To Tom, Christian, Yoan, Julien, Jordan, and all my big Parisian family.
I still remember the exact date – it was the 5th of March, 2017. I arrived at the metro stop of Gabriel Peri – a place in a Parisian suburb I’ve never heard of before. A place which happened to share my ex’s name. Nothing like a sarcastic twist to what was meant to be a fresh page in my post-breakup life.
I came here for an apartment visit, and not just any apartment – a flat sharing scheme. Three guys were looking for a fourth person to join them in a grand furnished duplex with an open terrace that ran around the external perimeter. The idea of living in such a beautiful space was darkened by the predominant male composition of my potential flatmates, but I decided to give it a try.
One step, two step, three step. The neighborhood was surely not love at first sight: a dodgy tea shop to my left, a shawarma canteen to my right.
But that didn’t matter the minute I set foot in my future home and met my three neighbors.
No, not the alpha-makes I imagined, but friendly Frenchmen, who will prove to be the starting point of a completely new life.
What started off as a dubious decision taken with a broken heart, turned into one of my greatest experiences. A flat share is something delicate and incredibly enriching. Today I want to share my lessons learnt.
LESSON 1: TAKE A SPIN ON THE ROULETTE
I want to be honest. Flat sharing is like the roulette: you never know what you’ll get. You may end up with a neighbour who snores. Or one who forgets to put back down the toilet seat. Or one who never does his (or her) dishes and brings back home random people. Or…you’ll get lucky and you’ll have nothing to worry about!
In any case, you’ll never know before you spend some time together. Interviews can help, but I once insisted on selecting a girl (to bring some gender equilibrium to our kingdom), but she ended up staying just one week before she announced that she’ll be moving out.
The word “share” in flat sharing is key – but not everyone can handle other people using their stuff. I got lucky. My men and I had no major problems.
I was their kind princess (who used ear plugs to drown out late night FIFA) and they were my knights in shining armour (who pretended not to notice that I ate their croissants).
And even if at times we all cross boundaries, respect is the one non-negotiable principle that needs to be integrated in a flat sharing relationship.
LESSON 2: TAKE A DIP IN THE MELTING POT
I dream of living the lifestyle of a French Carrie Bradshaw, and I could very well imagine myself in a studio in the Marais, with windows facing some small street. But my reality is a salary which gets me one bedroom, and I am not alone. Every one out of six French nationals admits to having had a flat sharing experience.
But the financial gain is far from being the only advantage.
A flatshare is a great way to meet new people and make friends when you arrive to a new city.
During the one and a half year that I spent in my flat, I changed flatmates three times. I lived with a motion graphics designer, a manager from the Paris Saint Germain football club, a student from London, a lawyer, a geography teacher, an engineer, and even a cat.
We were all very different: different backgrounds, different nationalities, and even different sexual orientations. And that was the very beauty of it. Prior to my flatshare, I did not have friends who, for example, drew video games or dated the same gender. My flatmates opened up their world to me and I dived in, learning many new things as I got to know them better.
It is hard to guess if I could have met my flatmates in my daily life, but I am glad our individual stars crossed paths under the roof of our flat.
LESSON 3: TAKE TIME TO FIND YOUR IDEAL SPACE
I love being out, whether it’s for travelling or just a stroll in Paris, but I equally like being home. It is here that I truly relax, work on personal projects, and receive guests. I am convinced that around 70% of our flat sharing success was based on the fact that the flat was perfect. Spacious, with lots of daylight, and very functional. I no longer believe that one can live anywhere and still be happy. My ex and I lived in a tiny Parisian studio and it is possible that our problems were partly influenced by a lack of personal space. Our flat share on the other hand was big enough for everyone to breathe freely.
Being able to spend time alone also meant that we loved spending time together.
This summer we all became home-addicts. The summer months were busy: we started with the frenzy of the football World Cup that got us glued to the plasma screen, and finished with a house de-warming party with all our friends. But beyond this summer, this house will forever hold dear memories of birthdays, barbecues, and even photoshoots for Apéro. Our flat was alive with our emotions, a real home for each one of us.
A FINAL THOUGHT
How happy I am now that I did not turn back that day, the 5th of March, 2017. I write this article from a new apartment and it has now been more than a month that I am no longer a resident of the duplex in Gennevilliers.
This flatshare has definitely split my life into a BEFORE and a distinct AFTER. It was that gulp of air, that saved me from drowning after a painful break-up. And now that I’ve learnt to swim again, I can’t wait for what’s coming next.