The Reality of Roommates for Senior Women

The Golden Girls Is Not Real Life But Alternate Living Situations Are

ByABC News
November 18, 2010, 1:44 PM

Nov. 26, 2010— -- Rose Nylund, Blanche Devereaux, Dorothy Zbornak, and Sophia Petrillo are characters from "The Golden Girls," a popular late-80s television show about four elderly women sharing a house in Miami. Life doesn't often mimic the fictional story of the four wise-cracking ladies who exchanged quips over men and life, resolving issues over cheesecake.

"It's a lot different in real life," says 88-year-old Alice Fecas.

Alice and her 86-year-old sister Madeline Sergios share a residence at older adult community Vi , where they moved once the stairs became too taxing at their Florida townhome.

"When we first started out we used to argue a lot," says Fecas. But the two weren't bickering over finances or dirty dishes. "We ended up arguing over ancient things that didn't matter anymore," says younger sister Sergios.

The inconsequential fights stopped long ago because it was waste of time, say the siblings.

The elderly sisters are ahead of the curve as a part of the growing number of women co-sharing a home for companionship and community. Like any new living arrangement, there can be some hiccups but the rewards can be immense. The two active seniors go out frequently, attending birthday parties and socializing with two very good friends in their community.

The youngest of nine children, the women were fresh into their 70s when they merged their lives together and became roommates. A retired sales lady and a retired school teacher, the two who last shared a house as children began bunking together following the death of their mother, a sister and a beloved only son.

"We help one another," says the never-married Fecas. "It's really a convenience to live with someone else. We were lucky we're together even though we're sisters. I have a very good sister."

"It's nice to have the company," says Sergios. "If I didn't have her, I'd be alone," says Sergios, a divorcee who lost her son many years ago.

In the current economy, the financial outlook for many retirees has taken a turn for the worse. These days retirement looks a lot bleaker with more people expected to work longer following the stock market collapse that sent many retirement accounts spiraling downward.

According to Census data from March 2010, more than one million women over age 45 live in roommate situations with nonrelatives. The figure is a 15 percent increase since 2007 before the the great recession began.

At the Housemate Match, a program that's a part of the Marcus Jewish Community Center in Atlanta, 82 percent of the people seeking affordable housing are women and the majority, 72 percent, choose women as tenants.

"Lots of people in the state of Georgia are unemployed and they are coming up with innovative ways to find shelter and live in a safe and affordable place," says Rita Zadoff, director of housing services at the non profit organization.

Shared housing is definitely on the upswing, says Annette Leahy Maggitti, program director at St. Ambrose Homesharing. "We have noted a 23 percent increase in women applying for shared housing the last year," says Maggitti.

After moving to Asheville, N.C., in 2006 the retiree has experimented with numerous living arrangements since relocating to her small community consisting of three separate homes.

"I shared a home with another woman," says Kilkenny. "We shared the same name."

The two Mariannes found each after attending the same spiritual home, and before long were sharing everything from common space to cooking.

Are Women Blazing a Trail?

"I think women are ahead of the curve. Monetarily this makes a lot of sense," says Marianne Kilkenny.

Joan Medlicott is unsure of what inspired her to begin writing her novels centered around older women sharing a home but the idea came to her many years ago. "I was in the bathtub one night and these ladies appeared [not in physical form] and started talking to me," says Medlicott. "It just came through the top of my head. Maybe somewhere deep down inside I remembered the Golden Girls. I used to watch them. Perhaps that was the original inspiration."

Although the write has never co-shared a home, she's a proponent of shared living.

"From my vantage point looking backward, I'm 78, I would prefer to live with a group of women.It would be companionable," says Medlicott. I think if something happened to my husband I would absolutely never have another man in my life."

"I don't think it's necessary for people to live lonely and in isolation, I just think that is the worst thing," says Medlicott.

If you're going to share a home, Medlicott says you need tolerance, communication and a framework for dealing with issues that may crop up from sharing a home.

But, seniors aren't repeating the follies of their youth. Where many times financial needs or college roommate selection could pair off two individuals who fail to mesh, seniors who are exploring senior communities, home-sharing or roommate situations avoid strife by matching personalities.