Most colleges have been in session for a few weeks now. That means the novelty of new roommates has worn off and conflicts are starting to arise. Most people want a successful college roommate experience.
I went to two different colleges. At the first one, I had two roommates over two years. The first one was sloppy and a bit disgusting. We lived in the dorms and shared a bedroom. It was a mess! I was so grateful to have a new dorm roommate the second year. I have no idea how I ended up with her, except that God knew what I needed. While I grew up a "holiday Catholic" I never really knew Jesus as my Savior. My second roommate, and a young woman who lived across the hall, introduced me to a Jesus I never knew. For that, I will be forever grateful for these women. We're just "Facebook friends" now but they are in my prayers regularly.
At my second college, I shared an apartment with three other women. That was a dark season in my life. While I don't remember much about those roommates, I do remember that they were patient and loving with me. I was the youngest in the apartment and struggling to exist. These women were so kind and loving - I'm grateful God placed me with them, as I clearly needed them.
Not all roommate situations progress smoothly, though. Whether the problem is messy roommates, too many "guests," or issues sharing space, the roommate situation is never an easy one. Some schools pair up roommates while others allow students to choose their own. Each method has its pros and cons. Even if you knew the person before you became roommates, living together brings a whole host of new relationship challenges.
Let's look at some strategies you can implement TODAY to start improving your roommate situation:
Christian Roommates - If you are a Christian (or any faith, really) and you have an opportunity to have the school select a Christian roommate for you, do that. Be sure they know that religious similarity is of the highest priority for you. If you aren't able to make that request, consider asking a Christian you know is attending your school if they would like to room together. Be sure you have similar views of what your faith means, though. Assuming you both live your faith the same way is going to cause its own problems when you find out you really don't.
Choose Your Battles - This is really good relationship advice for ANY type of relationship. You can't fight every battle and keep the relationship. I once had a student whose chief complaint was that her roommate did not wipe the toothpaste off the mirror when she was done brushing her teeth. This was her BIG ISSUE. You know, the one that was going to sabotage any progress they've made toward being good roommates. She decided to tactfully address it with her roommate. Had she addressed the toothpaste issue along with five others, it's likely no progress would have been made on any issues. Which one is most important? Now go work on that one.
Messy Roommates - This is a common complaint. Everyone keeps a different level of cleanliness, even within families. Going to college and learning to live with a stranger who grew up totally different from you is a huge challenge. Begin your relationship by talking about expectations - especially about cleaning. Do you care about bedroom space or just shared living space? What does "clean" mean? How will do the cleaning and when? While a roommate agreement may sound a bit too "Sheldon" for you, it's still not a bad idea.
Be Realistic - While you may end up being best friends with your roommate eventually, it likely won't start out that way. Take time to build the friendship like you would any other - share information about yourself over time, do things together, help each other, build trust. Just because you share living space doesn't mean you need to spend every waking moment together. The friendship may come. For others, it just never progresses to that level. That's okay, you can still be great roommates.
Time For An Alarm? Schedules can be tricky with roommates, even if you don't share sleeping quarters. If you're a light sleeper and your roommate has an atomic alarm that he/she snoozes five times every day, you may want to throw their alarm out the window (with the roommate). Compare schedules and discuss realistic alarms.
Be Respectful - You're both different. Acknowledge it and find ways to live together. Personalities are lasting; habits can be changed. Figure out which is which and be willing to compromise some. If you can find a win-win solution, go for that!
Beware the Bathroom - The bathroom is a source of many roommate issues. Messiness and "sharing" each other's products are often culprits of bathroom conflict. If something is left in the bathroom, it will be used by others. Trust me on this. Again, start off with some agreements. Where will your bathroom supplies be kept? Put your name on your stuff and keep it together in a caddy of your choosing. Stash it in a cabinet or keep it in your bedroom. Decide who will be buying sink soap (you are washing your hands, right??). Decide who is cleaning the bathroom and when. Who buys those supplies?
Guests - Roommates have friends over. And sometimes those "friends" spend the night. If your roommate's bedroom is not a shared space, it's a different problem than if you share sleeping quarters. If you have not talked about this already, DO IT TODAY. How do you feel about friends staying over late? Parties? Overnight guests? Be clear about your expectations and respect each other's decisions. If you share a bedroom this gets very tricky. Honestly, it's just rude to have someone spend the night and expect your roommate to find somewhere else to sleep. And views about sex aren't just whims - they are deeply held moral beliefs. Find a way to share living space if you differ on those values.
Smells - Yup, smells can be a challenging roommate issue. Whether they cook food that smells different than you're used to cooking, let laundry pile up, don't take out the trash regularly, or eat in their room and "forget" to wash the dishes, smells affect everyone. Decide early what's allowed and what isn't. Clearly, you can't ask someone not to cook. But find a way to navigate lingering smells (a saucepan with simmering white vinegar does wonders as a post-cooking smell defense).
Just talk about it - I'm sure this is no surprise if you've read all the other steps. If you have a concern, bring it up. But prioritize. Some research shows that bringing up smaller issues by text or DM can be very effective. Be clear about the problem and your proposed solution. If your issue is only with one roommate, don't include everyone in the message. Whether you text or have a face-to-face talk, work to come to an agreement. Don't let issues fester. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes when living with other people we need to just let something go if it's not a big deal.
You want to survive the college roommate experience, right? You probably even want it to be successful! Remember to talk, respect differences, and seek agreement.
1 Peter 3:8-9 reminds us that we "must all have the same attitude and the same feelings; love one another, and be kind and humble with one another. Do not pay back evil with evil or cursing with cursing; instead, pay back with a blessing, because a blessing is what God promised to give you when he called you."
Sometimes solutions are not what we expect so be creative!
Your RA or someone at student housing can help if your issues move beyond something you can work out yourselves.
Make the effort, though. A good roommate can become a friend for life. And we all need more of those.
💙 Be well,
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