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I Don't Get Along with My Roommate! What Should I Do?

Updated on August 9, 2014

6 Tips for When the Going Gets Tough

You're all packed up and ready to go. Or maybe you're not, if you're a procrastinator. I had a few bags strewn around the house that contained all of my most important worldly possessions, those I deemed worthy to make the great journey with me -- the journey to college.

For many, going to college is both extremely exciting (and liberating!) and, at the same time, extremely terrifying. I've always loved school and I knew for sure what I was going to study in college (and actually stuck with it, though don't be afraid to change! But that's a discussion for another time). To me, going to college was the life journey I'd been waiting for years to make. So when I received the roommate email a few weeks before classes started, I was even more excited.

In my inbox, I saw a bold, highlighted, unread message entitled, "Your Roommate Selection!" I hovered my mouse over it, both nervous and excited. Would she like the same things as me? What if she does? Will we be too similar and not get along? What if she doesn't? Will we be too different and not get along? Oh my gosh, I have to LIVE with this person for a whole year!

Unfortunately, as you may be able to guess from the title, things did NOT really go so swimmingly between my roommate and me. So grab a snack and chill while I tell you the story of my roommate who, for the sake of this post, will be named, I don't know, err...Cupcake. Let's call her Cupcake. Why? Because I feel like it.

Anyway, I'll tell you the stories of my time with Cupcake as well as give you some tips for how to avoid negative roommate vibes. Getting a new roommate can be scary, but rest assured -- virtually ALL college students get a bearable (and often awesome) roommate. Of all the people I have talked to on my campus, only one other person wasn't happy with her roommate, and there are 4,000 students on my campus. Certainly most people are getting along! And as for me and Cupcake...well, we still get along, if you can believe it. We just know that rooming together is a bad idea.

Don't worry. Breathe. You can do this.

Tip #1: Don't be Passive-Aggressive

No Sticky Notes!

I think that being passive aggressive is one of the most common (and most destructive) ways that new roommates try to handle disputes with each other. The most classic example of the passive-aggressive approach is sticky notes. When you are afraid of hurting your roomie's feelings or if you want to avoid direct confrontation, it can be very tempting to leave a sticky note complaint. They'll see it, sure, but the feelings (and therefore the actions) will be left unresolved.

NOTE: Sticky notes can sometimes be useful, so don't let me discourage you from using them. But restrict them to things like, "Be back at 5, see you then!" or "I found your hair tie on the floor so I put it in your bag!" That's when it's helpful.

Cupcake, my dear former roommate, had a habit of using other people's things without asking (and without reimbursing). Most commonly, we (as in my two suitemates and I) would walk into the bathroom to find that half of our shampoo was gone. We certainly hadn't used it -- we hadn't even taken a shower yet. Slowly but surely, things around the dorm room began to disappear or showed evidence of being tampered with.

Let's just say simply that I don't take well to being encroached upon. So I took matters into my own hands. Note: do not try this at your new college home. Everything from fingerprint tape-lifting to baited traps -- I did it all in order to try to draw out my roommate into open confrontation about this so that we could get it resolved. But none of it worked. Together with my two suitemates, we all had a really chill and relaxed meeting together to discuss what was happening. We overcame our desires to be passive-aggressive and instead confronted the problem directly. It didn't work.

So what do you do when you just can't solve a problem by confronting it?

Tip #2: Help Your Roommate Help You

Make It All About Them

While we were trying to sort out the growing number of things that were going missing, other issues with Cupcake arose such as being loud until the wee hours of the morning. Often she would return to the dorm room at around 1:30AM, slam the door behind her, then turn her iPhone brightness all the way up and shine it in my face to see if I was awake.

I am now.

Once again, I took the offensive and directly confronted her about these habits. I didn't say, "CUPCAKE! STOP IT!" That's one great way to make your roommate hate you. Instead, I approached it more gently but still firmly, something like, "Cupcake, I just wanted to let you know that I go to sleep early because I have to leave at 6:30 every morning, so just wanted to let you know that I'll be asleep when you come back. If you could try to be quiet, that'd be great."

When those approaches didn't show any result, I'd move to an even more proactive approach -- the 'help me help you' way. That sounds something like this: "Hey Cupcake, if you want you can use my counter space in the bathroom and put your nighttime beauty supplies in there. That way when you come back you can just head in there and you won't have to worry about waking me up."

