Living with another person is about as easy as, well, living with yourself, although when it comes to yourself, at least the odd quirks and assorted annoyances of being you are to be expected.

With another person, however, it can be a bit of a surprise or even a shock to learn he/she/they doesn’t do everything the way you do, won’t do everything the way you do, doesn’t think it’s a good idea to do everything the way you do. One flimsy excuse after another just piled on.

“Why don’t you fold the towels in squares not rectangles?”you might ask.

“Who taught you to do it that way?”

As the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said decades ago, “Hell is other people.”

But certainly not you.

Is the TV on or off, at what point does clean become dirty, when is enough trash piled up in a basket, how does one properly cut a pineapple, how much mold on exactly what foods is edible -- these are the questions that plague most roommates.

That other person or people or even a lazy bunch of partying drunken college freshmen can literally make you become a solitary, howling, lone wolf hermit ascetic who at least has faith in the rising and setting of the sun.

Except when rude clouds roll in, sort of like roommates you can’t get rid of -- too lazy, too always on their phones, too disheveled, too loud, too dumb.

Not that we’re talking about you.

My husband once said, “At least when you die, they’ll say you had a clean, organized house.” Then he cackled like a being from another world come down to haunt me for wanting a simple thing like all the same foods on the same shelf in the refrigerator.

Why separate a dairy or antioxidant family for no humanitarian reason?

No, I wasn’t always this way.

When I was young, living at home, my room was a hazardous waste site, a landfill, a repository of all things filthy and sinful. I had a secret astray under my bed, piles of scorned clothes stuffed in corners, half-eaten Almond Joys sticky inside my night table. At any given time I had an album, a radio, a hair dryer, a phone and a TV all going at once.

It was all those quiet, organized types like Mom who made me cackle. Yes, hell was other people.

Yet soon as I had my first apartment, the slob vanished like a teenager when the dishes have to be done. I became a clean freak, a shipshape junkie, the one who dictated to everyone how they should make their beds and scrub their tubs. I taught one roommate how to spritz a mirror, another how to spread the fringe on a carpet.

See Mom, I changed. Grew up I guess. The person I live with today might say I went backward.

“Does it really matter?” he asks when I trade a big spoon for a little one as I embark on a bowl of hot soup. “I don’t like a big spoon,” I grunt as I march to the drawer for a replacement. “Too much slurping.”

“Yes, yes,” he grumbles, “and you only eat dinner with a big fork not a little one. And you want salad dressing on the side and please turn the lights down because bright lights mess with melatonin production and could you please not use that pot for that purpose and really who wants to listen to the news while eating, it’s so bad for digestion.”

“Wow,” I smile, “I think you finally got it.” 

“Now sit down,” he says, “dinner is served. It’s your favorite -- food you don’t have to cook yourself. “

Heaven is other people too.

Donna Debs is a longtime freelance writer, a former KYW radio news reporter, and a certified Iyengar yoga teacher. She lives in Tredyffrin. She’d love to hear from you at

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