Not so many generations ago in America, the situation of roommates of opposite genders wasn't really much of an issue -- it was understood that two people of different genders would generally get up to no good, and that only physical separation -- and some combination of shotguns, pitchforks, and the invocation of permanent hellfire -- could keep those lips (etc.) from locking.
Things have changed, and there are sexually compatible roommates living together -- with little to no drama -- from coast to coast. That doesn't mean that there aren't some possible pitfalls. Here are three things to keep in mind when you live with someone you could wind up dating.
It's not unusual for romantically compatible roommates to live together, and there's nothing particularly wrong with it, either. But it sets up a potential disaster in the making. If one roommate is single, and the other is in a rocky relationship, the pitfalls are obvious. If both are single, the living situation could turn into the equivalent of the most extreme first date known to mankind, one with unpleasant, messy consequences if attraction is one-way or not there at all.
It's best to know going into a roommate situation that both (or all) roommates are in fulfilling relationships, or otherwise comfortable proceeding as friends and housemates only.
If the situation is less clearly developed, consider living elsewhere, or at least proceeding with extreme caution, lest a late-night drinking session or stay-at-home weekend turns into an awkward lease-breaking disaster. Unless you've fortuitously shacked up with someone you think is your future spouse, consider that the possible price of a lousy romantic relationship could be having to find a new apartment -- nothing to sneer at if you're living in New York City, San Francisco or a similarly hectic market.
Immediately after college, "Tom," a former renter in Cambridge, Mass., lived with an attractive woman about his age. "Everything was fine between us, but the situation put pressure on my relationship with my girlfriend," (who lived out of state). "She felt like I was spending more time with my roommate than with her -- which was true -- and that she was in danger of losing me -- which wasn't true."
After a few months, Tom wound up making an expensive move out to a less desirable apartment situation with a male buddy from college. His relationship fizzled out a couple months after that. "I can't say for sure that the jealousy ended it," he says, "but it didn't help. It's hard not to read jealousy as a lack of trust."
Any time you generalize about genders, you're generalizing -- there are exceptions to every so-called "rule." But psychologists have observed that the way men transmit and process information is different from the way women do it. Men tend to be blunt and direct (and sometimes downright offensive), and they often don't get -- or don't like -- subtext and coded messages. Women, by contrast, sometimes spare feelings at the expense of communicating clearly -- stating an objection in the form of a question, for example. Women sometimes assume that a coded message was understood, when it might have been missed completely (or processed and then ignored).
Account for this when you talk about roommate issues (late rent, messes in common areas, etc.). Make an effort to speak clearly and directly, while phrasing things in a non-confrontational and non-offensive manner -- "let's work together on a system to keep the kitchen clean," or "is there a way we can establish rules so that the rent is always paid on time?"