What To Do If You Can’t Get Along With Your Roommate?
Freedom, But Not Quite
Thirty-some years ago, I left home to begin university studies. Most of the excitement, to be honest, was not centered on my upcoming course of study. Rather, what I, and probably most incoming freshmen were looking forward to, was the prospect of living independently of our parents. I was thrilled at the thought of having no one to answer to for my late waking hours, my messy habits, or my choices of friends.
Or so I thought.
Within an hour of my arrival at my new dorm, once my parents had left and I had a chance to meet my new roommate, I was panic-stricken. My roommate was neat and orderly, an early riser, and an ambitious and serious student. She had no patience for free-spirit lackadaisical messies (like me).
Thirty years later, Susie and I are still good friends. But the friendship and partnership that we cobbled together in those early days of our 18th year took a tremendous amount of work and dedication, and we probably learned more from that process than we did in any of our classes.
The world has changed a lot in thirty years, but recently I was able to pass down some of the most salient lessons from that experience to my daughter, who is presently living with a roommate in a far city. Some of the things that I told her:
1. Communication – That seems like a no-brainer, but experience has taught me that people need to be reminded of the importance of open and honest communication time and time again.
In a conflict situation, people tend to let their frustrations build up and then explode. This may be good for letting off steam, but in the long run, it creates more bad will and does little to help resolve the conflict itself.
Another tendency is for people who are involved in a disagreement to keep quiet and let their anger and resentment brew inside of them. Sometimes, the other party doesn’t even know that there’s a problem!
People need to be ready to discuss disagreements calmly and work on problem-solving techniques which allow both sides to be heard and their arguments validated.
2. Compromise – That seems obvious, but few people seem to be ready or willing to give a little in order to get a little.
If you’re with someone who can’t compromise, there’s not a lot of hope for the relationship. Often however, one party will do more compromising in the beginning, and as time goes by and the second party feels that they are being heard, they’ll become more open to compromising too.
3. Red Lines – People have to know what their own red lines are, and those of their roommate. They also need to be prepared to accept the consequences if those lines are crossed.
My sister is allergic to cats. When her roommate insisted on bringing Tabby to live with them, there was nothing that communication or compromise could do – my sister had to move out.
4. Look the Other Way – You don’t have to see everything, or comment on everything, or relate to everything! Wisdom is often knowing when to turn the other cheek and ignore whatever you can ignore.
Stacey and I worked for two years on our arrangement in the dorm, and when we were allowed to take an apartment in our Junior year, we decided to stay together, inviting two other students to join us. The process became more complex with four roommates, but ultimately we were successful, and our lives are richer for that experience.