I can hardly believe it’s been
10, 12, 15, 18 (!) years this month since I moved into my freshman dorm and began my illustrious college career at Missouri State University (dudes, I’m so old, my school actually had a different name when I was a student there). Back when I moved from Germany to Springfield, Missouri, I knew NO ONE in my new college town and was just a wee bit nervous about meeting — and living with — my new roommate. She came from Colorado and also knew no one, and, while we had a few early bumps in the road, we had more laughs and good times in that first year of college than I had in all the years of high school before. For all your soon-to-be freshman, here are a few tips to ensure that you, too, get along with your new roommate and enjoy a fabulous first year of college:
1. Touch base now.
Your college or university has probably assigned you a roommate and notified you about whom he or she is. Armed with a name, and possibly a phone number and email address, you can — and should — contact your new roommie and introduce yourself. Exchanging information like which one of you will bring a coffee maker, who has a TV, and what color your bedding is, and will go a long way in not only preparing you in a practical sense for sharing what will likely be a tiny space with a stranger, but it will help break the ice for the first face-to-face meeting. If you can friend each other on Facebook or find one another on Twitter or some other social networking site, you can also see whether you two share any mutual contacts or common interests, like stalking people on Facebook, which can provide a good conversation starter and launching point for what will hopefully be a successful roommate relationship. “You stalk people on Facebook? Dude, so do I!” Boom: Kindred spirits.
2. Don’t make rules, but do negotiate.
Some people will advise you to “make rules” with your roommate about when it’s time to turn the lights off, how often you can have guests over, and what kind of music you can play. That’s lame. Who wants someone she just met telling her how many friends she can invite over or what time she has to go to bed? A better way of creating a comfortable living environment is by modeling how you’d like to be treated, acknowledging when you’re compromising yourself for the good of your roommate relationship, and clearly communicating your deal-breakers. For example, if you’re a night owl and would prefer to stay awake with the lights and music on until 4 in the morning, but know your roommate goes to bed at 11, let her know that you’re willing to accommodate her, but since Justin Bieber is a deal-breaker for you, you’d appreciate it if she’d either listen to him when you’re out or with head phones when you’re home. The key here is deciding what you absolutely can’t live with and what you are willing to give up or offer in exchange for ensuring you don’t have to live with it/Justin Bieber.
3. Create some roommie rituals.
Back when I was a freshman, my roommate, who had a car, invited me along to get Chinese take-out with her late one night. Never one to turn down a pile of greasy rice with a side of egg rolls, I took her up on her offer. We brought our Cashew Chicken back to our room, turned on Letterman, and just like that, a tradition was born. Chinese food and Letterman became our ritual once or twice a week for the next eight months. It was murder on our waistlines — I gained 20 pounds that year — but great for forming a bond.
It’s probably best to let your own roommate ritual develop organically like ours did. It will start with a fun shared experience and become a tradition when you repeat that experience — either purposefully or by accident — at least three times. For the sake of your hot bod, I’d recommend staying away from anything that involves a drive-thru or a blinking neon sign out front.
4. Make other friends!
Making your roommate your lifeline can be especially tempting for shy freshman, but doing so almost guarantees tension and resentment. You need space from each other — besides just going to different classes during the day — and the only way to create that space is by forming friendships with other people.
5. Eat your meals separately.
This piggybacks the last point. If you’re having trouble making other friends, the best way to ensure you don’t abuse the roommate lifeline is to eat your meals at a different time and different location than her. Even if it means eating alone, do it. Even if it means sitting at a table in a dining hall with a bunch of people you don’t know, do it. Alone, you’ll be more approachable than being seen with the same person every day in a way that may make it seem you’re an impenetrable duo. Of course, you don’t have to eat every meal apart, but a good rule of thumb is to eat 75% of your meals separately in the first semester.
6. Invest in some good earphones.
And use them when you want to listen to something loud or drown out something annoying (including the sound of your roommate using the word “like” eight times a minute).
7. Save sexy times for when your roommate’s not home.
You know what’s awkward? Hearing — or worse, seeing — your roommate having sex in the bed three feet from yours. That doesn’t exactly foster congenial relations, so while it may be convenient in the short-term, be respectful and keep your rolls in the hay out of your roommie’s way. Learn each other’s schedules and plan your romps when the other will be gone, and utilize other places, like your partner’s room/ apartment, the back of your car, and that out-of-the-way corner of the library you’ve heard rumors about.
8. Don’t talk shit.
Resist the urge to vent about your roommate to mutual friends. College is a small world and your social circle is even tinier. Everything you say will get back to the person you’re talking about. So when you have to vent, do so with people who don’t know or aren’t close with your roommate, like your hometown friends, your family, or the magical tour guide you meet every time you do bong hits with your study group from chemistry class.
9. Focus on behavior, not personality.
Your roommate is going to annoy you, this is a given. Even if you’re lucky and the two of you hit it off and become best friends forever, she’s still going to annoy you from time to time. Maybe she’s a slob or a talks on her phone all the time or she spends an entire Saturday watching “Jersey Shore” marathons. You should definitely be assertive and talk to her about these issues, but instead of framing the issues as defining personality quirks (i.e. “You’re a slob!” or “You have terrible taste in TV,”), focus on the behavior, how it affects you, and present a polite request to modify said behavior (i.e. “You’ve been leaving your dirty laundry in piles on the floor lately and since we have to share such limited space, it’s been making me a little anxious. Would you mind putting your laundry in the hamper in the corner?”). And if the thought of being assertive fills your with dread, soften the request with a peace offering like … some Chinese takeout. I’m telling you: greasy rice and a side of egg rolls does wonders for roommate relations.
10. Buy shower shoes.
OK, so this one isn’t so much about getting along with your roommate, but it bears mentioning and repeating for anyone heading off to college. Those dorm bathrooms are pretty nasty and investing in a few cheap pairs of flip flops that you wear only in the shower may just be the best 20 bucks you spend all year.