Friday, May 29, 2009

Hey Roomie!: Strategies for Living with Your Room-mates, Housemates, (and Other People) Without Outwardly Breaking the Fifth Commandment.

Stuff I've gleaned from doin' it, readin' 'bout it, thinkin' it throoo and talkin' it ovah.

· If this arrangement is going to work out, you’ve got to go into it PLANNING on MAKING IT WORK! If you don’t want it to work, then, believe me, it won’t. A healthy relationship takes effort and sacrifice– a ton of it.

Most of your relationships up till now you entered into by choice. You were attracted to something about the other person or shared a certain something (activity, quality, characteristic) in common. This is different. The only thing you are certain to share with your roomie is your room. That means you’re going to have to cultivate a relationship from the ground up, even if you’d rather not. Don’t think you can ignore this person – there’s nothing like a stranger in your private refuge. In order to be able to take any relaxation at all in your quarters, you’ve got to learn to relax with and trust your room-mate. The converse is also true. Make your roomie miserable and her miserableness will make you miserable.
Don’t start out pessimistic about the arrangement. If you do, your prophecy may very well become self-fulfilling. Go into the situation dissatisfied and things will deteriorate from there.

· Talk to your roomie! Communication is critical here. Don’t just think and look pitiful and expect her to get it. She won’t and she’ll freak out. Tell her what’s on your mind and what’s bugging you (even if you have to abbreviate it or explain it simplistically). That way, she’ll get to know how to interpret you and she’ll understand why you are acting the way you do. Explain your reasoning behind your feelings and acting so that she can understand why something bugs you. She might not think the way you do and might not understand why you are upset otherwise.

· Listen to her! This is even more important than talking. And I’m not referring to staring at the wall and grunting while she’s speaking. I mean ACTIVE LISTENING. Look at her when she’s talking to you. If you can, stop what you are doing and give her your complete attention. Don’t interrupt her. When she’s finished speaking, let her know you heard what she said by summarizing it back to her. Ask her if this is what she is saying. Ask questions to clarify and let her know you are concerned about her.

· Make your roomie your first research project. I don’t mean rooting out all the little tidbits of her life. I mean, RECOGNIZE THAT YOU KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT THIS GIRL! Honestly. The stuff you assume about her probably isn’t accurate. Don’t assume you understand how she feels, what she’s going through, what she wants, how she will act, or EVEN WHAT HER WORDS MEAN! Her whole life and background has probably been completely different from yours.
So FIND OUT ABOUT HER. Ask her about what is important to her. Be interested in what she’s interested in for the sake of understanding her. Don’t be dismissive or ridicule what she values, but try to understand why she values it. Find out what gives her pleasure and what makes her uncomfortable and afraid. And PET HER A LITTLE BIT! She’s scared, ok? Help her feel comfortable in the way that makes her comfortable if it is at all right and within your power. Usually, it takes only a very little effort to comment about her nice sports shoes or encourage her to sign up for the Intramural team she really wants to be on, or help her carry her bags up the stairs, or walk with her to the cafeteria. You’ll be amazed how far a little interest in your roomie will go.

· Talk about living arrangements from the get-go. You’ve got to have some mutual understanding about how you are going to live, what is off limits, and what you must get each other’s permission for. DEFINE THE PERAMETERS AND LEAVE NOTHING UNSAID! Don’t be afraid to discuss even the most basic and ridiculous little things. Don’t assume that, of course we’ll both do this or that. Develop a basic understanding about the fundamentals of your life together and agree upon rules that will define your relationship and guard your trust of one another. Hope College had a very nice list of things roommates had to discuss and agree upon within the first week of school. We actually had to sign it and turn it into the R.A. to be used to settle any disagreements later in the year. If you are not given such a form, seriously consider writing up one between your room-mate and you. Discuss such things as:

Ø Curfew

Ø Who is allowed in the room and when (includes parents and sibs)

Ø Locking doors (when and who gets a key? You might also want to lock up some of your own valuables.)

Ø What stuff of yours is off limits (e.g. your clothes, cell phone), what stuff can be shared (e.g. tissue box, alarm clock, fans), and what stuff you’ll lend to her when she asks (e.g. stationary, blank paper, pencil).

Ø Bathroom, Cosmetic, toiletry arrangements. (If you have one mirror, sink, toilet or shower between the two of you, who gets it when and for how long?)

