In the new show, Everything I Know About Love, there’s a secondary love story to the main plot and it’s about what a good flat – and a great group of flatmates – can mean to your life. Emma Clifton looks back at her own flatting love stories.
Despite the fact that my 20s included maybe eight nights ‘on the town’, I – like so many others – have been glued to the TVNZ+ series Everything I Know About Love and plunged back into the “golden, grubby time of life” that is your Roaring 20s.
But while the series, based on the best-selling memoir by UK journalist Dolly Alderton, is being correctly celebrated for its portrayal of friendship, the real selling point for me has been the way it shows flatting.
Flatting is one of the best and weirdest rites of passage that come with being a human, because it is where you learn how to become the adult in the room. You have to do the rubbish, you have to master the cleaning, you have to cook for yourself.
Flatting is where you learn how to become the adult in the room
You learn what weird tricks or traits were a ‘family only thing’, like the first time I cut a capsicum and a friend gasped – gasped!! – at how I was doing it. Or the fact that nobody outside of the Clifton family appears to call a cosmetic bag “a sponge bag.”
But it’s also where you learn to become an adult in terms of managing issues. Flatmate life is like a series of bad maths equations: if there are four people in the flat but only one person does the dishes, how long until the ants come in? If the landlord refuses to acknowledge your existence when the black mould takes up 20% of a room but also wants to hike your rent up 40%, who will call the Citizen’s Advice Bureau first?
Or the daily one: if there are three people in the house but only one shower, who gets to work by 8.30am?
The first flat I moved into was with my long-term couple friends, taking pity on the fact that I was baby human (27) who immediately locked us out of the house within an hour of moving in. It was an easy, breezy, million-dollar villa in Grey Lynn and I say easy and breezy because it was absolutely f—king freezing, got no indoor sunlight and the toilet was an upgraded outhouse with a window that was permanently open.
We would name the spiders that collected in the corners and one time, a weta fell on my flatmate’s head in the middle of the night. But there was a garden and it was ***jazz hands*** Grey Lynn, so we bundled ourselves up in blankets, watched Game of Thrones and had a wonderful time.
I lived alone for two years afterwards and by alone, I mean there were no human flatmates but I did share the studio flat over a strip club with a swarm of cockroaches that came out of the creepy attic. We lived mostly in harmony – they had their space, I had mine – until they lost their boundaries and started trying to climb into my porridge bowl, my slippers, my bed.
It was the most ‘flat’ flat I ever lived in – the lounge had the charm and style of a menstrual clot
Then I moved into a house with two BOYS, which was a bold concept for someone who had gone to an all-girls’ school and regarded the opposite sex with a heady combo of fear and fascination.
The house itself was the most ‘flat’ flat I ever lived in – the lounge had the charm and style of a menstrual clot: the brown couch a hand-me-down from someone’s brother’s friend’s neighbour, the blood-red curtains adding a real Hannibal sense of luxury, as did the encroaching black mould. But they played Celine Dion as the background music to their gaming, taught me how to try pot ‘spots’ and vetoed my outfit choices for my terrible tinder dates. (“Everything you wear is floral and long, like a grandmother’s dressing gown.”)
Your flatmates become a combination of friends and family – in that flat, we called ourselves ‘Flamily’ – and they become your first port of call, due to proximity, when there are work/love/life dramas. When I went through a bad break-up, the Flamily boys made me tea, hugged me and told me that they had hated my ex-boyfriend so much on sight that one time, in the dead of night, they had gone out and peed all over his door handles. Puerile, sure, but it did make me feel better than anything else.
In my current flat, a flat so good I live in fear of what happens when my landlords make a move, we are on our second incarnation of flatmates. Our beloved flatmate Pip moved out in early 2020 and my then boyfriend moved in, joining me and my flatmate, Ed, on the eve of NZ’s first level four lockdown.
In the two years since then, Shahab has gone from being my boyfriend to my fiancé to my husband and Ed has been one of the first people I have told all of this to. It is a testament to how good our personality combo is that when the three of us spent August 2021 through to Feb 2022 working from home full time together, due to the Auckland lockdowns, only one flatmate had a screaming fit (ME).
I always felt like flatmates – as a concept and as a friendship tier – were never given the love story they deserve, until I watched Everything I Know About Love. And yes, in that scenario they were friends first but as anyone who has flatted knows, there is a big difference between being friends with someone and then living with them.
Flatting is usually portrayed as some sort of squalor-filled, in-between step of adulthood – just drunken parties and general filth. I think I’ve had about three flat parties in my life – and one of them was our wedding – and the rest of the time, it’s just been nice people looking after each other and asking the most important question five times a day:
“I’m making a tea, do you want one?”