A guide to cohabitation

Jan. 15, 2020, 7:16 p.m.

“Hey! I have a roommate story.”

May these words be forever immortalized. As long as college students live with each other, there will always be roommate stories, just as there will always be questionable items in the trash and toothpaste theft in the bathroom. And if the housing prices keep going the way they are, well — I may still be telling these stories in my 30s. 

I can’t wait.

I do love roommate stories. Terrified of being exiled from my room, I used to devour them, one after the other, in heavily sensationalized listicles on the internet. The horrors were hilarious — a never-ending spawning of fruit flies, individually labeled cheese slices and odd recycling habits left a dent in my memory. Reading them was like watching reality TV — morbidly fascinating and hilarious at turns. I, however, had no desire to live like a Kardashian. 

Roommates are lovely. Roommates are kind. Roommates are the people who may or may not hear you fart in the middle of the night or see you stumble into the room drunk on sleep deprivation. They can be either the bane of your life or the green light at the edge of the dock. 

I’ve always found roommate relationships interesting, given that they represent most closely the clash between realities. We already live in our own bubbles, but by having roommates, we’re forced to compromise and solidify our truth with someone else’s. 

I do like living with someone I know. It’s nice to get back to the room and be excited to hear about someone else’s day. So in the spirit of new beginnings and roommate happily-ever-afters, here is a guide to cohabiting with another person you may or may have not chosen to room with. 

Give them the benefit of the doubt. 

Sure, maybe you recycle and other people don’t. Maybe you really like being clean and can’t stand the sight of a dirty dish. Perhaps seeing lit candles in the room makes you itch. While we all come up with conspiracy theories ranging from the relatively mundane to the crazily insane, it’s more likely that your roommate is insensitive not out of maliciousness but out of thoughtlessness. If they continue their behaviors after you’ve brought up and discussed the issue, give them the benefit of the doubt – maybe it’s just their thoughtlessness rearing its head again. And if it isn’t, well — check the next point. 

Communicate clearly. 

Not all of us are mind readers. Not all of us are particularly strong mind readers. Not all of us are that observant, either, which means that passive-aggressive solutions often snowball into situations of comedic proportions — such as trash piled up over a month or dusty cat footprints on the dining table. In other words, it’s difficult to solve problems between people if some of them don’t even know there’s a problem.

 Remember the golden rule!

This seems a bit obvious, but when roommates devolve into a morass of irritating habits, it can get quickly tossed out of the window. Different people have different needs, but they should still be respected while respecting your own boundaries. Talk about what irritates you and what can be compromised, if possible. 

Roommates can be hard. People you live with aren’t necessarily your friends, and people who are your friends aren’t the best people to live with. Ultimately, though, it’s a shared home. Try to make it the best place for everyone to be. 

Contact Angela Zhao at angezhao ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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