By Arthur Jongebloed
Sharing a space with someone can challenging, especially when you are a creature of habit who is not used to being held accountable for the way in which you exist in your living spaces. Here are some lessons I’ve learned the hard way about being a person that others can actually live with.
1. Just because you have paid to stay in a shared space doesn’t mean you have free reign over your piece of the pie.
I once thought when I paid rent and room and board that meant what I used my room for was completely up to me. With my first roommate I quickly learned that is far from the truth. We were like oil and vinegar: he was quiet, antisocial and uncomfortable with drinking; I was a music-blasting wine lover and aspiring gay socialite. Instead of accepting our differences and meeting him halfway I was confrontational. I would have people over for a bottle of red and small talk even when he was around and clearly wanted his space. I ignored his obvious signs of irritation. Three weeks later, I was running around campus asking anyone I could find if they needed a roommate. We definitely weren’t matched well but I could have softened that uncomfortable period by not constantly playing the opposite of what he needed in a roommate.
2. Even when a roommate says they are cool with your living habits, pay attention to how they are affected.
I had a roommate that said he was cool with me working with a light on while he was asleep. He claimed he “could sleep through anything.” But when I pulled all-nighters in the comfort of my bed, he tossed and turned across from me. I wanted ask if I was bothering him by working in the room but I didn’t want to wake him and I preferred to keep working in bed if I could. In the morning he would look tired, and I would end up feeling like a jerk. Sad to leave my bed but tired of feeling guilty, I started to make the pilgrimage to the library all the way across the street from my dorm for late nights. I found that I was much more productive when I didn’t have to worry about whether or not my roommate could actually sleep or not.
3. Being “never there” doesn’t exonerate you from having responsibility in the goings on in the apartment.
Even if you’re using your place in New York just to sleep and shower, don’t leave all the upkeep to your housemates. That’s just puts all the necessary maintenance on others in the name of your “lifestyle.” When I was first in New York and out day and night, I didn’t use the kitchen sink so thought it wasn’t my problem. But when one of my housemates gave up being the only one taking care of the mess it became my problem! Roaches showed up in the kitchen and in my bedroom! If the other housemates and I had taken 3-5 minutes of our oh-so-busy day to just scrub a couple pots I wouldn’t have had the joy of a night spent with my best friend standing on a chair in the kitchen screaming and throwing his Balenciaga boots at anything that scuttled by. Put the requisite amount of love and care into the space you use so it doesn’t fall into decay.
4. Be open to having a dialogue with your roommate about what is bothering you or is making a living situation tense for one another.
Knowing this could’ve saved me a lot of pain but I didn’t learn it until my second roommate. At first we had a nice balance of when she or I could be alone, but after she had an issue with her health she spent all her time at home. It became increasingly difficult for me to adjust from having times of the day where I could be alone to having no alone time at all. I didn’t feel like I had the right to say anything since I knew that this change was due to her health issues but not addressing it created tension between us. In hindsight if I has raised my concerns it might have pushed her to get a medical single, which would have been better for the both of us.
5. If your living habits get called into question, no matter what the specific circumstances, apologize; fix the problem, then change habits for the better.
In one place I stayed one summer the kitchen was crazy gross. Mac- and-cheese-adhering-to-the-bottom-of-bowls and Rangers-cups-half-full-of-stale-beer-and-cigarette-butts level gross. Since it was that nasty and I was not excited about getting my hands dirty, I let my own dishes sit for a day before I was strong enough confront them. Well, two of my housemates got fed up and decided that because my dishes were in the sink, I was responsible for the entire mess and told the renter I needed to leave. I had to end up begging to stay and apologizing, promising to always keep the sink clean. Even though I wasn’t even mostly responsible and one of the housemates had raised a fuss because he had a chip on his shoulder, I kept that nasty kitchen clean for the rest of my stay. It wasn’t worth having to find a more expensive place over something as easy to solve as a messy kitchen and changing my behavior no longer made me the object of my housemate’s wrath.
Arthur Jongebloed is 20 years young. He owns a purple wig, glittery nail polish, and a shawl that makes him feel like Stevie Nicks. He has not one but two fairy godmothers, and is searching for his glass slippers and a place at the ball. Arthur is now living comfortably in Bushwick with a roommate from Le Mans who makes him want to explore France sometime soon.
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