Pop culture is littered with movies, books and TV shows that document the lives of young protagonists in collegiate settings, from Amy Sherman-Palladino’s depiction of Rory Gilmore’s drama-filled college years in Gilmore Girls to James Joyce’s portrayal of Stephen Dedalus’ struggle for self-actualization in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The outside world helps us create an idea of what college will be like years before we reach this promised land of booze and books. In addition to pop culture narratives, many people are forced to listen to family members and friends’ stories about their college experiences. From the way your Uncle Jimmy’s eyes gloss over as he annoys the family with heroic tales of his college football days to the way your older sister rants about soul-crushing 20-page papers, we’re always learning new things about college. Before even stepping foot on campus, we already have fixed perceptions about everything: dining hall food, love and sex, effective relationships with professors, exam cramming, school spirit, the purpose of college and, of course, roommates.
With my preconceptions in tow as I filled out my housing application, I picked a single dorm as my first choice. That’s right, a room for just one person. No roommate. No stranger to share my space with. A room to myself as I transitioned into life as an independent young adult, living one thousand miles from home in a city where I knew no one. To some that sounds horrifying: “Why would you want to be alone during such a drastic life change?” However, to me, a kid who felt nothing but uneasiness about the conflicting representations of college and a decent amount of anxiety about moving into a 10’x10’ box with a complete stranger, a single seemed like the best option. As an only child, I had no experience sharing possessions, space or even attention. This room would be my sanctuary, my refuge. It was something I believed I needed, at least for my first year of independent living.
I decided it wasn’t worth the risk to play the random roommate lottery. Did you know that not all neo-Nazis lead with the fact that they’re neo-Nazis, especially when they’re looking for roommates on a college Facebook group? With that in mind, I’d choose solitary living over disastrous incompatibility any day. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m an unfriendly person, I just know myself well enough to realize that I cannot get along with absolutely everyone, especially neo-Nazis.
Though I was warned about a single, I was confident that with my natural extroversion, I could kill the freshman year game, roomie or nah. Some people told me it would be harder to make friends with a single. Others warned me about the dangers of spending too much time alone. I took these forewarnings to heart and managed to thoroughly enjoy my first year of college. I joined a couple clubs, made a lot of new friends, went on a fascinating service trip and partied–living in a single and all. I could say more about some fun-filled nights I had, but I’d rather not incriminate myself. I used my room solely for sleeping and Netflixing. I couldn’t even study there, a seemingly wonderful oasis for reading and writing, because I preferred to study in the library with my friends.
One of the most fascinating parts of my first year was gauging my classmates’ responses when I told them I lived in a single. Some people, befuddled by my decision, asked why I would possibly want to live in a single. Others were taken aback and tried to hide their disapproval with sympathetic nodding or feigned interest. Then there were those who were genuinely jealous. They didn’t do too well in the random roommate lottery and were stuck with roommates they wished they could live without. The majority of my classmates, however, were apathetic about my housing. They understood that living in a single was a personal choice. Not a wrong choice. Not a right choice. Just a choice I made for myself with the same preconceptions they used in their decisions to live with a stranger, multiple strangers (why God?) or a friend from high school.
Get it now? Yes, I lived in a single. No, there’s still nothing wrong with me.