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Rookie Mistakes in College
Dorms are notorious places for Rookie mistakes in college. Transitioning from life at home to a dorm situation can be difficult, especially when you have to learn to live with new people. You find out quickly that the relationship between roommates is not the same as between you and your siblings or parents. College roommates are not normally people that you know; they are random strangers that your college personality test determined you are unlikely to cage battle with. But just because it’s unlikely you’ll hammer-drop them does not mean conflict won’t arise.
Universities often use personality or aptitude tests to determine how well two people would fit together as college roommates. These tests look at things like hobbies, cleaning habits, pet peeves, and a couple other preference things. Of course, this is a flawless system—except when it isn’t. Which is unfortunately not that uncommon. As it turns out, just because two or three people share a similar interest in tv shows, it does not make them ideal college roommates.
But a perfect system for grouping people together does not exist. You know why? Because perfect people do not exist. There is no such thing as the perfect college roommates. It’s important to remember that as you head off to dorms or apartments where you will split the space and amenities and air you breathe with another person (or two). No two people think exactly the same or live exactly the same; everyone is coming from a different home with a different upbringing and different ideas of comfort and responsibility. Those differences can often result in some drama.
It usually doesn’t happen right away, but those little things that you tried to ignore at first, like them leaving dishes to soak or singing at the top of their lungs in the shower, start to build up over time. Maybe they listen to their music too loud. Maybe they like to bake but not clean up after themselves. Maybe they like to borrow food (without asking). Maybe they’re sloppy, or their dirty underwear never seems to find the laundry hamper. And after a while the frustration from all of that has built up and the next thing that annoys you, no matter how small, just sends you over the edge—and now you’re mad at each other.
Trust me, it happens. Expect that as part of college life, you will have some roommate problems. Some of the biggest college fails come from roommate drama. The key is learning now how to be a good roommate—and how not to. Roommate disagreements can happen over any number of things, some understandable, and some… completely ridiculous.
The Muffin Monster
When Tony was an upperclassman, he lived in a dorm with three other guys. For the most part, he and his roommates interacted only as they saw each other around the dorm and mostly kept to themselves; so long as everyone cleaned up after themselves and didn’t bother anyone else, they were “chill.” It was a functioning roommate situation.
Until, one day, someone threw a wrench into the works: a wrench in the shape of a tin of muffins. The muffins seemed to just show up. No one saw the muffins made, and no one started eating them, because, well, who were they supposed to ask for one?
The issue wasn’t that the muffins were made, because honestly, who doesn’t love a good muffin. The problem came when the muffins didn’t leave. The mystery man who had made them was apparently unsatisfied with how they turned out, so he didn’t eat them. He also didn’t get rid of them. Instead, he left them uncovered, in the shared kitchen, for weeks.
Time did its thing and the muffins started to mold over, but still no one cleaned them. None of Tony’s roommates would admit to making the muffins. None of them wanted to clean them up either, since they were supposed to clean up after themselves and cleaning them would look like admitting they made them. So, the four roommates were in a stand-off, all unwilling to admit they had made the muffins, and all unwilling to clean up after whoever had.
Time went on, the mold spread and the tension in the dorm thickened—until it snapped. The roommates stopped asking who had made the muffins and instead started accusing. They threw blame at each other, and whoever else they could by association. Tony was accused of making them, and when he denied it, his roommates assumed one of his friends must have done it.
Tony, reasonably angry at the assault on his character, insisted that he hadn’t made the muffins and that it didn’t make sense for anyone to lie about that, because they were only muffins. The roommates continued to point fingers at each other, but to no avail.
The culprit never came forward, and the accusations got them no closer to the truth, and much farther from each other.
Eventually, one of the roommates stepped up, threw the muffins in all their moldy glory away, and the matter was put to rest—but the words spoken, and the bitterness from the accusations remained.
Learning from College Roommate Mistakes
There are several things that could have been done differently with Tony and his roommates. The first? Clean up after yourself. The entire conflict could have been avoided had the person who made the muffins just cleaned them up. Roommates are not responsible for your mess. That’s basic. The second? He could have admitted it. Whoever made the muffins made a mistake, forgot about them, made a mess. It happens. When someone asked about it, he should have just admitted it, apologized, and cleaned it up.
When you make mistakes or messes, the best thing to do is just be honest about it. It’s not always easy, sometimes the mistake is embarrassing. I’ve been there many times. But look what happens when you aren’t honest. Lies, even about small and seemingly unimportant things, can tear apart groups of people. In college roommate situations, especially, choose truth and own up to mistakes that you make: you will maintain much more peaceful living situations that way. Believe me, it is much better to endure a little embarrassment over a mistake than to live in thick tension that you have to tiptoe around because it could snap at any moment.
College Roommate Agreements
A great method to help keep the peace is a roommate agreement. Your roommate cannot read your mind, and you can’t read theirs. Don’t assume that you know each other’s expectations or levels of comfort. Draft up a roommate agreement for things like kitchen and bathroom cleaning, quiet hours, guest rules, and what can and cannot be shared. All roommates must agree to the terms and sign the agreement (if you live in a dorm, include the Resident Assistant in the process). That way, when there is a conflict, you can refer to the agreement.
Dealing with college roommates can be a headache. People don’t always have the most rational responses to inconveniences or disagreements. It’s okay. We’re all human. Sometimes we fight over things that matter, and sometimes we fight over something stupid, but learning to navigate the roommate relationship to keep the peace is important, both for now and for when you shack up with someone for life.
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