How to Live With a Roommate

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Hey there Swarthmore,

This is Speak 2 Swatties, Swarthmore’s peer counseling group, reporting for duty!  You may have enjoyed our Gratitude Week events—the chalkings, the Parlor Party, and the film screening—and we want to remind you all that we’re still here to support you.

We’re beginning some exciting new initiatives this semester, including a 24-hour peer listening hotline and a weekly series of open, informal discussions on various topics of interest to the community at large, starting next week (November 10). We’ll also be writing this advice column! So send your pressing problems, your burning questions, and your general confusions to speak2swatties@daily.swarthmore.edu, and we’ll give you an outside opinion and the soundest advice we can provide.

Remember that we’re still the same Speak 2 Swatties as ever, even though we’re going all high-tech and multi-platform on you. We’re dedicated to being resources to actively listen and to advocating for mental health awareness. Although we must note that we’re not professionally trained counselors, we will always protect your confidentiality, unless we have reason to believe that you need to be referred to more qualified professionals immediately.

In this week’s column, we discuss a common campus problem that fellow peer counselors are frequently asked—one that many of us would’ve liked to have asked in the past.

My roommate and I got along wonderfully for the first half of the semester, but now we’ve been fighting occasionally. Even more often, there’s just a lot of silent tension between us in the room.  We still have fun when we’re both in good moods or ready to go party, but I’m worried about our friendship.

Alas, becoming best friends with your roommate is hard. So is rooming with your best friend. In any close relationship, there’s bound to be conflict (unless you and your BFF have the same opinions about everything, which might be rather boring), and being roommates adds a new layer of possible problems.

Freshmen have it especially rough. It can be easy to fall into a social routine centered around your roommate(s) during the first idyllic post-Orientation weeks. But then midterms attack, drama arises, and you realize that 1) you won’t have the relative freedom of pass-fail forever and 2) you likely will not live with the same people for the rest of college, curtailing those especially positive moments of roommate-hood. The dilemmas begin: Would I actually be friends with this person if not for the convenience? When will I get a chance to hang out with my other friends, since my room/hallmates regularly ask me to attend meals and parties with them?  And why did I find my roommate’s constant drum solos, performed with his pencils, so charming just a few weeks ago?

How can you cope? Spoiler alert: There are no easy solutions, but if you ignore these problems, they’ll probably get worse. As you may have heard, communication is crucial for relationships, and that applies here, too.  Bring up the problem with your roommate, and then give them time to think about what they want to get out of a problem-solving discussion.  You’re also going to need to take some time to reflect on what you’re getting out of this friendship, what you might be lacking, and how you think your needs can be met.

We should mention, though, that framing is crucial in both proposing the discussion and in executing it. If you can’t think of a way to approach the issue with an ‘I-statement’ you need to think harder. For example, the problem isn’t, “You are too loud when you Skype with your friend from home really late at night,” it’s, “I need a quiet environment when I go to sleep at X:00 so I can wake up for class.” Instead of, “You always expect me to be your party buddy,” try, “I want to make sure I’m available to spend time with each of my friends.”

If something isn’t working, talk about it or it won’t change. Brainstorm solutions—you people are Swatties!  If you both study in the room and feel like you don’t have private time, take turns going to the library. Invest in a good pair of headphones if your music taste clashes. Make it clear that you need to balance multiple friendships and can’t devote all your time to one person. Issues related to this last situation, where one person wants to be closer than the other wants, are especially tricky. They require both sensitivity and firmness to resolve.  If you need more space, be gentle, but clear about imposing limits on your time and mental energy.  If you’re the roommate seeking more intimacy, realize that your roomie’s behavior is out of your control and enjoy the relationship you do have with him/her, while shaping other relationships to meet your needs.  Although talking openly about interpersonal conflict can be downright awkward, it’s less painful than enduring unhealthy relationships for months.

What questions do you have? Ask us anything! Friendships, romantic relationships, family issues, stress, mental health, balancing a heavy workload, sex, drugs, and maybe even a little rock and roll—we’ll do our best to help! Send your anonymous questions to speak2swatties@daily.swarthmore.edu.


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