Over the past 7 years, I’ve been lucky to have found some great flatshares in London with some really lovely people. I’ve also been unlucky enough to have lived with some unstoppable lunatics, the odd drug-addled thief, a suspected nymphomaniac and on one occasion, a really whiffy-but-adorable dog called Ruby. But before you can even get to this stage, there’s the unpredictable, confidence-crippling gauntlet of the Housemate Interviews to get through.
I admit, I had a good run of just over 12 months in my first flatshare with strangers. My first meeting with them went well; we headed to the pub, and before long the alcohol was flowing and all was going swimmingly. At this point, one of the potential housemates drunkenly confided in me that she had, that very day, been suspended from work for ‘suspected theft pending further investigation.’ Sure, at this point you would think alarm bells would ring. However, in the alcohol-fuddled joy of getting on so well with this group of strangers who would potentially welcome me in to their home, I forgot that I was meant to be measuring them up too to see if I actually wanted to live with them, never mind the other way around. I was pathetically grateful to be so easily accepted in to the drunken fold, and instead I listened with sympathy to a tale that did sound alarmingly like corporate embezzlement. Anyway, I digress.
We left the pub in a warm beery glow of friendliness. Nobody was more surprised than me when the Head Housemate tasked with Housemate Recruitment turned and said coolly before I left, “We’re seeing someone else later on in the week; once we’ve seen her, we’ll let you know.” Erm, excuse me? You’re doing what? You’re seeing SOMEONE ELSE?? When we’ve just spent all evening knocking back Jägerbombs, exchanging witticisms and generally exuding long-lost-friend bonhomie like it was going out of fashion? What do you MEAN you’re seeing someone else?? I was drunk, offended, confused and still homeless. I fell over on my way to the tube station and wrote the entire evening off as a misguided error in judgement. However, I LOVED the house. It had a GARDEN. In LONDON. It had OLD VICTORIAN FIREPLACES with CANDLES in. It had a MASSIVE ROOM with a KING-SIZE BED. I spent all of the next day pining, constantly checking my phone as if I’d been on a date with the potential love of my life and I was excitedly awaiting some contact.
On this occasion, I was lucky. I was the Chosen One. Two days later I received the phone call I had been waiting for, and the room was mine. Sometimes, however, it just doesn’t go like this.
The whole process is painstaking and provides an unwelcome window for self-reflection and analysis. You essentially pimp yourself out to anyone who will have you and embark on a journey of embarrassing self-promotion, pitiful white lies and shameless flirting, regardless of gender. The trickiest part is to strike the improbable balance between being that fun-loving, interesting, witty and charming housemate everyone wants to live with whilst also conveying that you are sensible, considerate, tidy and won’t shit on the carpet. A much harder balance than you’d initially think. Conversations (specifically, my conversations) tend to go a little like this:
Them: So, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Me: Well, the usual really. I like going out… But not all the time, haha! I also like staying in and watching telly with a bottle of wine… but not too much, haha! And I rarely spill it, haha. No, I’m kidding, I never spill. I do have a social life and I like to see my friends a lot. But I also like hanging out with my housemates, cooking together etc… But I do have my own life! Haha! I won’t like be here all the time or anything…
Me: [panicking] I don’t actually go out that much anymore, not as young as I used to be haha! But I’m more than happy to go out with you guys every now and then… But I do have my own friends… I’m also really tidy and I always clean up after myself…
Them: OK, errrrm, sooo… What do you do for work?
Me: Oh, I get shit loads of free cheese and butter! [I don’t.]
Me: Oh, I work for a dairy company… So I can get you all as much free cheese and butter as you’d like, my fridge is literally constantly full of cheese [it isn’t]
Them: [distant, making notes] Cool, we love cheese.
*awkward lull in conversation*
Me: So… is the shower powerful?
Them: Yeah, well, it’s a shower, so…
Me: Yeah, cool, it looks good anyway. Good shower. Big head.
Them: So the next person will be here in 5 minutes, wouldn’t want there to be an awkward hallway moment or anything…
Me: Oh. OK. That’s cool. I’ve got to go anyway, got another viewing later on [I haven’t, all my eggs are in this overpriced basket]
Them: [door slams]
I leave these experiences feeling like a failure at life, unable to conduct myself in social situations and with the worrisome feeling that if they do in fact select me above all others to take their prized room, I’ve committed to supplying all the cheese and butter the house inhabitants could possibly consume. I then live life on a knife-edge until the Head Housemate in charge of Housemate Recruitment sends that fate-sealing text. If it’s been over 24 hours, chances are you haven’t made the cut, they found someone super-cool who gets free beer and has lots of hot single friends, and they’re hoping that you’ll somehow intuit this and move on. If you’re anything like me, you will go one step further and send that desperate text:
“Hi! Thanks for showing me around – your house is sooo cool! I’d definitely be interested in taking the room – I can move in anytime, please let me know”
To which there will be no immediate response. If they do deign to respond to your needy text, it will be crushing, slightly insulting and possibly offensive:
“Hi, thanks for coming to look – we’ve decided to go with someone else as they just seemed to fit in a bit better. Good luck with your search.”
There is no other feeling than pure, old-fashioned rejection when this text is received – you were weighed, you were measured, and you were found wanting. No good can come from dwelling on this – one must move on, still smarting from the rejection, and prepare yourself for the next round of viewings because this, my friend, is just the beginning...