How Not to Kill Your Roommate

Oh, college roommates! What in the world could possibly be more exciting or better, really, than sharing a hundred square feet of space with another person? Like you, that person is probably someone who wants to succeed, not become horribly malnourished, and perhaps find some sort of connection with another person in a thrilling new environment. And you’re inevitably going to run into issues.

Photo by Patty.B

Actual dorm environments are much harder than apartments, if only because they’re so much more cramped. Living in a dorm means giving up private space, and if you and your roommate’s schedules synchronize as beautifully as they just might, you may be left without much private time at all to spend with close friends or to simply decompress.

This means that you’re going to have to find ways to make compromises to make certain things (like loud music, food, boyfriends, girlfriends, cleaning, and the inevitable existential crises that come with all of these things) bearable.

You’re probably going to need to set some rules. For example, my first roommate had a tendency to:

  • leave apple cores, decaying, on our shared dresser space, alongside long-finished cartons of milk, then wouldn’t throw them away until I repeatedly asked him to do so.
  • didn’t like it when I played records heavy on dialogue and talking while he was reading or writing and I didn’t like his modern rock internet radio.
  • I didn’t want to drive anyone to Jack in the Box at 4am when I was the only person with a car.
  • At times he, a friend, and two girls would watch movies at four in the morning on his bed while I was sleeping, or trying to sleep, ten feet away.
  • He would regularly lose his keys, necessitating that I either let him in or leave the door open, something I wasn’t too enthused about given the number of people who had had their computers stolen.

I found my general ability to stand most of these things evaporating quickly over the course of our first several months together.

If two things kept us from wanting to kill each other, they were sealed headphones (far more important than you’d ever expect, both for listening undisturbed and for drowning out your surroundings) and the fact that we didn’t have trouble communicating about the things that bothered us about what the other was doing.

When I didn’t want piles of rotting fruit in our room, I told him, and they were gone. When he didn’t want to listen to 60-minute recordings of ten notes played as slowly as humanly possible, I threw on my headphones. When, later in life, I had a housemate who simply didn’t do his dishes – ever – a simple explanation as to why this made things for me, an interested cook, unbearable helped change things. My tendency to play the piano or the accordion as loudly as possible when he had girls over likely didn’t win me too many points, either, and I was told to curb that for everyone’s general benefit.

Things can go wrong, though. Some people simply lose it when asked to change the very slightest thing about their behavior, and in the worst case scenario, you may be stuck, for a little while, living with someone who does not seem to care or understand about your concerns, if not treat them with outright contempt.

Keeping up a good dialogue with your roommates, however, is perhaps the most important thing you can do. It’s much cheaper and more legal than killing them, and your differences in perspective might actually someday turn into something like – gasp – agreement or friendship. Maybe.

Guest post by Andrew Hall.

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