One of the most exciting aspects of going away to college can also be one of the most challenging: Having a roommate.
Sharing close quarters with a brand new acquaintance can forge close bonds and lifelong friendships. But when things go wrong, the situation can be stressful for all involved.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep the peace. Start by connecting with your roommate as soon as you find out his or her name. Facebook makes that super easy: Friend him or her right away, and begin the conversation about your hopes, expectations, and your pet peeves. Then tune into these potential problems—and take these cautionary steps.
Sticky situation: You and your roomie became BFFs the minute you met, but a few weeks into the semester, you decide that she’s not really friend material. But now you can’t shake her. One word: Awkward!
Smooth the way: You may be tempted to latch on to whatever warm body you encounter in those first weeks of college, but it’s important to tread carefully into new relationships, especially those you’ll have a hard time shedding. It’s okay to do things with your roommate, but both of you need to carve out plenty of alone time, too. Be sure to expand your social circle so that all your activities don’t overlap. Ideally, roommates should be friendly and respectful of one another, but they also have separate social scenes
Sticky situation: You’re back from a late night at the library, ready to collapse—and your roommate is hosting a beer pong tournament in your room. You don’t want to be a party pooper, but you’ve got to get up for an 8 a.m. class.
Smooth the way: Steer clear of such conflicts by writing up a roommate contract as soon as possible after moving in together. These agreements, encouraged by RAs everywhere, should spell out all sorts of specific things: “No guests on weeknight evenings. Study time!” “Use headphones when watching TV after 11 p.m,” “Ask before inviting friends from home to sleep over.” When working out your agreement, don’t be afraid to be candid about the things that are important to you. And if your roommate violates your contract, let him know right away that you’ve noticed.
Sticky situation: Your roommate has a new boyfriend and asks you, ever so sweetly, if you’d mind crashing in someone else’s room on Saturday night. Uh-oh, you’ve been sexiled!
Smooth the way: Breath a sigh of relief: At least she’s asking you. Many students recount horror stories of walking into their dorms late at night, only to find a roommate and her guy romping around in bed. If your roomie asks in advance for some privacy, you may want to comply—knowing that she’ll do the same for you someday. But you should both be aware that this room belongs to the two of you—and if either doesn’t want an outsider sharing space, you should feel free to just say no.
Sticky situation: You like to keep things neat and tidy—but your roommate is a total slob. We’re not just talking dirty laundry on the floor; he’s left a bowl of Cheerios on the bookcase for more than a week.
Smooth the way: Don’t wait until the milk has soured. Speak up as soon as something is bothering you rather than quietly seething for days and then blowing up. “Good communication can eliminate most roommate battles,” says one RA. “Chances are, if one person is aware that he’s bothering the other, he’ll try to be more considerate.” That said, it can be hard to reform a lifelong slob. So you may just have to insist that he confines his mess to his side of the room.
Sticky situation: You totally love that sweater your roommate is wearing, and no wonder: It’s yours. She’s constantly borrowing stuff without your permission.
Smooth the way: Different people have different boundaries, and you and your roomie will be learning about what each other’s are. College is all about learning new things, and the lessons from outside the class are the ones you’ll most likely remember for years to come.
When To Get Help
Resident Advisors encourage roommates to work out their own disagreements, but there are certain situations that need to be brought to the attention of college authorities. Seek help if:
-- Your roommate in engaging in behavior (drinking, drug use, etc.) that is endangering her physical or mental health and well being.
-- You’re concerned about illegal activity—and especially if you’re worried you could be implicated in whatever goes on in your room.
-- You’ve tried repeatedly to resolve conflicts with your roommate—but things continue to get worse instead of better.