Guest Post: Meet the Roommate
College roommates: Communicate rules, boundaries, and expectations
Posted Aug 21, 2010
by Cara Sprunk*
Having a new roommate is tough. Especially if you are "assigned" to each other and you don't have full control over the person whose bed will be right next to yours for a full year. Trust me, I've been there. I had the worst roommate of anyone I've ever spoken to. Lucky me.
My freshman year roommate and I failed to get to know each other or become friends - we were strictly two strangers who happened to share a room the size of a prison cell. We tried to make rules - our one attempt at creating a livable environment. We agreed on simple things like always locking the door (so don't forget your key!). I was paranoid about my laptop or jewelry being stolen and most of the people in our hall didn't lock their door so I was glad we agreed on that.
We also mutually decided to use headphones when listening to music, as we clearly didn't agree on music tastes or studying schedules. But we failed to make rules about guests in our room, cleanliness policies, smoking policies, and a whole host of other things. Because we had a bad relationship, I couldn't trust her and would occasionally feel like I had to hide my things. Having a roommate you can't trust is awful.
When I came across my sophomore year roommate, I vowed to make that year far more successful in terms of my living situation. Before we moved in, my roommate Jen and I both agreed that we needed some alone time, so it would be beneficial to our relationships if we sometimes just left each other alone. For example, I would come home from class and want to lie on my bed watching TV or talking on the phone. If Jen saw me she might choose to hang out in someone else's room for a little bit, and vice versa. We also established boundaries about guests. If I had a friend over who I knew Jen didn't completely love, I would hang out with her in a common space so as not to bother Jen.
Understanding and managing the distinction between roommate and friend was difficult. I loved Jen; she was a great friend. But sometimes she would do little things that would drive me crazy, and I know she'd say the same. I had to put my feelings for Jen my roommate aside, so they didn't seep out when we were in social situations. It would be a complete waste of time and energy to be mad at her for waking me up late the night before while we were having lunch with all our friends on campus. It made more sense to deal with it when we were in the room saying, ‘Hey, can you try to be more quiet when you come in?' This problem was ongoing and resulted in me having to use a Facemask to block the light when I needed to sleep.
I thought I knew Jen before we moved in, but when you live with someone you get to know them better than you'd want to. You know how clean they are, how often they shower---every little thing you didn't need to know. Again, you can't penalize your roommate for being kind of messy in situations outside of your room if you intend to continue a friendship with them. If Jen yelled at me for keeping an open drink on the table while we were out at a party it would have been super detrimental to our friendship. We discussed issues like that when we were in the room or just alone.
My best advice for living with a roommate can be summed up in this, communicate: Communicate rules, boundaries, and expectations. Then, if you want to have a relationship with the person beyond just roommates, keep roommate issues in the room!
*Cara Sprunk is a recent Cornell graduate with a Bachelor's degree in American Studies with a concentration in American culture. She is the managing editor of Her Campus, an online magazine for college women and the former assistant editor of Red Letter Daze, the weekend magazine supplement to the Cornell Daily Sun. She is former senior writer for Red Letter Daze and both the news and arts & entertainment sections of the Cornell Daily Sun. Cara has interned at Life & Style Weekly, OK! Magazine, and Star Magazine.
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