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September 18, 2010

Roommates and You

We’ve all heard the college roommate horror stories. Then again, we all know a few people who struck gold on move-in day and found a lifelong friend. Students from both ends of the spectrum will tell you that first-year housing mostly comes down to pure luck of the draw.

Thanks to Facebook, the person you meet the first day of O-Week won’t be a complete stranger, but it will be hard to tell how your year together will shake out until you’ve started setting up the room and sharing the space. Whether you and your roommate end up being closer to the Odd Couple or the roomies on Friends, here are some tips for making the next nine months work.

Share your schedule

During O-Week, you’ll get a good idea of what kind of hours your roommate keeps. More importantly, you’ll have some practice time to learn how to make this schedule gel with your own. Whether you’re both morning shower people or one of you is the night owl and the other is the early bird, try to work out a system that leaves you both happy now so that you’ll have a routine in place when the stress of the school year starts.

Talk again once you get your class schedules. It’s much better to have some warning about which days the alarm will blare at 7:30 a.m. You’ll also be able to agree on some general times when you’ll have the room to yourself for afternoon power naps or hanging out with friends.

Find some common interests

People split over whether or not it’s a good idea to make friends with your roommate. The argument against it is that it’s hard to maintain a friendship and a good living situation. What happens when there’s a fight and then you have to spend the night in the same room? Then there are people who look back and say that perhaps making the effort to be more than just roommates would have made the year smoother. Living together and never interacting makes for very awkward situations when it’s time to settle some differences or talk about a problem.

As in many cases, there’s probably a good compromise in the middle. If you and your roommate really hit it off during O-Week, then keep up the things that you enjoy doing together while also being sure to follow up on other clubs or groups of people that spark your interests. If it’s clear that there’s not much common ground between you, then look for some common acquaintances to help bridge the difference and plan for a few neutral outings like dinner somewhere in Hyde Park.

Remember kindergarten

A wise man once said that he learned everything he needed to know in kindergarten. While your earliest school lessons may not come up in Hum discussions, a slightly more sophisticated version of those basic classroom rules will come in handy when it comes to solving problems with your roommate.

The two biggies of those days were to keep hands to yourself and to talk out your problems. The hands-off rule in college could be extended to belongings and personal bubbles now covering each roommate’s designated area of the room. You don’t have to worry about suddenly becoming a neat freak, but at least keep your mess to your own bed, desk, and dresser. In a similar vein, make sure you ask before using any of your roommate’s things.

Taking time to calmly discuss a potentially touchy subject becomes a lot more difficult when the source of the problem is no longer who gets first dibs on the building blocks. Still, talking over the sticky issues with your roommate usually provides better results than letting these problems go unresolved for the next nine months.

If there’s something that you can anticipate being a source of conflict, bring it up now instead of leaving it as a surprise for later. Living with someone means that he or she is going to know things about you that a lot of other people won’t. For instance, if you happen to snore loudly, chances are your roommate is going to figure that out within a night or two. There’s no point in trying to hide these little things or your pet peeves, so why not discuss them early so that you both can compromise on a solution that will take you through the year?

Dorms with private bathrooms open up a second front in the roommate battles. You’ll have to find ways to share the space and settle on how to divvy up costs of supplies and cleaning chores. Scrubbing the toilet and shower may be such an unpleasant task that it makes homework look appealing, but neglecting the bathroom for three quarters is not the way to go.

Beyond personal quirks and splitting room responsibilities, there may be some heavier topics that need to be addressed, and the classic elephant in the room is what to do when your roommate has a significant other. Whether it’s a blossoming O-Week romance or a serious previous relationship, finding some private time in the room can be tricky.

Here’s where knowing your roommate’s schedule can come in handy so that you can avoid hanging the universal sign of a tie on the doorknob. If a natural time doesn’t arise, then see what kind of arrangement can be hammered out that leaves one roommate with couple time without leaving the other roommate feeling “sexiled.”

The bottom line to making it work with your first-year roommate is that there’s no foolproof plan for a good experience. There’s luck to consider, and then it’s a matter of finding what’s the best for you and your roommate.

If the relationship sours

If things get really tough, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. The R.A.s and R.H.s are there to help you adjust to college living, which includes lending an ear to hearing roommate troubles. They may be able to help brainstorm solutions for more specific problems. If everything has been tried and hasn’t made living with your roommate work, it may be time to contact the Office of Undergraduate Student Housing (located at 6030 South Ellis Avenue, (773) 702-7366).

While switching rooms is a pretty simple process, it won’t solve the issue overnight. There’s a three-week freeze period at the start of autumn quarter during which everyone has to stay put.

Starting as early as O-Week for first-years, however, people can sign up for the waiting list. From there, moving depends on location, your housing specifications, and most of all, vacancies.

This year, undergraduate housing is at full capacity, leaving the switching process at a standstill. All the more reason for everyone to try to make it work with what they’ve got.

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