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.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Singles and Roommates: How to Live With a Roommate

You've done your homework. You've interviewed your candidate, called references, checked credit, made copies of the signed lease. Now it's time to give your new roommate the key and get down to the business of living together.

Depending on how you conduct that delicate business, you can lay the foundation for a fantastic roommate relationship or the ninth circle of hell, in which a decided chill settles over your home. Here are some tips for how to live with your roommate and keep your relations warm and cozy:

1. Find a balance between time together and time apart.

If you want to foster good relations with your roommate, it's a great idea to cook dinner together or rent a movie on a regular basis, say once every week or two. But you'll also want to construct a flexible but constant partition between your lives. The unremitting presence of another person can be overkill even in the closest friendship, so make sure you get out of the house, whether it's to hang out with your own friends or just to go shopping.

2. Keep your personal belongings personal.

If you both have your DVDs in the living room, keep them on two separate racks. Assign each person his or her own shelf in the pantry and the linen closet. Keep your cosmetic or hair care products in your own drawer in the bathroom.

Singles who hold fast to the old maxim "share and share alike" may balk at this "petty" behavior, but the fact is that when the gift fairy was handing out personality traits, some people were blessed with heaps more generosity than others. Attitudes toward personal possessions can vary as widely as height and weight, and although one's comfort level with sharing can't be termed "right" or "wrong," it can cause conflict when it clashes with someone else's values. A roommate who thinks "what's mine is yours" will be hurt if her closet is always open to you but yours isn't to her. Conversely, if you treat your fridge like one big buffet and assume your roomie will replace what he consumes, you may be disappointed.

So don't be afraid to separate personal belongings. When you introduce your roommate to his own closet shelf, he'll get the idea. If you want to share some of your things, identify which ones upfront, as well as the conditions of their use. You can do this tactfully. For example, you might say,"By the way, if you'd like to watch one of my DVDs when I'm not home, go ahead. Just make sure you put it back when you're done." Or, "You're welcome to borrow my clothes as long as you ask me first of course." Be specific so that borrowing your belongings is the exception, not the rule.

And naturally, you should be respectful of your roommate's wishes, too. Don't take it personally if he or she doesn't want to share. Not everybody does, and that's okay as long as he or she doesn't expect to mooch off you instead.

3. Divide the chores.

Decide right away what level of cleanliness you expect from your roommate and divide the household chores accordingly. If you picked your roommate wisely, you'll be in agreement about how often the cleaning should be done. Assigning tasks can be done tactfully as well. For instance, when you explain how to use the vacuum cleaner, you might say, "I vacuum the common areas once a week. I figured we could take turns." If your roommate is well intentioned but forgetful, make a chart so you'll both know whose turn it is to do what.

4. If you have a problem, address it right away.

In my experience, there's nothing more divisive than letting a problem fester. If your roommate's post-midnight ukulele practice sessions are driving you nuts, tell him ASAP. The longer you wait, the more resentful you'll feel and the more likely your temper will erupt when you finally do confront him. Furthermore, if you don't speak up, you can set an unwitting precedent of acceptance. If her sculptor boyfriend has already been living on your sofa for six months, your roommate isn't going to understand why you want him out now. She'll be much more responsive if you inform her immediately that Le Artiste needs a studio of his own.

Again, remain as calm and polite as possible when discussing differences. There's a proverb that says "you'll accomplish more with sugar than salt," so speak with a honied tongue and avoid the salty language. :)

5. Don't make mountains out of molehills.

No matter what you do to smooth the transition, learning to live with someone is a journey paved with its own ruts and potholes. Your roommate isn't perfect, and neither are you. Expect that there will occasionally be tension, and not every problem will have an easy solution. At the end of the day, sometimes you have to compromise. When your roommate is making kissy sounds into the phone for the twentieth time in as many minutes, when you've stumbled over his shoes by the coffee table again, when she's digging into that odiferous Gorgonzola cheese with gusto, sometimes you just have to put on a happy face, shrug your shoulders, and remember that your favorite pickled herring isn't her lunch of choice, either.

