The Real College Guide, Stressed Roommate

By Abragail Kappel for The Real College Guide

When it comes to roommate wars, could you be your own worst enemy? Stop finger-pointing, and figure out if you’re doing something to fuel the fire.

You and your roommate aren’t quite getting along? “The typical issues you think will happen, will happen,” says Arizona State University sophomore community assistant Ariana Heet. But it’s possible you spend so much energy griping about your roomie that you fail to take a look within.

The Real College Guide, Stressed Roommate

Hmmm…never even considered you might be part of the prob, did ya? But the good news is that means you can be part of the solution. “Be willing to look at your own behavior,” says Susan Fee, licensed professional counselor and author ofMy Roommate is Driving Me Crazy. “Consider what you could do differently to help the situation instead of only blaming.”

So stop hatin’ on your dorm mate, and figure out what changes you can make to improve your living situation. Scroll through the following questions, and answer them honestly. (Don’t worry — you won’t be graded.)

Do You Find Yourself
Totally disregarding your roomie when it comes to gaining carnal knowledge?

Quick Fix: Set a Schedule
“There’s nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds of your college roommate having sex in the bunk above you,” Fee points out. And how many students do you know get kicked out of their rooms — the night before a big test, no less — because a roommate wants some alone time with a lover? We all have, um, needs…but your roommate shouldn’t have to feel like an outcast. Or worse, a third party.

As rigid as this might sound, work out a schedule with your roomie. Find out what nights he or she would be OK with your significant other coming over and times when it’s not so convenient. Talk to each other — it’s not that hard. This is a common issue, and having a civilized conversation about it will make things easier for all involved.

Do You Find Yourself
Borrowing your roommate’s things without even bothering to check first?

Quick Fix: Keep Off!
Are you a relentless borrower? “This person assumes that just because you room together, she can eat your food, wear your clothes, use your computer, or even ‘borrow’ your car — without asking,” says Fee. This sense of entitlement to your roommate’s belongings can lead to trouble.

Fee recommends that roommates work out a contract. “Roommate contracts are required by many universities as a way to get kids talking about their expectations,” she explains. “Even if your school does not have formal contracts, discuss things like sharing items. What’s OK to share? What’s off limits? What happens if something is touched without permission?”

Fee suggests that contracts can be a great way to deal with lots of potential differences, such as when to have guests over, splitting costs and how you will handle disagreements: “It’s worth it to have some guidelines in place.”

Do You Find Yourself
Throwing your clothes and trash around the room?

Quick Fix: Tidy Up
“The slob feels right at home amongst piles of dirty laundry, dishes stacked in the sink, decaying fast food containers and a few maggots,” says Fee. But when you’re living with someone else, show some consideration. It’s true that there is little space, and as school obligations pile up so can your things. But try to aim for a laundry hamper and trash bin. Instead of randomly tossing your stuff when you’re in a hurry, place them in the proper receptacle to keep clutter to a minimum. Yes, it’s that simple.

Do You Find Yourself
Listening to loud music a lot of the time?

Quick Fix: Lower the Boom
Sure, good tunes are a part of life. Your playlist certainly makes laundry, homework and hanging out with friends a whole lot happier. Still, music can be a problem. Say, when you’re blasting Hatebreed while your roommate is trying to sleep or study.

Keep your music down, and play it only during reasonable hours. Just because you study with your music on doesn’t mean your roomies does. “If my roommate’s music were too loud,” says ASU soph Christina O’Haver, “I’d ask her if she’d mind using headphones. That way, she could still listen to her music and I could get things done.” Now there’s an idea. Instead of expecting your roommate to wear earplugs, buy yourself some headphones.

Also, just like you negotiated with the roomie about booty-call time, have a chat about when it’s cool to blast your music and when it isn’t so much. And even if your roommate is out, common courtesy dictates that you shouldn’t blare Beyonce past 10 p.m. Other people on the floor deserve some peace, too.

Do You Find Yourself
Ignoring your roomie because you have other friends on the floor?

Quick Fix: Make Nice
Yeah, hello! Your roommate is part of your life now, so don’t hold out on him or her. Let me share with you a personal experience: When I was a freshman, I moved into a dorm with this girl I never talked to until school started. I’m an only child, so the idea of living with someone really freaked me out. I had problems with everything my roommate did. She ate my food, drank my drinks, took early-morning showers, blow-dried her hair after her too-early showers, and sometimes she’d come in late at night when I was already in bed and be extremely loud. Oh, and she was the girl who had her boyfriend over all the freaking time.

I always complained about her to my friends, and I didn’t really make an effort to be her friend. However, one weekend I went back to my dorm after a really bad fight with my boyfriend. I was crying when I walked into my room and wasn’t expecting her to be there, but she was. Do you know what she did? She dropped everything to hold me while I cried it out. She is now one of my closest friends, and now that I look back on it and am living with different roomies, I wish I still lived with her. Ultimately, the ideal solution is to make this person a part of your life and see what happens.

Do You Find Yourself
Wanting to confront your roomie about an issue but you always choke?

Quick Fix: Spit It Out
“The best thing to do is to not run from issues and avoid them. Rather, you should sit down and talk with your roommate,” says Heet. “Talk things out before the little things become bigger issues. It will be the best thing in the long run.”

Fee agrees: “If you don’t like conflict, you might be tempted to avoid it by gossiping to other friends or complaining to your Resident Assistant without ever talking to your roommate first. Going around the issue only makes things worse! If something’s bugging you, bring it up in a non-defensive way rather than assume your roommate can read your mind. It’s possible your roommate isn’t even aware of the problem.” She offers up the following tactics for dealing with conflicts:

Know what you can and cannot change.
“Whatever your differences, figure out what you’re willing to live with and what’s fair to ask your roommate to change. It’s not reasonable to ask people to change who they are, but you can ask them to tone down how they express themselves, especially when it’s invading your turf. So you can’t criticize someone for being ‘perky,’ but you can ask someone not to talk so much while you’re studying.”

Focus on one issue at a time.
“There are probably tons of things your roommate does that get on your nerves. But nothing kills a relationship faster than listing dozens of reasons you don’t like a person. Instead, both of you need to list your No. 1 pet peeve and focus your energy on solving that first. What can you absolutely not deal with? What do you find extremely irritating but could live with if you had to?”

Use “I” statements
“Starting your sentences with ‘you’ sounds like an attack and will likely make your roommate defensive, as in, ‘You are being selfish.’ Instead, own your message by starting with ‘I,’ as in, ‘I’m unhappy with this situation.’”

“Discussing issues upfront prevents a lot of future hassles,” Fee concludes. “You might think it’s too much work or that you’ll be able to deal with problems as they arise. But it’s much harder once emotions cloud the issue.”


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