Living with anyone, even your best friend, is bound to have some road bumps along the way. Whether it’s the dishes in the sink, the boyfriend who always sleeps over or the loud stumbling back in after a night out—shiz will go down at some point, whether you like it or not.
Yet in many cases, the issue isn’t necessarily the problem itself, but rather the way that you and your roommate handle it. A minor disagreement can easily turn into a screaming, full-blown argument. Before you know it, your roommate has moved out and you’re wondering how you went from #froomies to avoiding eye contact whenever you pass each other on campus.
Once the roommate honeymoon phase ends—and trust me, it will end—you need to know how to effectively manage and work through conflicts, or else you’re in for one roller-coaster of a semester. It takes patience, compromise, consideration and above all else, open communication.
Bottom line: Do not be passive aggressive. Olaoluwa Adeoye, a senior and RA at the University of Maryland, said that passive aggressiveness is the worst thing you can do. “A lot of people…will…text their roommate and say they have an issue, but then when they see face-to-face they won’t say anything,” said Adeoye.
Confrontation may scare the heck out of you, but you can’t avoid it your whole life. When you’ve gone two weeks without sleep because your roommate thinks it’s a good idea to use her bright lamp in the room to study until 2 a.m. every night, you’ll know what I mean. Not everyone understands common roommate etiquette and eventually, confrontation will become the only way out of misery.
“People shy away from confrontation, but confrontation doesn’t always have to be negative or doesn’t always have to be yelling back and forth,” said Adeoye. Confronting your roommate might feel extremely awkward and uncomfortable, but you need to at least try. “Confrontation can simply…be…voicing what your thoughts are and what you would like to see.”
Once you do build up the courage to talk to your roommate, make sure you do it in person. Texting in itself can cause miscommunication and unintentional bad feelings. It’s best to approach them at a convenient time when you’re both not busy in the dorm. You don’t want to bring up any issues when your roommate is cramming for her orgo exam the next day.
“You just have to be willing to compromise, because even if you have something that you desire out of…the working relationship with your roommate, it may not always happen and you have to be prepared for that. Or it may not happen to the degree that you want it to happen,” said Adeoye. Stay calm and be polite. Try to avoid blaming or accusing your roommate of anything, even if you know the issue is his or her fault. Use sentences starting with, “I feel like,” because that way you clarify that it’s how you feel, and you’re not assuming how your roommate feels.
The most shocking advice Adeoye offered? Don’t find your roommate over Facebook. She said roommates who find each other online result in the most conflicts because profiles set high expectations and when those expectations aren’t met, conflicts inevitably arise—think of it like online dating. Your potential roomie will show his best face when Facebook chatting back and forth, but that won’t show you their true colors.
You can’t escape the truth: Roommate life comes with struggles. Using these strategies can help you get through the rough patches and, at the very least, end the year on good terms.
“After winter break my roommate got a boyfriend. As happy as I was for her, it was as if I now had a third roommate. They were CONSTANTLY in the room and it felt as if they never left–even to get air! After a few weeks of feeling as if I had all of a sudden been moved into a triple room, I got the courage to confront my roommate and ask if it would be okay if they went to her boyfriend’s room every once in a while. I think this was a polite and calm way to handle the situation (as opposed to me locking her out and screaming–which is what I really wanted to do). She of course said yes and we quickly changed the subject…I realized that you really do need to set boundaries with your roommate. As uncomfortable as it might be, confronting the situation and setting out rules will really be extremely helpful in the long run.”
– Freshman*, University of Maryland
“I asked my roommate if my friends could stay in our room and she said no after they already arrived a day later. There was little communication and she never told me how she felt, I didn’t tell her how I felt. We handled it poorly because we didn’t communicate which made the situation progressively get worse. My roommate did not handle the situation well at all because when I tried to confront her about it [over text] she didn’t respond…Living with a stranger is hard and you are often unaware of how people work so you need to be considerate of other’s needs. I would tell [students with similar roommate issues] that they should talk about the situation without attacking the other person.”
