Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Singles and Roommates: Choosing a Roommate

As a smart single of modest means, you've decided to "just say yes" to apartment shares! Now you just have to find a roommate who will help with the dishes, pick up her own underwear, set a new record for thirty-second showers, turn the TV off the minute you yawn, and do all this while paying the rent on the first of the month, every month. Can't be too hard, right?...Right?

And silence reigned over Singletude.

Okay, so it's not easy to find a roommate you can stand to see grinning in your kitchen every morning when the last thing you want to do is chit-chat about what the Dow is doing today. But with some foresight, caution, and common sense, you can choose a roomie who may not be your best friend but won't make you want to cower under the covers until he leaves for work, either.

Speaking of best friends, if you’re like a lot of singles, your first instinct is to move in with your Thelma or Louise. Proceed with caution from hereon. Sharing quarters has been known to divide many a friendship.

That’s not to say that rooming with a friend can’t work out. Friends tend to be both more predictable and more tolerant of each other than strangers since there’s a shared history and an interest in preserving the relationship. In my experience, living together can also present an opportunity to build a closer bond or, if you’re up for it, party like you’re still in college.

The downside is that if your best friend turns out to have domestic habits you were previously unaware of–say, a fondness for borrowing your clothes without permission or an overly generous spirit with copies of your house key–she or he could become an ex-best friend faster than you can change your lock. For as many success stories as I’ve heard about rooming with friends, there are twice as many horror stories. The bottom line: as hard as it is to find a good roommate, it’s harder to find a good friend, so before you sign the lease, make sure the two of you are compatible as roommates, not just bosom buddies.

On the other extreme, you could put an ad on Craigslist and hope Jennifer Jason Leigh doesn’t answer. Living with a stranger is generally a more demanding adjustment than moving in with a friend, but it has its own, often overlooked advantages. Unlike friends, since strangers don’t have any personal expectations, they’re not likely to spend much time together. Thus, both roommates can more easily maintain their boundaries and are less likely to burn out on too much time together or step on each other’s toes. Additionally, if there’s a conflict, strangers, who are less worried about hurting each other’s feelings, may feel more comfortable addressing it directly. And, in the end, if the situation deteriorates, they can part ways without the devastating loss of a loyal sidekick, a kindred spirit, or a childhood playmate.

On the other hand, letting a stranger waltz through your front door–and into your bathtub, your refrigerator, and your TiVo settings–is risky. There’s no way to know if they’re trustworthy or if they’ve hidden skeletons into your now shared closet. It’s impossible to predict if your lifestyles and habits will mesh. You have no clue how they’ll react under stress. You’re not even sure if they’re fiscally responsible, although you start praying for a check every month whether or not you’re a believer.

Perhaps the best compromise is to choose someone you know but aren’t close with, maybe a friend of a friend or a former coworker you see on occasion. Someone you know won’t run an international drug ring out of his bedroom but who has his own social life and outside interests. Someone you could have a drink with now and then before you eventually go your separate ways with no hard feelings.

Whether you pick a friend, an acquaintance, or a total stranger, you'll want to have a chat before you pack your suitcase. Here are some points you'll want to cover:

1. Sleep Schedules
Birds of a feather flock together, and that applies to early birds, too. If you wake at six o'clock on the dot, you may not want a roommate whose circadian rhythm peaks at two am. Just a thought.

2. Work Schedules

Most roommates would like a break from each other at least part-time. If you're a work-at-home freelancer, you may want to give priority to that investment banker who lives at the office and is really using your place as a crash pad.

You'll also want to find out what time your potential roommate leaves for work in the morning. If your own departure time requires that you two battle over the bathroom, you're going to get very tired of trying to brush your teeth over the kitchen sink.

3. Housekeeping

Ask your possible roommate about cleanliness. It can be hard to get a straight answer about this because people who don't clean up after themselves don't always want to admit it. If you're a neatnik and clutter would bother you, make it clear that you can't live with someone who doesn't pick up after himself. Conversely, if you're the sloppy one, be honest about that, too. You won't want to live with someone who's always nagging you to take the dishes out of the sink before the roaches get to them.

4. Social Life

Does your roommate like to party? If so, will she bring the party home? If your friends teasingly call you "The Librarian," are you going to be happy about that? Or maybe the situation is reversed. Maybe 15 of your closest friends get comfy on your sofa every day, while your roomie candidate prefers to lock his bedroom door and work on his doctoral dissertation. Lifestyle differences like these can cause needless frustration for roommates who don't ask about them upfront.