Ø Dressing. What is your room-mate comfortable with? (Some of us girls are squeamish about dressing in front of others. Some are very, very not and a few can be almost in your face about it. My room-mate and I were both more on the super-modest end of the spectrum. When my room-mate was in the room, I often took my clothes to a shower stall in the [communal] bathroom to change. She often did likewise. If one of us was still in bed, we accommodated each other by turning toward the wall. If one needed to quickly change for something, one asked first before whipping into and out of clothing. It was much like privacy arrangements were when me and my sisters shared a room)

Ø Friend arrangements. What are friends allowed when it comes to your room? Can they ever be invited to sleep over? Can they walk in at any time? Is all socializing to be outside of the room? If your roomie’s friends come into the room while you are gone, will your roomie keep an eye on your stuff and vice versa? How will friends let you know that they’ve been by to see you? Do you have a message board for the door or will your roomie leave you a note?

Ø Sleeping, Studying and Late Night Hours. How much sleep do you and your roomie want to get a night? What conditions do you both need to sleep – dark, semi dark, nightlight, shades drawn, computer screen ok? What are your sleep patterns: are you a morning person or a night person? Do you sleep-walk or talk and how seriously are you to be taken if you randomly start talking at night? (I scared my room-mate the very first night by talking about a heart-attack in my sleep :D )

At some point, one of you is going to have to put in some late night hours or study or work. What are you going to do in this situation? Where will the night owl work? (Renee and I had a really nice system worked out. Whenever the first one of us wanted to go to bed, the other agreed to either put up her work and turn in also, or take the work out to the hall, study lounge, or library. We left a small flashlight in a designated place so that the late one wouldn’t have to turn on the lights when she finally went to bed. We both had our share of being the late one. In the morning, we usually got up together, but if one wanted to sleep longer, the other used the flashlight again [or just the morning light] to gather what she needed. If we went to bed at the same time, we asked each other what time each girl planned to get up so that we could plan accordingly and not be surprised in the morning.)

Ø Music, Cell Phones, TV, video games, singing, playing instruments. Talk about what’s acceptable when. Do you prefer your roommate to take long telephone calls outside of the room? Do you mind her playing music or watching television? Only at certain times? What other noisy/potentially distracting things bother each of you or would you both prefer to limit? Are there certain categories of media either of you has moral or religious objections to?

Ø Religious observance and Politics. Do either of you expect to use your room for any sort of religious activity and how does the other feel about that? (includes devotions and religious symbols/imagery.)How much of the other’s religion or political stance will the other one stomach? How much is too much? Agree to be sensitive and respectful if not totally in accord.

Ø Decorations, pictures, graphics. Do you have any strong feelings about how the room is decorated? (Do you really just loathe that Artic Cicada Boa Constrictor hanging from the ceiling above your roomie at night? Don’t make critical remarks about it that leave her wondering or feeling insulted – just gently tell her that it bothers you, why it does, and suggest an alternative arrangement for the honorable impossible snake. ) What genre of pictures is acceptable to both of you? (Make sure porn is not an option, even though this may seem obvious.)

Ø Conflict Resolution. At some point you guys are going to rub each other the wrong way. You’re human, adolescent, female, strangers, and in a tight space. C’mon, it’ll happen. And it’ll certainly be both of your fault when it does. Discuss how you both want to resolve controversy and conflict. If your room-mate needs to talk it out with someone besides you, who is alright? Obviously you don’t want your laundry spread around the dorm. Will you both trust the Resident Advisor or Resident Director to mediate? What about a mutual friend? Agree to talk to each other about problems before griping to others. Agree to take complaints, requests, and suggestions graciously. Agree to work together to solve problems. Talk about a cool-down time, if you really blow the top, so that you can have a little space from each other.

Ø Accountability, Care, and Keeping Tabs. How much do you want to keep track of each other? A campus can be a big place and there may not be many there who will stop to ask questions if you don’t show up to class. Do you want to know/tell your room-mate roughly where she/you will be that day so that you can cover each other’s safety? If one of you wants to go to a party or other place, is the other willing to come along for security? How much notice do you need of major changes in her routine/special events and vice versa? If one of you gets sick, what should the other one do? How much care can you or are you willing to give? Whom should you call? What do you do for each other in an emergency – i.e. who should be notified of what?

Ø Alcohol, Drugs, and Tobacco. First of all, what are the campus regulations for these things? Settle whether you and your room-mate are going to abide by the regs. Seriously! Within legality, what are your views, concerns, health needs, etc. concerning these things? What can you both not tolerate? What will one of you do if the other is acting illegally with these substances or has them in the room?

Ø Males. Are they allowed in the room? When and under what circumstances? What are they allowed to do in the room? What are they allowed to say in the room?

