Dealing with your first college roommate is a huge and intense transition after most likely living under a parent or guardian’s roof. Cohabiting in a small space with weird light-colored wood furniture and prohibitively tiny beds takes teamwork and cooperation with even the most well-intentioned of roommates. Our Director Heather Mayone recently appeared in Self Magazine to offer strategies for building a good relationship with a roommate.
In “So Your College Roommate Sucks. Here’s How To Deal,” Heather explains that a significant part of the struggle between roommates is navigating each other’s potentially clashing priorities, norms, and expectations, including varying levels of involvement in household chores. Rather than waiting until something is wrong. Heather encourages roommates to open a dialogue about each other’s preferences early—when you go to bed, how social you are, what you’ll likely be doing in and out of the room, and if you have a partner or friends that might be visiting during the school year. This initial conversation is less about negotiation than getting the lay of the land to see what navigating may be necessary (And maybe it’ll be very little, who knows!).
It’s especially important to keep these first conversations light. Heather urges roommates to “set a ‘we’re in this together’ tone…as in ‘We’re gonna be sharing this space and we’re bound to have some different preferences, so let’s start a dialogue early.’” This is useful for a few reasons: First, most well-meaning folks will already start some organic compromises (e.g. “I know my roommate likes to go to bed early so I’ll turn my light out now”). And secondly, it also establishes a good tone and open communication as normal.
If there eventually is a problem with a roommate, remember that dealing with a roommate is a relationship. Heather observes, “Even if this is a relationship that you’re forced into, it’s still important to treat it as a relationship.” Part of treating it as a relationship means being honest with yourself about how you may be contributing to the conflict such as leaving passive-aggressive notes rather than addressing the issue directly. Heather suggests asking yourself: “Are you doing anything to throw fuel on the fire? Are you being indirect?”
While having a good relationship with a roommate can be especially helpful in navigating the myriad challenges in college, young adults should also work to socialize and make friends beyond their roommate, as well as familiarize themselves with their college’s mental health services. This way, as Heather says, “If you do end up in a situation where your roommate is really tough to live with, you have other connections or even other places to crash or just have a break.”