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Traditional notions of marriage hold that once couples tie the knot, they ditch many of the trappings of their former singlehood—which in NYC often includes roommates. But New York is also the land of unconventional living arrangements, a city where you might find folks rooming together well into their 40s, or forming polyamorous communities, at least partly in the name of saving a buck on rent. Here, weddings aren’t necessarily followed by partners shacking up in their own home; a New York Times article last year noted that 20 percent of ads offering rooms for rent on SpareRoom.com mentioned that couples were permitted.
Vincent Byrne, Danielle Gifford, and Josh Schulman are one group in such an arrangement. When Danielle, a librarian at the Queens Library, and Josh, a high school teacher, got engaged last year, she moved into the Astoria apartment he had been sharing for the better part of a decade with Vincent, who works in finance, and another roommate, who himself left after getting engaged. And even after the two wedded last August, none of the three roommates saw any reason to relocate.
It helps that all of them have a laid-back approach to co-habitation, and that their three-bedroom is affordable and spacious—it includes a third bedroom that’s currently being used as a recording and filmmaking studio and even a sizeable balcony. And their many years of friendship have made them comfortably familiar with each other: Josh moved in nine years ago, and then Vincent arrived the following year; the two are in a band together, as well. Plus, Danielle and Vincent have their own common ground, particularly in their shared love of NPR programming.
In fact, the three are so close that when I asked how long Josh and Danielle had been together, the husband and wife both turned to Vincent for an answer. Here’s what the three had to say about their supposedly unconventional household.
Is this the only apartment you’ve lived in in Astoria?
Josh: Yeah, the only one. It was the first one we looked at in Astoria, too. After a year, Vinny moved in and shortly after Vinny moved in, Brian moved in. And then Brian moved out a year ago.
And you and Danielle started dating how many years ago?
You don’t know?
D: Four years ago, five years ago? Vinny’s very good with dates.
Vincent: The first third of 2011.
J: There you go.
And when you moved in here, were you engaged at that point?
J: It was actually perfect timing, especially when you consider that we lived with Brian for seven years. It was sort of one weird coincidental moment in time when it was a perfect exchange of roommates.
V: And I was thinking, well, all of these things are going to happen—that Brian was going to move in with his girlfriend, and then, these two.
Did you ever think you might get the boot?
V: I don’t know. Either that or I would have to find two more roommates.
At any point were you two thinking of getting your own place together?
D: Only up until we found out Brian was moving out. And then once he moved out, we thought, why not stay here?
How did you feel about the idea of being engaged and then being married, and living as a couple with someone else?
D: It doesn’t bother me personally, but I do think it’s weird for people who aren’t of our age group and aren’t in New York City. For the older people I work with, and my family upstate, I think it’s weird for them.
Have they made any comments?
D: I don’t think anybody’s ever said anything outright, but I can tell it’s a little weird. “Okay, yeah… that’s… nice.”
It seems like all the rules are different in New York.
D: Moving sucks, it’s hard to find an apartment, and it’s expensive.
J: Rents are so ridiculous that sharing the load makes it so much easier.
V: It is definitely “alternative.” I have family friends who live on the Upper East Side and they’ve lived there for thirty years, and they still have to go out into the hallway to use their bathroom [because it’s a railroad apartment]. But it reminds me that in New York, if you have a good situation and you’re okay with it, you roll with it.
At any point did you feel any nervousness?
V: No, because Josh and Danielle are fantastic.
J: And Vinny’s fantastic. Me and Vinny have known each other since long before we lived together, too.
V: We’ve been hanging out and playing music for 11 years.
J: It’s been a long strange trip.
Vinny, are there ever times where you feel like you need to steer clear of common areas and give the couple space?
V: Not really. I think it balances out quite naturally. We all have our own stuff going on, sometimes together, sometimes separate. And I never get bad vibes.
J: We never feel like there are privacy issues or anything like that. We have our own rooms and things going on, but we also spend a lot of time together, because we all like each other.
D: I think it’s the best roommate situation I’ve ever had. Vinny’s the best roommate I’ve ever had, and I don’t think of Josh as a roommate. He doesn’t count.
What are Vinny’s good roommate qualities?
D: He’s incredibly considerate. He just thinks of everything. He’s very quiet, and he lets me know if he’s going to be doing something so he’s not in my way, which he never is. He always replaces things when they need to be replaced and takes out the garbage.
It seems like roommate problems arise when you have to remind people to do things like that.
J: Or write passive-aggressive letters and slide them under people’s doors.
How would you describe Josh and Danielle as roommates?
V: Very much the same. Super considerate. They’re not obnoxious. Easygoing. It’s all you could want in a roommates.
I’ve talked to other people in unconventional living situations who say the key is very open and frank communication. Do you feel like there are certain things you could point to that work and would be good for others to follow?
D: I don’t think so. We’re lucky that it works out, because we don’t do anything specific. There is the cleaning and taking care of household things, and we’re considerate of noise level. But other than that, I don’t think we have anything set up that makes it work—it’s just that our personalities and our lifestyles suit each other.
V: There’s no need for a chore chart or anything like that. I think of it more as having a code—a lot of the basic stuff, like cleaning and whatnot, is good in general.
J: It’s funny because I’ve never thought of it as strange. I’ve always thought of it as the best possible situation we could be in, for where we are in life. Obviously, at some point, Danielle and I want to own a house, but for right now, we all have jobs, we all have stable lives, and we all enjoy each other’s company. So it didn’t seem like, 'Oh, we’re doing this weird thing and we need to think about the social ramifications of it.' It’s actually pretty mundane. We have a pretty big space here, so we don't really feel like it's ever cramped or that we don't have privacy.
How often do you all do things together?
D: Here and there. It feels more like a family than a roommate situation.
J: Tonight, Danielle and I are going to a concert, but in a few weeks, Vinny and I are going to a concert. And then I think Vinny and Danielle are going to see “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” Are you guys doing that?
V: I have tickets—I have three tickets, actually.
J: I’m a little live NPR’ed out. The three of us went to see "Prairie Home Companion," and that was fun, but these two are the big NPR folk in the apartment.
V: Stuff like that kind of naturally gels.
Do you have any long-term vision for where you might end up?
D: We can’t afford to live in the city, and I think I’m sick of it, too. I need something where people are a little nicer, and I don’t have to worry about getting hit by a car when I cross the street. Somewhere slightly more relaxed. We’re talking either Nassau County or Westchester.
J: But that’s a long-term plan, so we don’t see that happening for a couple years.
V: I want to stay in the city long-term. If I ever have the means, it would be cool to have some place to get to outside of the city.
J: Maybe we’ll all own a vacation house together.
D: Something in the Catskills?
V: But yeah, I still really enjoy New York City and what it offers. That kind of ties into the apartment and our situation, in that it keeps it more viable and affordable and quirky. I don’t mind a little quirky. It’s quite fun.