Side Note: Jammies probably shouldn’t be skimpy. There’ll probably be guys passing through the hall quite often if you’re in one of those dorm arrangements where guys are in one wing and girls in another separated by a stair. Running to a communal bathroom could get awkward. Bring a robe definitely if you’re not one of those who wear presentable PJs.

Ø Cleaning and Laundry. Who will clean your room and how often? Where will you put the laundry and trash? How often will each of you do your laundry? What level of tidiness is preferable? What level is barely tolerable?

Ø What will you do if one of you doesn’t abide by what you have agreed upon concerning the above?

· Be explicit. NO CONTEXT-RICH COMMUNICATION! Yes, we all love to leave things unsaid and simply understood between us. We like fun language with implicit meaning. RESIST THE URGE TO LEAVE THINGS MERELY “UNDERSTOOD” AND "UNSTATED!” It’ll just frustrate you both if you think you’ve said one thing, and your room-mate smiles and nods, thinking she’s understood you when she hasn’t or just doesn’t want to embarrass herself by asking what you mean. If your roomie uses context-rich language, SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE AND ASK HER WHAT SHE MEANS EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU UNDERSTAND HER OR IF IT MAKE S YOU LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT. It’ll save you grief later.

Say exactly what you mean in the clearest way possible (in so far as you can say exactly what you mean). At the same time, be tactful! Explain everything in the kindest way with the best possible interpretation of every scenario. If you are hurt by something your room-mate says or does, ask her about it. She probably doesn’t even realize she hurt you and likely didn’t mean you to take it in that way at all. If you hurt her, don’t be ashamed to apologize and ask her forgiveness. If she apologizes to you, don’t just mumble or look away or say, “That’s OK.” Such responses don’t bring closure to a bruised situation. Explicitly express forgiveness and bury the dead horse so neither you, she, or her friends can kick it again! (There’s my little context rich insertion into an otherwise explicit paragraph.)

· Identify communication barriers. Some people just don’t have the vocabulary you do. Words might be hard to find or might mean different things to her than they do to you. Hear with your heart and don’t pull her verbal message to shreds, even if it’s tempting. That won’t help anything. Recognize that the meaning she is trying to get across to you is probably not the exact literal meaning of her words, especially if she is worked up. Give her space and attention. Hear and try to understand before you talk. Summarize your understanding of her thoughts and let her clarify herself before you start to respond to her message.

RESIST THE URGE TO DEFEND / JUSTIFY YOURSELF! That’s the last thing you need when someone’s been intentionally or unintentionally hurt if you want to resolve the situation. Even if your intentions were good, somebody got hurt and you were part of the act that did it. Admit you blew it. It won’t hurt you to apologize. You won’t lose anything but your pride, and you’ve got more where that came from. :D (Too bad we can’t lose it all.) Not saying you can’t explain your good motivations – doing so will help your roomie understand why you did what you did – but make that PART of the apology, not preamble or modifier to it.

· Decide beforehand how you will deal with your little aggravations with your room-mate’s harmless quirks. Try your best not to show unnecessary irritation, especially with little qualities that are part of your room-mates personality. If they get too annoying, nicely ask her to cut down on them. She probably hasn’t a clue that they bug you.

· Please, acknowledge and be genial to your roomie’s friends. The last thing she needs is for you to ignore or belittle her friends – especially since she’s probably a little insecure in herself and in her new found friendships. You’re the only “family substitute” she’s got and she wants you to like and be nice to the people she’s trying to be friendly with. She wants them to like you. Don’t add to her stress, because you’ll be living with it. :D

· Remember that your roomie is NOT “out to get you.” She’s probably just as nervous and stressed as you are about living with another person. If you have to have a room-mate in the first place, it’s likely because there wasn’t enough room for everybody who wanted one to have a private room. That means that if she has to move out, she’ll probably end up rooming with the other person nobody wants to live with. She’s got a vested interest in making the room situation work.

My Mother always told me, “Never attribute to malice what can be accounted for by stupidity.” It’s good advice. The stupidity may even be your own and not hers.
Try to see problems and situations from her perspective. To do this, you have to ask about her perspective. When finding solutions to situations, make sure the solution will fix the problem from her perspective as well as your own.

· At the same time, don’t let her walk all over you either. Be firm when you need to be firm and KEEP YOUR WORD! If you said you would do something – do it, even if it’s something she’s not going to like. If you get into a situation where you are afraid of damage to yourself or your stuff from your room-mate, DON’T STAY IN THE SITUATION. Get help. Talk to your friends. Talk to your R.A and R.D. Talk to your parents.