– Kaitlyn Golding, Freshman, University of Tennessee
“One day my boyfriend slept over and I had to wake up really early so I left him to sleep and at around 7:30 a.m., my roommate woke up and started blaring music and turned on all the lights. So, he told me what was going on and I had him leave and I would handle it. So, I called her and said please let him sleep, he isn’t hurting anyone and he’s always respectful of you, plus it’s so early. I think I handled it well because I was respectful of her and had a reasonable request. She responded by telling me that since he wasn’t her roommate, she didn’t need to show him respect. She was very blunt and rude…she didn’t handle it well. It wasn’t resolved and we ignored each other for like three weeks…You can’t control or change people…and you can’t get too upset when you don’t get the outcome or apology you want…Always be upfront with your roommate, but also respectful and then at least you can say you tried when they don’t give you the response you want.”
– Freshman*, University of Maryland
“For a while, [when my roommate was] pledging, he just wasn’t really cleaning up as much… so I had to get on him sometimes…I was kind of just like, ‘Yo, clean up your side,’ and he was like ‘Yeah, it was kind of bad.’ We both just kind of realized it needed to be done…I learned whenever you get mad about something, it’s not even like they’re trying to make you mad, it’s just, they’re just doing them [and] they don’t realize it’s making you mad. Just talk to them about it…He wasn’t trying to be messy on purpose, it was just something was happening…Just talk it out, you know, just be open, converse.”
– Sam Merrill, Freshman, University of Maryland
How to deal with messy roommates before you get cockroaches.
Written by Rima Kikani, junior, English, University of Maryland-Baltimore County
After a day full of two-and-a-half hour English lectures, you trudge back to your dorm, ready to hibernate under your favorite comforter. But unfortunately, you’ve found your bed adorned with bags of Doritos and greasy post-it notes. Or maybe, when your long-lost friends surprised you that weekend before Thanksgiving, they were pretty surprised to see your carpet decorated with dirty thongs. A lot of us have had the honor of living with the roommate from hell.
Whether you’re one of those who shrieks every time the biology book is not the fourth one on your alphabetized bookshelf or someone who just wants to be able to see your floor, you need go find a way to deal with the mess.
Here’s how to deal with your messy roommates without starting World War III.
The most obvious—sit your roomie down and tell her that you do not want to live in a bug-infested swamp. Do this early on, before the situation gets worse. Politely ask her to clean up after herself and suggest sharing the responsibility. Divide up the chores and see if you can solve the problem the easy way.
Stop cleaning up after them
If your roommate keeps on leaving used tissues and crumpled paper balls behind, don’t take down their decorations. That is one of the first mistakes students make. Those roommates will think that their behavior is not a problem for you. Wake Forest sophomore Leah Beachley said she once had a roommate who came back from parties with her clothes covered with mud, beer, puke, food…the works. Worst of all, she would leave those clothes lying around the room for weeks. “I just ignored it. We had separate sides of the room, so I avoided everything,” she noted. Don’t morph into their mom; it will only encourage them.
If your roommate just does not want to get rid of his dirty dishes collection and you do not want to spend your weekends scrubbing the walls, consider spending some money. Hire a monthly housing service and make your roommate pay half the fees. He might even get the hint and start doing his laundry. But at the very least, your apartment won’t smell like the men’s locker room.
Put it on the bed
This might be a bit risky, but sometimes we need to take drastic measures. If the mess gets out of hand and your roommate remains deaf to your pleas, author of Roommate Survival Guide Sylvia Bergthold recommended “putting the mess on her bed.” Bergthold said she has done this herself to a former roommate. “She left dirty greasy dishes ‘soaking’ in the sink and went out on a date. When she came back at 2 a.m., there they were, sitting on her white eyelet bedspread. She couldn’t say anything because I had already warned her exactly what I was going to do so it was NOT going to be a surprise. She changed her ways very quickly.” So give her a few warnings first and see if she listens. If she doesn’t, have a little fun.
Find a new roommate
Despite all of our efforts, some people don’t change. Your college years should be among the most fun and memorable of your life. Don’t let a messy roommate ruin that for you. If nothing else works, it might be time to say good-bye. Give them the 30-day notice or move out yourself. Hasta la vista.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Article Updated April 22, 2016 by Rima Kikani to include “Dealing with Messy Roommates.”