She'd been in that housing development for five years and had never met any of them. All of a sudden we were throwing brunches and baking cookies," says Maggie. "We both just needed that kind of close, safe friendship to blossom."
Of course, sometimes hoped-for friendships don't develop. Merle Bentley, 60, of Milledgeville, Georgia, had a nasty experience with a woman who advertised for a housemate and seemed friendly enough, but who got hostile once Merle moved in. "She was just so scared about getting behind with her mortgage that she would have told me anything to get me to move in," Merle recalls. "And at that point I was so desperate for a place to stay that there wasn't much I could do." Even women who have known each other for years can discover that living together is very different from meeting each other for lunch and a chat. "That's why it's so important to discuss expectations before making this kind of a move," says Janet Portman, an attorney and coauthor of Every Landlord's Legal Guide, 8th edition (Nolo, 2006). Having a plan B is essential. "If you're moving in with someone you've known a long time," she advises, "think of the worst-case scenario: am I willing to lose this person as a friend if it doesn't work?"
For all the potential pluses of moving in with your girlfriends, there's no denying that it can be scary. All that explains why, for many women, the housemate thing remains more appealing as a plan for the future. Susan Katz, 62, a consultant with Brecht Associates, which specializes in senior housing issues, says she and her four closest friends have cooked up an elaborate retirement scheme. Two of the five will sell their homes to create a travel fund, so all of them can shuttle back and forth between the three remaining homes. "All five of us are still married. But we know—statistically, anyway—we'll probably end up widows. If that happens, we have a plan."
Frequent contributor Sarah Mahoney lives in Durham, Maine. Her article "The Secret Lives of Single Women" appeared in the May & June 2006 issue.