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A House Divided

Postcard from the House

By Stephen M. Marks

IN THE HOUSE—The Bible tells us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. But this one’s made it through the summer, minus a chunk that fell out of the decades-old roof.

I knew, when I arranged my summer housing in April, that it would be the best of times—two of my best friends from high school, two of my best friends from college, my girlfriend and I living under one roof (it was still intact then). Our living arrangement would combine the college life I’ve grown to love with my closest friends from back home. What could I possibly have to complain about: the gorgeous, spacious Cambridge sublet, a who’s who of friends, past and present, and friendly, easygoing neighbors? (Answer: The neighbors, whose laid-back routines sometimes involved a “friendly” call to the police during Friday night keggers.)

At many times, the house has lived up to its promise. My room is at least three times the size of my entire Dunster suite. Dinner is sometimes served—gasp—after 7:15 pm. The place is still luxurious, and the neighborhood is safe and student-friendly. Many of the parties have been fantastic. And the high points of living with my friends have been every bit as good as I imagined.

But I failed to anticipate the worst of times—the house infighting that inevitably develops out of the very different lives my friends leave. Quick: What do you get when you mix two frat boys and four Crimson editors?

Disputes emerged over “lifestyle disparities”—“lifestyle disparities” being the euphemism of choice for virtually every issue imaginable. These ran the gamut from so-called quiet hours (I thought I left those behind 10 years ago), to rules about having people over, to the cleanliness of the house, to what food was served and when, to how we would split the bills. Was the house throwing too many parties? Were the frat boys taking over the living room? Was the Harvard contingent unfriendly and antisocial? In other words, we found a way to bicker over just about everything. Some of these were stupid, others were legitimate; just about all were intractable.

The difference could be summed up by a look at the parties we threw. For them, Pabst Blue Ribbon, for us, Tanqueray; for them, Beirut, for us, bartender; for them, summer interns and friends of friends, for us, college buddies. The upshot was a slightly faster and looser summer than we had anticipated. There was the iPod that was stolen and the wallet that mysteriously vanished. There was the guy who made his way freely into upstairs bedrooms at 3 a.m. on a weeknight, and after being turned away, proceeded to vomit on our couch. And simply best of all, there was the stud who made sweet love to a girl on my roommate’s bed, and sweeter love to her on our (other) couch.

I knew, going in, that living with friends is challenging, requiring me to compromise on lifestyle issues I consider important. I was aware that the tradeoff of living with others was not being able to have everything my way. I figured I would have no problem doing this—after all, I’ve been at college for two years.

I was also not stunned that my two frat-boy high school friends lead slightly more party-hearty lives than my crowd at Harvard. But I figured that we—or at least I—would have no trouble making sacrifices to make the arrangement work.

What I didn’t realize at the outset was that every dispute was a dispute for me to settle, not because I have any real talent for it, but because, in some sense, it was “my” house.

This was a trying process, and often, each new day would bring a new complaint, be it about the abundance of empty beer cans in the living room or about a demand that a party be shut down at 10:30 p.m., or about music being played too loudly during quiet hours.

The tension in the house became palpable, and I was shocked to discover how people who are usually so cool and reasonable were becoming so frustrated and angry at each other. No single person caused all the issues, but the mix of personalities was explosive. Eventually, everyone made their own separate peace with the situation, mostly by avoiding the house. The party house went quiet—the kegs ran dry.

This was my first summer living on my own. I’ve gone to sleepaway camp and spent a month abroad, but this was going to be the summer that I learned about living in the “real world.” I was going to teach myself how to cook, clean, and master other mundane tasks that have so far eluded me.

I have learned a little about all of those topics. I’ve also learned a lot about something more important: how to live with other people, what sacrifices I can make, and what sacrifices I can’t.

In the end, I’m glad I set up this arrangement. It was a fun summer, a rare chance to spend time with old friends, and I discovered a lot about the kind of lifestyle I want.

But next summer, I’ll probably be much more careful, and hopefully much the wiser, in assembling my roommates. And I certainly plan to be more protective of my couch.

Stephen M. Marks ’06, an economics concentrator in Dunster House, is a news editor of The Crimson. He spends his weekdays working from the (abandoned) house, enjoying the peace and quiet.

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