In the first semester of college, I roomed someone who initially reached out to me. I decided to agree to be roommates with this person because we had a shared musical interest. Due to this, I thought we’d get along more easily as we had the same passion. However, I was wrong. Dead wrong. It wasn’t long until power imbalances occurred.
Tormenting and hurtful comments began shortly. Despite this, I still tried to make this roommate relationship work and I still wanted us to get along even if we weren’t going to be friends. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there. When I confronted her about this, she claimed that she did nothing wrong and didn’t change anything. It soon became clear that she expected me to respect her but didn’t want to give that same respect back to me. She wanted to be able to control me but didn’t want to be controlled herself.
Right before Thanksgiving break, I was fed up and exhausted after being spread thin. I decided to move out and move in temporarily with a friend. Staying in a toxic situation with someone who is far too immature to apologize, acknowledge their wrongdoings, and reflect on themselves is never a good idea. There were numerous times when I had to talk to my former roommate like she was a three-year-old in an attempt to get her to understand how her actions made me feel (even that didn’t work). Having a roommate who you get along with and who can help you grow as a person is an ideal situation. Don’t limit yourself to an “adult” who acts like a middle schooler.
Here’s what to do if you’re in a similar situation:
1. Analyze the “why” behind their actions
Why are they doing this? Why do they look down on you? Consider why they act the way they do. Maybe they have never shared a room with someone before in their life. We frequently place sole blame on individuals while underestimating the influence of external influences on their conduct. If they’re actively tormenting you, there’s a high chance they’re trying to bring you down in order to boost their own self-esteem. An example of this would be making hurtful or petty comments in order to “assert dominance”, prove they’re better than you, or maintain their idea that you’re less than them. It’s possible they have unresolved insecurities and want to push them onto you to make themselves feel better. For example, my ex-roommate would body-shame me and claim all those comments were “general statements”. However, it was clear that she made those comments toward me because was wildly insecure about her own body and appearance and wanted to feel better about herself. Sometimes people will pick on you if you stand up for yourself. Allowing their negative energy to swallow your positive energy is not a good idea.
2. Talk to them
If you are facing any issue with your roommate, you should definitely bring it up to them. The only way for them to solve the issue is to know you have one. Don’t bottle things up because that will only lead to resentment. No matter the outcome, do not let them step all over you. Pay close attention if they’re manipulating/gaslighting you. Make your voice heard. Explain why their behavior is wrong and why it needs to be changed. Most things can be resolved via communication. A conversation between you and your roommate could be really beneficial. You may communicate in a different way than this person, who may choose not to communicate with you at all. Take a seat, explain what’s upsetting you, and request that your roommate speak with you if an issue arises. It’s especially crucial to express your feelings as soon as you have them because if you don’t, the conversation could result in yelling. Show that you care about what they’re saying and tell them that you care about how they feel. Some roommates may declare they will be more respectful, but their behavior will not change, which is why it is important. Sometimes a roommate may act defensively and completely dismiss whatever you’re trying to talk to them about. Here are two examples of how to deal with a typical roommate quarrel:
A) Roommates have different sleeping schedules, which can work out fine. However, sometimes one could wake up early and make noise which in return, could wake the other one up. For example, Roommate A wakes up early and makes noise waking up Roommate B. In order to navigate this situation, the first step would be to have a conversation with Roommate A regarding this. Roommate B should first address the situation and should propose a solution that is amenable for both sides. An example of this could be, Roommate B wearing earplugs at night while Roommate A actively tries to lower the amount of noise.
B) Sometimes a roommate can have a tendency to make frequent phone calls. During these phone calls, the other roommate should be respectful and try to avoid interfering with their roommate’s call, unless it’s absolutely necessary. It is common courtesy to not talk to someone who is on the phone. However, if Roommate A, who’s not on the phone interrupts Roommate B without a good reason, here’s how to handle this situation:
Roommate B should do a physical, but silent action to show that they don’t want to talk to Roommate A. Actions such as putting a finger up to the lip or pointing to their phone are two great examples. If Roommate A still interrupts without a good reason, Roommate B should have a conversation with Roommate A after they hang up. In this conversation, Roommate B should tell Roommate A not to talk to them when they’re on the phone unless it’s an emergency. If Roommate A still interrupts Roommate B before they can hang up, Roommate B should leave the room if possible.
C) When you’re living with a roommate, you sometimes tend to do activities together. Activities such as going to the store for dorm supplies or dining together are some things roommates may do with each other. When spending all this together, Roommate A may notice Roommate B’s habits and routines a bit more and in some situations, Roommate A may want to comment on them. Although this is sometimes okay, there definitely are boundaries that need to be established. For example, if Roommate A makes a comment about Roommate B’s habits or routine that upsets Roommate B, they should communicate that with Roommate A. After hearing that their comment hurt Roommate B, Roommate A should apologize immediately without any excuses. Roommate A should be able to respect Roommate B’s wishes and never do that again. If Roommate A does that again, Roommate B should remind them not to do that, and Roommate A should make a constant effort to respect the boundaries of Roommate B. If not, Roommate B may need to schedule a mediation with an RA/GA.
When living with people, setting boundaries is also necessary. People have individual and specific boundaries, but since they have chosen to live together, it is critical that both roommates respect the boundaries of the other. Setting limits and checking in on them over the year is something I would encourage before moving in with new individuals. If someone crosses a line, talk to them right away and communicate your emotions; if they don’t listen (several times), discuss it with an RA/GA.
By far the most crucial quality to have in a roommate is respect. Others may clean less or be noisier than you, which is fine; what is not acceptable is when they are challenged to adjust their conduct and refuse. Respect the feelings of people and avoid becoming defensive. Bring someone into the scene to arbitrate the conversation if the person who lives with you lacks consideration. If you realized you did something wrong to your roommate, make no excuses and apologize. Admitting you’re wrong and apologizing for your mistakes is never a sign of weakness. Owning up to your mistakes and faults is a sign of maturity, strength, and self-awareness.
3. Bring it up to an RA/GA
Only move on to this step if Step 2 doesn’t work out. If your roommate is terrible enough, you can involve the Office of Residence Life. If it doesn’t work out, you can always choose to move out on your own. It won’t be easy, but removing oneself from toxic circumstances will be worthwhile in the long run.
Whatever you do, do not settle with a roommate who treats you as inferior. You deserve better.