4 Ways to Mediate Tension When Quarantining With Roommates

Being a millennial on a budget means that, in order to not spend over a grand on a month’s rent, I live with a lovely friend named Kate and her adopted cat Calcetines. When we were apartment hunting last June, I can confidently say neither of us envisioned being quarantined for months on end together. But these days, we both work remotely in response to governmental regulations intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We’ve been quarantined for 27 days together (nearly a month!) and, four weeks into this, I remind myself that, now more than ever, it’s incredibly important to be a good housemate. But how does one do so when the option to leave the house becomes no longer available?  

Kate and I are close, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need privacy or time to ourselves. Together, we navigate our quasi roommate-friend (#froomie) relationship respectfully by being mindful of our words, actions, and surroundings, which keeps our relationship and boundaries healthy. Is the music too loud? Does the other person need alone time, or rather, a person to talk to? Who last took out the trash? Here are four steps to maintain your sanity in quarantine–and your roommate’s, too. 

Open up.

It's never been more important to verbalize what you need–or don't–from the people you live with. Do you feel like your roommate is hogging the television in the living room? Are her dirty dishes stressing you out? Do you feel like she's not taking things seriously enough, or spending too much time with her boyfriend on Facetime? Maybe you wish she was spending more time with you, or that she showed more interest in game night or a family dinner. Where you might normally stay quiet and bottle up your frustrations, this high-stress situation is shaping up to the perfect catalyst for a big blowout. Even if it feels awkward, you need to speak up about the things that are bothering you.

If speaking up as things happen scares you too much, try scheduling a weekly check-in with your roomie, where you can each discuss where you're at and let any issues that may need to be resolved out into the open. 

Offer grace. 

At the same time, I am of the personal belief that giving grace–and also accepting it–is perhaps most important in times of crisis. It can be hard to do this regularly, as judgement is natural and emotions run high in small spaces, like apartments. If the world were not in the middle of a global pandemic, hearing your roommate play Harry Styles at three in the morning may cause you to send a passive aggressive text message or, worse, go bang aggressively at their door. But, rather than making rash choices or suffering silently through the music to quell your frustration, try choosing to be a little more lenient in the coming weeks. Everyone is navigating this together, and handling it in different ways. Consider sending them a polite text reminder of previously agreed upon rules (“Hey, just wanted to check in… thanks for understanding!”) or even opening up a calm, yet firm dialogue to explain your reasoning. 

The most important part is to impart on them that we are in this together, and are stronger united. If immediate confrontation is not your thing, there are other options, like waiting until the morning to have a clear-headed conversation using “I…” statements over a cup of coffee, and suggesting headphones. 

girl sleeping in black and white

Give each other space. 

This is a tricky one. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where Kate and I can afford a two bedroom apartment with a living room, but I recognize that this isn’t the case for everyone. If you’re living in a one bedroom apartment, like my best friend Jess in Manhattan, with your dog, boyfriend and sister, things may become a bit more complex. Still, there are reasonable steps you can and should take! 

Even if you’re living with your high school BFF, being stuck in the house for hours on end can feel intolerable; whether you know it or not, you may indirectly take those feelings out on the closest person to you. If you’re feeling particularly cramped, share only absolute necessities you would regularly, such as open living spaces (the living room or kitchen) or appliances (television, dishwasher, or stove). You can also FaceTime or Zoom friends from out of town, or go for a walk to destress. The CDC suggests maintaining six feet of space between yourself and others, and utilizing a cloth face cover if you leave your home.

Recognize you don’t need to be friends to be good roommates. 

I spent three of my four years of college as a Residential Assistant. I was the student knocking on doors, enforcing quiet hours, and helping residents navigate the nitty gritty of roommate disagreements. Whatever the roommate problems were–small or large–many of them boiled down to asking students a simple question: can you live with your roommate(s)? 

Instagram and hints of a bygone college culture may have you convinced your roommates should be your best friends, but that’s false. Roommates can simply be other people you live with who are friendly, respectful, and considerate people. I may live with my best friend, but that doesn’t mean you have to. If your friendship wavers in quarantine, or you begin to feel insecure about the fact that you’re living with people you met on Craigslist, keep in mind two truths: your roommates do not have to be your friends, and right outside your door, there are plenty of other people.

When all this is over, you can go back to befriending the rest of the world. But for now, be prepared to have somewhat difficult conversations and breathe calmly in times of stress. A happy home makes a happy life, so act fast to keep it that way.