Living with Roommates: What To Do When They Cross the Line

By on December 4, 2013 in Seeking Insights with 0 Comments

problem roommate

My name is Ryan, and I’m a 21-year-old college student. For the last few months I’ve been living in an apartment with my friend “Jason”. Until recently it’s been an okay living situation. A couple of weeks ago, though, he let a friend of his start sleeping on our couch. He didn’t ask me if this would be okay. His friend stays up all night making noise, invites other people over to the apartment to hang out until all hours of the night, doesn’t pick up after himself, and has even eaten my food on several occasions. It’s really disrupting my life. I can’t study or sleep with all the late-night noise, and he’s totally inconsiderate. It’s frustrating and stressful, and I’m starting to get really angry. I’ve thought about moving out, but this is the apartment I can afford, and I don’t know anyone else who needs a roommate. Besides, it’s my apartment, too! I shouldn’t have to put up with this. How can I handle this situation without making my roommate so angry that he and I can’t live together after his friend is gone?

-Ryan, New York, NY

Nan Says: These kinds of things happen all the time, especially with roommates. You need to express your feelings and come to a workable solution, but you don’t want to leave a bad taste in your roommate’s mouth. After all, you’re going to have to live with him in the aftermath! Here are a few tips for talking it out withouthaving it out.

First, wait until you’ve calmed down before you broach the subject. Being assertive is essential; being angry can work against you. If you’re too argumentative and emotional, he’s likely to get defensive, and the exchange will turn into a fight.

Once you’re ready, think about what you’re going to say. Be specific. Come up with a few specific examples of the offending behavior. In this case, you’ll want to cite times that his friend has eaten your food, kept you up late, or damaged your possessions. Also think about your preferred solution. Do you want the friend to leave? Pay rent? Follow some specific rules?

Now, have the conversation. Calmly request that your roommate make time to talk. Once you’re alone, use “I” statements. Don’t point fingers. Simply and honestly share your feelings and preferences. “I feel that this situation isn’t working. Here is why. I would appreciate it if you talked to your friend and asked him to leave.” Allow your roommate to respond, and discuss any differences of opinion. If you both remain calm, you can come to a workable solution without any aggression.

Also, know your bottom lines. If your roommate refuses to take any action to rectify the situation, have a backup plan. You may have to leave in the end, but exhaust all other options first.


Dan says: These types of predicaments are the very reason it’s so important to communicate and set ground rules from the get-go. For many of us, college is our first experience of being on our own and getting a taste of the adult world. The experience of having roommates can be daunting if you don’t each have an understanding of how the other expects the relationship to work.

Ideally, this would be a conversation you and your prospective roomie would have before signing a lease, just to make sure there aren’t any total incompatibilities, but it’s just fine to use this “extended guest” situation as an opportunity to both express yourself and find out what your roommate is thinking—as well as set some guidelines for the future.

This could mean something as involved as setting up a schedule and roommate checklist for household duties, or it could be as simple as a request to “Please ask me before you invite someone to stay here.” That depends on you.

What do you want out of a roommate situation? How would it work best for you? Once you have a clear idea of what you’d like to see, you can express this ideal to your roommate and find out what his perfect hypothetical situation would be. It could be that the two of you want the same things and just don’t know it. Or you could completely be at odds—you won’t know until you communicate. This brings me to my next point.

Compromise is an important part of any partnership. The two of you almost certainly won’t agree on everything, so you should each be willing to bend a little. One good way to compromise is to come to an understanding about duties and rules in common areas but leave private bedrooms and bathrooms to the discretion of their occupant.

Remember, we have to ask for what we want, but it’s also important to be respectful and courteous. In any situation, if you feel you have been disrespected or slighted, bring the issue up in a nonjudgmental way, and clearly state your boundaries. This way, there are no gray areas. If your roommate sees that you respect yourself, he will be more likely to treat you respectfully.

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