Simbarashe Cha: Roommate Living in NYC

Occupation: Fashion & Lifestyle Photographer
Hometown: It’s complicated! Too long to answer.
College: See above. In progress but for reasons that have almost nothing to do with a degree, which, technically, is ridiculous.
Current Neighborhood: Upper West Side.
Number of Roommates: 1

What Have Been Your Roommate Search Experiences? Good? Bad? Hilarious?

In New York City, my search experience has been horrible bordering on traumatic. I’ve dealt with explicit and implicit racism and listings that took advantage of my lack of true geographical knowledge of the area (when I first arrived). That said, I had two incredible roommate matches here, the first led to a friendship that’s lasted to this day and the current, which has lasted for four years, almost becoming unheard of for this city. At the moment we’re mulling extending our lease for six more months. I might be devastated when it’s time to move!

What’s your favorite food to consume with your roommates? You can get reallllly specific if you want to…

We actually don’t really eat together because of our schedules (she’s a doctor, I’m a photographer), but I can tell you that 90% of our meals are take out. On the rare occasion that there are guests, usually Colombian entrees are prepared, because she’s Colombian and every six weeks or so someone’s visiting from there. (And as an aside on Colombians: the BEST houseguests I’ve ever had the pleasure to deal with. Super nice, always mindful of common spaces and I’m always sad when they leave.)

Best Shared Living Experience:

Certainly my current situation. Basically I get along better with women, she gets along better with men. For me, she’s not gross when it comes to the kitchen and bathroom. In the first year that we lived together we would actually go out to Brooklyn with groups of friends and go to these crazy house parties—I’m sure we looked at each other a few times and thought, SO glad this isn’t happening at our place! That’s actually fairly important in my opinion, choosing roommates who are explicitly on your side of the fence regarding the social function of your apartment. Whether parties happen constantly, they’re big or just a few people, or never ever happen, if roommates don’t agree on this, someone’s going to be unhappy.

Worst Shared Living Experience:

It actually wasn’t in New York City, it was in northern California. I had this roommate who seemed pretty normal, was in a relationship with his boyfriend, but soon after they broke up, he went into a real personal dive. He would go to the local club and bring guys home every night, and then when he ran out of club guys, he somehow stumbled onto ex-cons and legit mental cases. One guy came over in a hospital gown with a bandage on his leg and said it was a staff infection; another guy accidentally kicked in our downstairs neighbour’s window trying to climb up into his bedroom at 3am, and he wasn’t even there. It was scary. You know, the two of us had nothing in common, but that usually wouldn’t deter me from living with someone else. He just became self-destructive, and there wasn’t much I could do but wait for him to move out. It wasn’t gonna be me—I loved that place.

Advice from personal experience for successful shared living situations:

Like I said, sharing the same social expectation for the apartment is high on my list. Things like drinking, smoking, staying up and using common areas late, having guests sleep over, parties, this all sort of molds itself to a certain type of person. Of course, opposites can attract, but I think friction presents itself specifically when one of the incoming roommates isn’t forthcoming about who they really are. Are you messy? Just say so! I could never live with someone who was disgusting about the kitchen but thankfully, there are plenty of people who don’t care about ever washing dishes, so there’s certainly someone for everyone.

Do you have any favorite traditions or hang out time with your roommate?

Traditions, not really. We’re both introverts who don’t mind being in extroverted situations, which basically means when we get home we like to retreat to our corners. It’s a beautiful thing for me. But lately, we’ve been sitting around and talking about all of the Tinder dates she’s been going on. I actually don’t mind; they’re all quite funny! Also, when the World Cup happened, there were a lot of Colombians at our apartment, it just worked out that way. Being able to go out and watch matches together was great.

Portrait shot Summer 2014 by Juan Patino in New York City.