I’ve had 9 different roommates in my life (10 if you count my husband, but for the purposes of this post he doesn’t count, sorry love). From freshman year of college until a year or so after I graduated I went through several different roommates and housing situations. Some experiences were better than others, but I learned something from all of them. These are the most important lessons I learned from my college roommates, the good and bad alike.
1. No one likes a slob
This is a biggie because I am not the cleanest person in the world. I’m not a “slob” per say. I do have to draw the line at some point. There is a difference between “messy” and “dirty.” I’m more messy; clothes on the floor, stuff on the counters, dishes in the sink, etc., than dirty; grime on the shower, haven’t swept in weeks, mold growing in the washing machine, etc. It sounds like a ridiculous distinction until you live with someone whose definition of “clean” differs from yours.
I had two different roommates who were clean freaks. It was nice, because they would always make sure the apartment was spotless, but it made me feel like a lazy bum when they frustratingly cleaned up after me because they couldn’t stand to wait until I “got to it later.” I’ve never been a slob, but having roommates taught me that cleaning up after myself is not optional, it’s a necessity. It’s a lesson I’m still working on…
2. You don’t always have to agree to get along
I’m sorry to say that this has taken me entirely too long to learn. One fight with a roommate was enough for me to write them off. Sometimes that was merited, sometimes I’m sure it wasn’t. The truth is, you live in the same house/dorm/apartment and you’re on the same team. The minute you turn against each other is the minute your life becomes miserable. Trust me, that was how my first roommate experience went and my entire first semester of my freshman year was miserable because of it.
The problem was that we had minor differences of opinion, and instead of just agreeing to disagree and live in peace, she turned on me, and I (of course) responded in kind. It’s a cycle that’s impossible to get out of. There is almost no one who you will agree with on everything 100% of the time. Accept it. I wish I had learned that a long time ago.
3. There is nothing that can’t be fixed by cookie dough and blasting music
Every bad test grade, fight with your best friend, and breakup can be cured with a bowl of cookie dough (or brownie batter, I’m not picky) and some upbeat music. I can’t tell you how many times my friends and I used this remedy to cope with life. It’s foolproof, I promise. It may not take away the problem but it does give you an opportunity to forget about it for awhile.
One of my favorite memories of college was a time like this. I went through a pretty rough breakup a while before and he had just started dating someone new. I didn’t even know it yet. One of my best friends showed up at my apartment door with a box of brownie mix to break the news. She, my roommate, and I made the brownie batter and ate it while we jammed to who knows what . . . Alright, full disclosure, it was probably Nsync. I’ve always been a sucker for Justin Timberlake (who isn’t?). Instead of being depressed, I ended that night feeling loved and supported. I didn’t even care about the ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend.
That’s the magic of unbaked batter and Nsync.
4. How to be comfortable with my body
I can’t speak for guys, but when girls live together modesty kind of goes out the window. You get used to your friends seeing everything – cellulite, lack of thigh gap (which wasn’t even a thing when I was in college) and all. Walk around naked long enough, especially around people who don’t react with negative shock and awe at seeing your armpits in the middle of January when you haven’t shaved them in probably 6 weeks, and you’re forced to get used to your body and the way it looks.
Under no circumstances do I believe that my body is perfect. There are things I want to work on, but I’ve never had a major issue with my body the way a lot of women have. I think a lot of that has to do with being forced to be comfortable with it and having roommates who never acted like anything about my body was weird or abnormal.
5. You have to be vulnerable to develop deep friendships
I struggled with this one. I still do. I am typically an open book, but not in the vulnerable sense. For example, I don’t mind telling you that my husband and I have matching underwear, or that I once accidentally pooped all over my husband’s grandparents basement floor. I have no problem being self-deprecating. My problem comes with making myself vulnerable. I don’t like handing someone else the tools they could use to hurt, humiliate, or judge me.
But the truth is, your friendships will always be shallow and superficial if you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable with others. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. And sometimes, you’re going to have to be the one who gets vulnerable first. That’s a scary thing, but it’s the only way to develop a deep and lasting friendship.
6. Boys ruin everything
Everyone has had close friendships that were ruined by boys, and I almost lost my current best friend when I started dating my husband simply because I stopped spending as much time with her as I should have.