The key with a problem roommate is to frame every request as if it will benefit the roommate more than it benefits you. It would be easier for Cupcake to have her supplies on my counter space, so she's more likely to take that offer (which I benefit from also). You can use Help Me Help You with almost any problem. For example, if she brings a friend in that is interrupting your studying/sleeping/whatever, try something like this: "Hey Cupcake, could you guys go to the basement/social area? I just figured there's more room there and you don't have to worry about being quiet just for me!" (In my college, the basement is the furnished social area. It may be a different place at your college. The picture is what a corner of my college's dorm basements look like.) This appears to benefit Cupcake, as she and her friend have more room to relax (than in a small dorm room that already has another occupant -- you) and she doesn't have to be burdened by trying to be quiet for you. However, you also benefit.

Tip #3: Don't Reciprocate!

You'll Only Make It Worse. Trust Me.

One of the absolute worst things (and by far THE MOST tempting!) you can do is to reciprocate when your roommate's giving you problems. When Cupcake would keep me up into the wee hours of the morning with her noise, I would kick her bunk when she finally fell asleep. Immature? Absolutely. Helpful? Not at all. Felt good? YES.

Normally, she didn't even notice.

If there's one way to breed everlasting resentment between you and your roomie, it's by doing the same to them that they do to you. I know it's tempting. I know it's what 99% of people will tell you to do. "If they do it to you, do it back! Then they'll see how it feels."

90% of the time, no they won't.

Often, your roommate will not make the connection that what you are doing to them is the same thing they are doing to you. In their minds, it's different. You're being immature, but when they do the same thing they're just living their life/doing something they have to do/whatever. In their minds, they have a rationalization for doing what they're doing. That, or they don't realize at all that what they're doing is bad. So doing the same thing to them will not help them make the connection. Very rarely do you actually trigger that switch that says, "Hey, if I feel like this when she does this, maybe that's how she feels when I do it. Gosh, I think I'm going to stop now."

Most people do not have the practice (or willingness) to place themselves in your shoes like that.

Have You Had a Bad Roommate Experience? - What happened?

Did You Have a Roommate You Struggled With?

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Funny Roommate Stories and Tips - Because we all need a little laughter

Freshman year is a big deal. You want to make the most of it, right? Learn from others who have already been there in these cheap and hilarious books!

Don't like reading? You're in college. Learn to like reading. ;)

Tip #4: Get the "Big Guns" Involved - Sometimes You Can't Work on Your Own

As more and more of our inconsequential possessions went missing (things like shampoo, pencils, or hair ties), and since direct confrontation wasn't working for any of us, we decided to take it to the next level -- talk to the RA.

Your RA, or Resident Assisant, is there to help you with anything you need and any problems you might be having on your dorm floor. In a nutshell, an RA is a mediator. So, I approached my RA and explained that we'd been having such-and-such problems with Cupcake. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my suitemates approached the RA as well.

The RA was glad to step in and see what she could do to help. We all sat down and had a friendly meeting in the very relaxed atmosphere of her room. It was her, me, Cupcake, and our two suitemates. We discussed the problems, why we didn't like them, and how we might make a plan to stop them. We'd all agreed on a course of action, and we left to start off in what we hoped was a new direction.

It wasn't.

After the problems continued, the RA had another meeting, this time with just me and Cupcake. She directly confronted Cupcake, asking who had been taking everyone else's shampoo and using their things. But when Cupcake explained the ghosts in the bathroom, we knew that things were a little more complicated than just the RA. I'm not sure how any RA could be prepared to respond to a girl telling her that the ghost in the bathroom is stealing shampoo.

Needless to say that the RA passed us on to the RD, or Resident Director. She's the top gun in the dorm -- the "president," if you will. Our RDs live in our dorms in the only apartment-style suite in the building. They make it their life to oversee the dorm and ensure that it is a harmonious and productive living community. I had faith that, when the RA was stumped, the RD would come through.

It took five meetings with the RD to realize that Cupcake just wasn't going to listen to anything that anyone told her. Including the fact that ghosts have no need for shampoo. Or pencils. Or small bags of Doritos.

