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Resolving Roommate Rivalry


Laura's story...

During my freshman year of college, I learned an important fact: living with a roommate is not always easy. Before school started, I filled out a roommate request form, which would match me with the perfect roommate. Once I moved in with my roommate Sarah, I had a sneaky suspicion that my form got lost in the mail. Sarah was the exact opposite of what I requested. She sleeps late; I get up early. She likes everything neat and tidy; I am domestically challenged. She is the loud one; I am quiet. She shares her food; I hide my food under my bed. 

One night, after a long day at the library, I came home to discover Sarah with a bunch of her friends lounging on the couch watching movies. They were laughing and munching on cookies my mom had sent in a care package. She waved a noncommittal "Hey" in my direction and then went back to popping pieces of my mom's homemade chocolate chip cookies into her mouth. I bent over the coffee table to retrieve what was left of the cookies, but there were none to be found. Sarah had eaten the last cookie! I was livid. I stormed off to my bedroom, turned on my stereo, and played my Green Day CD really loud to drown out the sound of their giggles. Help! My roommate and I are too different and I do not know what to do.

Roommates do not always get along. Roommate rivalry is common in college, given the fact that this is the first time many students have ever shared a room with another person. Other factors, such as differences in personality and expectations, can contribute to roommate discord. What about now while many states have enacted stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of the coronavirus? Due to University pairing, financial or circumstantial necessity, students may not have control over determining the people with whom they end up living. We are especially prone to roommate conflict in a time when a roommate's decisions can cause another to fear that their health is at risk.

Avoid these five most common conflict creators among roommates:

1. What is Mine is Yours...to Share or not to Share?

Taking personal items without asking, such as clothes or food, can send your roommate through the roof.
Rule for Resolution: Ordinarily, sharing with your roommate is fine as long as you clearly define what is okay to share and what is off-limits. Note that whatever agreement you may have come up with together may need to be revisited during a quarantine. Respect your roommate's boundaries regarding their personal property. If you are unsure, always ask.

2. Living in a Pigsty

Leaving dishes piled to the ceiling, dirty clothes all over the floor, and never taking out the garbage are among the most common complaints in roommate situations.
Rule for Resolution: To prevent the spread of illness, take extra precautions to maintain a clean home. Do not breed contempt by leaving the common areas of your home dirty or disorganized (living room, kitchen, bath, etc.). Make a schedule for cleaning duties and assign the various tasks. Many may not like to clean, but if you manage this task together, it will be over before you know it.

3. Night Owls vs. Early Risers?
Staying up all night, while listening to music or IM-ing people without headphones will likely upset your roommate who depends on being alert in the morning. Likewise, waking up early in the morning and making lots of noise in the kitchen or chatting with your friends on the phone will likely upset your roommate who studied late into the night.
Rule for Resolution: Ask one another, "Are a morning person or a night person?" Clarify your needs for both sleeping and work styles. For instance, do you need complete silence while you sleep or is a little background noise okay? Work out an agreement with your roommate regarding what is an acceptable volume level.

4. Your Place is the Social Hangout
Do you invite visitors and friends, even when your roommate is trying to study for finals? What about family gatherings in quarantine?
Rule for Resolution: When you have an open-door policy, you just might be asking for trouble. The door is there for a reason, so determine with your roommate when you want to leave it open for guests and when the room is just for the two of you. Private time is just as important as popularity. It is especially important to make sure your roommate's feelings are respected if you have visits with family members or close friends during shelter-in-place.

5. Do You Know What is Going On with Your Roommate?
A sure way to start misunderstandings with your roommate is to never ask them what is happening in their life.
Rule for Resolution: Take time to ask and listen to what your roommate is going through. Assuming is like reading someone's mind, and how many of us have that ability? Especially during a period of social isolation, learning about your roommate's background and showing you care about how they are feeling instead of only focusing on how you are feeling can be revolutionary.

Give yourself the best possible chance of overcoming the pitfalls by openly communicating what you need and want from your roommate, and encourage them to do the same. If you are living with your family, check out our 19 Tips for Students Returning Home During COVID-19.

The author wishes to thank Lisa Moore for her assistance with this article.