Erin Harrigan-Schober, Lighthouse Counselor
The title of this blog makes light of the sometimes awkward situation of agreeing to live in an 8×8-foot room for an entire year with a complete stranger. If you think about it, unless you plan on spending some time in prison, there will never be another time in your life where you’re expected to make the best of such a situation, while simultaneously navigating all the other pitfalls of being a Freshman in college. There are many concerns and anxieties one may encounter along the road in this journey with a new, intimate acquaintance. The experience of adapting to a new roommate can bring many unexpected surprises, both welcome and not so welcome, which is why some preparation will help.
When you excitedly tear open the letter that holds the first clue to who your new roommate may be, you might eagerly read his/her name and already surmise a few things based on the name alone. Maybe you then make a phone call and get to hear their voice, gaining some more insight into this person who’ll be sharing your personal space for the next year. You may begin to notice some common interests and anticipate a new best friend. Or, the phone call could go in the opposite direction, causing you to already dread move-in day, the day you have to meet this alien from another planet. Either way, there are some rules of thumb that will make this experience easier despite your initial fears. Because, truth be told, from the roommate-from-hell to the future best man or maid of honor at your wedding, the majority of student experiences fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
- First, it’s best to remember your shared human desires of succeeding in your classes. making some great friends, and having awesome experiences while you’re there.
- Roommates who want to get along will find a way to get along. Respect each other’s differences and make rules before you need rules. Be sure to have a conversation early on about your individual expectations, needs and desires. Make sure to be clear that you want to get along, you want to know if there’s anything that makes him/her uncomfortable, and you can share what makes you uncomfortable. That way, when a situation comes up, it won’t need to be a confrontation but a conversation to remind the other of your personal wishes and expectations.
- Avoid judging your roommate based on first impressions. It takes a while to get to know somebody and you would hope someone wouldn’t judge you so prematurely. First impressions can be wrong. It’s important to reserve judgement because if someone is different, they can teach you a few things and vice versa. It’s not always a bad thing.
- Realize that all people have different comfort levels with themselves and their bodies. This is where the naked roommate title comes in. You may encounter a roommate who is very comfortable with being naked – literally! Or, you may find the opposite to be true, where your roommate may expect you to leave the room when he/she gets dressed or will undress in the dark or in the closet. Nakedness is a fact of life, so it’s best to always respect another’s right to privacy and comfort in their space.
- Do not live with your best friend from high school. Why? Because, best friends don’t have to try as hard to get along. Therefore, you may find them too messy, too bossy, too likely to abuse your stuff, and you may end up losing a best friend. Also, college is a time to make new friends. It’s important to branch out and create your own individual experience… and benefit from the new friends they’re making as well. If you only stick with your best friend, you’ll be missing out on making your own new experiences and friendships. You’ll also miss out on the lessons that living with a stranger can provide for you, such as learning to communicate and get along with someone you might not otherwise know. You could miss out on learning about another’s culture, lifestyle and way of doing things. It could be a very enlightening experience to live with a complete stranger. College is all about learning and new experiences, so make the most of the living experience.
- When dealing with a noisy, naughty or nasty roommate, it’s best to speak up sooner rather than later. There will be inconsiderate people who leave food out, leave dirty clothes all over, don’t have good personal hygiene, or don’t care how they look or smell. They may stay up late, leave lights on and the radio or tv too loud, or have long, loud phone conversations without a thought of you and your need for studying or sleep. This is where the rules-before-you-need-the-rules conversation comes in handy. Have it early and hopefully, the rules will stand and expectations will be respected.
- There are some extreme situations that may require your resident advisor’s attention if you’re not able to handle the situation on your own. For example, If you have a roommate who lies all the time or steals from you, that’s when you’d get your RA involved. Usually, each floor of a hall has a designated RA. It’s important to stand up for yourself and report a problem if you don’t feel safe or don’t feel your personal property is protected. Also, if you have a roommate who is drunk or high all the time, or you have knowledge of them selling drugs, it’s important to speak with your RA if talking to your roommate doesn’t change the situation. Don’t try to reason with a person when they’re drunk or high, because it won’t yield any results. If you feel your personal space is compromised because of their partying or having friends over all the time at all hours, don’t be afraid to speak up.
- Finally, if you encounter a roommate who is emotionally unstable, or becomes so due to some personal hardship, it’s important to know the warning signs and seek professional help immediately. You aren’t qualified or required to be your roommate’s keeper or counselor. Some issues can surpass your understanding and you may not know him/her well enough to be able to tell what they’re capable of in terms of harming themselves or others. So it’s important to speak with your RA if there is a situation that makes your gut uneasy or sets off a red flag. When it comes to mental health, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Remember, this is your time spread your wings, and your roommate can be a great ally, a non issue, or a nightmare. It’s up to you to set the stage from the beginning. Just rely on respect and understanding to pave the way.