Most college students have one: a semester or year’s worth of stories about living with someone who made life almost unbearable. The horror stories vary depending on the nature of the roommate’s insensitivity—she liked to do homework in the nude, her friends smoked pot in the dorm room, she had an awkward collection of dead spiders—we’ve all been there. As traumatizing as such an experience can be, it’s also one of the most valuable social lessons you’ll ever learn.
Let’s take my roommate horror story, for example. It begins as many such stories do: with a random freshman year roommate assignment. My roommate and I were complete opposites: I was already on the verge of declaring my English/drama major, and she hated reading; I drove a silver beetle, she had a motorcycle; my idea of a fun weekend was reading and watching movies with friends, she was a hardcore partier. At first, these differences were manageable. We kept to our sides of the room, tried to be as respectful of each other as possible, and even ate breakfast together from time to time.
Then the horror part of the story sunk in. She liked having male guests over to the room, not all that unusual for a college freshman. The warning signs began when the guys started sleeping over—again, not that unusual, although talking to your roommate first is the polite thing to do. The horror sunk in one night as I was drifting off to sleep. I turned to my side, only slightly weirded out by the strange person in the room, when I heard her say: “She’s asleep; let’s do it.” And they proceeded to do “it.”
This happened once more before I started crashing in my friend’s room whenever she had a guy over. I eventually confronted her about it, and things were painfully awkward for the rest of the year, but I learned some pretty invaluable things from that miserable year of dorm life. They are as follows:
1. If you have an issue with your roommate, confront it as soon as possible: The longer you wait, the tenser the situation will become. Make it a civil, respectful conversation, ideally before the situation evolves into a real problem.
2. Stand up for yourself: I spent about five nights on my friend’s bedroom floor because I was afraid of confronting my roommate. Then it hit me: that was my room too, and I had every right to be as comfortable in it as she did. Sharing and respect are integral parts of rooming with someone, so if things are uneven, it’s up to you to fix it.
3. Don’t be afraid to get outside help: I got advice from my friends on how to tackle the problem, but I talked to my resident assistant as well. Although she wasn’t as helpful as an RA probably should be, it was comforting to at least know that I wasn’t alone.
Bottom line: roommate conflicts happen. They’re often avoidable, but if one evolves into a true horror story, there are two upsides: they make great stories to share at parties; and you’ll learn a lot about yourself, conflict resolution, and relationships.