It’s the start of the semester, and you and your new roommate are all settled in to your new double (it may be the smallest one on your floor, but the two of you can make it work), or you’ve finally found someone who can cover half the rent on your off-campus apartment.
At first, everything is great! You’re both super cautious about keeping the space clean, being quiet during sleeping hours and asking before you invite a campus cutie back to your place. But after a few weeks of stellar conduct, you may find yourself kicking your shoes off in the doorway or sneaking your boyfriend or girlfriend back to your room without telling your roomie first. It’s no big deal, right?
Unfortunately, your roommate probably doesn’t appreciate stumbling over your gym shoes, and you may not like listening to her clack away at her keyboard at ungodly hours of the night. So how do you deal? Here are a few lifestyle differences you might run into and how to cope with them.
1. She’s super messy.
You’ve been taught to make your bed first thing every morning and to fold your clothes straight out of the laundry and put them away neatly. Your roommate, on the other hand, leaves clothes strewn on her bed, which remains perpetually unmade. There’s trash everywhere, but thankfully only on her side of the room.
This is perhaps the most iconic example of roommate clashes. An unmade bed can be unsightly to someone who loves cleanliness, but it can be equally difficult for a girl who’s oblivious to messes to suddenly get the urge to clean.
How to deal
If you have a need for clean, try to keep it to your side of the room. Your roommate is not under your control, and you cannot expect her to conform to your standards.
“Everyone has the right to maintain personal items and space as she chooses,” says Susan Fee, a licensed professional counselor and author of My Roommate’s Driving Me Crazy!“The only time it becomes an issue is if the mess moves into common area [or] your space, or is smelly or unsanitary.”
So while her messy bed may be unsightly, as long as she’s not throwing trash on your desk, it may be best to let this one slide. See if she’ll agree to clean up a bit when parents or friends come over, but otherwise, let it go.
2. She’s up when you’re sleeping.
One of you likes to get up with the sun, while the other loves burning the midnight oil. We all have our own circadian rhythms that are hard to reprogram. It’s equally as frustrating trying to sleep with the lights on as it is for her to hear your alarm blaring hours before she’s slated to wake up.
How to deal
If you’re finding your sleep habits are causing tension, there may be a way to get back in sync! Get a sleep mask to keep the light out of your eyes and earplugs to block the sound of the alarm. Try to be as quiet as possible in the early mornings, and do your late-night studying in your dorm’s common room. Try to be respectful of your roomie’s sleeping times. After all, being woken up in the middle of a good dream is perhaps the worst thing ever.
3. She always has people over.
You see your room as a safe space to get away from the outside world. Unfortunately, your roomie seems to enjoy bringing the outside world into your room. Sometimes she doesn’t even ask!
“My freshman-year roommate and I definitely had some interesting differences,” says Shira, a senior at Franklin & Marshall College. “She would frequently bring people over without any forewarning for me and just have them stay the night or stay late when I would want to go to sleep.”
How to deal
It’s always polite to ask! If someone’s going to be in your room other than you, let your roomie know in advance.
If your roommate seems to have people over all the time without telling you, however, talk to her about it. Shira found this was a great way to solve her problem. “Eventually I talked to my roommate about it and told her that she should at least give me some sort of warning,” she says. “She agreed and said she wouldn’t do it again, and just talking to her cleared the air a bit.”
4. She’s passive-aggressive.
Your roommate may not be the best at confrontation. While open communication is ideal, some girls may not be used to voicing their opinions directly. However, when you or your roomie is leaving Post-it notes on the fridge or giving the other the silent treatment, it’ll be difficult to adequately solve any conflict.
How to deal
When it comes to roommate troubles, shutting down and suffering in silence will certainly not fix the problem. Fee suggests avoiding behaviors like complaining to floor mates or leaving messes to make a point. “You don’t solve a problem by joining it,” she says.
Passive-aggressive behavior only serves to breed resentment and contempt—not an ideal atmosphere! Talking with your roommate openly gives you the chance to reach a solution that will work for both of you. (Plus, those negotiation skills will come in handy when it’s time to ask your future boss for a raise!)
If your roommate is displaying these behaviors, she may have trouble with confrontation, so let her know it’s alright to shoot you a text or talk to you about it openly if there’s an issue.
5. She uses your stuff all the time.
Some of us might be very open to sharing, while others don’t want to share our personal belongings. Alex, a senior at the Savannah College of Art and Design, had trouble with a roommate who took sharing too far.
“She was constantly using kitchen things from other roommates without permission, even after being asked not to,” she says. “I had learned not to share my kitchen supplies because in the past, my stuff would get ruined a lot faster than if it was just me taking care of my things.”
How to deal
You may have discussed sharing large appliances like the fridge and the microwave, but if your roomie assumes that sharing everything comes with the territory of living together, it may be good to talk about it.
“Start by asking what she thinks is reasonable,” like marking things with your names so you both know what can and cannot be borrowed or shared, Fee suggests. “Ask for changes when her habits impact your own space.”
6. She doesn’t share your beliefs.
Ideally, you discussed these sorts of lifestyle differences before you chose your roommate. But if you have a random roomie or the conversation never got as far as beliefs, you may be in for an uncomfortable surprise.
Shira recalls that, while she and her roommate were both Jewish, her roommate was making an effort to break away from that lifestyle. “When I was observing Passover, she would eat a cup of noodles on her bed in front of me,” Shira says. “Totally not kosher for Passover.”
How to deal
As always, talk to your roommate to see if you can find a solution. For example, perhaps one of you tries to utilize the worship spaces on campus while the other agrees to be more mindful during religious holidays.
Shira found that this sort of compromise worked for her and her roommate. “We ultimately worked it out as I went to a religious group on campus, Chabad, for more Passover meals,” she explains. “I didn't have to feel uncomfortable, and she was able to eat whatever she wanted.”
7. She puts her sex life on display.
It can be pretty awkward trying to study while your roommate is spending some quality time with her significant other.
Kathryne Davis, a recent graduate of SUNY Oswego, dealt with this firsthand. “My roommate had a girlfriend who went to a different school, so when she came over, she'd spend the night,” she says. “They would make out while I was sitting and watching TV and doing homework, which I think is a little awkward, no matter who the couple is. Once, I was trying to sleep, and they came in the room and [started] having sex. I didn't know what to do, so I got up and slept in the common room while they were in the middle of doing stuff. My roommate and I never discussed the issue.”
How to deal
Discussion is definitely the way to go for situations like this. In fact, Fee stresses the importance of discussion before issues even occur.
“You should always talk about expectations of having people over or how your habits might impact your roommate,” she says.
Talk to your roommate to find a solution that works for you. See if she’ll shoot you a text when someone is coming over so that you have time to make other arrangements if necessary, or if you can agree to certain times or days of the week when overnight visitors are allowed (such as no one staying the night on weeknights).
It sucks when you feel like you can’t be yourself in your own room, but for the time being, you have to share a space with someone who might be nothing like you. While you don’t have to agree with someone’s actions, Fee encourages us to always be respectful of others.
“Learning from each other is part of the real life classroom,” she says.
As always, keep the lines of communication wide open so that you and your roomie can have a relaxed and happy dorm life!