The Student Side: Being a Better Roommate

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In my opinion, living on campus and away from home is a necessary part of the college experience. Your first few months of relative independence should, at least mentally, ready you for total independence. Of course, we can’t each have our own house with a lawn and a white picket fence.

Those of us lucky enough to choose our roommates are spared the acclimation process that’s brought on when administrative forces beyond your control plop you down to live with three other people – none of whom know you or each other. 

Initially, you give each other the common decency you’d expect out of strangers, but that’s only good for standing in line or sitting in class. Living with someone, never mind sharing a bathroom with them, inevitably forges a relationship between people, and depending on your actions and those of your roommate, it can be a positive or negative one. I’d like to share an example of both: 

For me, living in Holly Pointe was a lot like living in jail.

The lights were always on, you couldn’t open the windows and the less said about the food, the better. But at least in jail you got your own toilet. It could easily have been a miserable experience, but my roommate, whom I’ll call Dan, made the experience better by not making it worse.

Dan and I weren’t friends, but we respected each other. And by respected, I mean we treated each other like housemates, not strangers in our house. Dan could easily have left his side of the room a mess with unwashed clothes, food and garbage; it was his side, and he could do what he wanted with it. But he didn’t. Dan frequently apologized for the apparent untidiness of his side of the room and would get up to clean it when I walked in. If playing music, he’d turn off the speaker and put his headphones in.

I haven’t seen or heard from Dan since the end of freshman year, but he’ll continue to serve, to me, as a model of human decency. And I believe that he should serve as that model for people like one who I’ll call “Jared.” 

Jared was my roommate at the start of the year. He moved in before me and welcomed me heartily with open arms. He was amicable, friendly and, overall, a pleasure to be around. Jared was smart and insightful; it wasn’t uncommon for the two of us – and his friends – to spend hours into the night discussing everything from religion to politics to our favorite childhood cereals and cartoons.

I liked Jared, and I admired him as a person and a friend, but I slowly realized that the feeling was not mutual.  

Jared would not clean his dishes. He did not clean them, because he knew that I would do it eventually. If there weren’t anymore, he would take one from the top of the mountain in the sink, rinse it off and put it back later. And, of course, the moment that I picked up that sponge, he was just about to do it.  The same could be said about cleaning the bathroom or taking out the garbage.  

By this point I was used to it: I was enduring it until the summer. I stopped talking to Jared. I did all the dishes and continued to mop as usual, even when gnats and flies began to accumulate in the bathroom and around the garbage cans – which were only emptied about five times in as many months.

I had resolved to move out, but Jared beat me to it. It was then that I realized the difference between a good roommate, like Dan, and a bad one, like Jared: 

Dan minimized his presence in our room by keeping his side clean and being considerate to his roommate. Jared made the whole room his by being inconsiderate of my feelings and placing the onus on me for being upset. In other words, it was my fault that I didn’t want the bathroom to be dirty. And if I wanted clean dishes, I had to clean them.

Jared was fine with the filth – I was the oppressive one for wanting our shared property to remain pristine. 

Roommates don’t have to be friends. I had more in common with Jared than with Dan, but I’ll always respect Dan more, because he gave me the respect that I was owed as his housemate. If you want to be friends with your roommate, more power to you. But in order to live with someone, you need to remember that they live there too.

I’m not saying that you can’t have friends over or play music or leave a dish in the sink for a few hours, but you need to acknowledge those responsibilities to your roommates if you want to coexist peacefully. 

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