The Freshman Files: Be a Better Roommate

In honor of orientation weeks kicking off across the country, I decided I will be posting a new blog each week offering some of the advice I wish I would have received before entering college. Today’s post focuses on one of the greatest subroles you will take on during your time as a college student: a roommate. Without further ado, I present to you 3 tips for being a better roommate:

  1. Don’t project your roommate expectations on your roommate: I would say the majority of freshmen come in with a pocketful of expectations for their roommate. Let’s just be real here for a second and admit that we all Facebook stalked our roomie at some point in time…I mean, we were curious and just want to know what to expect, okay?!

Whether you expect a certain behavior from your roommate (I made the horrible mistake of watching The Roommate a week before orientation, and therefore had mild suspicions that my seemingly sweet roomie, Macy, could be secretly masking a psychotic side…don’t worry, she wasn’t), or a certain relationship with them (everyone dreams of becoming best friends with their roommate, right?), it’s important to separate your expectations from reality.

If you decided to go into your school’s roommate match system, it’s important to remember that even though you and your roomie are cohabiting, you are still strangers, and you must therefore approach building a relationship with your roommate in the same way you would approach establishing a relationship with any other stranger: an open mind, a lot of time, and a lot of questions…

…you just get to do it over pillow talk.

2. Give your roommate some space: It’s okay to hangout with your roommate…in fact, it’s great to hangout with your roommate! Finding friendship with your roommate can be such a joy, but when it comes to budgeting the time you spend together, use moderation. There’s nothing that will send a roommate running faster than clinginess, which is a dangerous line to walk when you are already sharing a [SMALL] space with someone.

Though it’s wonderful to be close to your roommate and view them as a friend, you don’t have to become attached at the hip. When your roomie brings friends into the room, know when you’re being an asset to the conversation, and when you’re interrupting or lingering longer than necessary.

One of the most gracious actions you can show to yourself and to your roommate is to be your own person, avoiding the urge to join all of the same clubs and social groups. Make your own friends, and develop your own interests. If these categories overlap, let it happen in a way that is natural, not forced.

3. Communicate clearly and directly: everyone always says, “communication is key,” but I didn’t fully understand this until I had my first roommate. As you are thrown into a room with a complete stranger, there will come a time when your habits and quirks can quickly move from endearing to irritating.

When the “honeymoon stage” of rooming together wears off, and your rainbows and butterflies mask begins to fade, it’s important to address any concerns you may have, before they become issues. Be transparent about your flaws and your needs, and your roommate will be grateful for your honesty! It’s more important (and a lot less exhausting) to be upfront about your humanity than it is to try and pretend to be a perfect person.

For example, I take medication for ADD, and when my meds start to wear off, they leave me feeling a little tired for a couple hours, and not in a very social mood. Living with a beautiful social butterfly meant that I whenever I returned from class, I was greeted with a string of stories and questions about my day, which though kind and wonderful, left me feeling a little drained, since I arrived back to my dorm during the fading phases of my medication.

I was frustrated with myself for feeling tinges of irritation toward my kind, caring, hilarious roommate, so one day, I explained to her, “I take medicine for ADD, and when it wears off, I get a little tired and irritable for a few hours. I know this sounds weird, but do you think we can talk and share about our days a little later? Maybe around dinner time? Usually it’s best for me if I have a little quiet time in between 3-5 while my meds wear off.”

Even though I was worried about my roommate thinking I was weird or a diva for making such specific requests, she really appreciated that I communicated my needs to her, and it bettered our friendship!

Navigating a new living situation is a challenge, a joy, a learning experience, and an opportunity for personal growth. Overall, use the golden rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Be the roommate you would like to have. The more kindness, honesty, and transparency you bring to the table, the healthier your relationship will be with your roommate (oh, and it doesn’t hurt to figure out what their favorite treats are either…nothing says, “I love cohabiting with you” like a plate of chocolate chip cookies, right Mace?!)


Kelly Doles


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