Moving in with a roommate can be a test of patience, open-mindedness, and communicational skills. But with a few ground rules, you can pass the test with flying colors. People don't live in isolation, and if nothing else, rooming with someone is an educational experience that will improve your relations with coworkers, friends, family members, and maybe a future spouse. And, with a little luck, your roommate will become not just a boarder but a companion and friend.

Do you have a roommate or have you had one in the past? How has it worked out for you? What are some of your own tips for living peacefully with a roomie?

Fun Link of the Day


Anonymous said...

i just stumbled across you blog and i think it's great... i've lived with 10 roommates, 5 guys and 5 ladies, and i have to say the guys were way easier to get along with. they were messier and the bathroom wasn't immaculate, but they just understood the concept of personal space way better.

Clever Elsie said...

Hi! Welcome! I'm glad you're enjoying. :)

I've never lived with a male roommate, but my time spent at boyfriends' bachelor pads supports your experience.

I wonder why it is that guys seem to be more respectful of each other's privacy. I hate to generalize, but I wonder if it's because boys are socialized to be more independent than girls (note: I'm not saying that all men ARE more independent than women but that our society encourages this). That "lone wolf" mentality may make them less liable to poke around in each other's business. Girls, on the other hand, are raised in the school of social cliques and may have less respect for boundaries because of it.

Just a thought. I have no idea if it's accurate or not. I would love to hear some other perspectives on this. What do you all think?

bobbyboy said...

All very good points and advice. I think there is a cross-over rule of thumb that I come across in any type relationship and this says it quite nicely:

"The longer you wait, the more resentful you'll feel and the more likely your temper will erupt when you finally do confront him."

This is such a valid point and maybe the hardest one to enact?

"I wonder why it is that guys seem to be more respectful of each other's privacy."

I think it may have to do with guys not wanting there boundaries crossed (Their "stuff" touched), so they may be more apt to be the same way with others.

Wizardry said...

Yet again, another occasion where I can't really add to the topic. I haven't even been able to move out- I mean, I'm still in high school; what did you expect. But I do agree with Elsie's conclusion that girls are more inclined to talk and try to intervene on lots more things than guys. That, and guys also seem to have this thought of, "you don't mess with me, and I won't mess with you." Like, each man needs to win his own battles or something like that. Oh well- I'll make a good psychologist yet.

Clever Elsie said...

Bobby--Confrontation is hard, no matter when we do it and no matter how nice we are about it. I think part of our growth into adulthood includes developing the maturity to confront effectively when necessary. It's never easy, but like getting to work on time and paying the bills, we learn to do it anyway.

Thanks for sharing the male perspective! I'm sure that has a lot to do with it for most men. Good thought. :)

Victoria--I hope you'll feel free to jump into the conversation whether or not you've had personal experience with a particular topic. Not too far in the future, you probably will have the experience of living with a roommate, so it's always good to be prepared. ;)

Btw, considering the insight you display in your comments, I think you'd make a great psychologist!

doubtful dater said...

I am currently living alone but have thought about getting a room mate, great job article a lot of the points you brought up were in my thoughts. And thank you for the comment, I would love to exchange links with you, I love your writing as well...

Anonymous said...

a weird thing to add with what bobbyboy said - while the guys i lived with were very respectful of personal space, they had NO RESERVATIONS about eating anything in the fridge, even if it wasn't theirs. i had to write notes on my leftovers if i wanted to see them the next day. it's so strange given that they would scream at me if i moved anything while in their rooms.

Clever Elsie said...

Doubtful--Good luck with it if you do decide to find a roomie! I'm starting my blogroll today, so you'll be one of my first links. :)

Sub-urban--Hah! If I had to make an educated guess on this, I'd say that guys are raised with a sense of entitlement around food because they're used to mommy shopping and cooking for them. You know, milk guzzling from the carton is a hard habit to break. :) Wonder if Bobby has any insight into this!

bobbyboy said...

Yep Else, I think you are in the know about this issue. I believe boys are raised with a certain feeling of entitlement. I think it stems almost exclusively from the Mom for the reasons you sited and others.

Although, I am guilty of the milk carton guzzling, my sister was also so I'm not too sure about that particular issue.

I probably could go on and on, but I'll wait until someone makes this issue the topic. The bottom line is that there certainly is a Mom-son connection which gives the male a sense of entitlement.