Resolving Roommate Rivalry

By Elizabeth Duck

Laura’s story…

During my freshman year of college, I learned an important fact: living with a roommate is not always easy. Before school started, I filled out a roommate request form, which would match me with the perfect roommate. Once I moved in with my roommate Sarah, I had a sneaky suspicion that my form got lost in the mail. Sarah was the exact opposite of what I requested. She sleeps late; I get up early. She likes everything neat and tidy; I am domestically challenged. She is the loud one; I am quiet. She shares her food; I hide my food under my bed.

One night, after a long day at the library, I came home to discover Sarah with a bunch of her friends lounging on the couch watching movies. They were laughing and munching on cookies my mom had sent in a care package. She waved a noncommittal “Hey” in my direction and then went back to popping pieces of my mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies into her mouth. I bent over the coffee table to retrieve what was left of the cookies, but there were none to be found. Sarah had eaten the last cookie! I was livid. I stormed off to my bedroom, turned on my stereo, and played my Green Day CD really loud to drown out the sound of their giggles. Help! My roommate and I are too different and I do not know what to do.

Roommates do not always get along. Roommate rivalry is common in college, given the fact that this is the first time many students have ever shared a room with another person. Other factors, such as differences in personality and expectations, can contribute to roommate discord. As a result, life at college becomes an enormous drag, rather than a time full of excitement. Students do not always have control over who they end up rooming with, so it is important to be aware of how to prepare yourself for the college roommate experience. Whether you are an early riser or a night owl, a neat freak or a bit messy around the edges, generous with your food or miserly, one thing is for sure, if your roommate is the opposite of you, there is a greater possibility for conflict.

Avoid the pitfalls so many others have fallen into by becoming aware of the most common conflict creators among roommates:

  • What is Mine is Yours…to Share or not to Share?

Taking personal items without asking, such as clothes or food, can send your roommate through the roof. Be sure to borrow your roommate’s favorite sweater, use the last bit of their toothpaste, drink all their milk, or eat their secret stash of chips.

Rule for Resolution: Sharing with your roommate is fine as long as you clearly define what is okay to share and what is off limits. Respect your roommate’s boundaries regarding their personal property. If you are unsure, always ask.

  • Live in a Pigsty.

The best thing to do is to leave dishes piled to the ceiling, dirty clothes all over the floor, and never take out the garbage. Your roommate can handle the mess, besides you have to update your Myspace page.

Rule for Resolution: Leaving the common areas of your home (living room, kitchen, bath, etc.) a mess breeds contempt among your fellow roommates. Make a schedule for cleaning duties and assign the various tasks. No one likes to clean, but if you manage this task together, it will be over before you know it.

  • Night Owls vs. Early Risers

Stay up all night, even though your roommate has early classes, listening to your music while IM-ing people… ding, ding, ding! Or wake up early in the morning, turn up the volume on the TV, and chat with your friends on the phone while your roommate is trying to sleep. Besides, sleeping is overrated.

Rule for Resolution: Ask yourself and your roommate, whether you are a morning person or a night person? Clarify your needs for both sleeping styles. For instance, do you need complete silence while you sleep or is a little background noise okay?

  • Turn Up the Music!

Turn the music up really loud at midnight and rock out as you watch the walls shake. Not only will you wake up your roommate who is sleeping, but you might make some new enemies on your hall as well.

Rule for Resolution: Listening to loud music can be a great release, but only if both roommates are on the same page. Work out an agreement with your roommate regarding what is an acceptable volume level. Define quiet times as well as rock out times.

  • Your Room is the Social Hangout.

Always keep your door open for visitors and friends, even when your roommate is trying to study for finals. This will guarantee you a spot high atop the social ladder, while driving your roommate nuts.

Rule for Resolution: When you have an open door policy, you just might be asking for trouble. The door is there for a reason, so determine with your roommate when you want to leave it open for guests and when the room is just for the two of you. Private time is just as important as popularity.

  • Always Assume You Know What is Going On with Your Roommate.

The best way to start misunderstandings with your roommate is to never ask them what is happening in their life. Just assume you understand what they are going through and never listen when they try to tell you anything. Showing you care will only bring you closer together.

Rule for Resolution: Always ask, rather than assume anything. Assuming is like reading someone’s mind, and honestly how many of us actually have that ability? Ask about your roommate’s background and show you care about how they are feeling instead of only focusing on how you are feeling.

Some of these concepts might seem basic, but you would be surprised how often these common conflict creators cause roommate trouble. Give yourself the best possible chance of overcoming the pitfalls by openly communicating what you need and want from your roommate, and encourage them to do the same.

The author wishes to thank Lisa Moore for her assistance with this article.