by Maggie Petrella
The beginning of college is the beginning of so many new things: new schedules, new friends, new classes, new places. One thing in particular stood out to me as I spent the summer before college dreaming about what university life would be like: the new roommate.
When I started my freshman year, “the roommate” was definitely my main concern. I listened to the roommate horror stories of my family and friends, and my imagination ran wild. What if we didn’t get along? What if she snored like a chainsaw or left trash everywhere? What if she was constantly hosting raging parties in the room, or what if she completely ignored my existence? What if she tried to borrow my clothes without asking, or what if she never showered at all? There were so many “what ifs” that it hardly occurred to me that we might get along perfectly fine.
We did, of course. I had definitely over-worried. It was easy to forget that she was in the same boat as I was, that we were both worried about this new experience. I consider myself so lucky to have been assigned to a roommate who had the same level of concern about academics and was also amazingly friendly and understanding. Even though we don’t share a room anymore, we’re still friends, and I learned so much from the experience of living with her — and all my other roommates. This is what I’d tell myself if I had to start all over from the beginning again:
1. Set expectations early on
It might feel a little weird to jump right in and set ground rules with someone you just met, but it actually makes life easier for both of you in the long run. Being up-front about your preferences and expectations from the start prevents you from having to deal with a roomie who didn’t know that you were not okay with her hitting the snooze button 17 times in the morning (because you didn’t tell her that was your biggest pet peeve). It also gives you the peace of mind of knowing that you can take the necessary steps to avoid unintentionally upsetting your roomie in the future. Even though it may feel awkward to have this chat with a near stranger, it’s best to sit down and have a casual “roommate chat” within the first few days of moving in. This helps you both start off the year on the right foot, and you’ll never have to worry about that awkward discussion (or your roommate’s snooze button) again.
2. Get to know each other’s schedules
Whether you’re looking for some bonding time with your roommate or some quiet time to study, it’s good to know when your roommate will and won’t be home — and, just as importantly, when they will and won’t be awake. I’ve always found it helpful to have my roommate’s and my schedules kept in plain sight, so we both know when to expect each other to be around. It keeps both sides informed and aware, and can prepare you for which days you’ll have to tiptoe to get dressed in the dark, as well as which days you should brace yourself for a potentially grumpy roommate who has a full day of exhausting classes. No matter the situation, this is just another easy way to keep communication open between you and your roomie.
Unless you and your roommate grew up together and attended the same school, it’s likely that you have pretty different backgrounds. From high school size to culture, taste in music to religion, there’s bound to be something that is a huge difference between you two. This can present a potential for conflict or an opportunity to embrace something new. Maybe your roommate will tell you about her favorite TV show, which you fall in love with and binge-watch together on the weekends. Be open to new things, and feel free to share your own life with your roommate too!
4. Pick your battles
Learning to compromise plays such a huge role in the roommate relationship from the very start, when you have to choose who gets which side of the room. It’s so important to keep this in mind when focusing on suggestion #1, because if one roommate gets too nit picky, the other might feel attacked or walked on. Maybe you get a little annoyed when your roommate hits the snooze button too many times in the morning, but you learn to laugh it off (or roll over and cover your ears with the pillow) so you can focus on addressing more important issues, like telling them it’s not okay to blast Beyoncè when you’re studying for that killer biology midterm. (On most other occasions, it’s okay to sing along with Queen Bey.)
5. Say what you need to say
For me, this is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in college. I hate feeling like an inconvenience to others, so I’ve always been uncomfortable asking people to go out of their way for me, or telling people that something they’re doing is bothering me. As much as I thought that silencing my wants was a way to keep the peace with my roommates, I quickly learned that it had only negative impacts on the roommate relationship (and is probably a bad habit in general, since it feeds grudges). Now I remember to tell the people around me how I’m feeling and to look out for myself, and this is something I’m still working on!
I spent the first 18 years of my life having the luxury of my own room, but in the past two years, I’ve shared a dorm room with three separate roommates (plus two suitemates). It has taught me so much about not only about the roommates I’ve grown so close with, but also about myself and how I can improve myself and my relationships. Roommates can be a daunting concern, but even if you don’t become best friends, you can still make the best of such a unique experience.