if the journey toward love and intimacy that I find myself on, is just what I needed and wanted at this stage of my life. Though perhaps I was afraid to admit it. I didn’t want to grow old and face the impending isolation of aging in place without some support. So I became a companion to help someone else deal with that. The love Sharon and I share has grown over time through the intimacy created by sharing a home - (more than shared housing). It’s an active, on-going, life-engaging process made up of dialogue and actions. What’s communicated and whats withheld - based on respect and mutuality.
It seems my need for intimacy - as defined loosely before I moved in with Sharon has been met. When she pushed me to define it the following is what we came up with - our version of intimacy in action:
It’s having someone worry if you/re not home on time
It’s removing the little lizard from the shower for you.
It’s not having to wonder if anyone will send you a birthday card.
It’s not being on the outside looking in.
It’s being on the inside looking out.
And seemingly the “contract” we agreed to is being fully met as well. For me, that means living rent free in exchange for preparing the evening meal and moving into her home so in case there was an emergency there would be someone to help. Sharon is a good planner. She knew her options were running out for independent living and she just wasn’t ready for “assisted living” and all that that entails. (Talk about a total lifestyle change for most people!) The “skinny” for me obviously, was rent free living; but a beautiful home, owned by a brilliant, cosmopolitan, sensitive, witty woman who happened to have PD and was really looking for a whole lot more (if she dared put it out). But put it out she did and the universe worked its magic connecting us. My interest and involvement for the past few years had been on the topics of Aging Well, End-of-life planning initiatives and facilitating groups for Writing Personal Memoir. The role of “companion” had occurred to me as an interesting option, but I hadn’t done much to pursue that but when it appeared, I thought “Oh yes, that might meet a whole lot of what’s missing in my life.”
We get together once a month - on the anniversary of the date I moved in and talk about how things are going. That’s one of the smartest tools for creating and maintaining the boundaries of a well thought out contract such as we have. The occasional issues we needed to address, include such mundane items as turning off the outside fan light at night and remembering to lock the slider door. One other time - just a month after my summer vacation during our first year together - we met and she started off “Well I think everything is going great!” As I gulped, and sputtered out the words - “I don’t feel that way at all!” Though I was entirely rested from my vacation away, I was also not quite in the groove of living with Sharon, who was dealing with some relatively serious health related issues, that even had her hospitalized the first night I was home. These issues are not to be ignored and more often than not we do end up in the ER. So I was able to befriend stress as I explained to Sharon how hard it is for me when she is not doing well. All my issues of caregiving - am I doing enough or not? - were being triggered in a not so positive light. So even though this meeting was about the harmonious running of the house - it soon became a healing place for other more sensitive topics. We think just knowing we have this scheduled talk, means it’s okay to let some things ride because there will be a point when either we’ll address the concern or it slips away into the daily intricacies of sharing a home. And intimacy.
I made the distinction earlier between shared housing and sharing a home, so let me elaborate. The kind of richness that I have experienced unfolding since I moved in with Sharon is the result of the very act of sharing public and private space - or communal and personal. It is our sacred space. The boundaries help - being able to close doors when necessary is always a good thing. But it’s the sharing of the every day details of living and caring for a home and another person that makes this special. For me, it’s showing up in the morning in my pjs to make coffee and go right back into my bedroom. For Sharon, it’s helping her get ready for bed and settling in to watch tv. She always insists that I sit in the red relax-a-back chair. She sleeps in it all the time, so she’s glad to let me use it for a few hours every night. Sometimes if she is in pain, I’ll insist she use it. More often than not, I’m the one that settles in with a deep sigh of relief at finally being off my feet, propping myself up and turning on the heat. The perfect way to relax with a glass of wine.
So, what’s love got to do with it? Everything. Ours is neither a romantic nor a business relationship. And it is more than friendship. Our relationship is based on sharing our home and the respect we share for one another. We have shared interests. We have a relationship based on thoughtfulness and consideration, and that’s got everything to do with it.