Thursday, November 11th, 2010

A Student’s Guide to Roommates

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Student's Guide to Roommates

There are three stages to the lives of roommates; The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Roommating: it’s going to happen to you, and everyone you know. All you can do is attempt to deal with it. At some point in your life, most likely once you enter post-secondary education, you’re going to have a roommate, maybe several. Some of the time, you’re not going to get to choose them; many universities (like mine) use a ‘lottery’ system to select roommates, placing people in 10 ft X 6 ft spaces at random. It might happen in first year, when you’re unsuspecting and fresh-faced. Or later, in the excitement of the middle years, deciding to live with friends for the first time. It may not even happen until post-graduation, moving out and looking for someone to split costs with.

Regardless of when it happens, there are three stages to the lives of roommates; The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Good.

I spent eight months living with four friends of mine. All females, all in one house. Ignoring the nightmarish moments, there are moments of life in that house I will never forget. Your roommates can become your family, they are the people on hand when you break-up with your boyfriend, or argue with your professor over a grade, or just have a really shitty day. It’s a family you can create for yourself, be it with strangers or friends you already have. How do you cultivate relationships like this? Sometimes, you can’t. Not everyone emerges from a living situation as best friends. Be prepared to simply have a roommate towards whom your feelings are neutral. However, these are some easy ways to foster relationships:

Talk. Yes. Just communicate. Find out about this stranger cohabiting with you, tell them about yourself.

Spend time at home. It’s tempting to only come home to eat, sleep, and (maybe) shower when there are so many more appealing things happening elsewhere, but if you want to know your roommates, you need to be around to see them.

Don’t push it. No one wants the roommate constantly asking about weekend plans, or their uncle’s cousin’s daughter’s kid’s dance recital; that’s worse than a clingy girlfriend. Let the relationship (like any other relationship) progress naturally, because it will. Don’t sweat it.

The Bad.

So you’re in this space, be it dorm or house, and things aren’t Good. To quote a particularly articulate friend of mine, “Just because you make a cleaning schedule, doesn’t mean anyone’s going to do it.”. Sometimes roommates just don’t get along. Sometimes one roommate likes to come home and shut the world out for a few hours, while the other one wants to sit down and talk immediately. For hours. Sometimes a roommate is obsessively clean (someone like me, for example) and the others just don’t care as much. Whatever the situation is, you’re not into it, and things are about to get Ugly. Before you smack your roommate over the head with a bat, take a minute to read the following common conflict situations, and possible solutions.

Chores: Most roommate issues come from differences in what “clean” really is. People grow up in different families, they experience cleaning and chores and dirt differently. That’s the first thing you have to tell yourself if you’re currently hyperventilating because the bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in weeks. The best way to cope with this is get the awkward and dorky conversation about chores and cleanliness out of the way the first day. Draw up a schedule, even though it may not get followed. If something really bothers you, be it too much cleaning, or too little cleaning, bring it up with your roommates. If you keep it to yourself, nothing is going to change. Remember, not everyone is just like you. That would be weird.

I just don’t like them: So you don’t like your roommate. He’s got a nasally voice, or their girlfriend/boyfriend is always over and they’re, well, loud. If you’re just not getting along, does your school offer a change of room? Spaces often open up in other units or rooms and you are allowed to switch. No judgement. If you don’t want to move, then you’re going to have to get used to not liking this person you live with, because we don’t kill/maim/attempt to terrify others. If you don’t want them around, but would like some time at home, suggest that you both get a certain amount of “alone” time in the house each week, and work out a schedule for it.

Drama: What if your roommate makes out with your ex-boyfriend? What if your roommate is suddenly calling your sister or cousin all the time? Again, talk to your roommate. Set boundaries. People are selfish, they see what they’re doing and not necessarily how it’s making you feel. If something has happened that’s bothering you, let them know. You’re roommate isn’t your new best friend, communication is.

And the Ugly

This is the part where I tell horror stories bad enough to make everyone live alone for the rest of their lives, stories much like watching an episode of The Real World. My personal favorites are little things:

  • I just got a Facebook invite to a party my roommate is throwing… in our house.
  • I just caught my roommate watching me change in her hand mirror.
  • My roommate peed on my facecloth
  • My roommate is dating my ex-boyfriend

The list goes on and on. Everyone has these stories. Yes, the psychotic roommate who changed the locks and phone number is a real person, but he doesn’t live with everyone. Luckily, the crazy people you hear stories about are a small population, one that, hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with.

Roommates most often get Ugly when the pressures of always being around the same people get to be too much. Spending too much time with anyone can be draining, especially when they’ve lived with you for four months and the little things that make you want to murder each other add up. I’ve had those moments. I think all four of my past roommates and myself had those moments of “I never want to be around this person again.” Those thoughts can be solved by taking a breather from home, or shutting yourself in your room, just for a bit. Have time to be quiet, by yourself. You’re your own roommate, too.

If it’s not that simple, if you feel unsafe or there have been real fights, I’d recommend getting yourself out of that situation, and quickly. Talk to your RA (most residences, no matter the type, have one) or ask a friend if you can crash on their couch while you find a new place. This is your home that we’re talking about, and you should feel safe in it.

Having a roommate is like being in a relationship. It’s a big commitment, an emotional and financial drain. You might have to try a bunch of different people before you find the One, and you really need to know yourself before you find the perfect person to share a tiny apartment with. “Roommating” is not to be treated lightly; treat it with the same respect you’d treat any fun, new, and exciting relationship, and you might have the time of your life with this person.

Got a nightmarish roommate story? Advice on how to co-habituate? Let us know in the comments below!

Sasha Duncan
Author: Sasha Duncan
Sasha is a third-year student at UBC Vancouver, she's making the most of the time until she graduates and then has to figure out just what to do with herself post-graduation.
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