Let’s get something straight: I am not claiming to be a great roommate. That would be presumptuous, because there are five girls on this campus who can testify against me. (There’s also a cat, but he can’t testify.)

I don’t think anyone can be an objectively “great roommate.” We are people, we irritate each other, we collide. But we can all have our great roommate moments and work on making those more frequent and the bad roommate moments less so. Here is what three wildly different rooming situations (dorm room with stranger, dorm room with friend, apartment with four friends) have taught me about the subject. 

Conflict is Inevitable

As I was saying earlier, there will be conflict when you share a small space with another person for a long time. Nobody’s perfect, and the people in the closest proximity inevitably discover our flaws and are the most likely to feel the effects of them.

 If there is no conflict, there is probably no relationship. One or the other of you (most likely both) is not comfortable raising the issues that are really there, or you spend such little time together that issues do not arise or are not significant enough to be dealt with. This arrangement is not uncommon in college dorms, but I think that utter strangers don’t meet the qualifications for being “great roommates.”

Communication is Key

Two roommates looking at each other and smiling

Since you should expect to experience conflict with your roommate, let’s take some time to prepare for it. By far the greatest tool you have is communication. If you’re feeling crabby, let them know. You will be a million times less likely to hurt feelings. If they aren’t meeting your expectations (i.e. not keeping the room clean, not respecting your personal belongings, interrupting your sleep), kindly let them know.

 All the while, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that it had never occurred to them that they were causing an inconvenience. If they listen to you (and they probably will), you will be much happier with your circumstances, without wasting weeks of friendship-spoiling frustration. Remember: “Unspoken expectations always go unmet.”

Honesty is the Best Policy

Be honest and open about anything that you feel is putting distance between you and your roommate. Here’s an example: I often prioritize my fiance over the rest of my friends. Being aware that I was “ditching” my roommates more often than I used to, I began to feel paranoid about the way they were treating me.

 In the past, if I ever walked through the door and wasn’t greeted or acknowledged, I would have believed my friends were tired or feeling anti-social. But suddenly, I was certain they were ignoring me out of bitter resentment. Sure that they were muttering the nastiest things about me in their heads, I was inclined to put up walls of my own.

 Fortunately, I decided to tell my roommates all of this. It involved admitting that I was insecure about being codependent (a derogatory term among us God-first 21st century Christian women), but it was worth it. I was able to prove my fears wrong without putting up defenses and hurting people with them.

How to Make Your Roommate’s Life Easier … or Harder

group of students sitting outside of a college dorm 

To be a great roommate, really try and make your roommate’s life easier, not harder. Here are some examples of each.

How to make your roommate’s life harder:

How to make your roommate’s life easier:

The Importance of Snacks

Being a roommate, let alone a great one, will always be a challenge. People are so different. In my apartment, we have different preferences for lighting and temperature and dish-washing etiquette, all with our own legitimate reasons. Paul says that love does not insist on its own way. This is kind of a cool opportunity to apply that principle. If you find it difficult, you’re not alone. So do I.

 For my final and most profound suggestion: Snacks. A friend of mine in high school would often recite a proverb of his own invention: “Free food, free friends!” If you’re ever trying to think of a friendly gesture to make to your roommate(s), bake something (or buy something) for everyone to enjoy! If you have ever fed me, I’m probably fond of you. It’s simple biology.

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