Hot and Cold: Managing Roommate Conflicts
by Shay McHale | published Sep. 2nd, 2019
Living with other people can be hard — college is a prime example of this. We often get stuck with people we know nothing about — and may not like — then have to deal with issues as they happen. This can range from a roommate who never does the dishes to someone who brings in this hard-to-put-together bunk bed then suddenly moves out a week later, leaving you to take the entire thing apart yourself. This isn't to say that things are hopeless, though. Roommate conflicts can be a struggle; but with clear communication, these issues become much easier to resolve.
Fight and Break Up
“The most consistent issue I have with my roommate is them moving my things without asking and constantly barging into my room without knocking to interrupt whatever I'm doing,” said Emily Cortese, a third year American Sign Language and Interpreting Education major.
Privacy and issues with personal items are two points often brought up by fighting roommates, and with good reason. At home, we often live with people who have known us longer and, as a result, know more about how to respect us and our needs. Abby Dye, a recent graduate in Graphic Design, recommended clear communication to overcome this obstacle.
"It’s always a game trying to have people know to do things or ... to not do everything on their own [without communicating]," she said.
Communication can be difficult when you don’t know someone very well, and this drives many roommate conflicts. Without talking about issues, it becomes much harder to resolve them.
RIT’s roommate agreement for on-campus housing attempts to address this obstacle. It includes sections on privacy and sharing items, encompassing issues that roommates commonly struggle over. The goal of this is to ensure that most, if not all, conflicts that arise have been previously discussed in terms of expectations and the wants of each roommate. The agreement then includes options for how to reach a resolution, from talking, to texting, to bringing in a Resident Advisor (RA). This kind of form is particularly useful for people who would rather not communicate for any reason, and also for students who may struggle to communicate, such as when there is a language barrier. The ability to have a concrete set of guidelines is useful, but it can’t fix everything.
"You never really know how someone behaves and lives, or who they are, before living with them in a confined space."
“The worst roommate story I know of is one I am experiencing now. I am forced to live with someone who my ex-roommate invited when they lived with me, who does not like me and has openly stated so,” said Cortese.
Sometimes, conflict is not necessarily rational or solvable, leading to more frustration.
“I have a list of things [my worst roommate] did," said Dye, reciting from the list. "Burning a pot of ramen at 2 a.m. ... then [hiding] it in the snow for months ... Not paying the last bit of rent and leaving her room a pigsty when she moved out ... Letting a freshman with chronic alcoholism, who she let over, drink an entire bottle of vodka that I paid for and letting him roam around the apartment being racist and sexist before he had to go to the [emergency room].”
Roommates are rarely perfect, and some can definitely be worse than others, but it doesn’t have to be all bad.
Kiss and Make Up
While living with a stranger can be rough, it can also open up new opportunities. You get to know people in a way you really wouldn't otherwise. Reaching out and helping a roommate in need can build a connection, and possibly even a friendship.
“My roommate took care of me while I was sick. She brought me medicine and cooked me food for a week,” Cortese said about her best roommate story.
The ability to connect with people on a romantic level can also develop from living in such close quarters.
“Before we dated, he would offer to drive me to campus when it was raining or to go grocery shopping with him since I didn’t have a car and we just kind of started doing things for each other," said Dye about her best roommate. "We still live together and it’s continued to be like that.”
"We just kind of started doing things for each other. We still live together and it’s continued to be like that."
Living with a romantic partner can help to strengthen the connection and create better understanding of one another's lifestyles.
“You never really know how someone behaves and lives, or who they are, before living with them in a confined space,” said Cortese.
However, both Dye and Cortese advised caution before moving in with a partner, as it can create more issues due to the increased amount of communication needed. This can also create the feeling of being stuck; if the relationship ends before the lease does, more tension can build on top of whatever may have caused the split.
Having a partner as a roommate, though, can still be a positive experience. Like Cortese mentioned, sometimes it can be a way to really get to know the person. On the other hand, you can live with a stranger who you never talk to all semester except for when Notre Dame burnt down — just to pick a random, completely hypothetical situation.
Rooming with people you know is often the best option, because even if you are just friends, there is at least a baseline level of communication established. This is helpful when negotiating conflict so that you see each other's points of view and can even have a mutual friend moderate the situation.
Living with people you don’t know very well can create tension over your normal habits — something that would be more respected at home or, especially, on your own. All in all, the most important thing to remember is that talking to the person is often the only way for them to know what you are thinking or wanting from them. RIT does provide some support with this in the form of RAs, the Center for Residence Life and the Ombuds Office. Sharing a living space isn't always easy, but there are steps we can take to make it easier.