Some of you will be moving into dorms for later this fall. Unless you scored a single, you will have at least one roommate. By now you’ve probably heard of some nightmarish horror stories about awful roommates and are entertaining possibilities in your mind about the sort of person your roommate can be. Whether your roommate ends up being your soul mate, good pal, or just another person you live with, here are some tips to keep them from becoming your arch nemesis:
• Set Boundaries Early. It’s a lot easier to set boundaries early than later on. Because once you’ve been letting someone go into your closet to borrow stuff for six months, it’s going to be a lot more awkward to yank your favorite shirt out of their hopeful hands. And hurt feelings may occur because some level of expectation has developed.
• Respect Their Stuff. An extension of setting boundaries. No snooping around or touching their stuff. You wouldn’t want them to do the same to you!
• Take your roommate contract seriously. Trust me. When I was a freshman, I had circled “anytime!” on the questions about how often it’s okay for my roommate to use my fridge, toothpaste, etc, not thinking that I’d really have to uphold my side of the promise if she took advantage of it. Think in a worst-case-scenario: if your roommate turns out to be a repulsive, nasty ogre, are you really willing let them use your toothpaste every day? If they turn out to be nice folk who run out of toothpaste one day, then you can always be generous. But it’s a lot harder to create a boundary where there wasn’t one before.
Whenever there’s a problem between roommates, the first thing that the RA (Resident Advisor) does is go over your contract agreement. So if you’re mad about your roommate using all your shampoo and you had marked that it was okay to use it, well…it’s going to be a lot harder to switch rooms.
• Go to events together. Even though I had zero interest in sororities, I went to rush events with my suitemates and roommate. By doing so, I was able to taste the excitement and see how the sorority/frat scene is like. I also had a lot of fun partying it up with my suitemates!
• Keep an eye out for their needs. Don’t bring in your friends while your roommate is trying to study. If they come home tired, let them have some quiet time. Figure out a compromise if you’re a night tiger and they’re a morning bird. Some people have trouble falling asleep with the light on, and that can be a problem if you’re studying late into the night while your roommate sleeps.
• Keep things clean. An excessively gross roommate is one of the most common roommate dilemmas out there. There are many stories of nasty, atrocious roommates who leave food (and worse things, like tampons) to rot, ferment, mold, and decompose into all of their wondrous mutated forms. Please don’t be one of them.
• Be direct but calm and polite. If your roommate happens to be one of those mold-loving balls of joy, talk to them about it and be direct about how it’s affecting you. After all, it’s hard to concentrate (or even sleep) when your room smells like a landfill.
• Give them space…but also introduce them to your friends. Everyone can use a bit of downtime every once in a while—some people need more alone time than others. It also opens you both up to finding your own paths in the campus. On the other hand, some people are just very shy. If you have a roommate who’s shy but wants to socialize more, then give them a boost by introducing them to people! They might not click with everyone but you never know who they might become chummy with. And they’ll have you to thank.
• Offer an ear if they are feeling down. Campus living (and college in general) takes quite a bit of adjustment. A lot of students find themselves far from home and friends they have known for nearly all their lives. Launched into this new environment with unfamiliar faces and fast-paced lifestyles, it can all feel overwhelming and lonely. If your roommate opens up to you, you can help shape their perspective of the college experience in a positive way by being a good listener and compassionate friend. If your roommate is having a super hard time coping with the stress or loneliness, then suggest that he or she try talking to a counselor—your school should have a mental health services department ready to help students who are feeling the stress—it’s a common experience!
Many of these tips have a lot to do with being both assertive and considerate to your roommate. Keep these tips in mind as you prepare for a great year living on campus!