The most important tip I can give any first-time dorm-dweller looking to get along with their roommate is this: Do not live with my first roommate.
Well, that's a bit unfair to [NAME REDACTED]. On paper, she and I should have gotten along great. We both played trombone in our high school bands. We had read and enjoyed some of the same books. Our names even rhymed.
But, as the school year progressed, what could have been a good relationship went downhill. It seemed (to me) that I was the only one who ever took the trash out. She got a series of weird stains on the rug I had bought. She was a night owl, and I had to leave for work at 6 a.m. She ate my food. Once she even started playing trombone at two o'clock in the morning.
I'm sure I wasn't perfect either. I had my boyfriend over a lot. I had trouble working with people around, so instead of studying in the library I studied in our room, which meant I was always there. I left stinky running clothes hanging from the foot of my bed. I had terrible (to her) taste in music.
At the end of the year, we parted ways and have only spoken two or three times since — and this was at a small school, where we had a lot of opportunities to run into each other. The thing is, I'm sure [NAME REDACTED] was (and probably still is) a perfectly nice person. Heck, I think I'm a perfectly nice person, and I'm sure I was at 18, too. But [NAME REDACTED] and I didn't take some simple steps that would have made living together more bearable and *gasp* maybe even fun.
Learn from my mistakes, young roomies.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
When you're living together, you'll want to respect your roommate's personal space, but before you move in, reach out and get in touch. It's tempting to Facebook- or Twitter-stalk prospective roomies, but bear in mind that what people put online isn't always a true picture of themselves. Your soon-to-be-roommate may be horrified that her granny tagged a photo of her wearing a bunny suit, and her little brother could have gotten into her Twitter account.
Your college will send you your roommate's contact information. Give him or her a call and have a chat. Not only is that the best way to get to know them, but it's the most efficient way to get basic decisions, like who's bringing the kegerator and who's bringing the PlayStation, out of the way.
This isn't a job interview, but you'll still want to put your best self forward in your initial phone calls and e-mails. Maintain an open mind. You may not be happy with the idea of sharing a room with someone who has different political, social or religious views than you, but part of the point of college it to broaden your perspective by living with people who are different. Think of it this way: If you're freaking out about your roommate's political party/religion/diet/favorite band, they're probably freaking out about yours, too.
Probably Not Your BFF
You may have a vision of you and your roommate sharing secrets, clothes, jokes and souls. I hate to break it to you (actually, I enjoy shattering naïve dreams) but that's probably not going to happen. You probably won't hate your roommate, but you guys likely won't be besties either.
Lower your expectations before you get to school. If you come to campus positive that you and your new roommate are two halves of some long-ago torn-apart soul, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, shoot for a good relationship, where you're both honest about your needs and expectations. If you end up being friends, great. If not, you won't have front-loaded the relationship with all sorts of hopeful baggage that you'll have to get rid of at a later time.
Also, if you want to be best friends and your roommate doesn't, don't go around trying to steal his or her life. Leave that to the horror movies. And if your roommate is trying to steal your life (styling her hair the same way, getting the same tattoos, drugging your boyfriends and sleeping with them, referring to herself as your twin and so on), talk to your resident adviser.
Put It All on the Table
When I say you and your roommate should put it all out on the table, I don't mean you should walk into the room and dump your stuff out. As you get to know your roommate, start talking about how you two envision sharing your room. When do you expect to go to sleep and get up? How neat do you like things? How many hours a day do you plan on studying in the room? How often do you like to have people over? Are you okay with sharing things like clothes, food and toothbrushes? And yes, the toothbrush sharing thing happened to a girl in my freshman hall. If only she had thought to tell her roommate that she didn't want to share her toothbrush.
A lot of colleges require roommates to write and sign a roommate contract. Even if your school doesn't, you and your roommate should still do it. In the contract, spell out how often you plan on cleaning the room (and who's going to do it), what the room's quiet hours will be, how you two will handle visitors (how many, how often and can they stay overnight?), if you're cool with sharing things and generally anything else you can think of that could possibly lead to conflict.
You and your roommate will probably have to compromise on a lot of this. That means you'll both have to make concessions — don't employ whatever mind tricks you know just to get your way. If you want lights out at 10 p.m. and your roommate wants 2 a.m., split the difference. If your roommate is a clean freak, you should agree to pick up after yourself; but she shouldn't expect you to attend her Friday night dust-a-thons.
Having a roommate contract and a clear understanding of what each of you expect from this situation helps when your roommate does something that royally ticks you off. And believe me, that will happen. When it does, speak up. My relationship with my first roommate was bad, in part, because neither one of us ever told the other when she was doing something aggravating. So I never asked her to take out the trash. I just seethed about always having to do it myself, until one day I snapped and put the trash on her bed. Not my proudest moment (OK, it sort of was).
If your roommate is doing something that you don't like or that violates your contract, speak up. Don't let it fester. They key, however, is speaking up in a productive way. When your roommate staggers in at 4 a.m., that's not the best time to leap out of bed and start screaming that he or she stays out to late and always wakes you up.
Wait until you're calm and collected to talk to your roommate. Use clear statements like, "When you play the trombone at two in the morning, it wakes me up and then I have trouble concentrating the next day. Can we work on deciding dedicated hours for you to practice? Or maybe you could use one of the practice rooms in the music building?" Try to avoid making accusations like, "You never do any laundry and it makes the room smell like crap!" That will just start an argument. Instead, state how a given behavior makes you feel, and look for a way to solve it — something that works for you both.
Or, you can just put the trash on his or her bed. Your call.
Seems contrary to our last tip, right? Let me explain. While it's important to speak up when you're roommate is bugging you, it's also important to pick your battles. If you're always nagging your roommate about something, they'll tune you out when you have an important concern. So yes, speak up if something really bothers you, but also learn when to let things go.
If you hate your roommate's music, rather than complain every single time he turns it on, put on some headphones. A mountain of dirty underwear that's left to stink for weeks is worth bringing up, while a stray sock on the floor is not. Know what you can and can't live with, and be prepared to let some of the other things slide. After all, your roommate is probably letting some things you're doing slide, too.
And, if you find that living with your roommate is simply unbearable, buck up. It's only one school year.
If you're not dusting regularly, you're letting all kinds of gross things drift around your living space. Get tips on keeping your dorm dust-free.
Author's Note: 5 Dorm Tips for First-time Roommates
Researching this piece brought back a lot of memories for me, and made me realize how many things I did wrong as a roommate. What struck me, however, is how many of these tips make sense for relationships beyond college dorm roommates. Learning to set expectations, speak up and pick your battles are all key skills to have at home and in the workplace. Just ask anyone who's shared a cubicle with a serial tuna-sandwich eater.
- Burnsed, Brian. "5 Tips for Getting Along with Your Roommate." U.S. News and World Report. Aug. 13, 2010. (July 24, 2012) http://www.usnews.com/education/articles/2010/08/13/5-tips-to-getting-along-with-your-roommate?page=2
- Emily Post Institute. "Getting Along with Roommates." (July 24, 2012) http://www.emilypost.com/home-and-family-life/133/380-getting-along-with-roommates
- Hartwell-Walker, Marie. "Getting Along with Your College Roommate." PsychCentral.com. (July 24, 2012) http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/getting-along-with-your-college-roommate/
- Resident Assistant. "Roommate Conflicts." (July 24, 2012) http://www.residentassistant.com/advice/roommate1.htm
- Studenttools.info. "Roommate Survival 101: Helpful Tips for Getting Along." (July 24, 2012) http://www.studenttools.info/roommate-survival-101-four-helpful-tips-for-getting-along.html