Living with others
You and Your Roommate
Welcome to Northwestern. You are embarking on a journey of sorts, one that will at times frustrate and at other times stimulate you. You will be challenged to grow and develop in ways you may not anticipate right now. Living in a residence hall community, and more specifically with a roommate, will provide you with opportunities to develop interpersonally and to learn about yourself and others. This section is intended to start this process by providing you with some food for thought, i.e., what to expect including some situations that normally occur in residence halls. Suggestions for resolving some of the conflicts that may arise are offered along with ideas for making your residence hall experience both enjoyable and educational.
Cooperation is the realization that you and your roommate are in this together. Such a joint venture requires an honest attempt to make the relationship work. Cooperation encourages mutual satisfaction rather than win-lose outcomes. Compromise does not necessarily mean accepting something less than satisfactory. Living with another person challenges your creativity and problem-solving skills to find ways in which there can be two winners.
Think about yourself: Who are you and what are you like to live with? More specifically, consider the following questions:
- What kind of environment or place makes you feel most secure?
- What are the key elements of such a place? How can you create a similar feeling in your room on campus?
- How would you describe your lifestyle to a total stranger?
- Have you shared a room in the past? If so, what did you like or dislike about this arrangement?
- How comfortable are you about expressing your needs?
- What are your attitudes about:
- sharing your belongings, including food and beverages
- drinking and use of other drugs
- persons of the opposite sex visiting your room
- neatness and cleanliness of room
You and your roommate can be very different and still have a successful roommate relationship. Maybe you'll become close friends, maybe not. It is important that your expectations are realistic or you may be disappointed. DON'T EXPECT YOUR ROOMMATE TO BE JUST LIKE YOU or like your friends at home. Tolerance and openness to new things are necessary components of a successful residence hall experience. Expect to encounter some problems. After all, it's unrealistic to expect two strangers who share a small space to get along all the time. Expect a little "cabin fever" during the winter when you may feel like climbing the wall if your roommate tells that same old joke one more time. Talk about your expectations of each other.
We recommend filling out a Roommate Agreement Form (pdf) with your roommate at the beginning of the school year to help establish and maintain a cooperative living environment between the two of you.
We also recommend filling out a Suitemate Agreement Form (pdf) with your suitemates at the beginning of the school year to discuss how you will use any shared spaces. You can give this form to your CA for safekeeping. If you need to refer to it in the future, your CA will provide you with it.
Right from the start, good communication is essential for a successful relationship. Talk about what you expect from this relationship, when you expect to study, sleep, play music or video games, etc. When something your roommate does bothers you, TALK ABOUT IT! Don't expect your roommate to read your mind--speak up!
Remember that most people do not intentionally wish to be inconsiderate of others and what might irritate you may be totally acceptable to another (and vice versa). Differences often are unappreciated. So, assert yourself. Here are some hints for communication. Before you approach your roommate, ask yourself: "What is my objective in this situation? If roles were reversed, how would I want someone to approach me?"
- Find an appropriate time to talk with your roommate--don't wait until he/she is rushing out the door for a class. Never confront him/her in front of others. If your roommate seems to be with others at all times, send him or her an e-mail or IM message to tell them that you'd like to meet.
- Keep an open mind. Chances are your roommate will have a different view of the situation than you. Listen as well as talk.
- Don't wait until your frustration builds up and then explode at your unsuspecting roommate. This sort of "dumping" is unfair and ineffective. Talk about whatever it is that bothers you--as soon after it occurs as possible.
- Stick to things your roommate can change. For example, you won't get very far by asking someone to change what is not within that person's power to change.
Your Community Assistant (CA) can be a valuable resource for advice in resolving conflicts should they arise. Your CA can be objective about the problem and offer another perspective. He/She is also trained in conflict mediation and can help facilitate a discussion between you and your roommate if necessary.