Introducing Space Relations, a New Column About Dealing with Roommates

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Starting from the time you move out of your parents’ house, a number of things happen that signify your independence. Some of these things, like sleeping over at a boy’s house, are unquestionable perks. But others, like living with roommates, come with a wide range of unforeseen disadvantages. For instance, who’s had a roommate who somehow never remembered that rent is always due on the first of the month?! (Answer: Everyone.) Luckily, I’m here to help! Space Relations is a new weekly feature that will expose the not-so-fun aspects of living with roommates and offer pointers about how to navigate sticky situations without losing a friend or giving up and moving out.

But before we get into the nitty gritty of all that drama, allow me to introduce myself and explain my roommate credentials. I’m a New York transplant originally from the South, and I have had a grand total of 15 roommates over the span of 10 years. That’s a lot of roommates, people! And no, there weren’t any communal living exercises where a half-dozen people lived together at any given time, so my experiences all come from your average two and three-bedroom (and dorm) living arrangements.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Fifteen roommates doesn’t make you qualified to give advice. It just means you suck to live with!” But I promise that’s not the case. What I’ve learned over the years is that everyone has qualities that make him or her the best roommate in the world … as well as the most unbearable one. And that’s why figuring out how to deal with basic things like dirty dishes can be so frustrating. It’s hard to talk to roommates about chores, or loud music, or floating condoms in the toilet, without sounding like their mother. And nobody leaves home so they can live with another version of their judgmental, nagging mom.

Throughout the past decade, I’ve lived with quiet types, loud types, drunken types. Sometimes, inexplicably, a single roommate can be all of those things rolled into one, depending on the time of day. (Hint: Those times of day are not what you think!) A few of my roommates remain my best friends to this day. A few lasted less than a year. One changed her name and sexual orientation…twice. But only once while we lived together.  There have been screaming matches, cleaning wars, disputes about borrowing a hairbrush. And yet, amazingly, I survived them all. I know I’m not the only one out there who’s thought to herself, “Wait, I lived with that singer who practiced her scales all night for an entire year?” Looking back, it seems pretty incredible. Granted, I did live alone for a year to “detox” from Crazy Roommate Syndrome, but that year hardly registers in all the memories I have – good and bad – of living with others. Somehow those memories stand out more.

By far the most consistent thing I can report from the trenches is all the complaining I did. No matter how good a friend the roommate was, or how infrequently he or she was home, I complained to anyone who would listen about the things that sucked about living with roommates. Of course, no one cared about my whining, but a few patiently listened, offering advice so that perhaps the next go-round, I’d use Craigslist more wisely. I’d consider a person’s occupation, such as “drug dealer,” before inviting them into my home to live. I’d know to simply keep ALL of the cotton balls in my closet, so that no one else could use them. Or to turn the bathroom doorknob if I wanted to be respectful, versus not turning it at all – ka-CHUNK! – if I wanted to passive-aggressively get back at someone sleeping. (Just kidding. Passive-aggressive games are soo beneath me!) Tidbits like these, combined with my years of “doing time,” have helped to provide clarity on roommate situations, and to this day I just want to spread that knowledge like a virus. A virus that you could get from the dorm showers if you’re not careful.

So each week, join me for quick tips on everything from how to handle your first ever roommate, to splitting up the bills and groceries, to having sex at home without grossing out your housemates. None of the tips will include putting up a star chart. You can also email me at roommates AT crushable DOT com to suggest column topics, ask personal advice, or share whatever is on your mind. But don’t be shy in the comments below. Nothing is more entertaining than reading and sharing your own roommate experiences, and we’ve all got a few. Or a thousand.

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    • Jessica

      I would like opinions on this current predicament… My boyfriend and I moved to a 2bed/2bath apartment recently and gained a roommate. Should we split the rent 3 ways or ask that the roommate pay 1/2 the rent since my boyfriend and I share a bedroom? We have all been living together now 2 months so I don’t know if it is too late to ask him to pay more. We’ve also thought to ask if he would be willing to pay the cable bill on his own and call it a day. I would love to know other’s opinions. Also, my boyfriend and I own a cat and a dog, but the roommate does not have any responsibility with our animals. He actually likes them very much.

    • L

      I would split the rent by rooms (the roommate pays 1/2) and then split utilities 3 ways. It seems simplest unless you want to take in other aspects such as if your room is significantly larger than his, you have a private bathroom whereas his will always be used by guests, etc.