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Roommate 101: Compatibility, cooperation, and communication are key

Posted by Alex Pearlman  January 4, 2012 09:12 AM

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college roommates.jpgBy Lacey Nemergut

For freshmen, those brave enough to make the move from a single to a double, or anyone who will return from winter break to find someone new across the room, roommates can cause emotional extremes, both good and bad. That eager anticipation of one giant sleepover may cast a blinding shadow over the inevitable tiffs and tension that come with living in such close proximity. But apprehension over receiving an obnoxious snob as a roommate may also cloud the potential for a new friendship.

From a strictly economic standpoint, do the benefits of companionship outweigh the costs of typical conflict?

Dr. Carl Pickhardt explains in “Surviving (Your Child’s) Adolescence” (I know, it’s for our parents, but what he says is still relevant!) that there are seven main areas where conflict may arise when living with a roommate: privacy, order, reliability, personality, television (electronics), values, and degree of friendship.

“People are different in a host of ways -- in physical, psychological, social, and cultural make-up -- and not all those ways are going to easily mesh or match,” writes Pickhardt. “So incompatibility in roommate relationships is not a problem. It is a reality.”

Students have their own ideas of what a roommate experience should be like; those initial impressions, however, often fail to coincide with reality. For example, cleanliness (or “order,” in Pickhardt’s case) is often an issue. Repeated offenses of dirty dishes left piled in the sink and clothes strewn around the common area often result in latent or outward tension.

Exam schedules, study habits, or sleep rituals may also collie. Resistance or hindrance to normal practices can frequently result in conflict, and academic pressure only heightens the potential.

Or the guest policy may prove problematic for roommates whose choices of friends are inconsistent and clashing. And don’t even get me started on significant others, especially if one roommate is engaging in guiltless and frequent sexiling.

“But I’m living with my best friend since birth!” you cry in outrage. “We NEVER fight. Nothing could come between us.” Despite the stigma associated with the choice -- and the sad looks you’ll receive from those more knowledgeable -- selecting a best friend as a roommate is common, at least among those who haven't tried it before. But living with someone day in and day out when space is scarce and true “alone time” is hard to come by is quite different than hanging out and parting ways at the end of the day. Sometimes there is such a thing as being too close.

“However, it doesn’t take long…to start appreciating the complexity of sharing living space with peers,” writes Pickhardt -- though it does take the three Cs: compatibility, cooperation, and communication (OK, and practice). Once you’re over those hurdles, a roommate can offer excellent companionship and help you cope with stress. A roommate is always there, whether you need a pick-me-up or are just bored. When you head home for a break or summer vacation, it feels strange at first to fall asleep alone in an empty room.

Then again, sometimes that compatibility isn't there; those roommate situations may be doomed no matter what. A friend of mine moved out of her room and commuted from home instead of dealing with the drama her roommate put her through. When any sort of communication is ineffective and the entire experience is no longer worth it, the best thing to do is to get out quickly and avoid an unnecessary dramatic ending. Thank goodness for room swaps!

Have you had a truly terrible roommate experience? What are your tips for getting along with a roommate?

Photo by Kevin Shorter (Flickr)

About Lacey -- With a passion for liberal arts and an addiction to excessive writing, I somehow ended up at a business school. I currently attend Bentley, where I plan to major in economics and finance. In an attempt to hang on to my true devotion, I write for the news section of the Vanguard. For me, the greatest thrill of the job is conducting interviews and listening intently as people reveal their stories.

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