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Rooming With Your Bestie This Fall? Here’s How To Avoid The Drama

August is here, and back-to-college season is in full swing. Right now, you’re probably doing some last-minute shopping, thinking about the semester ahead, and wondering what the new school year has in store for you. Of the many transitions that the season can bring, adjusting to a new living space — and tackling roommate dynamics — can be a challenge, regardless of how well you know the person. Maybe you’re even living with your best friend this year, and you’re wondering how it’s going to go.

While being roomies with your bestie in college can be exciting at first, it may not be as effortless as you think. The truth is, if you don’t take the time to set boundaries and outline a few rules from now, your roommate-BFF could become your ex-roommate-BFF, fast — and who wants that? To make sure you’re both comfy in your living space — and to be sure your friendship stays afloat in college — here are some tips for how to make living with your bestie a breeze.

set ground rules

Although you may feel like things are going to go perfectly when you live together, the truth is, rooming with your bestie is super different than just being friends with them — and there may be a few surprises or conflicts along the way. One major pro, however, is that unlike moving in with a rando, living with your BFF gives you a head start on communication! Even if you don’t anticipate too many conflicts, make the time to set ground rules with your BFF before the semester begins. Trust me, it’ll be so much easier to make concessions with her than it would be with a total stranger — and later in the semester when your friends are struggling with their roommate conflicts, you will think to yourself, “Well, they should’ve talked about these issues beforehand!”

After you’ve moved into your new place, politely say to your BFF: “Hey, I think it’d be great if we could sit down for ten minutes and chat about our expectations for this place, and set a few ground rules. This way we can avoid having minor conflicts blow up into huge fights!” It may feel uncomfortable at first, but I promise, it’s worth it.

Bobbie Denise Cole, M.Ed, Assistant Vice President of Student Life and Deputy Title IX Coordinator at William Peace University in Raleigh, NC, tells Her Campus, “If you’re living in on-campus housing, university staff may ask you to complete a roommate agreement or set ground rules for how you will live together. I encourage you to take this process seriously and communicate openly with your roommate — be honest in how you want to live in your living space.”

If you’re feeling stuck or intimidated about starting the conversation, here are some good points to bring up:

  • How do you feel about borrowing each other’s clothes? Do we have “open closets, or should we check in with each other first? 
  • Will we be sharing food, or using separate shelves?
  • Who will clean what, and when?
  • How will we handle visitors and parties?
  • What does your course load look like this semester?
  • How will I know when you need some alone time?

Kristine Thorndyke, the founder of Test Prep Nerds, says that if you have trouble “laying ground rules,” asserting boundaries with small things (like what snacks are yours in the pantry) can help you work up to bigger things over time. “It can be easy to start setting up boundaries using things you think [your roommate] might assume is fair game, such as snacks,” Thorndyke tells Her Campus. She says, “You can start the conversation as ‘all the snacks in this bin without my name on it are fair game.’ This sets the tone that you prefer to have clear communication.”

While a conversation about boundaries won’t necessarily prevent every conflict, setting expectations gives you and your BFF a clear idea of how to be respectful of each other’s needs. Remember, though, that while these “ground rules” are a way to ease yourselves into your new living situation, they aren’t set in stone. Just like your roommate relationship and friendship will evolve over time, prepare to be flexible and check in about expectations throughout the year.

communicate clearly

When you live with your best friend, you will always learn new things about her, no matter how well you knew her before. Maybe she cuts her toenails in the middle of the living room floor. Maybe she’s a stickler when it comes to washing dishes. Maybe she sings “Time After Time” whenever she cooks (believe me, listening to a girl sing to her eggs when you’re trying to cram on the morning of a big exam can take some adjusting to!). Like it or not, you will probably start to learn about your BFF-turned-roommate’s habits (for better or for worse), and this can occasionally cause tension — especially if her living style conflicts with yours in some way.

If tension arises in your living space, remember to always communicate openly. For example, if something’s making you uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to reach out (respectfully) to your bestie. No matter how intimidated you feel telling your BFF how you feel (after all, you never had problems before!), know that open communication is key. This means no angry texts or passive-aggressive messages on the kitchen whiteboard! 

“Like any relationship, being open about what you need, what’s important to you, and your boundaries will be critical to enjoying your time together,” Cole tells Her Campus. And if you don’t communicate clearly with your best friend-turned-roomie, it can put a serious strain on your friendship.

