Thousands of first-year students moved to Chapel Hill this fall, brimming with optimism and hoping to realize their vision of college life. Many students were anxious to meet their randomly assigned roommate for the first time. No one could anticipate what it would be like to live with a total stranger that may have different perspectives when it comes to hygiene, noise, sleeping habits, alcohol and drug use, and sexual activities. By this time of year, some first-year students should have a pretty good sense of how they are getting along with their roommates based on the number of times they’ve have had to tiptoe around piles of garbage on the floor or been sexiled from their rooms without warning. Having a bad relationship with your roommate may negatively impact your academic performance and personal well-being if you don’t take steps to remedy the situation. On the other hand, a freshman year roommate may end up being one of your best friends throughout college, like what happened to me.
Many good roommate relationship begin by setting down ground rules at the beginning. This is worthwhile even if you’re rooming with a longtime friend because many issues come up when two people live together that you wouldn’t know about otherwise. Here are some common topics to cover when setting ground rules. You can also start off on the right foot by treating your roommate with respect when it comes to their space, their property, and their preferences. This can set a positive example that your roommate may feel obliged to follow. For example, let your roommate know when you want to have people over so that they can plan ahead.
If you’re one of those students that spends a lot of time longing for the privacy and comfort of your own room, you probably can’t wait for this first-year experiment to end. But the end of the year is still 7 months away. Students that have issues with their roommates should try to talk early when the problem’s small. Be careful to avoid pointing the finger and being overly confrontational but don’t be passive aggressive either. You can also go to your RA and talk about your concerns. They are your best allies in these situations. If you’ve tried these approaches without success, you may also consider spending less time in the room and finding other places on campus to hang out.
Although you should try to make your best effort to make things work with your roommate, maintaining a good relationship depends on both individuals. Don’t think that you’re a bad roommate if things don’t work out. In the rare instance that your roommate is actually just a terrible person, more drastic steps may need to be taken. This is especially important when your roommate is engaging in activities that may be putting you at risk and when you find yourself having to cover up for them. You shouldn’t have to compromise your principles to have a good relationship with your roommate.
The most important thing in any relationship is to communicate openly before small problems get out of control. Before you write off your roommate, ask yourself whether you dislike some of their behaviors or you dislike them as a person. Have they made an effort to change? Also remember to consider ways in which you may have contributed to the problem from your end. If nothing else, just treat your first year roommate experience as a lesson in conflict resolution.