The Roommate Code: How I Found A Balance

by Abigail Pore

College is a time for firsts. It’s your first time stepping out of the expectations of a child. First time being responsible for yourself. First time living in a room that’s barely large enough to share with another person, a stranger even. That’s when I learnt about the importance of a roommate code.

When I was getting ready for my freshman year of college, I reached out to my older friends for advice, and finding a good roommate was at the top of their list. But with no one I knew from home going to the same college, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do! Should I pick one or just hope for the best from residence life? After hearing one too many horror stories about both of these options, I was ready to beg for a single room instead. Enter my current roommate. We met in a group chat of other incoming students for our school, so I didn’t know her personally. Despite this, by the time we met in person at orientation, we somehow slipped into being best friends.

What I’ve Learnt.

Our secret? Open communication. Some people can manage having no contact with their roommate before they meet at move-in or orientation, and that may work for them. However, ideally, if you want to build a a healthy  roommate relationship, you’ll need to learn to communicate at some point. And that doesn’t mean just talking to each other from time to time or simply keeping up a snap streak. Real communication is knowing you can go to this person for anything. You don’t have to be best friends with your roommate. Respect is key in the good roommate code. You need to have enough respect for each other that you’re comfortable with asking them to turn down their music or tell you when they’re having guests over to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

The Roommate Code.

My roommate and I chose each other even though we’re states away based off of our communication and our shared values, which are a core need for a roommate relationship to flourish. What’s the point of talking to your roommate about the tidiness of the room if you know that her idea of “clean” is unacceptable in your eyes. You don’t have to be politically aligned or agree on everything, but there are important rooming-together related topics that you want to make sure you can either agree on or can be polite and compromise about like:

  • Shower schedules
  • When you get up in the morning
  • When you go to sleep
  • Your thoughts about the opposite sex in the room
  • Your thoughts about guests in the room, period
  • If/when you need me time
  • How to handle conflict

And, of course, there are more, but these are often specific to your own needs and the needs of your roommate. This means you’ll need to be able to communicate with them and come up with your own personalised roommate code that you both feel comfortable with.

It Doesn’t Just Apply to the Room!

It’s also a good idea to try to spend time with your roommate even when things get busy. Even if you’re not overly close to your roommate, you may feel like you know them well enough from living with them. But making an effort to spend time with them may surprise you. Waking up to someone’s alarm and looking at them face to face over a burrito after a big test are two very different things. One of the reasons why my roommate and I got along so well was because we could be separate but at the end of the day we were still best friends. We still made the effort to see each other and also by doing things outside of our room together like joining a sorority or going to events.

It can help to strengthen your friendship when you try to change up your typical routine that you may grow bored of such as moving beyond the room. Being roommates and having a roommate code is important for both of your existences within and outside of the shared room and your relationship should reflect this. 

Even if you don’t want to be best friends with your roommate, having a healthy relationship with them can make major improvements on your experience.

Here are some tips to help you no matter what the dynamic is:
  1. LISTEN!—you may be surprised by what you learn or can offer in ways of advice. You might learn something too!
  2. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need something—you’ll never know if you don’t try, and it shows your roommate’s character as well.
  3. Be the bigger person—resolve your problems in person and in a way that isn’t passive aggressive. Sticky notes and social media posts are likely to just make the problems worse. Talking it out is always the best option even though confrontation can be hard.
  4. Learn the rhythm—learning to live with someone is like learning a dance. Sometimes you’ll step on each other’s toes, but it’s usually easy to find the rhythm after a while and then you can just fall in line.
  5. Respect your roommate’s values and boundaries. My future third roommate for next semester brought up that she wouldn’t listen to secular music in her shared dorm room because of her roommate’s personal conviction. She had chosen to do this to help keep it out of the room to make her roommate more comfortable and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

No roommate relationship will be exactly perfect and roommate codes aren’t written up in black and white. The effort you put into getting to know your future roommate will help improve the harmony of your relationship. But also never be afraid to reach out to someone else if it doesn’t work out, no matter what. Take your experience and learn from it and you’ll come out stronger, good roomie – relationship or not.

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