Living with someone you don’t know can be very challenging, even if you come from a household with lots of siblings and are used to sharing a space. When it comes to living with other people in college, every student fears having a bad roommate. No one wants to live with someone they dislike or have problems with. I met with a Resident Director and a fellow Resident Assistant from Emerson College to get advice for this article. Roommate dispute is one of the most common issues residence hall professionals have to mediate, so they have great expertise on this topic. Resident Director Brandon Bennett, Resident Assistant Jake Hines, and college students Zoe Cronin and Kit Norton, gave advice that will help you and your roommate get along throughout the school year:
1. Address both big and small issues.
Brandon Bennett, Resident Director at Emerson College, said that most roommate conflicts stem from a lack of communication skills. He thinks that when people are able to confront one another in a healthy way, roommate relationships can actually grow and become stronger. “Most people are not intentionally vindictive toward their roommate,” he says. “Being told how they are making someone feel can be a starting point for a compromise.” It is important to talk to your roommate if something they do annoys you, or if you think you might be doing something that bothers them that they are not telling you about. Resident Assistant Jake Hines, who has lived in a dorm setting for ten years because he attended boarding schools during high school, said that if you don’t address even the smallest issues, they pile up, and roommates become passive aggressive with one another. “It gets to the point that they hate each other and can’t live together anymore, so they need to switch rooms,” he said. For example, one of his residents started gaging at the sight of his roommate rubbing in lotion into his skin. “This kind of passive aggressive behavior makes roommates feel very insecure.” Talk to your roommate from the very beginning of the relationship and establish an open and honest dialogue.
2. Exchange one thing with your roommate that annoys you.
Once roommates are being transparent with each other, the problems that they had before should stop reoccurring. “Sharing one thing that your roommate does that annoys you, instead of a list to the moon, is a great way to let your roommate know what you don’t like, without offending him or her,” said Hines. For example, maybe you go to sleep earlier than your roommate and it annoys you that he/she leaves the lights on. Share this annoyance and ask your roommate what annoys him/her. Perhaps, he/she doesn’t like when you leave your dirty laundry on the floor. As a compromise, you can stop leaving your dirty laundry on the floor, and your roommate can turn off the lights earlier, turn on a smaller lamp, or do homework in the common area.
3. Ask questions.
Bennett said the greatest advice he could give to people who live with roommates was to ask questions. “Never stop trying to get to know the person whom you share a space with. Everything else from that point will become so much easier.” You should be friendly to your roommate, without expecting to be best friends.
4. Be aware of who you bring into your room and how often.
It’s important to always notify your roommate in advance if you’re going to have a guest. Zoe Cronin, a junior at Emerson, said that she got along really well with her roommate freshman year, but there was one time when she got mad. Her roommate’s boyfriend was visiting and he accidentally spilled orange juice all over the carpet. Cronin didn’t say anything and cleaned the carpet herself. “I wish I had told her I was irritated, instead of silently being mad,” she said. Kit Norton, also a junior, said that he and his suitemates were never going to forget the smell of a guest’s stinky feet. “It smelled like old, melted cheese,” he said. Norton had to put pants under the door so that the smell wouldn’t get to his room through the door. He still has never addressed the issue with the suitemate, who occasionally brings the guest. “You can’t smell it until he takes off his shoes; it’s like a super power,” he said.
5. Make up to your roommate, if you messed up.
Maybe you borrowed your roommates’ nice shirt to go out for dinner and you accidentally spilled grape juice all over it. Take it to a dry cleaner if you can, or offer to help pay for the damage, and apologize to your roommate. Norton’s suitemate Kristen once received donuts from her roommate as a form of apology.
6. Set rules.
Cronin advises to set rules with your roommate: a time for lights out, rotate taking out the trash, how many guests are allowed to come and how frequently they can visit, whether music can be played through speakers or head phones, what types of food can be eaten in the room incase of allergies or sensitivities, etc.
7. Be mutually respectful of each other’s personal space and belongings.
You might come from a household where sharing things with your siblings without asking for permission was totally acceptable. However, borrowing your roommate’s cute top might be crossing a line. Don’t borrow, use, or take anything without getting permission first.
8. Lock the door and windows.
Thefts aren’t uncommon at colleges. How would you feel if your roommate’s laptop got stolen if you forgot to lock the door? However, you don’t want your roommate to get locked out all the time, so kindly remind him/her to take the keys. Don’t be that roommate who locks the door and leaves while the roommate is in the shower.
You don’t have to be best friends with your roommate, but you should be friendly. You can always find a compromise. Having difficult conversations is part of growing up and helps you in the future. If nothing else works out, consult with your RA, who will advice you, and if needed, mediate the difficult conversation between you and your roommate.