Two Couples, One Mortgage

Why my partner and I decided to buy a house with our friends, share our space and our lives, and all make a family together
Not the author's street, but another one that is kind of similar (NCinDC/Flickr)

Last December, my partner Rebecca and I bought a rowhouse with another couple. Our wedding was this May. Next month, we’re expecting a baby—the other couple’s baby.

For most of our adult lives, Rebecca and I lived in houses full of roommates and loved it. Before our most recent move, we rented a rambling five-bedroom house with four friends. When we started talking about getting married, we realized our biggest fear was that we’d leave these important kinds of friendships behind and end up living in what she jokingly called a “love/torture cave of nuclear family loneliness.” Neither of us wanted that.

It turned out two of our closest friends (Rebecca and one member of that couple had gone to college together) felt similarly and we decided to do something different and move in all together. At the time we didn't know anyone else who had done such a thing, though later we discovered a friend of a friend living in another co-op house less than a mile away, and she has helped us figure this out. We found a house we liked and made an offer. A couple days after we closed, before we’d even painted the walls and moved in, they found out they were expecting.

The house is in a Northwest D.C. neighborhood, close to a bilingual elementary school, a public library, and pool. Several of our friends live on the same block. We have a screened-in back porch, a little yard and vegetable patch, and a two-car garage.

Yes, all four of us are on the deed and, yes, we share the 30-year mortgage and food and maintenance expenses. No, there’s no division of the house into separate sections. And no, all four of us are not all having sex with each other. (Why do many people assume that if adults are willing to share a kitchen, they probably also want to share a bed?) We are just two couples who plan to live together and raise children in one household, hopefully for decades.

When we talk with friends who already have kids about our living arrangement, some are shocked that we are willing to subject ourselves to living with a crying newborn who is not our own. Others can’t imagine trying to agree on consistent rules for the kids or having every minute of their parenting observed by other adults. The idea spooks them.

I do share those concerns to an extent, but raising kids with just one other adult scares me even more. I’ve seen these same friends with children struggle to balance work, family life, community involvement, exercise, and the occasional fun activity. There’s just no way to “lean in” to all those directions at once.

While most people take for granted that dual-parent households usually have more resources to deal with life’s challenges than single parents, why stop there? By forming a household with friends who share our values, we realized we could build an even stronger system of support than we would have in separate homes. The model is not even new; it’s an echo of raising children with the support of an extended family, but with less drama, I expect.

Many nights, when one of us stumbles home from work exhausted from a hard day, someone else has already done the shopping and cooked a great homemade dinner. When a pipe burst this February, we all took turns bailing out the basement. Once the baby arrives, we look forward to being crucial reinforcements for each other during those first several nearly sleepless months and trading off so each couple can have date nights. Living together with another couple also has made it easier to identify and counteract some of the sexist patterns that emerge in many households. Because we discuss chores as a group and work consciously together to establish our household norms and individual responsibilities, there’s less opportunity for traditional gender roles to establish themselves surreptitiously.

It's a real advantage the way four different people can each bring our own skill sets to the house, and it helps us to divide up the work in ways that suit us each. I bake bread, roast coffee, and make yogurt, another housemate grows the herbs and vegetables, and another loves to mow the lawn. Most of us hate negotiating with contractors, but one housemate relishes it. Two of us are lawyers and can draft the legal paperwork we need. The other two aren't and can pull us back from some lawyerly excesses in what we write. We all have cleaning chores we don't mind and others we dread, but with four of us we can usually divide up the work accordingly.

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Ari Weisbard is an employment-law attorney and the deputy director of the Employment Justice Center

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