It’s back to school season—which means that it’s time for many college students to leave their childhood bedrooms and swap it for dorm life. Whether this is your first time sharing a space with a roommate or your fourth year in a row, it’s safe to say boundaries and life have changed significantly in the past 18 months due to the pandemic. Although restrictions will likely be less stringent than they were during the last academic year, precautions will still need to be taken, particularly for the unvaccinated. Starting the year on good footing with your roommate always requires strong communication skills, but especially during a global health crisis. Whether or not you already know your roommate on a personal basis, here are eight ways to start the year on a solid note in your living space.
1. Communicate face-to-face
As difficult as it can be to work up the courage, talking to your roommate in person about something on your mind is far more effective than sending a text message or leaving a note on their desk. When you converse verbally, it’s much easier to read body language cues and tone as well as look at things from the other person’s perspective. It also demonstrates that you value your relationship when you take time to honestly talk with your roommate rather than choosing a more indirect route. It shows you care about their feelings as well as your own. Whenever possible, have a face-to-face conversation with your roommate over anything that’s bothering you rather than writing out your grievances.
2. Establish some ground rules
The best way to avoid problems with your roommate is to have an honest conversation before you begin living together about expectations and guidelines. This should prevent a lot of issues down the road, as you’ll have already discussed various possible scenarios for potential problems. Remember, your roommate can’t know your expectations if you don’t verbalize them—and you can’t know theirs either! Even if you think something goes without saying, say it out loud. Or better yet, write it down by making a roommate agreement at the beginning of the year that outlines the basic rules you both agree to follow. This is particularly important now as different people have different approaches to health and safety during COVID-19. Your ground rules should include agreements on outside visitors, attending parties, and mask wearing. Outside of COVID-related topics, be sure to also discuss cleaning responsibilities, sharing of food/clothes/etc., and any quiet hours you want to institute. It’s critical to acknowledge that you won’t get your way on every issue (welcome to roommate life), but you should still express your opinions. Compromising is an important skill to learn, but you also need to be clear about what you prioritize and are comfortable with; it’s your space just as much as theirs.
3. Consistently communicate your concerns
This goes along with creating a roommate agreement, but healthy communication extends beyond a move-in day chat. As the semester progresses, you may start to get frustrated with something your roommate does, whether it’s not taking out the trash or playing loud music while you’re trying to sleep. Rather than quietly resenting your roommate or complaining about them to all your friends, try to address the problem! In many cases, your roommate will have no idea that what they’re doing is bothering you as much as it is. With a little more communication, you can figure out a solution that works for you both. On the flip side, don’t be defensive if your roommate comes to you with something annoying that you’re doing; work to fix the problem rather than taking it personally.
4. Solve small problems before they get bigger
Even if you have the best roommate agreement in the world paired with the strongest of communication skills, you’re still going to run into an issue or two with your roommate. It can be easy to ignore a small problem and tell yourself to suck it up, and while that’ll work for something quite minuscule like your roommate leaving clothes on the floor, it probably won’t be effective with a larger issue like your roommate’s partner’s increasingly frequent and lengthy visits. When you don’t say anything, your roommate will assume you don’t mind and the problem may only intensify over time, leaving you resentful and angry and your roommate unaware of the issue. It’s important to solve small problems before they turn into big ones. While it may be difficult to speak up, it’ll only get harder if you wait until the issue has been going on for weeks or months, so don’t be afraid to respectfully voice your concerns.
5. Use “I” statements to express yourself
When you inevitably have a serious conversation with your roommate, be sure to use “I” statements to communicate and center your feelings rather than “you” or, worse yet, “you always” statements that center around their mistakes. When you make yourself the main character with an “I” statement, you’re expressing how a specific action or practice bothered you, whereas “you” statements can come off as an attack on the other person, which won’t lead to a productive conversation. For example, consider how much less inflammatory the statement, “I feel unsafe when you have your unvaccinated friends over without masks,” sounds compared to, “You always let your friends get away with anything and don’t think about me at all.” They’re both referring to the same concern, yet the one using the “I” statement gets to the point and skips the emotional baggage.
6. Let your roommate know when you invite people over
This one feels like a no-brainer, but it needs to be said. If you’re going to have someone over to a space you share, it’s only polite to let your roommate know and make sure they’re okay with it. Hopefully, your roommate agreement or previous conversations have already established both of your feelings on visitors and how to approach that during the pandemic. If you and your roommate have come to an agreement that accepts visitors safely, it’s still courteous to let them know when someone is coming over. After all, nobody likes to be surprised by guests when they’re having a private pajama dance party for one.
7. Avoid talking badly about your roommate behind their back
If you end up having a difficult relationship with your roommate, it’s understandable to want to vent and complain about them to your friends. While this can feel incredibly satisfying in the moment, it can easily backfire. Whether it’s because your friends are also friends with your roommate and end up telling them what you said or something else, it’s best not to badmouth those you’re living with. That being said, there’s a difference between a much-needed vent session to a trusted loved one—like a parent, sibling, or close friend (not the whole squad)—and frequent trash-talking sessions. If you’re conflicted on this one, ask yourself: Would you want your roommate talking badly about you to everyone they meet?
8. Realize you may not be best friends
There’s a common myth that all college roommates become best friends and see each other frequently decades after graduation. If that’s you, congratulations on an amazing friendship! But if it isn’t, don’t worry; a lot of roommates don’t become best friends. Sometimes the people you live well with and the people you want to hang out with aren’t the same people, and that’s okay. Just make sure you treat your roommate as you would want to be treated, and don’t worry if you two aren’t having fun slumber parties every night.
Living with a roommate can present unique challenges, but when you both commit to communicating openly and honestly with each other, you’ll eliminate many of the issues that can come with sharing a space. As you head into the new semester, make sure to stay safe and enjoy all that college life has to offer.
Want the skills to forge great relationships at school? Check out this video from the CollegeXpress YouTube channel on Making Friends in College.