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What to do about roommate awkwardness

A tired friend recently came to me, bleary-eyed and grumpy, to vent. She slept through her 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. class because her roommate and her roommate’s friends were loud and obnoxious and kept her up until 4 a.m. the previous night. These people had been over almost every night of the week so far, even once when my friend had an 8 a.m. exam the following morning. She looked so painfully exhausted that I had to ask how her roommate could be so inconsiderate as to have people over at ungodly hours during the night. Her response: “Well, I didn’t want to seem mean and antisocial by telling them to get out.”

This is a common college problem. One roommate needs to rest while the other is carefree and boisterous. I am all too familiar with such situations. My freshman year, I entered the roommate pool with no particular person in mind in order to be a part of the college experience. I ended up with an international student from Korea who often talked on the phone at odd hours because of the time difference, effectively keeping me from getting the rest I needed. My roommate would keep the lights on while typing long into the night for non-academic purposes, the click-clacking of the keyboard – a rapid-fire staccato against my cerebrum – rang out as I tried to drift off to sleep. How does one go about telling the person he or she is living with to change, especially without coming off sounding rude and bossy?

The approach really depends first and foremost on how long and how well you know the other person. If you just met, like my Korean roommate and I did, naturally it feels harder to assert yourself in instances like this. However, it is imperative that you talk about it. You don’t have to be the best of friends with your roommate, but since you are sharing the same space for a year, you should get along decently well. You may tell yourself that it is your roommate’s right to have friends over, but you also have the right to a good night’s sleep. It is your room too. Your roommate’s friends, on the other hand, do not live there. It is always best to speak up as early as possible before the problem has a chance to grow. Roommate agreements exist for a reason. Mutually decide on what is and is not okay for visiting hours, numbers of visitors, and anything else that could pose a problem for the two of you. If you don’t say anything, your roommate may assume you are totally fine with everything that has been going on. If that is not the case, you must say so. No one can be expected to know what you’re thinking if you don’t give voice to your thoughts. If you don’t talk to your roommate about what bothers you, things may escalate and then, sleep deprived and annoyed beyond all imagination, you might blow up at your roommate and the friends in question, resulting in a very sticky situation.

The same goes for significant others, although that deserves a smidgen more of tact. In my experience, it seems that guys are more relaxed about roommate situations. It either doesn’t strike them as a huge deal or they just don’t confront each other about such things. Even so, it can get awkward really fast if one person’s significant other is around all the time and the roommate isn’t entirely comfortable with it. There is such a thing as too much together time if it is intruding on the privacy of the other person who actually lives there. When discussing visitation guidelines (i.e. hours, frequency), it is best to discuss them directly with your roommate when the significant other is not around. That way, no one feels unwanted and gets huffy. Unless you have already talked to your roommate and nothing has changed, never involve the significant other in expressing your discomfort. It is nearly impossible to bring up this sort of thing without sounding like you don’t want them around, which is basically the case, but at least be respectful about it. Again, don’t wait for the annoyances to build up. One guy I know blew up at his roommate’s girlfriend when the roommate stepped out. Even though he prefaced his statement with “I don’t mean to sound rude…” it still came out poorly.

If you have exhausted everything humanly possible to maintain civility and still can’t get along with your roommate, that is when you should utilize the room change option. Like any relationship, sticking it out and trying to work out your differences is worth the trouble compared to the messy alternative. Try to last until the end of the semester if possible so it isn’t too jarring for all parties involved. Then, if you don’t want to admit that it’s your roommate that’s driving you crazy, you can always use the excuse that you want to live in a different location.

Have a problem? Contact our advice columnist at collegianadvice@gmail.com.

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