When me and my two best friends moved into our decrepit first London home out of university, we bought three wooden letters of our initials to put on our mantelpiece. F, D, A; painted gold and propped up on display against the wall.
In those first few months of living there, I loved walking down every morning and seeing them sitting next to each other, exactly where they should be. F, D, A. I liked people commenting on them when they came round to our house, as it cemented us as a unit. We were so inseparable we had even committed to home furnishings that confirmed us as friends. F, D, A. We were a family.
F already had a boyfriend, which I wasn’t mad about, but was hoping that maybe after a few months of living with two single girls, she might want to be single too. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the boyfriend, he was perfectly nice, I just didn’t want any of my friends to have boyfriends. We were in 'The Single Years' – everyone knew that.
The way I saw it, whether she meant to or not, she was ruining the vibe for everyone else. This was the time for us to have a plan of a big night out but be so into each other’s company we get pissed and stay in, dancing around our living room. It was the time for borrowing each other’s clothes! Petty fights about whether to put saucepans in the dishwasher! The great camaraderie of mice infestations!
It was NOT the time for all her boyfriend’s 30-year-old friends to come round for spliffless dinner parties or for her to never be here at the weekend due to a never-ending series of their respective family engagements or mini-breaks to Dorset.
While F split her time 50/50 between our house and her boyfriend’s house so nobody felt hard done by, A and I had about six golden months as single housemates together. We reserved the weekends for eachother. We went out from Thursday to Sunday, never knowing where the night would take us. We were each other’s plus ones to everything – work events, family dos, parties - we would hate them all if we didn’t have the other one there.
Three months into living together, F took me out for a walk and told me her boyfriend had asked her to move in with him. She had said yes and would move out exactly a year after moving in with me. That night we went home and baked chocolate chip cookies and watched a Joni Mitchell documentary. As we took turns to rub each other’s feet (a hangover tradition), I looked above the telly and saw the letters. F, D, A. I imagined F falling off and smashing on the ground, like ten green bottles.
'Maybe you should take the F with you,' I said.
'No, I want to leave it here. I still want this to feel like my home,' she said.
I ate the whole batch of cookies and cried, but pretended it was because of the lyrics of Both Sides Now.
It was at this time that A started dating a colleague. Soon they were going out and A and F were part of club I wasn’t invited to. They divided up their weeks between their boyfriends and his world and me and our world. Often I felt like F and A had organised a secret rota to make sure D wasn’t ever left on her own for too long. But their Sunday nights – once reserved for mountains of spaghetti and duvets on our sofa – were now spent wooing their boyfriend’s family and friends, laughing at their jokes and trying not to get any gravy down their front. They had a whole different thing going on now, a new schedule with new people. There was only one of us left in our three-bedroom house on Sundays. D listened to Radio 4 all afternoon to make it feel like people were there. D made dinner. D went to bed.
Only looking back now do I realise how little room housemates in relationships have to do the right thing. If they’re there all the time and bring their boyfriends round to hang out, you think they’re being selfish ('IT’S MY HOUSE, WHY IS HE ALWAYS HERE?! WHY CAN’T HE RESPECT THE FACT I DON’T WANT AN EXTRA HOUSEMATE? HE’S SUCH A TRY HARD!') and if they are at their boyfriend’s house all the time, they’re also being selfish ('I JUST THINK IT’S BANG OUT OF ORDER THAT SHE’S NEVER AT THE HOUSE. WHY DOESN’T HE COME ROUND IF HE WANTS TO SPEND TIME WITH HER? WHY DOESN’T HE MAKE THE EFFORT?')
The fact is, if you are single and you are used to being the sole focus of your friend’s attention, when they find a boyfriend, you’re going to hate it. Who they are, or how often they come round, or whether they hog the remote is almost immaterial. You will not like them.
Even though I secretly still hated him for stealing my housemate, when F had a housewarming party in her new flat, I went back to the shop and bought them two new wooden letters to sit next to each other in their home. They were the unit now; they were family.
Another year on and A asked if we could have chat. It was exactly what I had been dreading since the day F left. She was going to move out.
'I might as well throw this piece of old toot in the bin!' I said, waving the wooden ‘A’ around. Same old joke. Same awkward, sympathetic laugh. Same sour feeling at the bottom of my stomach. I tried to remember this was all a part of growing up, but it felt like I was the one left behind. I was Beth in Little Women or Keisha from the Sugababes.
Now, I have two new housemates who have moved into F and A’s rooms. They're called I and B. And they are both single. It would be easy to get excited about the idea of a gal pal pad together for the foreseeable future. But I am prepared now – there will be boyfriends and at some point there will be a man with a removal van on an overcast afternoon.
But that’s OK. If you feel like you keep being abandoned by housemates falling in love, there’s a simple answer to stay happy. Find another outlet for all your time. It might be work, it might be a project, it might be another group of friends. It might even be bikram sodding yoga.
You don’t have a boyfriend, but you can still give yourself the same sense of priority they give their relationship. You can still love your housemates without making them your entire focus, and you can’t expect them to be the feeding tube between you and stability. As clichéd as it is, you have to find it on your own. Then maybe one day it will be you who moves on. You might be the one with the removal van, boyfriend or no boyfriend.
Last month I went back to the shop to get an I and a B to join F, D and A. Five letters. I imagine a possible day when the mantle piece has collected ten letters and I’m still shipping housemates in and out while I remain single.
'We don’t sell them any more,' a man behind the counter said to me flatly.
'They weren’t made very well. We had to do a product recall actually.
'That can’t be right,' I said. 'I bought my first ones nearly three years ago and they’re fine?'
'Oh, well you’re lucky, a lot of them broke. They’re very flimsy.'
'I HAVE to find some! It’s tradition in our house, we buy one whenever someone new moves in.'
He stared at me and shrugged. 'I’m sorry I don’t know what you want me to say.'I put my head in my hands and leant on the counter, everything falling into place. 'Can’t you just find a new way of doing it?' he offered, limply.
And that's just it. I am now finally understanding something that makes life a little easier to handle. Everything changes. Shops stop stocking your favourite products, restaurants take your favourite pizza off the menu. The best lipsticks will be discontinued. People don’t stay single forever. The friendship two single women have is very different to the friendship they’ll have when one, or both of them find love – but it doesn’t mean they won’t be as close. Something staying the same forever does not necessarily mean it has been a success. The successes we have are how well we adapt to the state of constant flux that is life.
Housemates get boyfriends, housemates move out. Everything changes. But that doesn’t mean anything is over.
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Picture: Francesca Jane Allen
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.