How to: Deal with a Bad Roommate
As someone who lived in campus housing all four years of undergrad, I’ve had my fair share of terrible roommate experiences. My very first roommate and I lived in a traditional dorm room, and for the first week or two, we got along famously. We were both so giddy about being away from home and on our own that it was impossible to be in bad moods—that is, until she started bringing random dudes back to our room while I wasn’t around… and while I was. We started bickering constantly, and eventually she switched rooms, after some urging on my part. A girl from down the hall in an equally bad situation moved in, and for another few weeks, things were great. And then… more random dudes. More bickering. Finally, a girl moved in who I became completely attached to. She became one of my closest friends, and even now, eight years later, I still consider her one of my best.
In graduate school, I went through a host of terrible roommates. First, there was the one that terrorized my dog, and cooked food that smelled awful for hours on end. Then, there was the one that handed her house key out to strange guys she met at parties (!) so they could “come check on her later.” Oh, and did I mention the one that left food and dirty dishes in the sink and on the counters until they were covered in mold? Ahh, roommate life.
Sometimes, you have to deal with the awful to make it to the good when it comes to living situations. From having sketchy dudes over at all hours to leaving big messes to arguing over the temperature in the room, there are plenty of things that can make a seemingly decent living arrangement turn sour, and quickly.
Whether you’re new to shared living spaces or a seasoned veteran, there are a few things that might make your cohabitation go a bit smoother.
Create a roommate agreement.
If you’re living in campus housing and have a Resident Advisor, you will most likely have to fill out a pre-made form that will help you set rules that you and your roommates can all agree on. But, if you’re off campus, it’s still important that you sit down right when you move in and discuss things. It helps to write it all down and sign it, even just as a way to keep each other honest as time goes on. The agreement should cover things like the temperature in your living space, visitors, pets, how shared or communal spaces will be used and decorated, and quiet hours. It might seem petty at first, but if disagreements pop up down the line, you’ll have something to reference when you talk it out. Keep this document in a spot where it can be easily located, like right on the fridge, or in a drawer in the kitchen.
When it comes to sharing a living space, it’s important to talk about your comfort levels with visitors and shared space. When I had a roommate that often brought over guys she barely knew, and even sometimes left them completely unattended in our apartment, I had to constantly stress about whether my dog or my belongings were safe. It made our relationship very rocky, and she began to do things she knew bothered me just out of spite. Take a preemptive strike and have a serious conversation about how you both feel about people coming and staying over. Talk about whether or not you are allowed in each other’s rooms when the other isn’t around, or even if you feel comfortable with strangers sleeping over. It’s important to feel safe in your own home, and you and your roommates are both entitled to that sense of security.
Speak up when something bothers you.
Even when you make agreements and have discussions and set boundaries, as time goes on, you might end up finding certain things are getting on your nerves that you hadn’t anticipated. Maybe your roommate likes to cook especially… smelly food at strange hours of the day and night. Maybe your roommate is bothered by your taste in music, and how loudly you like to blare it while you clean your room. Maybe your roommate’s boyfriend is becoming a little too comfortable and hanging around way too much. If something is bothering you, talk about it. Don’t leave passive aggressive notes, don’t try to ignore it and end up angry, and don’t brush it off. Be adults and talk to one another.
Be respectful and courteous.
Sometimes, you might be the bad roommate. To keep that from happening, practice as much respect and courtesy as you possibly can. If you’re about to have someone sleep over, let your roommate know. If you’re about to turn on loud music and it’s 3AM, consider putting on some headphones instead. Everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their own home, so don’t be the awful roommate that makes your living situation unbearable for the other people you live with. As a general rule, if it would bug you, don’t do it.
Clean up after yourself.
I’d argue that cleaning up after yourself falls under being respectful and courteous, but really, it’s just basic manners and common sense. If you make a big mess in the kitchen, clean it up. Don’t leave it there for days. Don’t leave the mess from your school project spread out all over the living room. If your room is a disaster, shut your door and keep it to yourself. If you share a bedroom, be courteous enough to keep your area as orderly as possible. And, if you have a messy roommate, call them out on it. Ask them to clean up their own messes, just like you clean up yours.
Ask someone to mediate.
If things have already gone bad and you’re having trouble being in the same room with your roommate without lunging at each other’s throats, ask someone else to come in and help you work it out. It helps to have an uninvolved third party be present to help you guys work out whatever has caused you to be at odds. If you haven’t worked out a roommate agreement, have this other person work one out with you. Having someone else present can help you keep your heads level and act a little more like grown ups while you come to agreements you both can live with.