The average teen graduates high school like a bat out of hell, ready to live the glorified college lifestyle of nonexistent curfews, frat parties and seemingly luxurious dorm life. The imminence of finally escaping your childhood bedroom, which hasn’t been renovated since you were six, and disregarding overbearing parental restrictions makes your last summer at home almost unbearable. So, what could possibly put a downer on this mind-blowing utopia of an experience? Try a roommate from hell.
OK, hell may be a tad dramatic, but for many college students, having major roommate drama at least once during their time away at school is not uncommon. Suddenly, the concept of sharing a 10×10 box for nine months out of the year seems slightly less appealing.
Whether we want to admit it or not, our dorm room becomes our temporary home. Home is where we retreat for time to ourselves—a place to regain our sanity. If you’re living with someone who’s bringing a different guy or girl home every night or letting their laundry pile up until the closet doors won’t shut, home might become a place of stress and anxiety, rather than relaxation.
“[Home is] the one place where you expect to feel comfortable and when you don’t, it throws off your sense of equilibrium,” said Susan Shapiro Barash, author of Toxic Friends.
A few students around campus shared their successful and treacherous roommate stories.
“She was so quiet and socially awkward,” said Jamaris Leapheart, Midland sophomore. “She also thought I was supplying groceries for her and her boyfriend.”
While some experiences when rooming blind don’t turn out well, often times they do.
“We couldn’t be more polar opposites,” said David Garr, Goodrich senior. He was the most laid back, ‘everything works itself out’ type of person, and then there’s me, who was overly uptight and stressed over nothing. He came from an Arabic family with five boys, where the religion is practiced daily, and I came from a white family with two boys and two girls.”
After a mutual friend introduced them four years ago, Garr roomed with his high school rival, Adam Akeel, Rochester Hills senior, and they’ve become best friends ever since.
“Our opposites may have caused difficulties at first because we didn’t understand our differences,” Garr said. “But our differences ended up completing our friendship.”
In some cases, opposite personalities mean opposite classes and schedules, which can help to provide healthy space between roommate relationships.
“I was a science major, she was an art major,” said Elise DeYoung, Grand Rapids junior. “It kind of worked out for us because we could do our own thing and then come together and hang out in the room.”
So can polar opposites attract? Not always.
“We didn’t get along with controlling the temperatures in the room,” said Katie Clark, Midland sophomore. “In mid-summer, she wanted the window shut and the heat on high because she was from Jamaica,” Clark said. “She would go close the window and take my fan out, and I would walk right over and put the fan back and open the window.”
During her first year at Albion, Clark roomed blind and was matched with someone who came from a completely different culture. No matter how hard they tried, they could not resolve their differences.
“I would confront her about them, which would turn into a huge argument,” Clark said.
Although confrontation may not have worked for Clark and her ex-roommate, many times it can help to resolve the issue.
Sarah Lawrence College offers some great communication tips on its website for having “The Talk” with your roommate:
• Talk to your roommate directly when something is bothering you. Don’t discuss it behind their back because this can cause a breakdown in trust between you.
• Be direct. Be clear about what is bothering you. If you don’t tell your roommate that there is a problem, they won’t be able to do anything about it.
• Remember that communication works two ways: talking and listening. Neither one is effective without the other.
• If you create a win-win situation, then the conflict is more likely to be resolved. Evaluate the needs of both sides before a solution is proposed, and make sure the solution is acceptable to both parties.
• Respect each other’s differences. Everyone has different values, lifestyles, expectations and communication styles. Get to know each other and establish common ground. It is easier to solve a problem with a friend than a stranger.
“To be proactive, students need to talk with their roommates prior to issues arising,” said Michael Wadsworth, director of residential life. “Residential life staff try to facilitate this with roommate and suite agreements at the beginning of the school year and often revisit these forms when issues arise.”
In less serious situations, sometimes the best way to deal is just to walk away and let the conflict die down. If your roommate is constantly in the room, ask a friend if you can crash on their futon for the night.
As students move through college, they become more involved and their interests begin to separate them from their peers, so being around people too much isn’t as much of an issue as it was, maybe, freshman year.
“I think it’s one of those things going into freshman year,” DeYoung said. “You are already attached to people at the hip because you are uncomfortable, so I think it’s very easy to get sick of people.”
To avoid this, DeYoung kept her different groups of friends separate and didn’t feel the need to include her roommate in everything she did.
Also, beware of stressful times during the semester, such as midterms and finals. Wadsworth advised that roommate issues tend to increase during these periods.
When it comes down to selecting a roommate, students are often times nervous to go in blind—not knowing whether they’ll be matched with some Star Wars fanatic or a opera-listening evangelical. It turns out, roommates have issues whether they’ve been childhood friends or they meet on move-in day.
“Whether students go in blind or whether they select a roommate usually has no bearing on the amount of roommate issues,” Wadsworth said.
Although it can be a huge risk, rooming blind may become a great learning experience and, in Garr’s case, a life-long friendship.
“I think going in blind is definitely a way to exercise your patience,” DeYoung said. “It’s a good experience and something that we need to learn how to do—get along with people whether we like them or not. We’re going to have those situations where we’re just going to have to just deal with it.”
Just remember: dealing with awful roommates and various problems that arise round you into a more patient and understanding person. Try on a new perspective and realize that your way may not always be the right way. These frustrating situations will only prepare you with communication and problem solving skills needed for even greater and more important issues you’ll encounter in the future.