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The Roommate Break-Up: How to Deal If You’re the Dumper or the Dumped

Living with friends can be more complicated than you would think. Someone eats someone else’s expensive cheese, a passive-aggressive note is posted on the fridge, a fight over personal property ensues, and a friend turns into an enemy. Well, not all things are meant to be. Sometimes you have to tell a friend that things just aren’t working out, and sometimes you have to be the friend hastily searching for somewhere else to live. We’re here with four different potential situations and tips on how to secure living arrangements with as little drama as possible.

Sticky Situation #1: You don’t want to live with your current roommate next year.

Susan Fee, author of My Roommate is Driving Me Crazy!, suggests that if you want to break it off, you do it in person, just like any other relationship.

“Always speak in person, rather than texting or online.  You owe to yourself and your roommate to be honest.  You might be surprised to learn she feels the same way,” Fee says. She also says to give your roomie plenty of notice, so she can make other plans. No matter what your level of frustration may be, it’s important to approach the discussion in a calm and understanding way. Fee suggests a great line to give that is both polite and effective.

"I've been thinking about what would be best for me and my situation next year and I've decided to move/change roommates/live alone.  I wanted to give you plenty of notice so that you can make plans too.”

You don’t have to go into why you don’t want to live with her next year—just say that you’re trying to make the best decision for you. No feelings hurt, and everyone gets something that works out for her.

Sticky Situation #2: Your friends tell you they don’t want to live with you next year.

Sometimes you may end up being on the other side of the fence. You’re not sure why (or you’re exactly sure why – you HATE doing the dishes), but you’ve been ousted from the group. Before you fly off the handle and declare the friendship o-v-e-r, take a deep breath and find a different situation.

“Thank them for their honesty and move on!  Their response may sting, but better to find out sooner rather than later,” Fee says. “If you have to pitch yourself to people to be accepted, it's not a good situation from the start.”

Talk to some other friends and see if they are looking to fill rooms at their places or know people who are. Post on your campus online message board saying that you’re looking for some roommates. You can also speak to a representative from your school’s off-campus student services department to see what your options are. They often hold on-campus events, such as meet-and-greets for students who are looking for new roommates. Chances are that a lot of cool girls like you are in the exact same situation. No need to boo-hoo over it, take it as an opportunity to cultivate new friendships.

Sticky Situation #3: Your future roommate is way too picky when you’re apartment-hunting.

Searching for apartments can be incredibly exciting, but when a friend vetoes nearly everything you see over minute details, it can be a total buzzkill. Who demands a claw-foot bath tub and a sun room? Ugh. Fee advocates that you “discuss and agree on ahead of time what you both are looking for, what's an absolute, and what's negotiable.  Determine a budget and timeline, and then start looking.”

The key is to figure out the essentials beforehand. The most important part is deciding on a price range and the neighborhood you want to live in. If you’re working with a realtor, be firm on the things that you determine as “absolutes.” Realize that compromising is part of the process, but if your future roomie continues to make strange or excessive demands, reconsider living with her.

“If she is indecisive to the point of stalling, recognize the red flag and reconsider if she's the best roomie for you right now,” Fee says.

Laura, a senior at UNC- Chapel Hill, was looking for off-campus housing with her five best friends last year and had to deal with many conflicting opinions.

“We ended up finding a pretty great place, but the process was so stressful,” Laura says. “Each person always has her own preferences and priorities and budget when it comes to finding a place to live…there ended up being a lot of preferences that didn't always match up.” 
Laura thinks that “you have to go into it knowing that you will have to make compromises. Figure out your few biggest priorities, and know where you're willing to make sacrifices.”

Luckily for Laura, she was able to help her roommates work as a team to find a place they could all agree on. “I'm so glad that we were able to compromise and find a place where we could all live together - it's been so worth it,” she says.

Draw up a list with your potential roomies. Decide what are “musts” (heat and hot water are included), “pluses,” (dishwasher), and “lusts” (that claw-foot bathtub). This way you’ll be able to see right in front of you what your priorities are and feel comfortable with them because everyone agrees.


Sticky Situation #4: You have an open room in your apartment and two good friends each want to sublet it for themselves.

Isn’t it flattering being fought over? Well, not necessarily, if it’s your two besties. But best friends don’t necessarily equal best roommates. Treat them as you would any other prospective living partner. Ask tough questions like “What is your history with paying bills on time?” And “Do you solemnly swear to promise to contribute to housework?” If you feel very indecisive ask for references from each of the candidates. Talk to former roommates and even siblings to get the lowdown on what it’s really like to live with them.

“Learn to negotiate - it's a worthy life skill to have!” Fee says. “Instead of thinking 50/50, think fair trade offs.  That could mean someone pays more rent for the space, or someone gets the space in return for doing dishes more often.”

Remind your friends that this choice is strictly professional, and it has nothing to do with the merit of your friendship. For the friend you do not choose, treat her to a nice dinner as a peace offering. Tell her how much she means you and have a few laughs over a bottle of wine. If she is understanding and you are polite, there is no reason for your friendship to change.

Living with friends can be the best of times or the worst of times. What’s most important is feeling comfortable in your living situation. It’s easy to get heated or feel offended when tough circumstances arise. But whatever situation you’re in, handle it with class, knowing that the perfect living situation is not out of reach for you.

Susan Fee, author of My Roommate is Driving Me Crazy!
College women from across the country

Kimya is a print and multimedia journalism student at Emerson College. She loves living in Boston, but still misses her hometown of Austin, Texas. She enjoys fashion, poetry, food and making predictions for award show winners.
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