Dating and Relationship Advice

Content warning: Eating disorders and mental health

At least once a year, I have walked into a college roommate drenched in liquid. My junior year, it was alcohol after a night out gone wrong. My senior year, she had forgotten to put the lid on the blender and was wearing her protein smoothie instead of drinking it. My first year, however, it was blood.

Mina and I chose to become roommates after exchanging a few messages on the school’s roommate search platform. I liked that she was a different major than me and eager to join many clubs. She liked that I was indifferent about quiet hours and would be bringing a microwave. We exchanged some information and soon signed a contract for nine months. I discovered this was the equivalent of marrying your Tinder match after two texts.

Mina was a monstrosity of a mess for me. She had problems I couldn’t solve and issues I didn’t understand. It started affecting my school and job, even my ability to make and trust other friends. Soon, my whole life was in the palm of this random chick from Cincinnati’s hand. That’s the unexpected power of a roommate.

College, a cornerstone moment of adulthood consciousness, is a time of inevitable chaos in your social, work, academic, and mental health life. But, you can also wreak havoc on your home. Whether you’re living in a dorm, an apartment, a panhellenic house, or are a commuter, you will have roommates that force you to shapeshift and seriously consider becoming a hermit. Here are the 5 roommates you will have in college and, just as important, how to deal with them.

The Nightmare

Let’s get the worst out of the way first. Mina would be what I call the “nightmare” roommate. She had serious mental health concerns that I, a first-semester PoliSci major, was not equipped to handle. She was reckless and raucous, dangerous to herself in a way that became dangerous to me. Mina would bait me into her eating disorder and make me feel helpless and ineffective. She would binge and purge without ever responding to my pleas for help or offered resources.

But a nightmare roommate doesn’t always have to be like Mina. They can be silent and manipulative or loud and invasive. They push beyond the usual considerations; They don’t just leave dishes in the sink. They smash them against the wall. They don’t only invite people over unexpectedly; they dominate the space and drive you out. They don’t just leave their dirty laundry around; they air it out with other people on your floor.

Nightmares aren’t bad people — Mina isn’t a bad person — but they’re just not right for you. If you are dealing with a nightmare as a roommate, there is only one thing you can and should do: leave. If you can manage to study at the library every afternoon or pick up extra shifts: good. If you can make arrangements to move out: even better.

I used to believe that helping Mina would make me a better person, that repeatedly cleaning up her messes and drying her tears would make me stronger. It did — for a little while. At a certain point, I gained all I could from the situation, and instead of gathering knowledge, I was losing patience. Get out while you can and with as many marbles as you have left.

The Phantom

Pranjali and I lived together my sophomore year. I think. After a bad first-year experience, I let the universe decide my roommate situation through randomized partnering. The roommate I received lived like a ghost, Only appearing for brief moments and leading a life mainly of mystery.

After the troubles of the first year, I was eager to befriend Pranjali, or at least not vehemently dislike her. She might have been nice or totally mean. She either stayed up late studying or fell asleep with the light on or forgot to turn it off when she left every night, but the cracks underneath her door would stay lit nearly every hour we lived together. This dim, constant light lit our shared bathroom like a gentle apparition, softly and subtly reminding me of human existence but never crossing the line to my room. When you have a phantom as a roommate, be careful of the boundaries you cross. Don’t work too hard to be their friend, or you might drive them out. Instead, make a habit of leaving a peace offering, such as a small snack or an extra Tide Pod, to keep them a happy and friendly phantom.

The Ill-Fated Friend

After a year of late-night boba runs and unforgettable memories, I was sure that senior year with Annie would be full of laughs, late nights, and even more fun. We made plans to have pasta nights and sleepovers with our friends over the summer. We moved in with decorations, board games, and enough photographs to line the walls. This was going to be our year. And it was…until October.

Ultimately, intergroup fighting and tensions between our social circle weakened our relationship. Gossip between roommates led to gossip between others, and pretty soon, all our friends were involved in drama that sprang from our shared couch.

When you live with someone, your lives intersect. But when you live with a friend, lives start to overlap. You always think that you and your bestie will be different, that you are already so close that nothing could get in the way. That one time you slept over at her place two nights in a row, so living together must be easy, right? Wrong. If you’re planning on living with a close friend, there are three things to do to ensure it does not become ill-fated. First, make sure you have other non-mutual friends. You’ll need a refuge and a break. Second, adapt. If you’re anticipating compromise abound, you’re expecting too much. Be prepared to give more than you take if you want to keep the peace. Third, reflect — long and hard — if you’ve seen every angle of this person. If you love this person enough, you might even know that she’s the roommate that could never be, and you’ll want to stick to slumber parties once a month instead.

The Perfect Fit

They’re not the funniest, cleanest, and quietest in the morning but are there when needed. Marilyn was tidy, quiet, considerate, and kept to herself. But she also made sure that I felt useful and needed. She was never afraid to ask for help flipping through flashcards, or if I had a late-night snack, she could have.

The perfect fit will work like clockwork — if you shower in the morning, she’s someone who rinses off in the evening. But, just like clockwork, your time with the perfect fit will run out. Make sure to cherish, respect, and articulate gratitude for the perfect roommate fit before your time with them is gone.

Family

They will throw your clean towel on the ground if you leave it on their hook. They will finish the snack you planned on eating but share theirs when they only have a little left. They will cackle with you as you watch the same movies over and over again and wouldn’t dare make fun of your snort —because they have the same one. If you’re lucky, the fifth roommate you will have is family; someone you love so dearly that you don’t worry about changing yourself. You get put in your place and keep others in line. Whether it is your biological or chosen family, this roommate reminds you that home is where the heart —and the happiness —truly is.

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