“A good roommate may be the single most important thing to have when one is away,” wrote Barbara Dana. Indeed, our roommates become a sort of surrogate family when we are far from our own. Having a good roommate can be like living with a loving sister or a favorite cousin.
A difficult roommate relationship, on the other hand, can be terribly emotionally taxing. Some roommate situations have even been known to border on abuse.
So – how do you make the best of this uncertain situation?
Here are five ways to set your roommate relationship up for success:
1. Choose carefully.
Just because you love someone dearly does not necessarily mean they will be a good roommate. In fact, many treasured friendships have been torn apart when one decides to move in with the other. Consider your friend’s habits carefully before moving in together. Are you on the same page with issues such as partying, cleanliness, and money matters? The same quirks that make a friend interesting and fun can make a roommate situation unlivable. You may be better off moving in with a total stranger – at least that way, if things blow up, there’s no friendship to grieve in the aftermath.
2. Set ground rules.
Most roommate disagreements come from innocent misunderstandings. There’s a good chance your roommate is used to an environment much different than your own, and what is normal behavior in your eyes may feel offensive or unacceptable in hers. Touch base on every topic you can think of, no matter how trivial it may feel to you. Where do we stand on sleepovers? Alcohol? Drugs? Wake and sleep times? When can we expect the apartment to be quiet? Dishes in the sink – yay or nay? Are groceries to be shared, or bought and used separately? Get these issues out of the way early on, and avoid lots of arguments later.
3. Divide and conquer.
“I make no secret of the fact that I would rather lie on a sofa than sweep beneath it,” laughed Shirley Conran. Wouldn’t we all? Unfortunately, life provides us with a never ending supply of household chores. Decide early on how you want to divide these. Agree not only on who is responsible for which chores, but the standard at which you expect each job to be done. Be as specific as possible. One person’s idea of “deep cleaning” may be another’s idea of simply keeping things neat. Write all of this down so each roommate is held accountable.
4. Get personal.
Remember that your roommate is a human being. Get to know them as such. The more empathy and understanding you can muster for one another, the less damage the inevitable conflicts to come will cause. When your roommate upsets you, try to look at things from her perspective before you react. What’s going on in her life right now? Did she know how much this would bother me? If this situation were reversed, how would I like to be approached about it? A little bit of understanding can go a very long way.
5. Watch your mouth.
When you speak about your roommate to others, assume the information will get back to them and choose your words accordingly. You never know who might be walking by your bedroom door. Although it’s tempting to vent your frustrations, it is important to do so as kindly as possible so as not to ruin the relationship.
“Even people who are entirely strange and indifferent to one another will exchange confidences if they live together for a while, and a certain intimacy is bound to develop,” wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Give your roommate grace and understanding whenever possible. Set expectations, and hold up your end of them. If you are very lucky, you may even walk away from this experience having made a treasured friend.