It wasn’t too long after I got into college that I started picturing what my days would be like. I imagined that I’d feel tons of freedom, be able to handle my time like a boss, and have the most awesomely decorated dorm in the world. Oh, and my roommate? She’d be like a best friend and sister rolled into one.
I held onto these fantasies until I got to campus. Within a week, my imaginary world had fallen apart. I felt pulled in a million directions at once, couldn’t figure out how to get everything done, and hadn’t hung up a single piece of art. Worst of all, my roomie and I were engaged in a passive-aggressive battle of wills. We couldn’t see eye-to-eye on anything. It was a nightmare of epic proportions.
Fortunately, we only had to live together for a semester because she transferred. But I’d learned an important life lesson: Living with someone else requires a serious degree (pun intended!) of communication. If you don’t communicate early and often, you’re setting yourself up for avoidable misery.
Whether your roommate is your BFF from home or a random pairing, you need to set healthy boundaries with them. Opening up may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but it’s easier than dealing with bigger problems later — trust me. I spent months wishing my first roommate and I had started off on stronger footing.
Read on for four ways to set healthy boundaries with your roommate.
- Accept that your roommate will have a life outside of you.
Twinning is winning? Nah. You don’t need to live with your clone. Before you even meet, accept that you’re not going to be joined at the hip. Sure, you may hang out a little, but remember that a huge part of the college experience is to gain independence.
Claire Swindle, 19, a sophomore at Southern Methodist University, tells Her Campus that she thinks it’s good (and healthy!) for roommates to have separate lives. She explains, “No matter how close you end up being with your roommate, having a healthy separation from your roommate can actually be a good thing because it will force you to branch out and meet new people that you maybe wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
When you start talking with your roommate on Snapchat or FaceTime, try bringing up this topic and what you both envision your roommate-ship to look like. That way, neither of you will feel weird going off on your own or with other people on move-in day.
- Discuss what to do about significant others.
The topic of romantic relationships is going to come up eventually, so you might as well have “The Talk.” Yes, it might feel a little strange — but it’s so important to find out where each of you falls on the “significant other” topic.
For example, are you comfortable with your roommate bringing their partner to hang out every night? How do you feel about sleepovers? What are your expectations in terms of privacy, studying, and personal space? You may be surprised to find out that your roommate and you could have vastly differing ideas on the subject.
Even if you and your roommate say you’re “anything goes” types, put together a structured plan. These could include times when your room is off-limits to visitors, such as after dinner on weekdays. Mary Jane Swetnam, 22, a University of Missouri ’22 grad, agrees. “When you move in, set expectations with your roommates regarding cleaning, taking out the trash, having visitors, etc.,” she says. “This will help avoid future problems by establishing some ground rules right off the bat that everyone can agree on!”
- Address problems right away.
Growing up, my family wasn’t too keen on confrontations. We satisfied ourselves by letting stuff fester until someone got seriously mad. Obviously, it wasn’t healthy and I try not to do that anymore, especially with roommates.
I can assure you that in about a month’s time, you’ll have at least some issue with your roommate. She’s so sloppy, you’re worried about bugs. She plays her guitar at all hours of the night — including when you’re trying to sleep. She hosts parties without your permission and you end up with strangers sitting on your super-cute bedspread. These are moments you can’t afford to just grin and bear.
You have every right to feel safe, secure, and satisfied in your dorm situation. However, your roommate won’t make any changes if they don’t know you’re hurt or mad. When you’re not happy, carve out some private time to talk with your roommate. (In other words, don’t scream so loudly that everyone on your floor has to put in AirPods.) Stay calm and explain why you’re upset. Hear them out. Then, come up with a plan together to move forward.
- Keep your side of the bargain.
I’m not going to sugarcoat what I’m about to say: I’ve been a royal pain to many roommates. Why? To be honest, I agreed to honor some ground rules and then broke my promise. I never did it on purpose, but it happened from time to time.
Unless you’re a perfect person, you’re going to make mistakes. When you do, own up and apologize. Immediately. Don’t make a single excuse because your roommate may go on the offensive. Just say you’re sorry and ask how you can make up for your mistake.
This is one of those “See? We’re grown-ups now!” moments that you just have to push through. Here’s why it’s critical: You’ll show your roommate that you care about the boundaries you established when you first met. The good news is that my roommate showed me a lot of leeway. It was great for building trust in our relationship, to be honest.
Living with someone new always necessitates a period of adjustment. Establishing boundaries can help get you over any awkwardness and into a comfy, normal rhythm. And who knows? You might get lucky and wind up living with the person who’s bound to become your BFF for life.