Sometimes, like in the case with Jake, someone comes in and ruins your life in all the best ways. Sometimes, some aspects of your life need to be ruined. The day I started a part-time job at Old Navy my sophomore year of college changed my life forever in the best way. I will never regret that. If I lost any friendships because of it, then that was a sacrifice that was well worth it.
It’s not as easy being on the other side of that equation, though. I had a roommate who quickly became my best friend. She and I were so different, but it worked. She would have done anything for me and I loved her like a sister. Then came the boy. At first, he was my friend, too. But then he hurt her and things changed. My friendship with her clouded my judgment and I got involved when I shouldn’t have (story of my life actually…sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong). I called him out. I thought I was supporting my roommate, but all I did was piss both of them off. That friendship never recovered because she stayed with him and he distrusted and disliked me from that moment on. It didn’t matter that I apologized. It’s hard to stay friends with someone when their significant other wants nothing to do with you. This roommate and I had a slow and steady decline that ended in a huge blowup, and I’m not arrogant enough to say that I don’t deserve most of the blame. Sometimes, though, it happens more quickly. Some guys are intimidated by the people their girlfriends are friends with. They do their best to isolate their girlfriends from friends and family alike and sometimes the girlfriends embrace it. Those lost friendships are the hardest to come to terms with.
But it happens. When you begin a new relationship, everything else becomes background noise. You are so enamored with that person that you let your friendships slacken a bit. It’s natural and everyone does it. It isn’t innately a bad thing when sometimes those friendships aren’t restored, it’s a fact of life.
7. It’s not always a good idea to live with your best friend
I’ve tried. Dont’ do it. It’s not worth losing a friendship over dumb roommate arguments. Just trust me on this one.
8. How to adult
I am ashamed to admit that I had never done a load of laundry until I got to college. Please don’t judge me. Also, once you get out of the dorm and live in a rental property with roommates you’re forced to be financially responsible, which is huge. Granted, I know there are people whose parents pay their portion of the bills, but most of my experience involved roommates who – like me – had to work and pay on their own. It forces financial responsibility because if I didn’t pay my part of the rent for the month everyone was affected. If I didn’t add my portion to the water bill then the water could be shut off for all three of us.
Living with roommates taught me responsibility in general. I was forced to have uncomfortable conversations that I previously would have avoided. I had to learn to share things; TV time, common space, laundry time, hot water, you name it. It’s a great segway into adulthood.
Part of living with someone else is the fact that you can’t just be concerned about yourself. Like I said before, if one person didn’t pay their portion of the rent then that affected all of us. If one person never cleaned her dirty dishes then it put a bigger burden on the others.
Roommates force you to learn a little selflessness. You don’t want to be the person making life harder for everyone else. I’m not saying living with roommates makes you the perfect altruist, but it does make you consider someone else before you act, and isn’t that the foundation of selflessness?
10. Support and encouragement are everything.
Most of my roommate experiences were more positive than negative. My roommates and I were each other’s cheerleaders. We supported and encouraged each other through finals and late night study sessions, crappy relationship experiences, bad dates, and every other kind of insecurity there is. There was some tough love but there was always positivity attached. I couldn’t have made it through college without them.
11. Not all friends will stick around forever, and that’s OK.
Out of the 9 roommates I had in college, there are only 3 that I keep up with regularly. One is still one of my best friends. She and her husband live close and Jake and I hang out with them every opportunity we can. Another close friend lives in Florida. We text and talk on the phone as much as we can. One of my roommates from my freshman year is still a good friend of mine, even though she lives in Michigan and we don’t get to talk as much as I wish we could and we haven’t seen each other in over 4 years.
For each old roommate that I still keep up with, there are at least two who I don’t talk to at all anymore. Some of those friendships were harder to lose than others, but in the long run, I think it all turned out OK. We mostly just lost touch, but there are a couple of instances where the friendships suffered a blow that was never remedied. Looking back, I think these rifts would have been easy to fix, but we were young, dumb, proud, and impulsive. So, we didn’t fix them when we could have and now it just wouldn’t make any sense. Our lives went in different directions and sometimes that just happens. Not all friendships are meant to last forever.
12. The best friendships aren’t affected by time and distance.
You’re going to lose touch with most of your college roommates and friends over your life, but the ones who stick around are going to stick around for good. They make all the lost friendships worth it. These are the friends who become family, and doing life with them never gets old.