Let’s get real about roommates.
When it comes to living at school, it is a safe assumption that you are going to have a roommate at least once in your college experience.
Stating the obvious here, but roommates are people, just like you, and people come with their own sets of preferences, behaviors, and habits. When you put two people with their own preferences, behaviors, and habits in a small space, I would be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a challenge at times.
However, your roommate experience doesn’t have to be a horror story as long as you take preventative action to set boundaries and keep the peace. It may not be a fairytale either, but it will be a safe and comfortable space for both of you. Furthermore, it will be a learning experience and a way to grow as a person, something that is always important in life.
Back to basics
Getting to know each other is a HUGE part of the roommate experience. It starts with an open discussion with key questions that go deeper than learning your favorite color. It means respectfully asking sometimes atypical or uncomfortable questions to get familiar with the other’s routines and eventually, lay down some ground rules.
Ask questions like these (not necessarily in any particular order):
- What are your typical daily routines?
- What time do you usually wake up and go to bed?
- What conditions do you require to sleep comfortably?
- How should I approach you to open a discussion or make a request?
- How do you feel about music, phone calls, television noise, etc.?
- Do you run hot or cold?
- How would you like to manage purchasing toilet paper, paper towels, and tissues?
- What are your feelings about overnight guests? What about when someone is visiting, do you need a head’s up and if so, by what means of communication and how far in advance?
- What chores do you least like to do? Would you want to use a detailed chore schedule or just assign chores to swap every week?
- How clean do you like to live? How often do you like to clean?
- What are the most stressful days of the week for you? What about least stressful?
- What are your pet peeves?
- What are your deal breakers?
- Do you feel comfortable with alcohol in the room? Do you smoke?
- What are you comfortable sharing and what is off-limits?
- How do you think you were a roommate to others in the past (if you have never lived with a roommate before, think of how you lived at home)?
Sign On the Dotted Line
Once you get a feel for who your roommate is, it is time to start compiling a contract! Yes, I said “contract”... aka a written agreement. This is vital to making sure everyone is on the same page, keeps to their word, and (bonus points!) remembers what was initially discussed.
Note that only with all parties present, the document should be edited and revised if any changes become necessary.
To begin this contract, first set a time that is convenient for the both of you to sit down without distractions and work through this.
Next, simply open a shared Google Doc and start laying out answers to questions like the ones above and perhaps share your class schedules for easy access. Perhaps also construct a chores schedule if you both feel that is something helpful to your organization and communication.
Be sure to share each other’s contact information like your full names, emails, and cellphone numbers – if not also some social media handles if you so choose to!
Upon completion of the contract, have both you and your roommate sign (or even just type) your names at the bottom stating you agree to the written statement above.
Following this step, download the document and email it to each other to make things official. Then, you are all set.
So, go forth and set those ground rules!
It is always a great gesture to occasionally touch base with your roommate. You don’t have to be the best of friends, but certainly it can help to maintain a comfortable, friendly relationship.
Some ideas include things as easy as asking how their day was or how classes are going, in passing.
Or, if you want to take your roommate friendship to the next level, you can always study at the library with them, invite them to an on-campus event to do together, or hold a movie night in your room!
How your roommate communicates is truly telling.
To better sift through the shades of green and red flags in you and your roommate’s relationship, along with potentially better understanding how to communicate with your roommate, here is a brief introduction to communication styles according to a comprehensive guide by The Better You Institute.
- Aggressive Communication Style
This style of communication is “when you state your needs to leave less room for others who are involved and their needs.” Often stemming from a place of insecurity and the feeling of your best interest being threatened, aggressive individuals have trouble relaying their thoughts and feelings in a healthy way.
- Using “you” statements
- Having a temper that is easily triggered
- Frequently interrupting or trying to dominate
- Utilizing humiliation to take control
- Criticizing you or others
- Passive Communication Style
The passive communication style is typical of individuals with a quieter nature, laid-back personality, or fear of confrontation, who tend to not express their thoughts and feelings to others. They frequently submit to individuals using more aggressive communication styles to avoid conflict, which sometimes results in suffering from unfulfilled needs and wants on their side.
- Having poor eye contact and retreating body language
- Failing to speak up for yourself
- Taking drastic measures to avert conflict
- Talking softly or always apologizing
- Pushing off stressful but urgent situations
- Passive-Aggressive Communication Style
Acting on anger just in indirect ways is the name of the game for the passive-aggressive communication styles. While these individuals might appear passive, they “will show their negative emotions in subtle and oftentimes harmful behaviors.”
- Committing subtle sabotage to you, your property, or others
- Practicing sarcasm
- Pretending to cooperative while intentionally completing tasks incorrectly
- Talking behind you or someone else’s back or crap-talking
- Withdrawing emotionally
- Speaking under their breath or mumbling about you
- Giving you the silent treatment, stonewalling, or ignoring you
- Assertive Communication Style
This is where you should shoot for – assertiveness. Being assertive doesn’t mean being rude, just being respectful and confident in how you speak and present yourself. In other words, “assertive communication clearly and firmly expressed their needs and/or opinions without violating the rights of others.”
- “I” statements
- Good eye contact and relaxed body posture
- Feeling in control
- Wielding empathy and compassion
- Practicing active listening
- Expressing their needs and wants in a respectful tone
Do any of these communication styles resonate? Or perhaps, do multiple styles speak to you?
Roomie Red Flags
Last but not least, here are a few red flag behaviors you should look out for in your roommate AND yourself. It takes a highly-perceptive and self-aware person to detect these behaviors in one’s self, so remember to be honest with yourself because many people are guilty of these red flags at some point in their life.
It is how we live and learn that defines us, not our mistakes.
- Lack of communication skills
How your roommate communicates is truly telling because communication is critical in any relationship, whether it be platonic, familial, romantic, or sexual. Sound that alarm if they:
- They interrupt you or let you talk only for short bursts before giving their two-cents or opinion
- They shut down whatever idea or request you have
- They pass judgment on you or your habits and behaviors before even alerting you that it bothers them
- They expect you to read their mind when it comes to being on the same page with what they are thinking
- They blatantly ignore you like you don’t exist or stonewall you with the silence treatment
- Extra-extrovert behavior
What is sleep? This is something you definitely will be asking yourself after a semester or two’s run-ins with an extra-extroverted roommate. Extroverts are great people, but when a roommate is EXTRA about it…
- They invite visitors over without asking
- They have friends over constantly to the point where it feels like you live with more than one roommate
- They call themselves a party animal and possibly live up to that title
- They return home late in the night or early in the morning
- No empathy or compassion
Life is all about helping others and being understanding and accepting of others’ situations. Sometimes, and understandably so, it can be difficult to put yourself in another one’s shoes. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t at least try to understand where the other party is coming from. According to VeryWellMind, signs they might be lacking in the empathy department include that:
- They victim-blame, body-shame, or guilt-trip
- They don’t forgive you for your shortcomings or mistakes
- They refuse to listen to your perspective
- They have little to no patience for your emotions
- They are exceedingly critical and judgmental of you or others
If you run into any of these red flags, practice using "I" statements like "I feel [this way] when you [do this]" with your roommate, and utilize the Assertive Communication Style. You got this!
But please do not fret! These are examples of worst case scenarios that rarely happen! Your roommate is probably just like you, looking for a positive semester and wanting to connect.
We must come to accept that roommate experiences are pretty much inevitable at college, so why not make the best of it? Of course, keep an eye out for those red flags, but enjoy your time together as best you can because you’re only young once!