Thursday, May 6, 2010

What's the Big Deal About Co-ed Roommates?

Dear Jocelyn,
I am a female Christian and am deciding where to live next year. I have some friends, 2 guys and a girl, with a room open in their house. We'd all have separate bedrooms and I'd be sharing bathrooms with the girl. This seems perfectly fine to me, but am I missing any red flags? My mom likes my friends but is a little worried what people are going to think. I’m frustrated because it’s not like it’s an episode of “Friends” where we are all going to wind up dating and/or sleeping together; they are Christians as well. What is your opinion of a platonic co-ed living situation?

Dear Housemate,
That is an excellent question that reflects the conflict between social mores and Christian morals. I do believe that an unrelated and unmarried man and woman can live in the same home without sinning; however, I do not consider it to be wise (especially for Christians) for several reasons:

Your Christian Witness
All four of you might know that you are not sleeping together, but consider what typically runs through the mind of someone who hears of co-eds cohabitating: either there is sexual activity or immodesty of some sort. It might become harder for you to advise your other Christian or non-Christian friends to abstain from sexual immorality if they are suspect of your living situation. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 says: "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor." I believe in today's culture, where casual sex is the norm, that you would not be encouraging others in sexual purity by living with two men.

Your Chastity
As I said in the beginning—I fully believe it is possible for men and women to live together and not sin. However, I do also fully believe that this situation provides more temptation to sin. Living together produces emotional closeness. If you have had female roommates, you have probably found that you felt closer to them after living together. In this situation, you are going to be around two men your own age every day—while you may not be attracted to them now, it is quite possible you will eventually find yourself attracted to one of these men, in which case everything suddenly becomes very complicated.

 Your Modesty
While I'm certain you intend to remain fully clothed in all common areas, chances are that in the year or more that you will be in this living situation, you will find yourself in less-than-modest clothing around one or both of your male roommates. Nightclothes immediately come to mind—picture walking to the kitchen in the middle of the night in skimpy pajamas, thinking that no one will see you. And then picture running into one of these men in his boxers who thought the same thing. While this scenario might never occur, it is wholly possible.

Personally, when I had roommates I liked the freedom to wear and do what I wanted without concern of propriety and modesty. I am not aware of any benefits to having a male roommate, but I am aware of many downsides—mostly practical, but some moral. I advise you to find several nice Christian females and stay out of this potentially sticky situation.


Jess said...

I like your answer, especially the point you made about some situations being not immoral but not wise either.

I have some thoughts that I would like to add. Maybe the question shouldn't be "Why can't I live with guys?" but "Why do I want to live with guys?" That might help "Housemate" see it from a different perspective. I don't know her full story but I can speak from my own experience as a tomboy turned old-married-lady. I remember thinking several times during high school and college that guys are so much easier to deal with than girls, have less drama, and are less prone to be passive-aggressive. I preferred boys as friends because I viewed them as lower-maintenance. The thought crossed my mind that boys would make much better roommates than catty girls, and boys probably would not mind that I am not a neat freak.

After being married for a few years I think I can say that I had a warped idea of what men are like. My husband is the ideal roommate, we have very few disagreements over chores or other roommate stuff because we are very compatible, not because he's male. However, after living with him for over 3 years now and especially after hearing his roommate horror stories I've realized that guys are not that different from girls in their personality and temperament. Maybe we express things differently, but guys can get their feelings hurt, have disagreements over neatness, and even get catty. I have heard college roommate horror stories from men that make the worst sorority house of high maintenance girly girls look not so bad. The point is, guys are people too, and they are not going to be any easier to live with than girls, the communication just might be different. So, if you think that guy roommates are somehow easier or better than girl roommates, then I say you don't really understand guys that well.

Another thing I've realized after being married is the importance of gender identity. Before I was married, I wasn't that conscious of it, which is probably why I felt like I could be "one of the guys" in a group of friends if I wanted to. While I considered it important to follow guidelines like "don't live with guys" because I didn't want to end up doing anything immoral, I didn't really understand why certain situations were questionable. So I think I can identify with both "Housemate" and her mom in that until very recently I didn't understand why my mom would say "don't do that, people will get the wrong idea" and now I AM the mom who understands that there's a reason people get that idea. Gender differences and sex are a good thing that God created (in the Christian worldview), but they are also very powerful, with a lot of potential for both good and bad. Therefore, we have to respect it, like nuclear technology. I just don't think there's such a thing as a truly platonic friendship - not to say that co-ed friends have to be attracted to each other - but I don't think you can take opposite-sex dynamics out of the picture. Plato was kind of repressed and unrealistic, in my opinion.

I would recommend reading "A Return to Modesty" by Wendy Shalit. It is an excellent book that explains why male/female interactions are a big deal. I think it is empowering to women and helps them to appreciate their gender and sexuality in a healthy way. It counteracts our culture that only wants to give women the options of being repressed or objectified. This book would address some of the deeper questions behind today's post.

Bottom line: I think "Housemate" should listen to her mom's advice because her mom has more experience. Even if her advice is wrong, I don't think "Housemate" would miss out on anything by rooming with girls. And I think "Housemate" should use this as an opportunity to grow as a woman who obviously cares about her values and doing the right thing.

meghan said...

I don't think it's our job to worry about what misguided conclusions an outsider may draw from a situation they know very little about. So I don't buy the whole, "people may get the wrong idea..." arguement. That's an arguement/reason that I feel like gets tossed around quite a bit and is most times a cop-out used instead of stating a persons true feelings on a situation. If we worried about how everyone else viewed each situation in our lives we would be doing an awful lot of worrying and judging our actions by the world's precieved standards and perceptions, which I don't see as being either Biblical or correct. Yes, I know what you are going to say next - bringing up the passage where we are called to not cause others to stumble - and I would say that the way we can do that is to sit down and have a conversation with them about those actions/situations that could be perceived as questionable - that way both parties can learn and grow from each other. I think that, as believers we are not really called to clean up the Gospel or the Christian life and make it presentable to the world, but to live as disciples in relationship with one another and the world.

Stephanie said...

Good advice, and someone in this situation should definitely carefully consider your points. That being said, each situation is different. I rented a room in my house out to a male intern at my workplace for two summers (different interns), and it worked out really well. Nothing inappropriate ever happened, we carpooled, and I got rent money. Of course, I owned the place and could kick them out if anything got uncomfortable, which is not the case for a group all sharing rent. I eventually stopped taking in boarders since I decided I wanted to be able to dance around to music in my pajamas if I felt like it.

Unknown said...

@ Meghan: it is the duty of all Christians to conduct ourselves with the awareness of how our actions might be perceived.

2Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; 3praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;
4that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.
5Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.
Col 4:2-5 (vs 5 is the main verse)

It would be a shame to let something like having a roommate from the opposite gender inhibit in sharing the gospel with someone.

Also Paul did not eat meat sacrificed to idols, even though he did not have a problem with doing this. We need to take into account people's weaknesses. I could elaborate on this more, but time does not permit...

Anonymous said...

Lots of insecure people posting here. If you are a true christian and want to have trusted friends as roomates, then go for it. If you feel you can't control yourself, then maybe you're right, don't do it because of the "what people may say or temptations" syndrome.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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