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5 Tips For Living With A Difficult Roommate

Sharing a room isn’t the easiest thing to do if you’re not used to it, and even if you’ve shared before, there’s always a little apprehension. What if your roommate is messy, or likes to have friends over without asking, or is just unwilling to compromise? You’re going to be living with them for at least a year, so how will you turn the nightmare into something manageable? In reality, the Worst Case Scenario roommate you’re imagining is unlikely, and if you keep an open mind you’ll be able to live happily with even the most unaccommodating people. I spoke with a few Sophs and got some experienced input, so here are a few tips to help you navigate the uncertainty of living with a challenging roommate!

1. Establishing Expectations

Within the first couple days of meeting and living with your new roomie, set aside a little bit of time to have a conversation about boundaries and preferences. This would be the time to bring up pet peeves, personal habits, daily schedules, and how you’ll divide the space itself – basically, just give them an idea of what it’ll be like living with you! If you seem to prefer similar living conditions, fantastic; if you like different things, don’t fret! As long as you’re both willing to accommodate each other, you’ll be able to live happily despite being even polar opposites.

2. Voluntarily Compromise

When differing opinions converge, the best way to work through them is with a compromise. This is basic fact and probably not a surprise to you. However, even people who already claim to put this tip into practice often forget that it has to be willing compromise, given freely and without any underlying passive aggressivity. Let’s say you’re frustrated that your roommate keeps turning the heat up when you both know you can’t sleep when it’s warm. When you ask to find a temperature that works for both of you, make sure you’re doing so in a way that doesn’t come off as hostile, even if you’re exasperated. Compromising is a two-way street, but to work most effectively and avoid future arguments, both people have to feel like their opinions are being appreciated—even when you’re both irritated at one another.

3. Outsource Conflict Assistance

Speaking of future arguments, consider bringing in a third party if you can’t come to a compromise by yourselves. Remember, this doesn’t mean dragging your friends into the fight! Instead, bring in a more objective third party – if you’re in residence you could try a Soph or RA, and if you’re living in a home you could try your landlord, or at the very least a mutual friend. You can also always utilize the Off Campus Housing Mediation Service, which is free, confidential, and can act as a buffer between roommates as well as students and landlords. It might make you feel disappointed that you couldn’t “deal with it yourself,” but sometimes compromise can be difficult, especially in the case of a roommate you don’t get along with! Bringing in a mediator can also save you from having to bring in more serious help later, such as a lawyer or law enforcement, if you are able to come to a compromise earlier on. Don’t feel guilty if you have to bring in an unbiased third to help make the hard decisions, because in the end it’ll make for a happier living situation for everyone involved.

4. Communicate Openly

The number one tip I can give for learning to live with a challenging roommate is communicating frequently and honestly with each other. It’s the same as in a romantic relationship; communication is crucial in order to remain healthy and happy, and a lot of people overlook how important it is. If something bothers you, be vocal about it – but not in a way that makes your roomie feel attacked. Remember to communicate frequently and consistently throughout the year so that no one holds anything in that could blow up later; don’t just be vocal when first moving in. Keep communication in mind particularly during midterm and finals seasons, when everyone is extra stressed and more likely to pick a fight. You and your roommate can’t read each other’s minds, so being open with each other about how you’re feeling is the only way to incite change. Open communication will give everyone the best chance of being happy, even if you don’t always get along.

5. If All Else Fails

Remember that you and your roommate don’t have to be best friends – you just have to share a space. If you’re trying everything and making no progress, it’s not your fault; a roommate is just that—someone that shares your room—and not necessarily your closest friend. It’s alright if you don’t get along, as long as you’re trying! Even in the absolute Worst Case Scenario where they aren’t trying or you can never seem to come to a compromise, remember that the situation is temporary. You don’t have to get along as much as you have to cohabitate; just do your thing while they do theirs. Think of yourselves like the oil and vinegar in a salad dressing. You don’t have to mix, you just have to share some space. And if you ever feel unsafe because of a roommate, remember that you can always contact a lawyer or law enforcement; you don’t have to continue to put yourself through a traumatizing experience, and you can get professional help to work out a healthier living situation for you, even if that includes moving. Always do what’s best for your mental, emotional, and physical safety, and remember to ask for help if you need it!

Even if your roommate isn’t the amazing best friend you might’ve hoped for, you can still have a fantastic university experience. This isn’t just possible through communication and compromise, but also through recognizing that your roommate can still be a good living partner even if they are not what you expected. Things will work out for you, whether it be through giving each other space and establishing boundaries, or by seeking out another place to live if the situation continually affects your mental health or safety. If you have access to a Soph, RA, or other advisor, remember that you can always ask them for help if you’re not sure what to do. As long as you’re doing your best, that’s all anyone can ask!

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Lauren has been writing for Her Campus Western since 2016. With an Honours Specialization in Media, Information and Technoculture, and a minor in Women's Studies, she is considering careers in teaching, marketing, and journalism. She has a passion for intersectional, embodied, and inclusive feminism, and is dedicated to exploring areas of media culture and ideological discourse through her writing.
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