As I reflect upon my three years at college living in a variety of situations, one thing I’ve certainly learned is what constitutes a good and bad roommate.
Going into your freshman year, you probably think of the amazing relationship you’ll form with a randomly selected person. With a newly found freedom away from home, you’re bound to spend the next few years living it up on and off campus, right?
Unfortunately, not always. Speaking from experience, living with other people is not sunshine and rainbows. I can only comment on my own times, which I might not use the term “bad roommate” outright, but it hasn’t been ideal. Let’s just say my cohabitation has either been with complete strangers I don’t connect well with and, currently, my ex. (So if that doesn’t paint a picture for you, nothing will). At times, these situations have even been damaging to my well-being.
So what can we do if we’re stuck in a small room or apartment with someone we just don’t like? Well, I’m here to offer some tips to help you make the most of any place you might be residing.
1. Have realistic expectations.
It almost feels like a sin to room with somebody your freshman year and not become immediate best friends. Or to daze off imagining a perfect first apartment living with a significant other, not realizing at the time you’re in a relationship with someone not up to your par. Heck, even people who request each other and don’t think of their lifestyles might end up clashing and hindering their friendship.
As lovely as it is to be optimistic about what college living will be like, you also need to know it might not turn out as planned. The drop-off of disappointment can be the most defeating feeling of all. So before you dive straight into la la land, remind yourself of your own expectations for living and a plan for a worst-case scenario.
2. C O M M U N I C A T E!
If I could bold that word even more, I would. What I’m most guilty of, among many things, is avoiding any and all confrontation, especially if what’s bugging you about your roommate seems trivial. You spiral down in self-doubt, and then end up forming resentment until you explode…or that’s just me.
There’s a reason RAs begin the year with each pair of roommates signing an agreement: you need to be on a similar wavelength for you both to live comfortably. Remember: this is a two-way street. The second one person becomes the sole voice of reason and concern, you’re bound to get annoyed. Set clear plans and stick to them…and pray the roommate does the same. If not, time to communicate.
Here is my little reminder to you: don’t feel like you’re nagging the roommate, that you’re being too picky. If something bothers you, then that feeling is valid, and you have every right to say it. Again, this is a two-way street. Know when you’re in the right or wrong, provide a listening ear, and simply treat others as they should be treated. The Golden Rule can be the golden key for making it through.
3. Don’t be too nice.
Again, another thing I’m guilty of: I don’t want to create extra tension or ruffle feathers when I don’t have to. I’m not someone who generally gets angry, but when I do, you must be a special person to make me that way.
And guess what? You don’t have to feel obligated to be friends with your roommate. Just be civil. You have a relationship with this person simply by inhabiting the same place, but how you define it is up to you. This goes along with what expectations you’re setting for yourself and the situation.
You don’t have to go out of your way or bend over backwards for someone who won’t reciprocate. You don’t have to be around someone any longer than you have to if they drain you. Everyone should have courtesy and respect, but beyond that is up to you to decide. Basically, don’t feel guilty for not investing in a relationship that doesn’t benefit you.
4. Define your space.
What I found very important in my current apartment is having separate domains. Obviously I have to share a kitchen and bathroom (I could go on about keeping those clean), but my bedroom is my sanctuary that I have complete control over. Because of that, I can have it look and feel the way I want and that will make me happy. I can have my escape from others, like a roommate, and be at peace.
Find as private a space as you can get, which can admittedly be difficult in dorm rooms, but even going to a friend’s place when you need a breather can help. Just having somewhere you know you can recharge and take care of yourself is important.
These are my four main takeaways I wish I would have known in my three years of undergrad. They’re things I need to remind myself each day as I finish up this final semester. Some comments might be harsh, but realize that you have the right to stand up for yourself. If you have to leave somewhere, go. If you cannot handle something, find an outlet to relieve your stress, even if it’s just passive aggressive texts to people who’ll listen and understand.
Regardless of what stage you’re at, just know that even when you feel alone and defeated, there is always someone you can reach out to. You can define a safe space for yourself, even in the most difficult of situations. This stage is temporary, and trust me, the best is yet to come.
Mindful meditation: Lord, may You provide me strength and resilience when I struggle to live Your commandment to “Love thy neighbor.” I am not perfect, and neither is my neighbor, but I pray for patience in times of stress and discomfort and wisdom in communicating my thoughts and needs with grace. In Your Holy Name, Amen.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie