“The best part is the deep friendship we’ve created,” says Wendi Burkhardt, CEO of Silvernest. Silvernest is a service that helps seniors share housing. As part of developing the Silvernest business, Wendi was invited to work in San Francisco for four months. Since she lives in Boulder, Colorado, she needed a place to live. But as she says, “San Francisco is brutally expensive and affordable space is impossible.“
So she reached out to her community by email and telephone. Kate responded. Wendi and Kate knew each other professionally and were friendly, but other than Kate once visiting Wendi at her house for an evening they had never hung out together.
For Kate the timing was right. The younger of her two children had gone off to college and Kate was living alone in a three-bedroom house forty-five minutes outside of San Fransisco.
It’s a house that she has filled with pets. Used to living with the energy of having kids around, Kate added a standard poodle puppy to the household of one German short-haired pointer and two cats.
She was not looking to share housing. Financially, she didn’t need to. She simply responded because she knew Wendi. She has said to Wendi, “I would never open my house to [just] anyone.”
Leap of Faith
It was a “leap of faith” on both their parts to choose to live together.
Wendi has lots of respect for Kate as a professional and was aware of the risk that living together might damage their professional relationship.
Before moving in together they had talked about their routines but not much more.
Respecting the Space and Each Other
Wendi says, “I am conscientious that I’m in someone else’s home. I’m the one moving in. It’s important to understand that that Kate has her natural way of being in the space. I want my presence to be comfortable for her.“
They’ve evolved a system where they either leave notes or text about their comings and goings. While Wendi leaves the house every day, her schedule varies. Sometimes she will come home very late. “Kate goes to bed early so I want her to know when to expect me – I don’t want to wake her and the dogs. This is simply respectful. We don’t say what we are doing only the info that’s important to the other person. What I’m doing doesn’t have anything to do with living in the space.”
“We respect each other’s space. She doesn’t come into my room. I don’t go into her room.” Wendi is occupying one of the bedrooms vacated by a child. She has a bathroom to herself.
They have a loose arrangement about food that they bring into the house. “Anything I bring into the house, she is welcome to. I’m aware of what I’m consuming and make sure that I step up and contribute.”
Wendi rarely cooks. Kate will cook from time to time and invite Wendi to share with her. Wendi says, “I think she takes pity on me eating cheese and crackers at 9:30 PM.” Wendi is a celiac and has a very restrictive diet regarding gluten. She says, “Kate has been very respectful of this issue as I’ve lived with her.”
Morning People — Not
Wendi is appreciative of the fact that they are, “similar about how we are in the morning. I don’t like to talk, I’m a slow starter. She’s the same way and it works.”
Wendi reflects, “It’s important not to take the other person’s behavior personally. What is important to me may not be to the other person. No one thinks as much about you as much as you think.”
“I’m uber-organized and picky about having a clean house. Just grew up that way. With Kate I’ve learned to relax some, this has been kind of fun. For instance I would never, ever leave dirty dishes in the sink. Kate has a more balanced approach in her life. If she needs to do something else, she will leave dishes. It’s her gift to me to teach me that I can relax about this.”
And then there are times when Wendi wants a bit more cleanliness, so she will ask, “Are you okay if I clean up?” She is aware that the question could be insulting so she makes sure that she is also respectful. She’ll clean up the house — the counters, floors, bathroom.
“What’s normal for one person isn’t necessarily what’s normal for the other. Everyone comes from their own space. You can’t assume that the way you like it is the way they like it.”
And so you ask. “It’s all about collaboration and honesty.”
Wendi has discovered cats as part of this experience. Though she says, “I’m a huge animal lover, I’ve never been a cat person. I’ve never lived with cats. Kate’s cat, Bella, is my newest best friend. When she’s out at night I worry about her.”
Wendi has helped out with the pets. If Kate goes away on a weekend Wendi will feed the cats. (The dogs usually go with Kate.) Wendi has also taken the dogs for walks. She has cleaned up after them as well.
Kate says, “The pets all love you!”
The surprise has been the deep friendship that has developed. “We connect spiritually.”
Wendi reflects, “I moved around lots when I was a child. I think the best relationships get formed when you are going through an experience together. That’s why high school and college friendships can be so deep. You bond when you share something. As we get older it is hard to find new friends. You have less opportunity to develop them. ”
“We have time together. We enjoy each other. We can sit and catch up with each other. ‘What happened today?’ We understand each others perspectives. Kate has the background to understand what I’m going through.”
It’s been great fun.
Kate has said, “I’m so glad you are here, I will be sad when you leave.”
There’s a chance Wendi may have to continue to visit San Francisco in the future. Kate has already said “My house is always open to you.”
Reflecting on the experience
Wendi, “I never anticipated going through this experience at this stage of my life. It’s reminded me to be flexible about what is important. Life really is an adventure. It’s about being open to what is possible. It’s not always the path you think it should be.”
Wendi’s insight that “Friendship comes from living through an experience together” is exactly right. It’s one of the many reasons that sharing housing is a solution for the many singles who are living alone and find themselves more alone than they’d like. It IS hard to make friends later in life. But when you live with someone you like and respect and you are compatible enough in how you live at home a friendship can grow.
Does this ring true? When you think of the friendships you have and one’s you’ve had did they grow through having an experience together?
What else do you notice about what makes this relationship work?