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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: ... And they were roommates

A dorm located in Granville Towers West on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.

I’m currently in my fifth year of living in a dorm (emotional support GoFundMe pending). And with those years of experience, I’ve seen it all.

(A note to my current roommate: this isn't about you. But thank you for reading!)

You might think you have it bad, especially if you’re a first year sharing a room with someone for the first time. I’ve been there. But if you’re just marinating in the terribleness, waiting for your own room next year, I’ve got bad news. 

After your first year comes more dorms, apartments and houses. Living with other people is a necessary skill in life. Even if your roommate is incredibly immature, not constructively addressing the problems you have with them is just as immature. The future bathroom and kitchen and living room and landlord are waiting, praying for your downfall. 

Unless you follow my advice. All it takes is a couple adjustments.

First of all: stop the gossip. 

Yes, it’s relieving to tell everyone you meet that your roommate’s the most inconsiderate, smelly, lazy, bossy, loud, messy, selfish, obnoxious person in the world and their shoes make the room smell like onion (by the way, your roomie has thought the same thing about you). The pity laughs might make you sleep better at night, but guess what? The smell will still be there. 

Gossiping about someone you share almost everything with isn’t like gossiping about the annoying guy in your math class. It has real repercussions. The moment you spread word about your roommate, it gets back to them. And then, you’ll stew in that oniony dorm room air reminiscing the times when you weren’t walking on eggshells to your bed. Because why would someone you’ve been gossiping about change their living habits to make your life better? 

Before the week’s over, you’ll be at your desk, uncomfortably typing at your computer, hoping they don’t bring up the fact you’ve been smearing their name all over campus. 

So let’s learn how to address the problem at the source with one easy step. 

Speak with your I’s. Say how a problem makes you feel, and why you personally want it to be fixed. 

I learned this tip from my teachers while I was training to be in an RA-esque position during my senior year of high school. I lived in a dorm with 18 16-year-old boys, and if this tip worked for them, it can work for you. Let’s say that your roomie won’t pick up their dirty laundry, no matter how much you glance at it and dramatically step over it on the way to your bed. Surely they should recognize how passively annoyed you are and do something about it, right?

Wrong. That’s dumb. 

Here’s what would happen during a typical interaction if you were to address a problem without using your I’s.

Y/N: You always leave your dirty laundry everywhere.

Roomie: I don’t do that. I literally just left it there last night and it’s only on my side of the room. You left your stuff all over the dresser last week and I picked it up and I didn’t say anything. 

This is how someone will react when you address a problem on their part. They’ll first prove your statement wrong, then deflect and create a defense all to seal the deal with a rebuttal accusation. And you get into a fight while the problem isn’t fixed. Now, let’s try out the “I” language. 

Y/N: I feel like our room has become pretty messy the past few days. It makes me feel a little bit grossed out to see dirty laundry on the ground. Is there any way you could put it in your basket from here on out?

Roomie: I didn’t know it bothered you. Yeah, I’ll try to pick up my clothes. 

Do you see the difference? 

You’ve shifted the problem from being about them to being about the clothes. Remember, if you try to confront a person, they will be defensive. If you try to confront one isolated event, and say how it makes you feel, they’ll be more responsive. 

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I know it might sound like you’re talking to a 5-year-old. But sometimes people act like 5-year-olds, especially those who have no concept of doing laundry, picking up after themselves and communicating how they feel. 

Also, no roommate is perfect, including me. Here are a few quick tips on how to be a good roomie: 

  • Sleep is the priority. If one person wants to go to sleep, the other needs to respect that — no matter what. If they’re sick and it’s 7:00pm and you have work to do, take it to the lounge. If you have class in the morning and they don’t, lay out your clothes and pack your bag the night before so you don't make too much noise getting ready. Also, don’t turn on the lights when they’re asleep. It’s annoying. 
  • Don’t touch their stuff without permission. 
  • If the trash is full, take it out. 
  • Use headphones when listening to music, unless you’re both okay with it playing out loud. Sometimes, "Anaconda" is just too much for people at 10 in the morning (not me, but still).
  • Do fun things. Eat together in the dining hall every so often. Try to catch each other when you’re both enjoying yourself and having a good time.

Living with others can be challenging, no matter who you are, but these steps can be a lifeline for navigating that experience. And that's just my Two Spence.