Adjusting to Your New Roommate

Student, Wellesley College

If you’ve never lived with a roommate (or even if you have!) the concept of living with a complete stranger can seem daunting. However there are several things that you can do before and after moving in to ensure you get along with your roommate.

Be open

Looking up new roommates on social media can be complicated. On one hand it may provide evidence of common interests, which could spark a wonderful friendship. However, if you don’t immediately see common interests in a roommate don’t be too quick to judge them based on what you see online. It might add a nice personal touch if you call them to arrange who is bringing what for the room, rather than relying entirely on electronic communication, which, though convenient, can be impersonal.

Work on becoming friends . . .

In your first interactions with your roommate, be open and friendly. Remember that your roommate may be just as nervous as you are about starting college and living with someone else. When you finally get unpacked (and get your decorations up, of course), you’ll have a chance to ask questions that will help you get to know your roommate. Ask about favorite places, hobbies, nicknames, favorite foods, TV shows, academic interests, etc. As time goes on, try to develop fun roommate rituals that allow you to connect and spend time together.

. . . but don’t count on the roommate for everything

Let’s hope that by now you’re getting along really well with your new roommate. If so, that’s great! But a word of caution: beware of overcrowding. If you get along well with your roommate it can be easy to want to do everything together, but eating, living, and socializing together nearly 24/7 can make some people uneasy, even if they had a strong bond with you in the first place. To counteract that, make sure you spend time with other friends that you make through clubs or activities. And while an empty dining hall table may be daunting, try to eat some of your meals alone (to allow others the chance to approach you without feeling like they’re interrupting you and your roommate), or with other friends.

While everyone would love to become best friends with their roommate, the reality is that it doesn’t have to happen that way. In fact, in most cases it doesn’t. All you need is someone that you can be pleasant with and live with. Which brings me to my next point . . .

The practicalities of living together

One of the most important things you can do to make your roommate experience easier is to communicate with one another about living expectations from the very beginning. There are a lot of different issues that may arise in a typical living situation, so here are a few things you may want to talk about. You may, of course, also feel free to add your own topics based on your personal habits and preferences.

  • Potential conflicts. It may seem weird to talk about conflict when you’ve just met and one hasn’t even begun, but in the end it may save you a lot of pain. Everyone shows their anger differently, and recognizing the signs that your roommate is upset may help to save a small situation from escalating into a bigger problem. So ask how your roommate tends to react when stressed.
  • Cleanliness. One thing that may be important to discuss is levels of neatness. Most people probably like to define themselves as neat, but the word can have entirely different meanings for different people. For some people neat means not-a-hair-on-the-floor clean, while for other people that means a-few-things-lying-around-but-generally-know-where-things-are clean. In this situation the person who can’t tolerate anything lying around will likely be stressed, and the two roommates may need to figure out a way to compromise.
  • Guests. Whether you’re talking about friendly or romantic guests, this is an important issue for most roommates. Some people want their room to be their social hub on their floor, open to anyone who wants to hang out. Others prefer their room to be their refuge. So you may want to discuss how your room fits in with your social activities and what the policy is for any significant others that you or your roommate may have.
  • Study time. In conjunction with the social life discussion, you should discuss whether you or your roommate plan to use the room as a study space. If one of you does plan to study in the room, this may change what you or your roommate may be able to do while one of you is in study mode.
  • Sharing. You should also discuss what the two of you can share or not. Some people may not want to share anything. Some people may be fine with sharing a fridge, but not clothes or personal belongings. Some may be more open. This is an issue that can easily lead to contention later on, so it’s best to clarify it right away.
  • The little things. Pet peeves may seem relatively minor, maybe not even worth discussing. But when the little things that annoy you build up for an entire semester, it can become something much nastier. It may be much easier, then, to mention up front if something is bothering you to prevent future issues.

Conflict resolution

With any luck, these tips and the relationship you’ve developed with your roommate will help you avoid any major conflicts. But in the event that a conflict does arise, there are certain things that you can do to resolve it as soon as possible.

Although your first instinct may be to complain about your roommate, don’t do so to anyone who might be a mutual friend. As David Tuttle, the Vice President of Student Affairs at Trinity College put it, “the first one to know about a roommate conflict should be the roommate.” If word gets back to your roomie, the rumors will just make the task of resolving the conflict worse. If you have a grievance with your roommate, try to speak up about it ASAP. Letting multiple problems and resentment build up will only make the problem more difficult to sort through in the end.

Finally, in bringing conflicts up to your roommate frame them as problem behaviors and not a problematic character trait. “You are waking me up when you come home from practice” is a lot more constructive and easier to fix than “You’re too loud and I can’t handle it!”

Hopefully, if you encounter any bumps in your roommate relationship these tips will help you to get back on track quickly.

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