Whether you are moving in with a best friend, or you’ve just been randomly matched by a survey, living with someone who is not your family comes with a special kind of awkwardness. Luckily, I am the awkward expert.
Welcome to Awkward Girl’s Guides. Sometimes I feel unbearably awkward. I don’t hate people… I’m not even always bad with people. I do, however, have some pretty intense anxiety about new people and situations… like, for instance, getting new roommates. I’ve had three years of living with people experiences and I have a couple of tips that will hopefully help you navigate the awkwardness. Don’t stress. Living with people is a challenge, but you can do it, even if you are prone to awkwardness!
1. COMMUNICATE. This is my first step for a lot of awkward situations. The impulse to be really shy with the person you are living with is going to be pretty strong, especially if you don’t know them before coming to school. Maybe he or she will do some things that you find really annoying. Maybe you guys operate on different schedules. Maybe you’re both very compatible. You won’t know any of these things unless you talk with the person.
Here’s the thing, it only gets more awkward if you fail to communicate with your roommates. In the first few days, come up with some ground rules for the room and talk about how it’s best to communicate. If you’d rather leave notes or Facebook your roomie when you need to tell them something important, let them know. Sometimes there is no replacement for straight up face-to-face conversation. It’s going to be awkward, but it’s very necessary. Believe me, I’ve had many roomie fights that could have been avoided with a simple conversation months earlier.
2. ROOMIE TIME. This is going to sound cheesy, but plan some special bonding time with your roommate. Go to Walmart and pick out some fun accessories for your room or make your own together. Watch a movie together. Have a random dance party. In all likelihood, you’re going to be with this person all year. They are probably going to witness some of your best and worst moments, so make an effort to get to know them. Later, when you are both stressed, there is less likely to be a stupid blowout if you know each other a bit. You don’t have to be best friends with your roomie, but don’t ignore them.
My roommate freshman year, who I’m still very good friends with, walked in on me sobbing twice, once when I found out my grandma had cancer and the second time when a friend of mine died. College is tough emotionally as it is, and life happens. Knowing your roomie can make difficult situations much less awkward whether you end up having to comfort or be comforted by your roommate. Let’s be honest, your roommate can function as a built in friend and maybe they won’t. Before you decide that, find out more about them. You might be surprised.
It’s probably also wise to schedule some alone time as well. Find a place on campus to chill alone, whether it’s a porch, parlor, empty classroom or the library. This alone time gives you a chance to wind down and if you are feeling stress about something your roommate did or is doing, you can let it settle. It’ll keep you both calmer and more friendly if you don’t spend every minute of the day with them.
3. DON’T JUDGE. Your roommate might be a terrible person, but chances are she isn’t. You need to give her a chance and understand that her circumstances/life/belief systems are different than yours. It’s easy to walk in day one and think you know all about someone from their bedding and pictures, but you don’t know. Even later, when you know your roommates better, it’s still better to keep an open mind. You don’t have to like your roommates’ decisions, but unless they are directly affecting you, you might just have to accept them.
In the same respect, your roommate shouldn’t be judging you. If you feel judged, you might have to talk to her. We all do weird stuff. We have weird habits. Aside from that, mistakes happen, especially in college. Judgements and grudges based on them are just going to poison your living situation. Avoid this at all costs, because it’s hard to go back once the poison starts.
4. GIVE AND TAKE. As important as it is to communicate (especially when you are having trouble), sometimes you have to accept that the other person you’re living with is not going to agree with you 100 percent. You might be complete opposites. You aren’t going to successfully train your roommate to be a neat person if she is not, just like she probably won’t be able to train you to like silence if you function better in a noisy room. Compromise is essential.
I’ve lived with a lot of different people. In my suite last year, we were almost at blows between the more and less organized suitemates. In the end, we were all able to change some of our habits, but not all of them. I still left my backpack and all of my books in the common room even though it drove one of our roommates crazy, but I tried to keep it more tidy. She learned to consult us before moving our stuff, though she still went on cleaning binges. It ended up fine, but we both had to realize that there were things that we just couldn’t change even if we wanted to.
5. UTILIZE RES. LIFE. Your resident assistants (RAs) are trained to help you work out issues with your roommate, and help you find another one if you need it. Ask them for help! They are great at helping mediate conversations and compromise. You might feel like it’s invasive to get them involved in your personal living situation, but they might have some ideas you don’t have for solving the core issue if you’re having roommate troubles.
Maybe, you can’t live with your roommate anymore. It happens. If you’ve given it all you’ve got, and it’s still endlessly stressful, your RA can help you figure out your next step. Many of my friends are RAs including one of my roommates from last year. She helped with our conflict resolution so much that a member of the room who was thinking about moving out, decided not to. It’s their job to help you out, so don’t feel like you are causing trouble or being an inconvenience, they want to help make your living situation as un-awkward as possible.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE SETONIAN VOL. 95 ISSUE 1.