It’s a long-standing joke among college students that the roommate preference sheet you fill out before living in the dorms is used not to place you with someone who you’ll fit with, but to find the best person for you to do battle with in the university’s newly constructed Thunderdome (it’s not going to pay for itself, you know).
Seriously, though, roommate issues are often one of the top complaints of college freshmen. Most universities require freshmen to live on campus during their first year, so there’s no escape.
Generally, students aren’t allowed to choose their roommates, so you have to deal with living with a stranger alongside all the other stress of your first year at college. You’re going to have different schedules for eating and sleeping; you’ll have different tastes in music and TV shows; you’ll have different expectations of cleanliness and responsibilities.
So how do you survive this rite of passage with your sanity intact or without moving into the library and secretly living in the stacks between Renaissance and Restoration literature? Here are a few simple steps to follow to help settle your differences and live with a difficult roommate.
First things first – sit down and have an honest discussion between the two of you in which you discuss pet peeves, set rules and make a schedule. You don’t want to list every single thing that irritates you, but knowing the biggies will help the two of you avoid unnecessary conflict. The rules need to cover the basics, such as lights out, cleaning and noise levels. You also need to set specific rules regarding boy/girlfriends.
Set a schedule or chart of responsibilities for things like housekeeping chores. Most university dorms have RAs that are required to do room inspections, so you’ll need to have a schedule for sweeping/vaccuming and general tidying up.
Keeping the shared space picked up will also help to cut down on arguments between you and lost or misplaced items.
But what if you do all this and your roommate refuses to abide by the rules or schedule or hold up their responsibilities? Don’t break out your Thunderdome gear just yet.
Consider how you’ve been interacting with your roommate regarding the problems. You need to be direct and upfront if something is causing a problem – trying to drop hints or leaving passive-aggressive notes aren’t really going to produce positive results. Don’t wait until you are at a point where even the sound of your roommate breathing makes your blood boil. Address problems as they arise.
If talking doesn’t work, consider bringing the RA into the situation – perhaps he or she will carry a bit more authority and be able to get your roommate to abide by the rules you established together. If the problem is major – one that is a possible risk to your academic career or personal health and safety – consider talking to a counselor (most universities have free counseling for students) and an official in the student housing department to see about switching rooms or roommates.
The thing to remember is that this is a limited time situation. Once the first year is over, you are allowed to move off campus and can choose your own roommate(s). If you stay on campus, quite a few universities allow upper classmen to request or arrange specific roommates.
And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the library. The collected works of Byron make a great pillow.
The author, Ms. Laura Holder, currently teaches English at a medium-sized university in the South.