In college, as in life, some things are unavoidable: tuition, essays, bad-for-you food…and roommates. Unless you live at home while going to school, from the time you enter the higher education world until you leave it (and probably beyond that), you will be coping with people in your personal space – sharing a bathroom, the kitchen and the TV. In the land of shared space, problems arise frequently – and if you never deal with them, they have the potential to ruin any relationship. Use these tips from experts and real college girls on getting along with your roommate – whether your roomie is a random assignment or your best friend.
What to Do From the Get-Go
A new school year (often) comes with a new living situation – if you’re a new freshman this might be your first time sharing your space with another person—not to mention sharing a bathroom with many more people—or you might be an upperclassman who has just moved off campus with friends into an apartment or house. Either way, it’s best to set up ground rules with your roommate(s) to ensure that everyone stays happy and you don’t end up like these HC girls!
If you’re living in the dorms, your RA may force you and your roommate to sign a contract concerning things from what to do during a disagreement to how to handle chores, boys in the room, and study/sleep schedules. If you live off campus and aren’t being encouraged to sign a roommate contract, a verbal discussion is a good idea.
Things that should be in any roommate contract (no matter your situation): whether you have times (such as right before a big test or past midnight on a school night) when you need quiet; your feelings about guys/boyfriends staying the night; and how to split chores evenly.
Living in the dorms can be especially tricky, however, because neither roommate has the ability to simply go into their own room for escape. Make sure you and your roommate clearly state your boundaries – for instance, if she needs quiet to study but you listen to background music, come up with compromises (you listen to your iPod rather than your stereo) in the beginning to deal with space concerns.
Living outside the dorms involves more than just cleanliness and proximity issues, however. “Sit down with your roommate(s) to set these boundaries from day one,” advises HC reader Emma Wallace, a student at Texas State University. “Decide who will do dishes on what days, grocery shopping guidelines (do you share or buy your own), and if there are boyfriends involved, make sure wires are never crossed with that. If you have the basics set in stone (with a little wiggle room), it's hard to mess it up.”
If you just moved in with a friend (or several), chances are you don’t think you need to bond; however, if you’re first-time roommates, it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Try having a roommate night (cook a joint meal and rent a movie, perhaps) – this could be a good time to discuss more serious topics, like how you aren’t okay with her plans to have her bf over every other night.
Kathryn Williams, author of Roomies: Sharing Your Home with Friends, Strangers, and Total Freaks, says, “If you're living with a stranger, I think it goes a long way to have an icebreaker outing with that person - lunch, coffee, a party, a movie in the commons room. It just starts things off on a friendly foot even if you have no intentions of hanging out with that person. He or she is probably just as nervous about living with a stranger as you are.”
What to Do When Problems Arise
Susan Fee, author of My Roommate is Driving Me Crazy!, gives five tips from her book on what to do when you and your roommate clash:
1. Talk. If something’s bugging you, bring it up in a non-defensive way rather than assume your roommate can read your mind. Nothing can change unless you acknowledge it. It’s possible that your roommate may not even be aware of the problem.
2. Focus on behavior, not personality.It’s not reasonable to ask people to change who they are, but you can ask them to tone down how they express themselves, especially when it’s invading your turf. So, you can’t criticize someone for being "perky," but you can ask for someone not to talk so much while you’re studying.
3. Stay flexible. It’s not your job to fix anybody else, and it helps to recognize that no one is perfect. Be willing to look at your own behavior. Consider what you could do differently to help the situation instead of only blaming your roommate.
4. Start with one pet peeve. What can you absolutely not deal with? What do you find extremely irritating, but could live with if you had to? There are probably tons of things your roommate does that get on your nerves. But nothing kills a relationship faster than listing dozens of reasons why you don’t like a person. Instead, both of you need to list your number one pet peeve and focus your energy on solving that first.
5. Consider the positives. Before you decide that life would be better with a roommate exactly like you, think of what you could gain by living with your opposite. We’re often attracted to people who are different from us because they represent qualities we wish we possessed. If you’re shy, maybe being around a more outgoing person will force you out of your shell. When one person’s strength makes up for the other’s weakness, being opposites is an advantage.
Find more of Susan’s survival tips here.
Williams also weighs in how to deal with problems if they do come up: “If your roommate is doing something that's annoying you, tell him or her – nicely, if possible,” she said. “When things are awkward, it's sometimes easier to do this the passive-aggressive way - like leaving a Post-It note on her mirror or putting their smelly tennis shoes in the garbage. While easier in the short run, in the long run this only makes things worse - especially if you're sharing a small space. So try to be direct. And whether you're best friends or relative strangers, it's always good to maintain some personal space, even if it's just the size of a twin bed and an hour with your earphones on. Everyone needs some ‘me time.’”
For a good in-between solution for not-so-confrontational girls, there is another suggestion: texting. Texting allows you to communicate openly without the embarrassment and awkwardness of face-to-face conflict resolution. HC writer Allie Jones, a student at College of William and Mary, says that texting also saves a lot of time when it comes to letting your roommate know what your plans are. “It sounds weird that you need to be texting someone that you live with, but it was so easy to text each other when we were going to be in the room,” she said. “It was much easier to text my roommate on Friday night that I might be bringing my boyfriend over rather than just showing up with him unannounced. She did the same for me, like text if she wouldn't be coming home that night, so I wouldn't worry, or say if she would be back late and I would just leave a little light on and go to sleep.”
Sharing your place with another person, whether this is a new experience for you or you’ve had years of practice, is never easy. Use these tips to keep hostility at bay, and you’ll be gossiping about the cute guy in your chem lab rather than the newest annoyance your roommate has inflicted upon you. Trust me, your friends will thank you.
Kathryn Williams, author of Roomies: Sharing Your Home with Friends, Strangers, and Total Freaks
Susan Fee, author of My Roommate is Driving Me Crazy!
Allie Jones, HC Contributing Writer, College of William and Mary
Emma Wallace, Texas State University