Take it from Sarah*, a Her Campus contributing writer: “I used to live with three of my besties,” she says. “We always had typical roommate issues, like arguing over dirty dishes, but one day, one of my roommates and I got into an argument and stopped talking. It put our other two roommates in the awkward position of [becoming] ‘middlemen.’ After that argument, the four of us could never go out food shopping together, let alone go out for dinner like we used to.”

So please, future BFF-roommate, take these words of advice: You will not internalize your roommate grievances. You will not write angry messages on sticky notes. You will not give your roommate the cold shoulder. You will tell her, calmly and respectfully, what bothers you, and later, when you’re old ladies looking back at your college experience, you will laugh about it! 

be open to feedback

Remember, voicing concerns to your roommate is equally as important as listening to your roommate’s concerns. If she’s annoyed or uncomfortable about something you’re doing, it’s human nature to feel offended or hurt at first. This may even be the first time you’ve had a conflict, confrontation, or simply an open discussion about your differences. However, remember that your roommate isn’t trying to attack you personally — chances are, there’s simply a difference in living styles going on, and there may be a solution that can benefit you both in the long run.

While some roommates may deliver criticism or feedback directly, it’s not always easy to tell when a discussion needs to take place. So if your roommate suddenly stops speaking to you one day or seems distant, it may be an indication that something’s going on. Just like you would with any other friend, find a quiet moment when you know she’s not studying and respectfully check in. There may be something important that needs to be discussed, and chances are, you’ll both feel better after clearing the air.

expand your social circle

College is a great time to expand your social circle, and spending time with a variety of people — not just your BFF 24/7 — can help you build a support system and remind you that there’s more to life than roommate woes. Susan Fee, author of My College Roommate is Driving Me Crazy!, mentions on her website, “Hanging out with your best friend can hold both of you back. All it takes is one, ‘You didn’t use to be that way,’ to feel trapped.” Your roommate-best friend can quickly become your only friend — and while that isn’t a terrible thing, it’s always healthy to branch out and meet friends outside of your living situation. 

Jenna*, a campus correspondent for HC, says that having a social life separate from her living situation was helpful (and healthy!) for her college roommate relationship. “My roommate and I did completely different things and were very busy, so when we came home at night, we loved seeing each other and appreciated each other’s company,” she tells Her Campus. “We could talk about our days, have fun, and cook dinner.” So, join a club you’re uniquely interested in, or join an intramural sports team during a time when your BFF is pursuing her own hobbies. You’ll make new friends and have more to talk about when you get home.

be intentional & make an effort

“Your relationship with your college roommate will be one of the most critical relationships you will develop during your college career,” says Cole. “It’s important that you are intentional in developing your relationship with your roommate from the beginning.”

A great way to stay intentional is by planning bonding sessions with your BFF, like Sunday dinners together or weekly movie nights. This way, no matter how busy you both get during the school year, there will always be room for each other in your busy college schedules. This worked great for my BFF roommates and I: we used to clear our schedules one night a week to cook dinner together. Also, there were no complaints on my end — not only did I get to chat with my chemical engineering roomies during one of their rare study breaks, but I also got to fuel up on food I never would have been able to cook for myself! 

Coming home to your BFF’s familiar face in college can be comforting, but it takes hard work to maintain this comfort. By laying your expectations on the table, accepting the fact that conflict is inevitable, employing direct, respectful communication, and making time for both personal growth and bonding, having your BFF as your college roommate can be super fun and rewarding. Let the late-night study sessions and pizza runs begin!

Experts
Bobbie Denise Cole, M.Ed, Assistant VP of Student Life, William Peace University
Kristine Thorndyke, Founder, Test Prep Nerds

Sources
Jenna*, HC Campus Correspondent
Sarah*, HC National Writer
*Names have been changed.

Lauren Mobertz studies Professional Writing and Hispanic Studies at Carnegie Mellon University, and will graduate in May 2012. To fuel her interest in urban studies, Lauren interned at Oakland Planning and Development Corporation in fall 2010. Since she received her passport, Lauren has not spent more than 7 consecutive months in the US. She spent spring 2011 in Santiago, Chile, translating documents for Educación 2020 and practicing her salsa; summer 2010 in Durban, South Africa, studying the social and economic impacts of the FIFA World Cup and volunteering for WhizzKids United; and spring break 2010 hosting art workshops in Siuna, Nicaragua. Somehow, she always manages to keep up with How I Met Your Mother and a little bit of running, no matter what city she's based in. Lauren hopes to settle down in the East Coast and enter education administration.
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