Before We Were With the Men We Just Left

It’s a perfect spring day in Austin, Texas, and I’m watching my roommate weed eat the garden.

I never thought that at age 42, I’d use the word “roommate”, unless I was telling a story about college. But here we are. And it’s pretty awesome.

I was much younger the first time J and I lived together. The day she moved in was the beginning of one of the most fun and fulfilling eras of my life, and she could not have arrived at a better time. I had been careening around the world, not so much sailing through my life as smashing into it, but I dreamt of a more carefree life, full of sunlight and singing.

I’d had groups of girlfriends before. The women that I was glued to during the four (ahem, I mean five) years of college are among my closest. But just months after we graduated, my father died suddenly, and I remained suspended in time as I watched my girlfriends reach adulthood without me.

Their engagements were announced while I was collapsed in a drunken heap on the floor of a boarding house in San Francisco. Their marriages were performed while I was skinned up from falling off a bicycle in the dark, damp hours before the wedding. And, worst of all, their babies arrived and grew up, as strangers to me, in the span of a ten-year bender.

Instead, I was hanging out with a sloppy group of loyal and fun dudes. Men who, for years, had graciously demanded nothing from me, emotionally. During the heydey of gentrification on the East Side of Austin, I procured a 600 square foot shanty and moved into it with three of my guy friends. The walls were literally falling down, but they were best ignored in favor of bonfires in the yard, all night drinking sessions, and generally experiencing the kind of reverie that men living without women enjoy. That is to say, my house was a shithole.

In those years of bike rides and rock shows, my very real emotions were bubbling beneath the surface and I began to feel like I was unraveling. I knew I needed to make some changes, stat, and as the boys all moved out in favor of other living situations, I decided I’d like to give the whole happiness thing a go. I smudged the house, bought some flowers, and committed to finally doing something about those walls.

I met J at a New Year’s Eve party that we were co hosting at a warehouse full of art studios. Because of our instant rapport and good timing, she was able to move in with me a short time later.

As we got to know each other, we discovered that we were in similar places in our lives. We were single and, I’m not going to lie, we looked GOOD. We decided to enjoy our natural chemistry as companions as we took advantage of our energy, attractiveness, and expendable incomes (it’s cheap to live in a shanty!) to go out and flirt mercilessly with any man we wanted to.

We grocery shopped together, we cooked together, and for the first time in a long time, I had someone to actually be a woman with. I traded in grease stained overalls for skinny jeans and heels and we had some serious Broad-City-style fun.

We had jobs that proved to be great conversation starters (J made cowboy boots and I taught ballet and worked at a winery) and solidified our cool girl status at any party we barged into.

We formed the East Austin Overdressed Feminist Society and rode bikes all over town while wearing skirts, heels, and makeup, a rare occurrence in those days in pre-hipster Austin. We formed a band and sang non-stop, dancing in our kitchen to 80s and 90s pop and drinking whiskey while listening to old country tunes.

Almost instantly, even more women came into our lives. Our little shack was like a beacon to ladies who were looking for deep relationships and were, for the moment, jaded and disappointed with the experience of seeking it from childish men. We would be a gang, and we would make the most of our time while we waited.

Because as fulfilled as we were, there was definitely a feeling that we were waiting for men, REAL men, to arrive. When they came, we would finally create happy homes, exactly like the ones we lived in now.

Looking back now, I have a few questions.

Why did we give this up? What were we looking for that could possibly measure up to this level of freedom, fun, and unconditional love and support? Why did we think that splitting up a compatible tribe of women into isolated nuclear families was something to aspire to? And if it was indeed necessary for us to move on, why didn’t we fully appreciate what was happening AS it was happening?

Now, after a decade apart, J and I have just left the men we waited so patiently for, and not without significant damage done to each of us. We are living together again, surrounded by our girlfriends, who all live close by. This time, we are both determined to appreciate what we have: unconditionally loving friendships with women who keep us entertained, educated, and soothed. For as long as it lasts, we will be here, together, and we will sing.

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