Check your locks

| Forum Editor

Before my first year at Wash. U., fear outweighed excitement. And I think, looking back, that I was more afraid of my freshman roommate (nothing personal) than I was of Gen. Chem. I had no idea what it would be like to live with someone my own age—someone likely to be very different from me. My brother and I share most of our genetic code, but we can barely share a bathroom—how was I going to sleep beside a total stranger? Now, three years later, I’ve lived with eight wholly unique people, and I’d like to say I’ve learned a thing or two.

People who know things are always telling me that communication is the key to every relationship. How true. And like almost every other very true thing, it’s easier said than done. I’ve learned in college that I’m downright squirrelly about confrontation—especially when my opponent knows where I sleep. So lesson number one: talk before coming to blows (I’ve never physically brawled with a roommate, but I’ve fantasized about it).

The worst thing you can do as a roommate is suffer in silence. Problems tend to build—if you give a mouse a cookie, it’ll ask for a kidney (something along those lines). I mean, once you start letting things slide, where do you draw the line? Last semester I was in New Zealand sharing a little box of an apartment with two other girls. It was tight quarters—thin walls, itty-bitty bathroom, and about five different kitchen utensils shared between us.

I should have had that conversation I was itching to avoid. I should have worked things out before the situation completely deteriorated. Oh well. I now suggest some kind of proactive plan to eliminate common roommate problems before they even surface.

One of my roommates was awesome; the other tested the limits of my sanity. Looking back, I probably should have shared this with her sooner (but maybe put it more nicely). I spent most of the semester doing this girl’s dishes and cleaning up her messes because I felt uncomfortable with the idea of giving orders to a peer. So instead, I let my resentment build up like soap scum or the wads of her hair clogging our shower drain. Instead of stewing, I should have had that conversation I was itching to avoid. I should have worked things out before the situation completely deteriorated. Oh well. I now suggest some kind of proactive plan to eliminate common roommate problems before they even surface; I’ve become a fervent believer in trash schedules and assigned tasks (it’s type A, but it works). You just can’t assume that people will live like you. And however much you may hope for mind reading, sometimes it doesn’t pan out. Put it in words, put it on paper—just say something.

The other major (and uber cliché) lesson of roommate relations is you must be willing to compromise. Rigidity isn’t a great quality in a roommate. Accommodating others may not always be fun, but, hey, that’s democracy for you. I have this really awesome penguin mobile hanging in our common room right now, but my roommates have strongly vetoed it and I think it’s coming down. I guess not everyone appreciates having five species of Antarctic penguins hanging at face level in the middle of their living space. See what I mean about sacrifice?

And then sometimes things simply don’t work out, and that’s when you should always remember to lock your door. I mean it—once my New Zealand roommate started listening in doorways, I never left my apartment or went to sleep without fumbling with that lock for a few minutes. Safety first, and have a great year!

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