Strangers Among Us
One of the scariest things about coming to college is the thought of living with strangers. Any first-year who’s beginning to think that her roommate is a rube and who misses friends from home is far from unique. Learning to get along with a new roommate is often the first big hurdle of college life. Freshman rooming situations can be a nightmare. My oldest friends spent my summer before college telling me horror stories about their first year roommates. One had a roomie who got fall-down drunk every Thursday-Sunday night, while the Louisiana boy who shared a bunk bed with my ex-boyfriend made frequent ceremonial bedroom offerings to a legendary, bayou voodoo queen. I realized that my roommates and I would probably have many differences too. My goal was survival.
Getting great freshman roommates is much more a matter of luck than the result of a college’s sophisticated match-up process. While the entering freshman has no control of her lottery-like roommate pairing, you do have the power to create successful roommate relationships. Here are some tips:
+ Don’t be disappointed if you and your roommates are not going to be best friends. Casual, mutually respectful relationships can provide you with a satisfying, secure “home base” as you navigate the foreign waters of college life. Let these relationships develop naturally, without expecting that you and your roommates will always be doing things together.
+ Establish house rules. As soon as possible, get together over a meal to create a plan for peaceful, responsible coexistence. Now is the time to let everyone know things like: your sleeping habits (are you a morning or a night person?), preferences on study environment (quiet, noisy, group) your noise tolerance capacity (Green Day cranked to maximum volume will melt your skin), your feelings about people borrowing your things without asking (no one, EVER uses your toothbrush) and whether you’re a slob or a neat freak (is a clean but messy room OK with you?). Talk about everything, even things that seem trivial at the time will probably come up later. This will help you avoid many problems.
+ Determine who will clean and when. And don t ever say We ll just clean when it gets dirty because then no one will ever clean until one person breaks down and does it. And that makes for some very bitter roommates. Establish a schedule of who will do the dishes, vacuuming, garbage, bathrooms, etc. Stick to it.
+ Discuss food. Will you share food and go shopping together or have everyone buy his or her own individual food? Will everything be up for grabs or should you ask to take something? There s nothing worse than coming home from class ravished only to find that some has already eaten that pepperoni pizza you were drooling over in class.
+ Create roommate rituals. Give yourselves a chance to get to know each other better by establishing regular roommate get-togethers: going out for a sandwich once a week, taking in a movie once a month, watching a favorite TV show and celebrating each other’s birthdays. Finding something that everyone likes to do may take some work, but it s worth it.
+ Displays of common courtesy and empathy are the glue of successful roommate relationships. Make sure to take down and communicate your roommates’ phone messages. A dry erase board in a central location seems to work well for everyone. Be sensitive to how your roommates feel about girlfriends or boyfriends staying overnight, especially if they sleep in the same room as you. Offering some encouraging and supportive words (and some quiet time) when roommates are anxious about their first big test or term paper shows them a comforting, “we’re all in this together” spirit.
Despite giving it your best, sometimes roommate situations become unbearable. Your room must be a place where you can at least find relative peace and harmony. Toughing it out in an unhealthy roommate environment will adversely affect all aspects of your freshman life. Talk to your resident assistant or ask your college’s student housing and/or counseling office to help you find a better arrangement you may have to wait until the next semester, but they will help you find a better living environment.