Originally published in Idler 50.
There are many great things about living with someone you love. You get to see daily a person you’re fond of, you learn exciting new things about them, and it’s easier to warm a bed together than apart. There are also fine efficiency gains to be found when pooling resources: expenses divided, record collections merged.
Somehow though, the advantage of resource pooling is not commonly seized upon. Today, when a couple get married or decide to cohabit, it’s become conventional for them to acquire a bigger house together and to fill it up as quickly as possible with more than twice the stuff they owned separately as bachelors. The logic, presumably, is that because there are now two bodies in the home and double the income, it’s desirable to scale everything up. If this seems reasonable it’s because our culture of conspicuous consumption and devotion to work demands that we remain vigilant in looking for opportunities to spend, devour, and dispose of more.
This is a boneheaded interpretation of what it means to pool resources. Not only does entering the rat race together in this way put enormous pressure on a romantic relationship, it causes both parties to miss an easy opportunity of a life of leisure.
Few people see it this way, but sharing a home is a terrific escape route from the drudgery of work. Instead of using a partnership to maximise debt and consumption, why not escape together? We can do this by sharing duties instead of liabilities.
One wage slave, one free person. There are many ways a couple can ensure liberty for each other. Suppose, in the first instance, one partner continues to work in their existing full-time job and uses this money to pay the monthlies on a modest home, just as they did before cohabiting. With everything covered, could the other partner not go free? What finer gift to bestow upon the apple of one’s eye: total freedom from servitude. Go free, my love and write that novel, keep our new home smelling fresh, but of all things, loaf.
The system of a working partner and a stay-at-home partner has the whiff of a 1950s household about it, but there’s no reason a division of labour should occur at the fault line of gender. Indeed, a married couple of this century could be of the same gender. I suggest we leave the gender roles in the dustbin of history but think seriously about one partner shouldering the work burden so the other can go free. If we all did this, half of all wage slaves would be freed overnight.
Two part-timers. We can fine-tune this old system further. There’s a second way, and that’s for a couple to share the burden of work by both working part-time. If the couple were both to go out toiling for perhaps 17 weekly hours each, the combined efforts will be equivalent to one breadwinner and one freeman.
If it seems inevitable that the free partner will end up responsible for any domestic labour in the household, this “two part-timers” modality would mean both partners doing both types of work, equally responsible and equally benefitting. This is perhaps the fairest, most egalitarian and most agreeable way of keeping a modest household solvent until total escape from employment can be arranged.
One wage slave, one escape planner. Or: Two part-timers, two escape-planners. If you’re keen on total escape from servitude and see that neither system above will cater for this, you should use one of them in the first instance anyway, to reduce the amount of work required en-route to banishing it. While one partner works full-time, the free partner after a period of delicious indolence might point their finally-fertile, Jeeves-like mind toward the problem of freeing the other. The free partner, when ready, can concoct the cottage industry or the investment plan or the automated business required for total liberty. Otherwise, if you’re using the two part-timers scheme, the concocting of an escape plan can be shared and a scheme entered into hand-in-hand.
Two full-timers, two investors. A final option might be to both work full-time while living modestly, squirreling away the money in a joint investment and retiring phenomenally early. Very appealing, though the idler can be forgiven for wanting liberty, even half-liberty, a little sooner.
Whichever way it’s done, it can be seen that a couple might form an Escapologist tag-team and break free of the work trap together. Even Houdini couldn’t have done it without Bess, his partner and confidant. A “couple” need not even be romantically involved at all: two platonic flatmates could use any of the aforementioned arrangements if they were comfortable with it. After all, symbiotic relationships take place in nature all the time.
If you take nothing else from this or are committed to eternal singledom, it’s still useful to think of a home as a miniature economy with the necessary wealth coming in and ideas flowing out, a fruitful and non-competitive enterprise run with an eye to liberty.