By Jenni Chadick, assistant director of residence life
Let’s face it, living with other people is HARD. Doesn’t matter if you love who you live with, sometimes those dirty crumpled up socks all over the floor just seem to scream at you “I totally don’t respect your space or you!”
Of course, maybe they just forgot to put the socks in the hamper, but still… don’t they KNOW how much that bothers you?! And this person you live with maybe someone you love. Maybe it’s someone you choose to live with. Maybe it’s a sibling or parent in which you had no choice, but share many things in common. Maybe they know all your pet peeves, or if you are a morning person or not. Moving in with a total stranger, that’s a whole different level of hard.
If you are moving into campus residences this fall, congratulations! We are excited to meet you and welcome you to campus! Housing assignment letters were mailed this week, and as you receive the contact information of your future roommate, you may experience a wave of emotions. Moving into a 250 square foot living space with a total stranger may sound exciting. It may sound terrifying. And it will probably be both at some point! Sharing tight living quarters with anyone is an art, there is no magic science to becoming the perfect pair. It takes work, and lot of courage, to be honest with yourself about what you need versus what you want. Here are a few tips we’ve learned over the years to helping smooth the process.
There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Roommate
There are many people you can be compatible with for different reasons. A roommate who maybe shares your interests and sleeping habits may have completely different standards on cleanliness and sharing personal items. Someone you meet who might become your best friend maybe the worst person for you to live with (talk to any upper class student and they can tell you from experience). It might seem like people on your floor or in your hall are “clicking” with their roommate before you do, and maybe they are maybe they aren’t, but the first few weeks are a “honeymoon” period where many students ignore the niggling signs of discomfort in their budding roommate relationship. It helps to know that everyone needs to adjust to their new environment, and we all do that in different ways. You might find that you’d rather connect with classmates other than your roommate, and that’s okay. Your roommate might feel the exact opposite, and that’s okay too. What’s important is that you talk about your feelings from the get go.
Talk it Out!
Really talk. Face to face. IRL. Not texting, email, facebook, or snapchat. There are certain non-verbal cues you pick up on face to face, and especially as you are getting to know each other as roommates, these face-to-face conversations are essential to getting to know your roommate. Now, it may not be realistic to expect that you will each know exactly what you want out of your roommate relationship from day one and come ready with exact parameters of what you will share, who will clean what, etc. (That’s great if you do!) Those opinions might take time to form as you get to know each other and yourself and realize what you are and are not comfortable with. The best way to prep for those hard conversations is have some easier ones first. Practice with some basics like how you want the room set up. Maybe set up time to go to dinner together just once to learn where each other came from. Discuss your orientation schedule, and if you want to meet up at some point during the week. What’s most important here is not to make assumptions. You and your roommate may have different ideas of what is “expected” and unless you talk it out you’ll never know really what the other person is thinking or feeling, and why the feel that way.
Establish Needs, Not Positions
Speaking of feelings, there will come a point of frustration in the year. The window is open and it’s freezing in the room. The music is too loud. You don’t feel comfortable bringing friends to your room. When these things happen, the first thing to do is recognize your feelings. What is it that you feel? Frustration? Anger? Sadness? And from these feelings what is that telling you that you need to be safe and reasonably comfortable in your living situation? Needs are broad, and can be applied in many contexts. An important distinction from a position which is narrow and usually apply to the specific matter at hand. For example – you might need the room to be a comfortable temperature to sleep. Your position might be that the window must be shut to get to that temperature. Positions appear immovable, and are often proposed as the only solution to a problem. Positions breed hostility and usually do not get either party what they really need. When you establish your needs – in this case a comfortable temperature – you can explore other options such as when the window should be open or shut and how much, using a personal fan, adding/removing more bed covers, etc. When you discuss needs not positions you are more likely to get to compromise.
Vent Up, Not Out
Sure, sometimes you will want to vent about your experience and process your feelings. But venting to the whole floor, or everyone but your roommate, helps NO ONE. Know who you can confidentially vent to. Maybe it’s someone back home. A parent, a classmate, a partner. Maybe it’s your RA or RCC. Maybe it’s one person you have really connected with on campus. What’s important here is not to be careful what you share and who you share it with. Be clear when you are “just venting” to get something off your chest, and when you are actively seeking advice on how to handle a situation. Roommate drama can quickly become floor drama which can sometimes circle back to your roommate and make things worse for everyone involved. Follow Tim Gunn’s advice, and just don’t do that.
Moving Doesn’t Always Fix the Problem
Lastly, many students jump immediately to a move. It’s easy to see that as a solution, especially the beginning of the year. But the reality is moving often results in a new, different, issue emerging with a new roommate. You may not know the back story behind why a room was vacated (i.e. what roommate issue was going on to have that person move out). You may realize that while a new roommate is much easier to get along with they are far more messy and loud (or quiet and too clean). And sometimes, you realize that you actually have some personal things to work through that carry over from your first situation. Moving is hard. It’s no fun packing up all your belongings and adjusting to a new environment. People’s habits may have formed on a floor that you may or may not jive with. And there often aren’t many alternative spaces to move to. Moving can be an option in those rare cases where it is in the best interest of everyone involved, and the first step is to talk to your RA/RCC about the challenges you are having. So if you ever do think that is a route you are thinking about, talk to your RA/RCC as soon as you can. The process can take a couple weeks, so it’s important not to wait to the moment you just can’t take it anymore.
Living with another person is a challenge, but it’s one that you’ll probably be navigating for many years to come (college and beyond!). It can also be a very fun and rewarding part of your college experience if you take the time to think about what you think you’ll need to live, study, and succeed at Puget Sound.
Looking for more suggestions? Check out our “2014 Roommate Booklet” for more tips and suggestions to set up for a successful roommate experience.