Is a piece of cake enough to end a five-year friendship?
For Jill Riddle, a graduate of Corban College (corban.edu) in Salem, Ore., a late-night bakery treat nearly was.
After all, her best-friend-turned-roommate had left it under a desk chair for an entire semester. Along with the fossilized cake, Riddle discovered something equally as shocking after two months of college life: Rooming with a high school friend can be harder than living with a stranger.
“The cake was a horror story,” Riddle says. “But at least I knew she was messy before we moved in together.”
Sometimes, even knowing everything about someone isn’t enough to prepare you for rooming with a friend.
The familiar takes an unfamiliar turn
As a freshman, everything is new and intimidating, so why not cling to a buddy you know better than your high school fight song?
Sherri Dement has met plenty of freshmen who handle the apprehension by living with a friend. As the former women’s residence director of Lubbock Christian University (lcu.edu) in Texas, Dement saw ready-made roommates every fall. They would stick together for a few months, but when the newness of living together wore thin, so did their fondness for each other, she says.
Sometimes the friendship doesn’t even last until midterms. Dement once moved two warring friends into separate dorms after a mere two weeks of togetherness.
“They wanted to be roommates because they didn’t know anyone else,” Dement explains. “But they didn’t match up personality wise.”
Rachel Klas, assistant resident dean of women at Northwest University (northwestu.edu) in Kirkland, Wash., oversees approximately 275 female dorm residents. She says that friends who part as enemies can blame the change on lack of old-fashioned communication.
“Friend-roommates often do not share expectations with each other,” Klas explains. “Living together is very different than spending a lot of time at each other’s houses.”
You may love your comfortable relationship, but that same predictability can send a friendship off course. So when you make new buddies, Klas points out, it often leaves one roomie silently upset and confused about his or her new role.
“Sometimes friend-roommates compound the problem by thinking the other knows how they feel and is just doing it to hurt them,” she says. In other words, your roommate might be clueless about your anger over his new workout partner, not rubbing in his popularity like you thought.
So what do you do when your roommate just isn’t the person you presumed? “Be honest and blunt about your thoughts and desires from the very beginning,” Klas says. “Then, communicate when those expectations are violated.”
We’re fighting—now what?
Jonathan Yorkowitz, the resident dean of men at NU, says the healthiest friendships are flexible and independent.
students should give each other some room to live outside their
friendship, including not going home every weekend together,” he says.
also encourages all roommates to experience new things together, like
hiking trips, exploring downtown or attending sporting events. If
you’re dreading your dorm room, Roy Worley, the Johnson Hall
residence director at LCU, says it’s time to take action. Worley
recommends first talking with your RA, who is trained to handle
roommate conflicts. He or she might solve the problem or point you to
someone who can. Making a stop at your campus counseling center might
Changing roommates might restore your sanity. But if you do request a roommate change or private room, Worley advises you to do it maturely.
“Encourage your friend to go in his direction and you in yours. Don’t hold a grudge, and realize that this is part of becoming an adult,” Worley says.
Switching rooms isn’t the end of the world. Worley sees several people each year resume their friendship after moving out. “So don’t black out your roomie’s yearbook photo just yet,” he says. “Your friendship is probably worth keeping.”
College undoubtedly holds changes for both you and your friend-roommate, but that doesn’t mean your housing situation will culminate in calamity. Flexibility goes a long way, both as a friend and student.
Just don’t check the flexibility of that cake.
Crystal Kupper is a freelance writer who graduated from Boise State University (boisestate.edu) in 2006. She is still best friends with her college roommate.
Need an early cheat sheet from COMM 101?
Try these tips.
• Don’t talk about your roommate problems with everyone else, only your roommate.
• Go to neutral ground to discuss your issues—somewhere you both feel comfortable and equal.
• Be calm. Maybe that means you should wait an hour or day before tackling a tough issue.
• Be confident. The longer you avoid the conversation, the worse things will get.
• Create specific solutions. Talk about exactly what you need your roommate to do.
• Spend a night away from your roomie. Sometimes all you need is a break.