5. Leisure Activities

You want to know what your aspiring roomie does in his or her spare time. If that guy with the ring through his eyelid and the bar in his chin listens to the kind of music you think he does, how often does he play it and how loudly? Music, TV, computer games, or anything else at top volume for any length of time can be distracting at best and slow torture at worst, particularly if you don't like what's blasting over the speakers.

If you're sharing a TV or other equipment, you'll also want to make sure your new roommate isn't addicted to a show that airs at the same time as your beloved Lost, American Idol, or Grey's Anatomy.

6. Pets

If you have pets, you need to make sure your roommate will be comfortable with them and respectful of them. If possible, introduce your candidate to Fido and Fluffy during the interview and watch how he or she interacts with them. If your roommate will also be bringing furry friends, you should meet them as well and arrange a "play date" for any current animal residents to make sure everyone gets along. You don't want to find out Fluffy and Tiger don't like each other after Fluffy takes a chunk out of Tiger's ear.

7. Financial Security

This is an important one. Be absolutely clear about how much rent money you expect each month, when you expect to get it, and in what form it should be delivered. If you want a certain amount down and/or security, you must specify this, too. If there's a lease to sign, you should review the terms. You should also be explicit about what's included in the rent. If your roommate will need to contribute to utilities, cable and Internet, a housekeeper, or anything else, he or she should be informed of it at the interview.

Ask about employment. You'll want to avoid anyone who doesn't have a stable source of income. You're within your rights to run a credit check and request a reference from an employer or former landlord before you let someone take up residence in your home. (If you're shopping for a new place together, the broker will take care of this for you.)

8. Personal References
On a related note, if someone is serious about moving in with you, he or she should be willing to furnish personal references from former roommates who can vouch that your applicant is sane and doesn't have a criminal record. Things like that.

9. Ground Rules

Establishing your ground rules just might be the most important part of the interview. This is your chance to spell out exactly what is and isn't acceptable in your household. Is your roommate allowed to have overnight guests? If so, how many nights a week? Will he or she have full access to the house or apartment, or are some rooms off-limits? Are you a vegetarian who doesn't permit meat in the kitchen? Are you allergic to certain scents that your roommate can't wear? How will you divide up household chores? What items does your roommate need to bring and which of them can be shared? It's best to discuss your policy on all these things now so that you won't be surprised later!

Also be forthcoming about yourself and any habits or living arrangements you have that could irritate or disturb a roommate. Although you may have the urge to downplay them, if you haven't portrayed your quirks realistically, a disgruntled roommate could back out prematurely and leave you in the lurch.

And now, to assist you with the interviewing process, a translation of commonly heard potential roommate euphemisms:

"I'm not out that late, and when I am, I'm really quiet." = Buy your earplugs now while they're on sale.
"I'm a fairly light sleeper." = Don't you dare get up to pee!
"I have a flexible schedule."= I'll be in your way a lot.
"Sharing the bathroom has never been a problem." = For me. Because I don't share.
"I'm clean, but I'm not a neat freak or anything./I clean up after myself, but I'm not OCD." = I like making postmodernist sculptures out of the pots and pans in the kitchen sink./Some of my best friends are rats, lice, and cockroaches.
"I mostly keep to myself." = Until my alter comes out to play.
"I don't like unsociable people./I'm not crazy, but I like to have fun." = I could put my subwoofer in this corner, and the strobe lights would go over there...Oooh, how many people can fit in the whirlpool tub?
"I don't listen to loud music." = Death metal is a very maligned genre.
"I don't have pets." = Just my komodo dragon. I don't consider him a pet. He's his own person.
"I'm an entrepreneur." = I'm unemployed.
"Would it be all right if my boyfriend stays over once in awhile?" = Would it be all right if my boyfriend moves in?

If you keep the above checklist in mind when interviewing candidates, you'll be well on your way to identifying the best match for you. But even the most compatible roommates can rub each other the wrong way when they have to live together 24/7. Tomorrow's blog will suggest ways to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Do you live or have you ever lived with roommates? If so, how did you choose your roommates? What criteria did you use?

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Anonymous said...

Nice Single White Female nod; that said, I wouldn't much mind JJL moving in, only to start mimicking my look -- I think it would be all sorts of freaky-fresh fun.

Blister Herzog MD.

bobbyboy said...

My room mates are the by product of a relationship. I find it a bit funny that I have been living many of the things you discussed here as a prerequisite to picking a room mate.

If I ever do decide on a room mate, I'll certainly re-read this post again! Very helpful.

Clever Elsie said...

Blister--I hope you're not planning on prescribing any meds with that MD. ;)

Bobby--Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. Now that you know what not to do from experience, I'm sure your next roommate situation will be refreshingly different. :)