Living with a roommate can be a new, unfamiliar, and even uncomfortable experience. Some roommates are better than others. In all fairness, most roommates don’t know how to be a good roommate – no one ever tells them. But there are three rules you can follow to increase the chances of getting along:
- Roommates who want to get along will find a way to get along. The minute you don’t want to get along is when the relationship will fall apart. Even if your roommate doesn’t want to get along, you can still make it work.
- Roommates are NOT required to be friends. Friendship is a bonus. Yes, it would be great if you could be friends, but roommates are only required to share space to help with the costs of college. Roommates who want to get along and appreciate that friendship are a bonus.
- Agree to the uncomfortable rule: if either roommate has a problem, they agree to discuss that problem. Roommates will not keep secrets. This means not secretly resenting one another. They will share what makes them uncomfortable and work together to find a solution and reach a compromise.
Once you agree on these rules, it’ll become much easier to deal with uncomfortable and unexpected situations. Here are some examples of good and bad roommate behavior and how to apply these three rules to work through any situation you encounter:
A good roommate will ask you before eating your food.
A bad roommate will eat your food, deny it when asked, and eat it again the next time you refill it. This is a roommate who doesn’t want to get along.
Solution: Eat something first (get food and hide it) – don’t talk about this hangry. Bring up the uncomfortable rule. Ask if your roommate has a budget for food. Discuss if you will share food or not share food. Set clear expectations to avoid it from happening again.
A good roommate will ask you before having a guest spend the night.
A bad roommate will wait until you’re asleep or bring a guest in the room while you’re out and lock you out of your own room.
Solution: The next morning (avoid reacting in the moment), try and get along. Make it clear that you want them to have whatever experiences they want to have, but you aren’t comfortable losing access to the room. Come up with a plan to avoid this happening again.
A good roommate will do their laundry.
A bad roommate will avoid doing their laundry, let it spill into your side of the room, and then go fishing in your drawers for clean underwear (true story!).
Solution: This is a gross violation but do your best to get along. Maintain your composure – apply the uncomfortable rule and make sure your roommate can afford their own underwear. Ask that laundry be kept out of sight and stored preferably in a laundry bag in their closet. If you need help and live in a residence hall, ask your RA.
A good roommate cleans up after themselves.
A bad roommate will wait until something gets crusty, smells putrid, or until you put it away.
Solution: Clean up so you don’t have to sit in the filth. Use the uncomfortable rule to discuss what ‘clean’ means to you. Set expectations and agree on how clean you will both keep your shared spaces.
A good roommate will tell you when there is a problem.
A bad roommate will tell other people, share their complaints on social media, and avoid having a conversation with you face-to-face.
Solution: Understand that your roommate is probably not great at communicating and do your best to get along. Use the uncomfortable rule to share that you’re more comfortable hearing about what’s wrong than reading about it. Remind them that you’d prefer to hear the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable.
A good roommate will be quiet when you are sleeping and try to avoid making noise.
A bad roommate will close doors, zip zippers, open food boxes, send texts, answer calls, listen to videos, and not be mindful of your sleep.
Solution: Avoid yelling or confronting your roommate when they wake you. Instead, wait until later that day to approach them. Ask if they are aware that they’re making noise while you’re trying to sleep, and then share a possible solution. This can include you wearing headphones (make sure you can hear a fire alarm), switching beds, or just asking for less noise at night.
A good roommate will understand that roommates are not required to be best friends.
A bad roommate will resent you, be impatient, and blame you for not being their friend.
Solution: Make it clear that you want to get along. Explain that you think it’s healthy for roommates to get along, but it’s also a good idea to do things independent of one another. Emphasize that it’s not personal. This way everyone can make new friends and still get along.
Whatever happens, if you follow these three rules, you will have a framework to deal with any challenges and uncomfortable situations. Using these rules will help you have conversations and reduce the risk of conflict. And feel free to refer to this blog and my advice when working through situations with your roommate.