Sep 162009
Authors: M. Alex Stephens

We’ve all had them, the slob, the clean freak, the nagger, the consumer, the partier, the nude – it goes on. Having a roommate is a level of intimacy few of us are prepared for when we begin our college life, especially when you accidently catch them “being friendly with themselves,” so knowing how to deal with roommates and be a good roommate, is something worthy of a column.

From my humble experiences, let me offer a few words on the matter of roommates, maybe even condolence for the suffering for those who share a residence hall with the devil. Appearances are deceiving, for both better and worse.

My freshman roommate, a complete Greek stranger, gave me the initial impression of being a total jerk while my suitemate (we had two rooms conjoined with a bathroom) seemed like a friendly, outgoing, sort of guy. The suitemate turned out to be contemptuous kleptomaniac with a penchant for cheating on his girlfriend (what class), and the roommate an extremely respectful, fun-loving friend to this day.

Nice anecdote, huh? But seriously, each of them taught me something important about people: Some you can affect, and others you cannot.

With the roommate, we learned one anothers’ boundaries, where the “line” was, and we respected it. When one was sleeping or studying, the other kept silent. When one trashed the room, he was the one who promptly cleaned it up. Neither of us stole from the other — you get the picture. The suitemate, however, never grasped elementary concepts, such as flushing.

It seems like basics, I know, but it’s surprising to find out just how few people get it and how much it really matters. Familiarity is said to breed contempt, but it doesn’t have to. Guys, you’re no less a man for having a civil chat with your quartered other about cleaning the sink, and gals, you’re not wrong to call your roommate out on something you don’t agree with. Passive aggressiveness does no good.

Freshmen, it’s never too early to start scouting for potential roommates for next year (or at least figure out what personalities jive with yours the best). Take your time with it, but be critical about it, because good friends do not necessarily make good roommates. Once that future lease is signed, all bets are off — be sure you don’t legally bind yourself to a year of misery.

We’re four weeks deep in the semester. Have your roommates indeed turned out to be the overly agreeable bunch they promised to be when you signed the lease on the house before summer? Hopefully yes, realistically no, but now you’re stuck until it runs out or you find a replacement so you can escape. But why run when you can amend?

As I’ve alluded to, some issues you can fix and some you can’t. For example, if you find you’re the one always buying groceries while your compatriots do the eating, try labeling everything you buy, or even put a padlock on the fridge. Or, if you aren’t a psycho or food Nazi, politely ask for grocery money. But don’t swallow excuses and become a doormat to be exploited. Sometimes you need to throw down the gauntlet and show some tough love.

When issues swell to the surface like who should finally clean the dried vomit out of the bathtub from the house party a month ago, remember it always takes two to tango. Meaning, half of the reason for arguing is on your end. Be empathetic and be reasonable.

And finally, above all, never ever fornicate in your roommate’s bed, or at least never get caught doing so.

Alex Stephens is a senior political science major. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to


Tips to Handling Roommates

– Start looking for a roommate early

– Label everything you buy

– Ask for grocery money

– Be empathetic and be reasonable if fights occur

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