Living Together

On communal living and sharing space

Larissa Pham
Gay Mag
Published in
9 min readJan 9, 2020

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Illustration by Louisa Bertman

LLast summer, an article with the astonishing headline — “Seven Chinese girlfriends buy mansion to retire and die together” — went semi-viral, proliferating on my social media timeline like mushrooms popping up overnight. Rather than rely on husbands or other support systems in their old age, the seven women, all close friends, decided to buy and refurbish a house in rural China, preparing themselves to live in community in their retirement. Photos accompanying the article depict the property, surrounded by rice paddies: huge windows, sun-filled rooms. A tea pavilion, a swimming pool, shared spaces with low tables, floors cushioned with tatami mats. The seven girlfriends, all beautiful, and still quite young, pose for their picture in a vivid green field, holding fashionably clear umbrellas over their heads. They look happy, like characters in a TV show where nothing bad happens. Some of the women have children, the news piece notes. But they’re looking to each other to keep each other company into their twilight years.

Many group chats, I’m sure, sent the piece back and forth. One of my friends — I can’t remember who — pasted a link into our own group DM. Goals, we said. When we get old, let’s buy a house like this, we said. It was a nice fantasy to aspire to.

I do live in a house full of women. Well, a four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. There are four of us, constantly painting our nails and making soup in the kitchen and blow-drying our hair. Yes, it’s so fun, just like college, I explain at parties to strangers surprised that I live with so many people at my advanced age. (I’m 27.) It’s not a co-op; we don’t have a chore wheel, and we take out our recycling only when we remember to, and our shoes — chunky platform boots and scuffed Air Force 1s and loafers with leather tassels — despite our organizational efforts, are constantly jumbled in a pile in our entryway.

But we’re close, very much so. Nothing unusual differentiates us, or particularly contributes to our circumstance: we’re ordinary working women, all in our mid-to-late twenties. We date around; we go to our jobs. Yet out of this ordinariness has risen a bond so strong that if I think about it too deeply, my eyes get misty and my throat gets tight. We cook for each other and go out for hotpot on…

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