These single-mom friends joked about buying a house together. On a whim, they did it.

Then in April 2020, when both D.C.-area women found themselves separated from their husbands and feeling more exhausted and lonelier than ever, they were both seeking a support system. That’s when they made a life-changing decision to buy a house together and move in with their kids.

At the time, Harper felt like she’d hit rock bottom. She had suffered a string of unfortunate events — including a divorce, a cancer scare and the devastating loss of two loved ones.

Up until then, she had always followed a traditional path. She got married at age 24 to a man in the military and they had a daughter together, who is now 9 years old.

“We had the perfect picket fence life,” she said.

Still, “since I was a kid, I always felt that the traditional path didn’t fit right with me. It didn’t make sense,” Harper continued. “But I was so scared to break any rules.”

After her marriage ended and several losses followed, she made a difficult and bold decision to “burn the rule book of life.”

Her good friend, Hopper, was in a similar boat. She and her then-husband separated within the same year, and “I just sort of woke up one day and said, ‘How did I get here?’ ” explained Hopper, an in-house lawyer at a nonprofit.

She and Harper would often confide in each other about their shared struggles.

“We both found ourselves living in apartments separately and trying to navigate this new life, and it could be very overwhelming,” said Hopper, who has two children, ages 13 and 9.

Plus, the pandemic had just hit, and it was “a good time to contemplate what is the meaning of life and who do you want to spend it with?” she added.

One evening, while the friends were on a Zoom call, their running joke about starting a commune together resurfaced, though the conversation quickly turned from silly to serious.

Given the increasingly unaffordable housing market and their mutual desire for more support, the women decided that owning a home together could actually make sense. They haphazardly hatched a plan.

“What do I have to lose?” Harper remembered thinking to herself in that moment. Her conclusion: “Nothing.”

“The only reason I hesitated is because I was told women shouldn’t do this; people shouldn’t do this,” she continued. And yet, “I had done everything the culture tells me and do and I’m alone and struggling.”

Hopper had similar thoughts: “I never considered this as an option,” she said. “But it just feels so normal and natural.”

That same night, the women started scouring online for houses in the D.C. area and they also found a real estate agent. They made an offer in April 2020 on a tea-green four-unit home in Takoma Park, Md.

“We walked in, and we were like, ‘This is it,’ ” Hopper said of the home.

They closed on the house in June 2020, and the women and their children moved in during the summer. After the purchase was finalized, they sought renters for the remaining two units in the house. Promptly after they posted on a local bulletin, Leandra Nichola contacted them.

“I’m also a single mom,” Nichola told the women, explaining that she was hoping to “find stability for my family.”

She had lived in Takoma Park for 15 years and adored the area, but she could not afford to buy her own place. Nichola had been separated from her husband for five years, and she and her two children — ages 9 and 12 — had lived in five different homes since then.

Nichola met with Harper and Hopper to determine whether the living situation would work, and they quickly bonded. Although they were different in many ways, “our values were aligned,” Nichola said.

“It was just a kind of immediate connection,” Hopper said.

So, Nichola and her two children moved into the basement unit in August, and a few months later, Jen Jacobs — who Hopper and Harper were previously friends with — started renting the top floor unit.

As a single and childless person at the onset of the pandemic, Jacobs was experiencing a sharp sense of loneliness.

Hopper and Harper suggested she take the last remaining unit, and Jacobs thought to herself, “Why not try something different?”

“It was really just a chance to be connected to people,” said Jacobs, a CrossFit coach who also runs a dog-walking and pet-sitting business.

“If you can find the right people and the right place, it’s super helpful to have that live-in community,” Jacobs said. “You know someone is always around to help with kids, with animals, with whatever.”

Once all four units of the house were occupied, the women — all of whom share custody of their children with their former spouses — soon established a close dynamic, and Jacobs and Nichola even developed a romantic relationship in the process.

“It was a very good surprise,” Jacobs said.

“No part of my life is untouched by this experience, and it’s all for the better,” Nichola said.

Although the women, who range in age from 40 to 46, reside in four separate units with individual kitchens and living quarters, “we intentionally spend a lot of time together,” Harper said, adding that after a short trial period, Nichola and Jacobs began contributing to the down payment so that they, too, could be homeowners.

The women refer to their home as the “Siren House,” named after the mythical creatures, which are half-bird and half-woman. They see the sirens as a symbol of feminist empowerment.

As a group, the four women schedule regular movie nights, potluck dinners, parties and casual hangouts. They also celebrate holidays, birthdays and other momentous occasions together.

“We’re definitely like sisters, and the kids are more like our nieces and nephews,” Harper said. “We’re not dependent in an unhealthy way. We’re interdependent.”

“We all have this awareness of each other’s humanity, and a genuine desire to care for one another,” Hopper said. “We’re not romanticizing it. It’s real and true and deep and doable.”

“It was just very clear from the start that our number one job is to support each other,” Nichola added. “You have that unconditional love and support that is like family. It’s a dream.”

Living in the Siren House has opened several doors for Nichola, including the opportunity to fulfill a long-held professional pursuit of opening a cafe. Together, the women in March 2021 co-founded Main Street Pearl, which Nichola manages.

“It never would have been possible without them,” she said.

For all four women, the experience of living together has encouraged them to reimagine the lives they wanted for themselves. Their collective situation proves there is more than one way to form a family and a foundation.

“We say, ‘It takes a village,’ but who is out there making villages?” Harper questioned. “That’s what we’re doing.”

To others who joke among friends about moving in together to lighten the load of life, Harper has one piece of advice: “Go do it,” she said. “It’s awesome.”

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