It can be challenging to adjust to new people, but after more than a year of being inside, we are all a little socially awkward. I know I definitely am. But it’s important to reach out to others and connect, especially those you are going to live with for eight long months. Remember that cohabitating with roommates is a long-distance race not a sprint. Another cliché that applies is that Rome was not built in a day, so be patient with yourself and your roommates. Sometimes things don’t work out which is completely fine as well. Nevertheless, there is a lot of happiness that can be found in a roommate relationship when you put in the effort. For the entirety of my university career, I have never lived with people I knew prior due to a combination of late housing applications and budget limitations. Until this year, I have never felt particularly connected to my roommates. It was either ugly fights or social isolation, no in between. I had given up on the idea of belonging or connection while in residence. Now, I regularly hang out with my roommates and we are currently planning a group costume for Halloween. Of course, there was some luck involved because they are all good, kind people but I have learnt a lot from my past and current experiences.
Here are some tips on navigating roommate relationships and foster peacefully cohabitation:
1. Have a meeting.
Every good plan starts with a meeting. It may feel awkward at first to push for a meeting, but it is paramount that you suggest it as soon as you move in. More often than not, your other roommates probably have concerns or questions they were not comfortable bringing up earlier. At this meeting, you can talk about important things like: how to communicate, chore distribution, personal habits, utilities you want to share or not and what costs may be involved. You can also get more personal if you want and talk about your living needs, pet peeves and boundaries. I was very scared to let my roommates know these things because during the pandemic, I became even more particular about cleanliness, especially in certain areas. I felt I was being unreasonable and dumping my neuroses on them. When I told them, they were kind and accepting which good roommates should be. I also tried to be as specific as possible about what I needed, which helped lead to actual change and feedback.
2. Set up a main reliable communication channel.
This is a very important aspect of a good relationship. There are numerous apps you can use for communication. I have found the most popular are Instagram and Facebook. My roommates and I personally use Instagram. We also have our numbers pasted on the fridge so that we can always reach each other in case of emergency. For splitting costs of utilities and groceries, we use the app called Splitwise. Each roommate enters their expenditures for shared household goods, and the app calculates the amount of money owed to each roommate. This reduces the amount of time spent time chasing people and it also does all the math for you. Your communication channel does not have to be bursting with memes and dinner plans, but it is a good way to establish a relationship with your roommates and address things openly.
3. Be willing to share common household items (based on your comfort level).
One thing I have realized is that chances are you’re going to have to share some things with your roommates. A problem that many newcomers to roommatehood have is overestimating their independence. Trust me, I have met my fair share of roommates who take things without asking or will charge you for a pinch of butter. But once you have set the appropriate boundaries with your roommates, it is alright to share stuff like toilet paper, paper towels, household appliances, etc. It takes some pressure off your shoulders and encourages shared conversation among everyone. Another tip that can help the adjustment process go more. smoothly is keeping shared supplies, including extras in a common space everyone can access.
4. Ask questions – a lot of them.
Be interested in getting to know your roommates, even if purely on a roommate level. People change and needs change, especially with our demanding student schedules so it is imperative to show curiosity. I asked my roommates a lot of questions and it was awkward at first, but most people are genuinely touched that you want to hear about them. I asked them some basic questions like: How was your day? How are your courses going? How is your family doing? And so on. In addition to asking questions, I offered information about myself and made it clear they could come talk to me if needed. Clear communication is the foundation of any good relationship after all. When asking and offering, make sure to be mindful of their comfort level and watch their body language. Make sure you are being sensitive to their needs. It is not an interrogation so boundaries must always be maintained, especially in the beginning.
5. Plan fun activities to do together.
Now that you and your roommates are besties, it is time to plan activities to do together. Some examples of activities you can do together are roommate meetings, dinner (go out or order in), residence events, movie nights, pumpkin picking, introduce yourself to your neighbours, throw a party in your dorm (when safe to do so and if your residence permits), explore campus or other new places, etc. You do not have to approach everyone; if you are comfortable with just one or two of your roommates, feel free to propose an activity to just them.
6. Try not to take things personally.
As a queen of sensitivity myself, I know how hard it is to not to read into things, especially with people you have just met. You are probably worried about them not liking you or maybe you don’t like them or perhaps it is both. Whatever it is, you might feel very triggered by some of their less savory actions, some of which you have already complained about. You might feel unheard, angry, vindictive or even sad. I have felt all of those things and I still get annoyed often. But I try to remember that there is very little chance that my roommate is personally trying to trigger me. I also try to remember that they are not perfect just like me. In the beginning, especially, you might have to remind them more than once to do or not do certain things. I know, it is tedious, and it would be grand if you did not have to. However, the attitude with which you approach these issues will go a long way in determining how well the relationship goes as well as your own happiness. Basically, you should feel free to express yourself as much as you want of course but try to keep a neutral mindset as much as you can. Getting yourself riled up will only worsen the situation for you and everyone else.
7. Practice empathy.
At their core, even the most incompatible roommates are just individuals trying their best at life. You never know what people are going through so try to empathize with them as much as you feel able to. I have personally found that the more I understand my roommates and their motivations, the better I feel living with them. Mistakes feel less personal. It takes time of course but it was honestly worth it for me because my pet peeves feel less personal and more solvable. Also, the more you offer empathy, the more they will offer it to you when you eventually make your own blunders. This way, you are learning from your mistakes and continuously listening to the other person.
8. When in doubt, ask your RA or landlord.
That is what they are there for! There will be some sensitive issues that you cannot deal with on your own so reach out. This option will be based on your own discretion, as it is not always the best course of action depending on your living situation and the authority involved.
9. Manage your expectations.
You will not always be instant friends with your roommates or even friends at all. Sometimes you don’t like people, or you are incompatible when it comes to coexisting no matter how hard you try. Make your needs known and be civil, but it is okay to make new friends elsewhere!
I hope these tips have helped you gain some semblance of peace about your roommate situation. I am personally grateful that I let my roommates in and gave them a chance. It was not always the same for me, and it will not happen overnight, but it has been so much better than I expected and has made my life feel fuller. I know it can happen for you too – whether with your current roommates or the next!