When “college student” and “good friend” conflict

From first-year dorms to now

The summer before first year, when the time came to fill out the on-Grounds housing survey, I opted to go the random roommate route — partly because I was lazy and partly because the idea of finding someone through social media disenchanted me. But when it came to where I would live and with whom, I didn’t have a preference.

On move-in day, I knew little about the girl who would be sharing my living quarters with me for the next nine months. But when I walked into 316 Emmet and saw a maroon comforter neatly covering one of the beds, I had a feeling we would get along — I had chosen the same exact comforter for my own bed. That was the first of many bonding moments she and I had as roommates — which we have been ever since.

My first-year dorm was the source of several other enduring friendships, spurred by small moments when brushing teeth or lending printer paper. By spring, my dorm was “home,” and my hallmates were more than fellow boarders. Clumsy nights out, O-Hill dinners and hundreds of hours of conversation led me to associate my feeling of safety with those new friends.

In the days of anxiously constructing our college identities, it was a relief to be able to blather on about who we had been in high school and before. And when it came to University tribulations, dutifully attended gatherings on a dorm room’s fluffy rug provided the means for airing any troubles one of us was having. Accompanied by a massive jar of pretzels and mugs of chamomile, we sat cross-legged and listened, laughed, wondered and worried.

Two years later, I no longer worry about the same things, and I no longer live in Old Dorms. Instead, I live a 15-minute walk away, in an old, white house with newly-painted window shutters and a roof that seats 10, with those same friends. There are eight of us total, and with 80 times as many extracurricular commitments as before, quality roommate time is hard to scrape up nowadays.

To be both a college student and a good friend simultaneously becomes more difficult as the years pass from first to fourth — I can’t help but feel more self-embroiled everyday. Dirty laundry plasters my floor. I’ve been missing my ID card for about three weeks now, leaving my meal plan untapped and counting spoonfuls of peanut butter as my dinner for the day, because I definitely don’t cook. I often think, if I am apparently incapable of addressing aspects of life necessary to basic well-being, how can I have enough space in my mind to comprehend my roommates’ struggles?

Though residents of the same address, we can go days without seeing one another — my current record with one of my roommate’s is six days. Amid moments of stress, my friends and I can no longer rely on nightly conferences, like we once did. While important U.Va. relationships exist beyond our front porch, nothing resembles the distinctive companionship of people who live together. These people have seen how filthy my room is — there is no hiding that side of me.

After a recent trying day, I found comfort in returning to what had brought my roommates and me together as friends in the first place. We were dejected and drained, it was nighttime and we were talking about the dumb mistakes we’d made that day, long-term stressors and funny occurrences.

After freeing the burrs of sadness and exhaustion from my throat, I instantly felt better. But I also felt guilty, having had no idea about the extent of change and struggle occurring in my roommates’ lives. We detected this guilt in each other, too. Yet it was also as we were sitting on my bed, on my old maroon comforter, when my roommates and I recognized that our first-year friendships — which had seemed so effortless — were all the reason we needed for reconnecting.

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