At 27, I've lived with nearly 20 different roommates, between summer camps, college, and post-grad life in New York City. Some have become my best friends; others are remembered only by their odd habits (like the one who insisted on climbing into a wardrobe whenever she was changing). Most of my roommates have impacted me in some way -- for better or worse --and inspired me to spend the better part of last year researching this particularly fraught relationship. I've interviewed close to 70 people of all backgrounds and ages for stories ranging from hilarious to heart-warming, and it's safe to say I've heard just about every roommate story out there. I'm constantly thanking my lucky stars -- as far as my cohabitation experiences go, I've gotten off easy. Here, the indisputably worst types of roommates you (hopefully) haven't had the misfortune of dealing with.
1. The Passive Aggressive Note Writer
You know the type -- the roommate who avoids conflict at all costs, usually by sending awkwardly worded text messages or leaving pointed Post-its on the fridge. I interviewed one girl, J, whose roommate was incredibly possessive of her belongings, from the milk in the fridge to the living room couch (which strangers, such as J's guests, weren't allowed to sit on). When one of J's friends accidentally used up her roommate's butter while baking, she fished the empty wrapper out of the trash and taped it to fridge with a note: "THIS IS MY BUTTER!!!"
2. The Hoarder
There's nothing wrong with being a packrat, especially when you're a recent grad still in the frugal, college-student mindset of saving everything and anything. But there's absolutely a line that needs to be drawn, whether your roommate is hiding endless rolls of toilet paper under her bed or using his room as an incubation center for dirty plates. Suffice it to say, if there's an odd smell emanating from behind closed doors, investigate immediately. That's what one woman did, and not only did she find moldy dishes, but she also found her roommate's mini marijuana garden.
3. The Thief
I encountered a huge spectrum of people taking things from their roommates throughout my interviews, from "borrowing" clothes right out of a closet to staging a robbery in order to swipe a laptop and camcorder. But one of the scariest stories I heard came from a girl whose identity was stolen. Her freshman year roommate stole her driver's license so she could pretend to be her at the bank and withdraw thousands from her bank account. The worst part was, she continued to act like her friend by accompanying her to the police station to file a report, and even went as far as impersonating the police to stall the case.
4. The Uncontrollable Bladder
It's somewhat of a given that when college-aged adults let loose, they don't always make the best decisions. When L's roommate came home after partying one night, she chugged a bottle of water and passed out. In the middle of the night, L witnessed her roommate get out of bed, pull down her pants, squat over her desk, and pee on her laptop. But believe it or not, it gets worse. K's roommate, after nights of drinking, tended to relieve herself in the same spot on the hallway carpet, mere steps from the bathroom door. After a few occurrences, K pulled out all the stops -- from wee-wee pads to pet spray with ammonia. "I felt like I had a Chihuahua," she recalls.
5. The Party Poopers
Then there are those who just don't like to see others having too good of a time. As a senior, Z was thrilled when she scored a coveted dorm placement at Boston College, in a complex known for its wild bashes. But her roommates didn't share the same mentality. Whenever she threw a party, they refused to chip in for food, drink, or set up, but still brought friends and partook in the alcohol. Then they'd yell at her for not cleaning up the apartment as quickly as they liked. The night after the alleged Boston Marathon bomber was caught, Z returned to her dorm to find a crowd of hundreds celebrating in the quad. Instead of rejoicing with the campus, her roommates locked her out, and later claimed Z had masterminded the party without inviting them -- despite the fact that she'd been in lockdown in Boston when most of the events went down.
6. The Exhibitionist
One of the best perks of living alone is being able to walk around naked, but there are those who don't let roommates stop them from hanging out in the buff. F was in a particular situation where her roommate, a 70-year-old, enjoyed walking around the kitchen and living room wearing nothing but an open button-down and pantyhose -- or sometimes no undergarments at all. It didn't take long for F to stop inviting her friends over, not wanting to explain why they might see her geriatric roommate half-naked.
7. The Pests
In major cities, there's always the risk of running into the utmost unwanted roommates: pests. C, who lives in Philadelphia, had the unfortunate experience of dealing with fleas, followed by bedbugs a week later. His roommates immediately ditched him, but he stayed in the apartment and saw it through -- the rent and location were just too good for him to give it up. And S discovered cockroaches in her New York City apartment soon after moving in -- in her closet, on the ceiling, even in the microwave. After many repeat visits, the exterminator suggested the roachmates might be coming from the landlord's apartment downstairs. When S informed her landlord, she didn't get any sympathy. Instead, she got a notice to move out immediately.
8. The Wild Card
While my interviews revealed many categories of roommates, both good and bad, it was the wild cards that proved to be the most interesting. From the amateur taxidermist keeping a dead hamster in a dorm freezer to a widow running an escort service out of her apartment, you'll have to pick up my upcoming book to read more about these one-of-a-kind horror stories.
Stephanie Wu is the author of The Roommates: True Tales of Friendship, Rivalry, Romance, and Disturbingly Close Quarters [Picador, $16.00].