During my undergraduate years, online dating was in its relative infancy and I thought a person would have to be crazy to answer a personal ad via a newspaper, let alone online. I knew a couple of bold friends who had tried meeting fellow students through local personal ads and I figured they’d be dead somewhere in an alley if they kept up these shenanigans. (Not to mention, I couldn’t understand why they were using such seemingly drastic measures to meet people when we were on a campus full of singles.)
I never could have guessed that a mere few years later, I’d find my future roommate of four years on a site like Craigslist.
Whereas Facebook, which arrived on the scene while I was in college, changed the Internet landscape from a somewhat creepy world of Internet strangers into one of socially acceptable, voyeuristic, semi-strangers, Craigslist has maintained a somewhat sketchy persona, with the “Craigslist Killer” and other creepy stories trailing behind it. That said, it’s a practical site for buying crap, getting rid of crap, and finding a place to store your crap—a.k.a. an apartment.
I gave Craigslist a chance, not once, but twice, in my post-collegiate years when I needed a roommate, and neither situation was the nightmare I anticipated after hearing other friends’ horror stories. Many 20-somethings find themselves a bit stranded after returning home from college, as I did. Most of my college friends were spread out throughout the country, and various high school friends were as well.
My first Craigslist roommate was not very friendly. I moved into her domain as a sublet, and she began plotting her departure and condo purchase after I occupied the room of her long-time BFF. I can safely say I knew this girl as well on the day she moved out as I did the day I moved in. I had come into that apartment hoping to find a new friend, and perhaps a new social network in Chicago. My first Craigslist roommate had no interest in such matters. We said “hello” in passing, and politely bumped around each other in our small kitchen, but otherwise she kept to herself. It was disheartening because despite our random meeting, we had both attended the University of Wisconsin together and were even in the same sorority pledge class (though I later deactivated from that sorority).
When I returned to Craigslist for roommate No. 2, I’d given up on the pipe dream of a friendly roommate-soulmate. At a certain point after college, I just wanted someone who wouldn’t keep me up on a work night and would pay her bills on time. I had formed my own new network of friends at the time, and so could she.
Hesitant to take that plunge again, one girl who read my ad was determined to burrow herself into my Roscoe Village abode. After interviewing various candidates, she appeared, like a rush of wind, and was ready to call in the moving truck. This first meeting, unbeknownst to me, was a preview of our relationship dynamic: she, the restless and decisive go-getter; me, the restless and indecisive (eventual) go-getter.
This energetic and quirky Southern girl with an Orthodox Jewish background and a corporate job threw me at first, particularly once she revealed her intermittent Southern drawl. According to her Southern handbook, all sodas were “Cokes” and real gentleman were supposed to hold your hand on the first date. I was born and raised in the Chicago area and had a writing career under way, and both corporate life and Southern Jews were foreign concepts to me.
In our first meeting, the Southern belle and I realized we might have a foundation for a good bond based on three criteria: 1) We were both Jewish. 2) We both loved the Gilmore Girls and Bravo. 3) We both were longtime fans of Ingrid Michaelson.
As trivial as these commonalities might seem, they wound up being part of the glue that held us together as roommates for four years. Our common TV preferences kept us from fighting over the remote, except when we diverged away from Bravo, and I wanted to watch the Vampire Diaries (embarrassing, but true) and she wanted to watch Duck Dynasty (equally embarrassing).
More importantly, while originating from different states, our Jewish commonality meant we had similar upbringings. Although she was more religious, we found a way to make it work with separate cookware. She also managed to more actively pull me into Jewish life in Chicago, attending more events and meeting more people. We built Jewish traditions with each other by attending some holiday services together and even hosting annual holiday parties.
She also taught me about Costco, proper winter shovels, and the value of good tequila after a hard day; I decorated with each coming season and holiday, populated our kitchen with crazy gadgets and stress-baked while she reaped the sweet benefits. Together, we survived our mid-20s, job transitions, heartbreak, our crazy Jewish families near and far, Snowmageddon, and the Polar Vortex.
This Southern tour de force forced me out of my comfort zone in ways I didn’t expect and also proved to be one of the kindest and truest friends I’ve known during my time living in the city. Friendship among roommates can go two ways: It can either grow, or shrink and become toxic. My Southern belle and I had a slow-growing friendship, but we eventually let each other in, in ways only matched by relationships I have with my sisters. We challenged each other to self-examine, grow and start again. I believe her deep faith in Judaism and her religious background colored her perspective during our late-night talks. I also think her good heart, selflessness and nonjudgmental nature made her a unique, admirable and rare soul.
Two neurotic Jews from different regions of the country were able to come together via a creepy medium and make it work—a technological success story in the modern age. My Southern belle and I parted ways this summer, with her moving long distance, and we’re each figuring out what it means to forge ahead on our own. I’d like to think we’ve taken a piece of each other with us on our new journeys. If nothing else, we’ve learned a valuable lesson: A stranger who likes the Gilmore Girls is “good people.”