About Roommates

“I liked you better without the bangs,” the Post-it note said. A colon and a parentheses made up the “smiley face” at the end of the message. When it appeared on our shared mirror, I knew things were going downhill. It had started with the Post-Its on the refrigerator–“We should probably throw things out!”–on the toilet–“We should probably clean this at some point”–and the kitchen cabinet–“You didn’t answer my text, so I just borrowed your pots. They’re in the sink!” “We” invariably and inevitably meant me.

I suspect that my response wasn’t quite what my roommate wanted. Instead of cleaning the kitchen, I left more Post-it notes on the refrigerator–“You should let me know what you want thrown out!”–on the toilet–“I thought you’d bought a plunger last week!”–and on the kitchen cabinet–“Try to clean the pots next time!”

The shift from the seemingly royal “we” to the second person was, in retrospect, a mistake, the mistake that probably led to the barely mitigated aggression in her Post-it about my haircut. Our non-feud (real feuds tend to exercise the courtesy of verbal communication) had deteriorated from the contents of the fridge to personal slights. The appearance of the smiley face meant war.

She transferred after Fall Quarter our first year and one of my closest friends moved in to replace her. I have on occasion wondered if our poor roommate-to-roommate relationship factored in her decision to leave the UofC. She was nice enough and we may have gotten along had we not <i>lived</i> together. Housing, then, didn’t “mismatch” us, as we must have appeared perfectly compatible on paper. If common interests don’t set the foundation for a good roommate relationship, what does?

My father, who went to Syracuse University in the eighties, likes to tell a story about his “first college best friend,” Peter. As he tells it, he and Peter moved in together, but the friendship quickly disintegrated when, on a bad acid trip, Peter pulled part of the toilet off the wall of their bathroom.

Whom, then, do we choose to be our roommates? Despite the cautionary element of my father’s “toilet off the wall” story, we often choose our friends and hope for the best. We hope that the people we hang out with can double as good roommates. Since this is a common practice, we can assume that it works well enough. People also do find roommates on Marketplace, through mutual friends, or shared majors. Potential roommates are everywhere. It may not be a matter of even choosing the “right” one. Roommate drama is, perhaps, inevitable. There is inherent tension in living with someone, but there’s also the potential for a bond that can’t quite be replicated elsewhere. Just make sure they won’t pull your toilet off the wall. After that, just be sure you’re willing to communicate, to meet halfway. Maybe even make that effort to see things from their perspective. But then again, maybe not if they’re on acid.