White man in gray shirt and Black man having argument on couch in dorm

How to Set Boundaries and Resolve Conflicts With Your New Roommate

Scared about sharing your space with a new person? There are some smart, simple things you can do to make life with your new roommate more comfortable.

Nervous about starting college and living with someone else? Your roommate probably is too. When you finally get unpacked (and put your decorations up, of course), you’ll have a chance to ask questions that will help you get to know each other. You want your first interactions with your roommate to be open and friendly. If you don’t immediately see common interests, don’t be too quick to judge them based on first impressions. There are a lot of logistics to getting to know and adjusting to life with a new roommate. Let’s go through some things you should know.

Getting too attached to your roommate

If you're a few weeks into a new semester, let’s hope you’re getting along well with your new roommate. If so, that’s great! But a word of caution: Beware of overwhelming each other. If you really get along, it's easy to do everything together—but eating, living, and socializing together nearly 24/7 can be a lot, even if you have a strong bond. Make sure you spend time with other friends and participate in clubs or activities. And while an empty dining hall table may be daunting, try to eat some of your meals alone or with other friends.

Related: 4 Great Ways to Make Friends at College

Conversations to have with each other

While everyone would love to become best friends with their roommate, the reality is that it doesn’t always happen that way. In fact, in most cases, it doesn’t. All you need is someone who you can be pleasant and live with. 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. (Feel free to add your own topics based on your personal habits and preferences, of course!)

  • Cleanliness: One thing that’s important to discuss is neatness. Most people probably like to call themselves neat, but the word can have entirely different meanings to everyone. For some people, neat means not-a-hair-out-of-place clean, while for others, it means a few things lying around but generally knowing where things are. Someone who can’t tolerate anything lying around will likely be stressed by clutter, so these types of roommates may need to figure out a way to compromise.
  • Guests: Some people want their room to be the social hub on their floor, open to anyone who wants to hang out. Others prefer their room to be a refuge. Discuss how your room fits in with your social activities and what the policy is for any significant others.
  • Study time: In conjunction with social life, you should discuss whether you or your roommate plan to use the room as a study space. If one plans to study in the room a lot, this may change the room dynamic when someone is in study mode.
  • Sharing: You should also discuss what the two of you will be sharing. Some people may not want to share anything, while some may be fine with sharing a fridge but not clothes or personal belongings. This is something that can lead to contention later on, so it’s best to clarify right away.

Proactive conflict resolution

With any luck, these tips and the relationship you develop with your roommate will help you avoid any major conflicts. And while pet peeves may seem relatively minor and not even worth discussing, little things that annoy you can build up for an entire semester and become something much nastier if not addressed. There are certain things you should do to resolve it as soon as possible. When bringing conflicts up with your roommate, frame them as problem behaviors and not problematic character traits. “You're waking me up when you come home from practice” is a lot nicer, more constructive, and easier to fix than “You’re too loud and I can’t handle it!”

And it needs to be said: Although your first instinct may be to complain to a friend about your roommate, don’t. As Vice President of Student Affairs at Trinity College David Tuttle says, “The first one to know about a roommate conflict should be your roommate.” If word gets back to your roomie, rumors will make conflict resolution harder. If you have a grievance with them, speak up to them about it. Letting multiple problems and resentment build up will only make your day-to-day life miserable.

Related: 6 Ways to Keep the Peace When You and Your Roommate Aren't Friends

If you encounter any bumps in your roommate relationship, hopefully these tips will help you get back on track quickly. Your college experience (and theirs) will be so much better if you get along. Put aside some time each week for roommate time, give each other space when needed, and you’re sure to be on your way to a great year.

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