SPINKS: Different roommates
Students should set the bar low with roommate expectations
This week, The Cavalier Daily will humbly present you with its annual housing issue. Last year, my column in the housing issue aimed to illuminate the benefits of on-Grounds housing. But regardless of where you live, you’re still going to have to address this very important question: Who are you going to live with? For unless you’re a particularly lucky first year, a privileged upperclassman in on-Grounds housing, living on the Lawn, or wealthy enough to afford your own place off-Grounds, you probably have a roommate. It can be really intimidating to move into a room with another person, particularly if you don’t know them very well (but even if you do). Here’s my advice: Approach your roommate relationship with very few expectations. Be honest about everything. And appreciate the opportunity to hone your “people skills” if things start to go downhill. Trust me — this will help you later in life.
At least for me, the prospect of living in close quarters with another human being is scary for a number of reasons. First off, I’m a little bit claustrophobic. I like to have lots of personal space, and the dorms on Grounds (particularly first-year dorms) don’t really allow for that. I’m very possessive of my own belongings, and while I try not to be a selfish person, the idea of “communal” items sometimes makes me sweat.
Most importantly, though, I am kind of weird. I have a lot of quirks, and even people who would probably like me in any other context could easily despise me after a few months trapped in the same room, breathing the same air. Even if we’ve been friends for a while, you probably don’t know that I check behind and/or under my bed every night before I go to sleep. I’m not actually afraid of the dark, but I was as a child, and old habits die hard. You probably don’t know that I’d rather transfer my clean clothes from my desk chair to my bed to the floor and back a dozen times than actually put them away. Even if you like me as a person, you’ve probably never seen me sitting at my laptop at midnight, sobbing over the latest episode of “Parenthood.” It’s not pretty.
This column is turning into nothing more than a mortifying confessional, so I’ll make my point: Living with someone is a completely circumstantial situation. You need to go into it knowing that compromise and understanding are going to be part of the deal. Try to be low-maintenance. Try to be honest. Bring up problems immediately and kindly instead of letting them fester. Nobody likes to be ranted at about something that they were unaware was an issue, especially when their roommate has been stewing about it for months.
For goodness sake, do not try to find a roommate via a Facebook group. Or, if you do, attach very few expectations to the relationship. People cannot be summed up in a paragraph, by their profile or through their photo collections. Often the information you’ll find on Facebook is ambiguous at best and false at worst. What exactly does it mean to prefer “an organized mess”? Will it be difficult to find the Post-its on your roommate’s desk, or will there be week-old food rotting under their dirty clothes pile? Who knows. How often does a person go out if they party “occasionally?” Once a week? Once a month? Once a semester? It’s unclear.
It is virtually impossible to fully know a person before living with them. And regardless of how well you knew a person prior to rooming with them, they are bound to change. I’ve written about this a lot in the past. College changes people, and that’s a good thing, but you have to be willing to change with them and adjust. Especially if you care about them, you need to realize that they are allowed to change their party habits, their sleep schedule, their major, their friend group or any other thing, and you still have to live with them peacefully.
I’m not saying that all roommate situations are horrible — of course they’re not. Some will be very easy; some will be very difficult. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of struggling, approaching your roommate situation with an open mind, few expectations, a willingness to talk and compromise and a genuine desire to cooperate and enjoy living together can only make things better. Keep these things in mind because believe it or not, housing application deadlines are fast approaching. The time to select a roommate is nigh.
Ashley Spinks is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. Her columns run Mondays.