Tip #5: Consider Your Housing Options

The Housing Department is There to Help

If worst comes to worst (which it did with Cupcake), the decision was made that we'd be best apart. There was a room with only one person in a neighboring dorm, and Cupcake seemed to match her personality and habits more closely than she did mine. So, I bravely volunteered to stay behind with the ghosts. ;)

This was a huge project -- after all, the college doesn't usually intend that its students move halfway through their intended staying time. That being said, DO NOT rely on this method. It is an absolute last result for many reasons, not the least of which are that the college may not be so willing to do it, that another room or housing situation may not be available, or that one (or both) of you are completely averse to moving all the stuff you hauled into the room into a completely different one across campus.

In my situation, there was also extenuating circumstances as I was in the process of discovering my eventual diagnosis of Cochlear Hyperacusis, a hearing condition that gives me abnormally powerful hearing abilities (therefore making an already loud roommate louder and therefore very unhealthy). The hyperacusis coupled with Cupcake was leaving me sleepless and exhausted, with pounding headaches, and generally more unwell than I should have been. That is why she was the one to move and not me -- we were in the process of my doctor sending a note to the college for me to have single-room occupancy so that I could actually get some sleep.

So, do NOT rely on this method. But be sure to be in contact with your housing office about other possibilities if you've already talked to the RA and RD. In fact, they'll likely recommend you when it's time for a move if it's needed.

Tip #6: Don't Get Discouraged!

You Can Do It

I know! Living with a roommate who's not working out can be very difficult, frustrating, and sad. You wanted to make a best friend, and you've made what seems like a worst enemy. The days can seem so long when you have to share a room with your roomie not-so-dearest, but take heart. It won't last forever. You've got plenty of avenues to pursue in order to resolve your conflicts, and often some of the best friendships come out of a roommate situation that seemed to start out on the wrong foot.

And remember, even if you just can't resolve your problems and it comes down to you (or your roomie) moving somewhere else, don't hate them. When I first talked to Cupcake, I thought we'd be best friends. We had a lot of similar interests, but our living habits were just so different, and we had very different lifestyle needs. That was what put a strain on our relationship. To this day, the similarities we shared have allowed us to bond and be good friends. We're just not good living partners. THERE'S A DIFFERENCE.

That being said, don't get discouraged. Instead, embrace the good in every day and even embrace the bad. Dealing with a frustrating roommate has shaped my character, taught me to endure, and given me new perspectives. While it was one of the most difficult things I'd hoped I'd never experience, I'd never take it back.

Can Roommate Problems Be Resolved?

Can you ever really resolve problems between roomies?

Sure, it just takes work, understanding, and communication

Sure, it just takes work, understanding, and communication

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    • Faseeha Harthim 3 years ago from Malaysia

      I guess the best way to solve any problem is to do straight talk! Silent treatments never work. They only increase your blood pressure. Great post! I'm blessed with the best roomies!

    Not really. If you're different, you're different!

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      • anonymous 3 years ago

        The first step to any rooming situation should be to talk it out and try to resolve the issue. But after my own roommate experience I can say that it is hard and at times unhealthy for two completely different people to force themselves to continue living together. Being a freshman in college and living with someone that you do not get along with can be distracting to your studies, invasive on your social life, and could eventually effect your own outlook on yourself as a person.

      Useful Links Every College Student Can Use - What does this have to do with roommates?

      These are things I wish I would have had in my freshman year! So, what do these have to do with roommates? Strangely enough, forging a great roommate bond can come from just helping each other out. If you have these tools and your roomie doesn't, share! It can be a great way to create trust in your relationship.

      Going to college can be daunting, but it's definitely a worthwhile experience. However, I know from personal experience that sometimes you just can't find the answers you're looking for online or you just can't shake a certain fear that you have. Tell me about it in the comments! Chances are, I've felt that fear or couldn't find that answer too. I'll help you out as much as I can on anything and everything! :)

      Worried? Excited? Have Questions or Comments? - Ask me or tell me about it!

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        • carrieott profile image
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          carrieott 3 years ago

          @mel-kav: Wow, thanks! Glad you liked it. :)

        • mel-kav profile image

          mel-kav 3 years ago

          Interesting - great writing style.