Dear Dr. Wes & Miranda:
You ran a column last year about bad roommates. I’m going to be in the dorms this fall and am getting my roommate on potluck and after reading that my parents (and me) were scared to death. They say that the dorm must be really different now than when they went to school. They’re even thinking about having me bail on the dorm and get an apartment. What tips do you have for us?
Miranda: I understand why you and your parents are nervous about the dorms: I am too. I went potluck as well and don’t know anything about my roommate. But, horror stories like that are rare. While you may struggle at times with your new roomie, this doesn’t mean you should shy away from dorm living altogether. It is an experience; whether good or bad it will teach you a lot about yourself.
The key to roommating is to be open and honest from the get go. You two may not have a single thing in common but if you respect each other’s space, possessions, and expectations then you’ll at least survive. Being up front about what issues or concerns creates less problems down the road (i.e. “you never told me I couldn’t borrow those shoes!”)
Most schools require you to create a roommate agreement at the start of the year on what you will and won’t allow each other to do. This should include overnight visitors, drug and alcohol use, and cleanliness. The phrase “Don’t make promises when you’re happy” comes to mind here. You two may be clicking in August but in January, when she stumbles home intoxicated every weekend, you need proof that she violated the agreement, or the residence hall staff won’t act. Think of worse case scenarios and deal with them ahead of time, so they don’t make your freshman year at college unbearable.
Remember, this is her space too and you will only be treated with respect if you give it to her as well. If you two have polar opposite personalities then this will involve some compromise. However, when you ask most people about their early college experience they always talk about how much fun living on campus was. Be prepared for the worst, but remember, you might get a lifelong friend out of it too.
Dr. Wes: Thankfully, that was the worst dorm horror story I’ve ever heard—one of those letters that required a lot of cuss word editing to make it publishable. I felt for her, stuck in a tiny room at a distant college with a freshman that seemed plucked from the pages of The Big Book of Bad Roommate Clichés. While dorm life HAS changed a lot over the years, all in all it’s still the place to be in your first year of college.
I agree with Miranda and would actually put a bit finer point on things, based on twelve years working in a big University town. Here’s my short list: Do not eat your roommate’s special yogurt (chips and salsa, EasyMac, etc.). She’s been sitting in class thinking about it all day, just how delicious it’s going to be when she pulls it from the dorm fridge at 3:47pm and shovels it into her mouth. Then she comes home and you have a yogurt mustache. This could cause a riot. Do not drive your roommates car and fail to put gas in it or ride her bike and leave the tire flat. Do not stalk her phone or email when she’s in the bathroom. Do not let your stinky boyfriend move into your dorm room or hang his sink-washed underwear in the shower. Gross. Don’t borrow or lend money. Don’t post nasty Facebook messages, pictures or tweets about her. Don’t sleep with her boyfriend or anyone she’s date previously.
If you didn’t watch HBO’s new series “Girls” this spring, now is the time to do so. While it’s definitely for mature teens and young adults, it’s a funny, deeply poignant, and painfully awkward reminder of how young women can struggle to get along. In fact, in the second to the last episode, the best friend roommates have it out about several of the issues cited above. It’s heart wrenching to watch.
For those going off to the dorms this fall, we salute you. Keep an eye on Miranda up in the dorms. Katie and I will be here when you need us.
Wes Crenshaw, PhD owns Family Psychological Services, LLC. He is board certified in family and couples psychology (ABPP) and author of the books Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens and Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens. Learn about his writing and practice at www.dr-wes.com. Miranda Davis is a recent graduate of Free State High School who has co-authored the column since August 2011, and is the eighth in a series of teen co-authors. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. The column is reprinted from Double Take, published weekly since 2004 in The Lawrence Journal World. Opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.
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