How should you approach the roomie relationship?

A ROOMMATE IS generally understood to be a person with whom you share a home. Hopefully someone who will ask you about your day, cook you the occasional meal, and clean the toilet. But in more unfortunate circumstances, a roommate can be a lot more like a prison cellmate than a friendly face. If your experience comes closer to the latter, fear not! There are ways to deal with the having a less-than-ideal, first-year roommate.

I remember the day I received a confirmation email from the University of Ottawa’s Housing Services indicating the name of my first roommate-to-be. I  read over the name I was given, trying to envision the personality of the girl with such a name. She seemed nice enough.

Naturally, the next step was to search her name on Facebook. I clicked through her profile pictures (definitely a drinker, but that was fine by me), looked to her friend count (high, but not scary high), her interests (mostly sports), her favourite books (a Nicholas Sparks lover—oh lord), her relationship status (evidently involved with someone), and found that our only real common ground was our shared appreciation for That 70s Show.

I imagined myself with my new roommate, both slung on our beds bonding over Kraft Dinner, wearing matching best friends for life pendants around our necks. All right, I’m kidding about the last one; I really just hoped we’d be civil.

Move-in day rolled around much faster than I’d anticipated, and before I knew it, I was lugging suitcases, garbage bags, and crates toward Thompson, sweat dripping down my forehead. This was not how I’d pictured myself looking on my first day of university. I clenched my key tight in my hand as I nervously approached my room’s door. There was no turning back now.

This moment marked the beginning of a very special kind of relationship, and not the type with the best friends pendants I had hoped for. A few days after living with my new roomie, I had grown very tired of being subjected to what felt like hourly viewings of One Tree Hill (by the end of the semester, I probably could have played the entire opening song by ear if you were to sit me in front of a piano) and the smell of our shared garbage can—both of us too stubborn to be the first to give in and throw it out.

Sometimes we’d compete through noise levels. “Want to play your Tim McGraw at volume 10? How does Daft Punk sound at VOLUME 50?” I’d say in my head as I cranked the knob. Furniture was moved around in our tiny room in attempt to forget the other person was there, living her own life, only a few feet away. At times, it truly felt as though we were inmates sharing the same cramped cell, each of us scratching the number of days gone by upon the walls.

Even though this experience had me annoyed more often than not, it provided me with a bag full of stories I could reach into whenever the topic of roommates from hell arose. I’ve fought the battle and come back with a few words of wisdom to help all those heading to the forefront. There is hope yet.

First things first, lay down the law—and do it fast. Say it, swear to it, write it in calligraphy on parchment paper, frame it, and call it a constitution—just make sure you do it. Don’t wait until you’re waist-deep in the muck of conflict to come up with the rules you need to keep the peace.

Next, try to be considerate. Think: Is my roommate trying to study? Are they asleep? Would I want to be pulled from my slumber into a world where someone is chatting loudly with his or her friend a few feet away? Probably not. If you are thoughtful, your roommate more than likely will be too. If not, burn this article and apply for a room change.

Third, remember this person came to university with the same hopes as you of being roomed with someone they could befriend. I recall having this feeling a few times with my own roommate. I’d be waiting for the elevator on my floor, the doors would open, and she’d be there, not yet armed for battle. At times like these I’d recall she was probably just as worn out from this conflict as I was, and I’d remind myself to work harder to be good roommate.

Finally, if, despite your efforts, you still find yourself in conflict with your roommate, try spending as much time as you can outside of your room or apartment in order to cool down and focus when it comes time to work. I recommend the library, where the chairs and couches are comfortable and you can even snuggle up close to a fake fireplace for that extra homey feel.

Whether you find yourself living with roommates or inmates, sharing a living space with others is an experience everyone should have. You never really know someone until you’ve lived with them, but I think you learn quite a bit about yourself along the way too.

—Rebecca Dawe