· Remember that you both are females and have a lot of chemicals kicking around in your system. Eventually, both of you will probably start cycling in sync with each other. That means that if you are having a bad day, it’s likely that your roomie is too. Learn to recognize when you are being influenced by your physiology and not reality. Take a break and ride it out. Just try not to stress out about anything for a day or so. Things will likely look a lot brighter then and you’ll have a clearer perception of what’s going on. Your room-mate will too. Learn to recognize when your roomie is under stress as well. Learn to recognize when she just needs some space. Don’t take anything she says during these times personally. It’ll save you a lot of trouble.
I’d venture to bet that all my serious tension with my room-mate happened when one of us was either under extraordinary pressure, under hormonal influence, or didn’t look at things from the other person’s perspective. Most of the times, two or more of these things were combined.

· Your room-mate is either your most valuable ally or your most dangerous enemy in day to day life. Mundane living and nightly rest makes or breaks your academic life. This means that even if your roomie isn’t important to you as a person (because you’re a self-centered semi-truck ready to run everybody else off the road, or something like that) you still have a vested interest in her success, comfort, relaxation, and welfare. She’s not disposable. Invest time and concern in getting to know her, going out of your way to help and listen to her, and work at understanding her world. Her way of seeing the world might not make sense to you – but don’t ridicule it if it doesn’t. Yours probably looks just as silly to her. Finally, don’t give up if she has a bad day, or hide yourself away if you blow it. Keep praying for her, forgive, be forgiven, and make her concerns your own.

Yes, and I know I've forgotten something, but if you've gotten to the end of this post, you probably don't want to hear me repeat myself again!


Nat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nat said...

A very good post, but one part seemed odd to me:

"Most of your relationships up till now you entered into by choice. You were attracted to something about the other person or shared a certain something (activity, quality, characteristic) in common. This is different. The only thing you are certain to share with your roomie is your room. That means you’re going to have to cultivate a relationship from the ground up, even if you’d rather not."I see the logic in this, but I was thinking just the opposite. People I meet I either become friends with, or I don't. I don't look at people and decide whether to be friends with them or not. But whether one is on friendly terms with one's roommate presumably rests on whether or not one chooses to act on, for instance, the advise in your post.

Nat said...

Forgive the poor formatting. I tried posting it again but for some reason it ended up the same way.

Uncle Ick said...

Everyone who is my friend didn't really have a choice. I stuck to them like a plague until they were forced to accept me as a friend.

I can see what both of You mean. What Nat says is true when you meet someone they are either going to be your friend or not. When you meet someone like you that has the same characteristics and upbringing for example chances are you two are going to be friends even if for some reason or another you might not want to. There are people that "pick" their friends but most of the "chosen" friends are going to be people the person picked because they were popular or cool. You can't really choose a real friend. But Sarah is right because you have the choice of whether you will or wont interact with someone. You can't really have a friend if you don't interact with them so in that case you could to some extent control who your friends are.

TruthQuestioner said...

:D Ah, clarification. (See, this is what communication with other people is all about! Constant feedback and feedforward in order to communicate certain meaning! I'm lovin' it. :P )

What I meant to say is not that friends are picked by choice, though, as Nick mentions, some do do do that. Friends however have a certain "something" to bind them together in a mutually affectionate relationship. It could be love of chatter. It could be emotional support. It could be playing in the mud. It could be throwing sticks at each other. But there's some sort of attraction holding the two parties together.There's an emotional glue - not just one of proximity.

Friends also don't have to live with each other. You DO get to decide under what circumstances you want to engage your friend.

Your room-mate is different. Your room-mate and you do not automatically have any emotional bond, mutual attraction, or even a shared activity or worldview. You stay in close proximity because you have to: you communicate because you have to. At least initially. Hopefully, you'll develop a friendship which will faciliate and enrich your living.

If you don't at least develop a mutual understanding and a relationship of mutual regard for the other's wellbeing - if not a friendship -(I've seen this happen to friends) you might find yourself under fire in your own room, a stranger to your own living mate, without a place of refuge and relaxation to call your own. 'dat be not a situation you want when you're studying.

Nat said...

Well, sure, but I don't see as that's different from just saying that friends tend to be friends for a reason. :D (and, just to be nitpicky, it IS possible for two people to be friends as a result of mere proximity. It's not a sure thing though.)

Obviously you're right about the non-preferability of a permanent enemy in your room. Some neologisms occur to me in relation to that, but... nothing particularly useful.

Uncle Ick said...

you could always lock the door when you are the only one in your room. Just make sure you take your room mate's key

Nana said...

good advice Sarah.