My first college roommate had a boyfriend who must have weighed about 400 pounds. He dressed like a gangster and spoke in weird monosyllables when he did speak at all.
My roommate used to let this gargantuan neanderthal sleep over. And sometimes, in the morning, I’d wake up to find that, while she had left for class, he was still there in her bed, snoring loudly. I applied for a new roommate and got out of there pronto.
Living with roommates can be…tricky. Even if they don’t actually allow potentially dangerous snoring beast men to sleep three feet away from you, there are all kinds of other difficult situations that can arise from living in such close proximity to another human being.
Plenty of roommate situations are wonderful (if you’re just about to leave for college or moving into your first apartment, don’t panic), but some roommates are…well…difficult. If you find yourself living with a difficult personality, take a look at these tips to help you work out what to do.
Set Some Ground Rules
One of the best things you can do to ensure a livable roommate situation is set up some rules beforehand. This may seem a little awkward — especially if your roommate is a stranger rather than a friend — but it’s really important, so do it anyway. Living with someone can put a strain on even the best friendships, so creating ground rules in advance will minimize blow ups.
Think about how you want to use the space. If you’re living in a dorm room, do you want to split it down the middle and stay on your own sides, or do you want to share the space? If you live in an apartment, which rooms are common spaces and which rooms aren’t? What about food? Will you each buy and store your own food and cook your own meals? Or will you shop from a collective budget and eat together?
Living with someone can put a strain on even the best friendships, so creating ground rules in advance will minimize blow ups.
How will you keep your home clean and tidy? (My last year in college, I lived off-campus in a house with some friends, and we created a job chart which rotated us through different household tasks each week.) Discuss visitors. Will you allow 400-pound weirdos into your home? What about regular boyfriends? Can they visit? Can friends come stay the night? Try to think through all the potential areas of disagreement and work together to decide how you’ll handle them. Then write these agreements down. If you wind up having any issues, you’ll be glad to have that document to refer to.
Nip Issues in the Bud
For people like me who are conflict-averse, it can sometimes feel easier to sit there and stew rather than bring up things that are bothering us. But the longer we let our roommates do something we don’t like, the more it will seem like a big deal when we do bring it up. Maybe your roommate leaves all her dishes in the sink until the end of the day, but you prefer to have a neat and tidy kitchen all day long. Maybe she talks on the phone really loudly until all hours of the night or borrows things from your closet without asking. Whatever the issue is, it’s best to speak to her right away.
The longer we let our roommates do something we don’t like, the more it will seem like a big deal when we do bring it up.
Be polite but firm. Clearly explain what it is she’s doing that you don’t like, why you don’t like it, and what it is you’d like her to do instead. For example, “I would really appreciate it if you didn’t talk on the phone after 10:00” (or whatever time you feel is reasonable). “It’s keeping me awake. If you do need to make a call, could you please step outside?” If you made a written agreement prior to moving in, this is a good time to refer to it. If she gives you attitude, just reiterate your request and leave it at that. Then, the next time it happens, speak to her about it in the moment and ask her again (politely) to stop.
It’s tempting to fight back against your roommate’s annoying behaviors by retaliating. She doesn’t want to do her dishes? Fine, I’ll pile them outside her door! She talks on the phone too loudly? I’ll hide her phone! She likes to take things from your closet? Take things from hers! But this will just lead to full-on war. Similarly, don’t passive-aggressively do the things you wish she did (like the dishes) and then fume inwardly that she doesn’t seem to care. Being passive aggressive tends not to solve anything.
When All Else Fails, Take Action
Some roommate situations can’t be solved (like the 400-pound-man-in-the-next-bed-over kind, for example). In those cases, it’s time to find a new living situation. If you’re in college, this can be accomplished by speaking to your RA, or finding the office of on-campus housing and speaking to someone there. If your complaint is legitimate (as opposed to something like “I just don’t like the color scheme she chose for her bed linens), they’ll probably help you.
Don’t do anything behind your roommate’s back. Be clear and concise about what you need from her and, if all else fails, move on.
If you’re living in an apartment or house, you may need to be the one to leave — especially if both your names are on the lease. If you’ve signed a year-long lease, you’ll have to try to find someone else to take over your part of it. Posting on a site like Craigslist is a good place to start for this. If your name’s not on the lease, you’re free to go whenever you choose.
Living with another person is hard. Even a friend can start to get on your nerves after a while. And some roommates can be really hard to live with. The name of the game here is clarity and transparency. Don’t do anything behind your roommate’s back. Be clear and concise about what you need from her and, if all else fails, move on.
Having a roommate can be wonderful — my second college roommate was great, we roomed together for three years — but it can also be hard. Don’t let your living situation become an all-consuming nightmare. You’ve got enough on your plate as it is!