Your Keys to Success: The Roommate Edition

I will never forget the nerves I had while sitting at my computer repeatedly refreshing the page in front of me last August. The housing and roommate assignments for my first semester at UMass were supposed to be released that night. Getting the perfect roommate was the last piece I needed to complete the puzzle in my college selection process. After finally getting my roommate’s information, I stalked her on Instagram and sent her the perfect text showcasing my very best self. I knew instantaneously that we were going to be best friends. Even better, it was mutual; I had found my other half. Throughout the semester, the two of us lived in complete harmony.

Unfortunately, this story isn’t the case for most people. We've all heard the classic horror stories: two people who were originally dying to live together quickly come to the unfortunate realization that the living situation is less than ideal, or someone enters the semester with a randomly selected roommate and discovers that they come from opposite worlds. Look, it happens — but it's not the end of the world. Whether you're best friends or polar opposites, here are four things that, in my experience, will help you successfully coexist with your roommate.

1. Do kind gestures for them.

Although this isn’t a must to ensure a good relationship with your roommate, doing small things for them lets them know that you're by their side. It demonstrates that you can be a good friend, and adds a level of comfort to the atmosphere in your room. My best friend and her roommate, despite being very different people, demonstrated this perfectly. One afternoon, my friend walked in on her roommate crying because she was so homesick. The very next day, my friend surprised her roommate with flowers, candy and a cute note in order to show that she’s there for her. Even though they aren't best friends, this brought them closer together and allowed my friend’s roommate feel more comfortable being open.

The gestures don’t have to be as big as buying each other flowers. When my roommate and I are out shopping or eating, typically at Target or Starbucks, we always text each other to check in and see if the other wants or needs anything. It's a small gesture, but shows that you think about your roommate's needs. Even if you aren't close, sending a text that says, “I’m at Target, need anything?” might cheer up their day just a little.

2. Treat each other with respect. 

If you act courteously toward your roommate, then the two of you will, in most circumstances, get along. It's important to remember that you don’t have to be best friends. But you still have to live together. Navigating this successfully revolves around the concept of respect. Respect that they are living with you; this is their space, too. Respect their time, needs and personal items. Last semester, one of my friends caught her roommate using her shower caddy and all the products in it — it was so awkward and inconsiderate. And now I’m sure you can guess who isn’t living together again this semester. Blatantly doing things that would obviously make any person mad, like using their things without permission, making their side of the room messy or being too loud at night will create conflict.

Discuss both of your pet peeves and preferences regarding your living space. For you, it's important to respect what they say. For example, if your roommate doesn't like having guests in your room, you probably shouldn't invite all your friends over at 11 p.m. on a Wednesday. You and your roommate will get along if you respect each other. It’s that simple.

3. Don’t spend 24/7 with them.

This tip is geared toward the roommates who are now close friends, either from before college or from living together. Chances are if you’re friends with your roommate, you eat almost every meal together, stay up late at night gossiping, go to the same parties and have mutual friends. Before you realize it, the two of you are spending a better part of your week attached at the hip. In college, it’s hard to find your alone time, especially with a roommate who is also your best friend.

However, it’s important for the health of your friendship to find time for yourself. I see so many people who were best friends living together, but would constantly bicker about the smallest things. It’s inevitable. If you spend all your time with the same person, you two are going to get a little irritated with each other at one point or another, and what does this mean? Tension. Before you know it, every little thing they do is going to bother you. So, for the sake of your relationship and sanity, find your sanctuary on or off campus. Spend some time away from each other to make your friendship — and coexistence — healthier.

4. Understand that you come from different places.

Unless you went to boarding school, college is most likely the first time you're going to school with people who come from very different backgrounds. And now on top of that, you're also living with them. It's crucial to remember your differences when trying to create a healthy relationship with your roommate. Maybe growing up, their parents never told them to make their bed or clean their room. Instead of just getting mad and grossed out, talk to them about it. This is where the importance of communication comes into play again. Hopefully from this conversation, you'll see how different you are and make compromises in order to create a harmonious living space. For a lot of us, before college, we never had a roommate. Understanding this concept and being patient with each other are crucial factors in the transition from living alone to having a roommate. 

Images: 1, others courtesy of the author