Living with roommates is a right of passage and can be one of the most fun aspects of college. My freshman year I had a potluck roommate success story; Julie and I ended up living together all four years and are still great friends today. And since Julie, I have had 12 other wonderful roommates.
Having a good roommate experience is more than just luck or compatibility. Like any relationship, it takes work from both people. I’ve seen the pressure of living together in a confined space bring the most unlikely pairs into friendship or cause friction in the most compatible people. So here, for your well-being, are some basic principles that go a long way toward peaceful living.
1. Create a roommate contract—and then take it seriously.
Julie and I attribute a lot of our early success to our roommate contract. Within a week of moving in we sat down with our RA to review what we had come up with. Apparently it was the most thorough contract she’d ever seen. (We didn’t realize this was high praise until months later when we discovered the extent of her Type-A personality. We should have framed our contract!)
Whether you sit down and write out a contract or just have a detailed conversation, sharing specific expectations can pave the way to an easier relationship. For those of you who are lucky enough to live with someone you know, this is still a good idea. I’ve seen great friendships ruined by living together because people assumed too much about what their friend wanted in a living environment.
Here are some topics for conversation:
Shared items: This could be big items like the TV and stereo system or small items like hair dryers and waffle makers. Establish rules for use and care. Also name the things you would rather not share, like deodorant. (I say this because someone in my hall went to RA mediation because his roommate refused to stop using his deodorant. That is not OK.)
Food: Will you share all food, certain items, or nothing? Establish a rotating system for buying or refilling shared items.
Cleanliness: What is your preferred standard of cleanliness? How do you keep common areas clean? You may want to come up with a chore chart.
Sleep schedule: Are you a late-night or morning person? What time will you each want headphones in and guests out?
Visitors: Talk through how you’ll handle out-of-town friends visiting for the weekend or boyfriend/girlfriend overnights.
Complaints: Also consider setting aside a regular time to check in on the living arrangement. This doesn’t have to be a long conversation; it just creates space to raise any issues in a calm manner before anger has a chance to build up.
2. Don’t be too polite too early.
What I mean is, don’t say something is OK if you’re uncomfortable with it. Unlike having a houseguest staying with you for a weekend, you will be living with this person for a year. If it’s going to bother you that your roommate goes to sleep with the TV on every night, speak up now. And if you have a pet-peeve, share it.
3. Understand that you are not entitled to everything you want.
You can share what bothers you, but ultimately life in your room is a compromise. I’ve had a roommate or two who I wished would clean the dishes in a more timely fashion, but as long as the dishes didn’t sit there for days on end, I let it slide.
4. Be observant.
Julie and I still joke about the indirect way she communicated her fears about living with someone. In the first month of our roommate-ship she came home and said, “Thank you for not coming home drunk and having sex with a strange man in my bed.” (I responded, “You’re welcome?”)
Not everyone will speak directly about what they want or what annoys them. So look for clues that all is not well in the living situation. Is your roomie constantly asking if you smell something funny and suggesting study sessions in the laundry room? Are you getting the silent treatment? Have you returned to the dorm to discover that your roommate had campus housing change the lock? Actions like these should be a red flag. Also pay attention to how your roommate is doing. If they’re having a bad week, give them alone time in the room, or offer to talk or clean up.
5. Plan roommate date nights.
You don’t have to be best friends with your roommate, but it is nice to occasionally invite them to what you’re doing. Spending some time together socially can help your living arrangement be more comfortable.
If you do become good friends, though, still don’t forget to schedule in time with your roommate. I have found that I often take friends for granted when I’m living with them. It’s easy to fill up my social calendar with other people. But “pass the cereal” doesn’t qualify as quality time.
During my senior year, none of my roommates had Friday morning class, so we had Waffle Fridays. This provided a rare opportunity for all four of us to be in the apartment at the same time and be silly together or catch up on life. Cooking food together might not be your thing, but you could have a video game night, schedule a weekly run, or watch a TV show together. Find a mutually enjoyable activity to do together.
6. Most of all, have fun getting to know someone new!
Jennifer Hagin is the Blue Ridge Regional Evangelism Coordinator and this summer married off one roommate and had her lucky #13 roommate move in. They are currently negotiating regular waffle dates.