A human being can only successfully share a living space with two types of people. Someone can only spend so much time and share so much property with another person before they begin to want to pluck each individual hair out of their head with “borrowed” tweezers.
The first person is your best friend, someone you have no boundaries with. You’d marry this person in a moment if your sexuality were different. This person has seen you ugly cry about your dead pet plant (the first thing you really cared for) and drunkenly scream about worldly injustices.
The second is a respectful, polite acquaintance whom you’ve known all through college. She gets along with your friends and you have compatible lifestyles, but not too many of the same interests or mutual friends. She responds to your texts about the dishes, and you help her vacuum before her mom comes to visit, but other than that you both coexist rather peacefully.
You need to make this distinction because you’ll end up in a really tense living situation if you don’t. When I choose to live with girls who fell somewhere on the spectrum between these two ideal roommates, I encountered some…issues.
My first mistake was choosing to live with five other girls in a three bedroom, one bath apartment that probably wouldn’t fit three people, let alone six. But other than space, the second issue I ran into centered on the status of my friendships with these other girls. When we went into it, I had only ever lived with one of the five before. But I had no idea whether all of us could successfully live together or how our friendship dynamic would change.
Everything began alright. We all looked forward to living together and to start school, taking our sophomore year by storm. But we never laid down ground rules to follow, and this haunted us throughout the year. We banked on the fact that we were good enough friends to stay honest with each other about our mess and to take responsibility when we’d done something wrong. As small issues arose, we would write each others mistakes off as a one time deal, eager to forgive and enjoy our awesome new living situation. But peaceful coexistence between friends remained nothing more than a fantasy.
Pretty soon we had trashed the bathroom, but no one would own up to the mess and everyone claimed they’d picked up after themselves. Dirty dishes took over the sink because people didn’t abide by the ‘wash what you use’ policy we decided to try out. Before we knew it, we ran out of toilet paper and no one would step up and buy more. In fact, we hit a particular new form of rock bottom when we started taking toilet paper form the communal bathrooms in the hallway of the dorm to stock our suite.
But it went further than a lack of communication. We lacked respect in our relationships, which left us only one option. When a disagreement started to brew over the piles of clothes on our dining room table or the lack of response in our group message about chores and errands, communication lines shut down completely. It heightened tensions until everything felt unbearable and conflict occurred. We passive aggressively locked personal effects in another person’s room, and we frequently went days without speaking or sometimes even seeing each other.
At the beginning of the year I’d undoubtedly wanted to live with these girls. But none of us had the understanding of the strain it would have on our relationships. We went into the situation as friends and expected the roommate part to follow, but all parties involved need to know that the roommate relationship must always come first if you want a friend-turned-roommate situation to work. After all, it feels much easier to be friends when you can get along as roommates and vice versa.
None of us had the kind of relationship necessary for successful roommates. We were more than peaceful acquaintances, but less than best friends. That meant we didn’t have the kind of raw and honest relationship that besties share, so we didn’t feel comfortable being harsh enough to be good roommates. But we also valued our friendship too much to treat each other as nothing more than roommates or polite acquaintances. This eventually got under the skin of the friendship we once had.
So choose carefully when thinking of which of your friends will make good roommates. Most importantly, make sure you put the roommate relationship first so that everyone else can follow in your lead. You must feel comfortable enough to confront your roomies when things start to go downhill. And if worse comes to worst, you should move into an apartment alone (and get a dog!).