By Austin Grogin
Growing up as an only child, I always viewed personal space a right rather than a privilege. I never had to deal with any of the fights that plagued my friends and their siblings: issues of privacy and sharing were of no real concern to me outside of school. This is not to say that I was that child who would rather hit you with their toys than share them (you know who I'm talking about); I was merely accustomed to a certain level of solitude early in life.
Perhaps this is why the whole experience of living in the dorms my first year in college was such an interesting time. Not only was I splitting my tiny room with another equally large person, but I was also sharing my entire home - the bathrooms, dining halls and everything in between - with the entire class of 2012. At first, this was difficult to come to terms with. The idea of being a "little fish in a big pond" was suddenly all too real and completely unavoidable. However, with some careful observation, decision-making and real-life experiences (mistakes included), I soon came to view my time in the dorms as the highpoint of my college career. And with a few lessons that I learned through a series of fights, compromises and awkward silences, this can be true for anyone:
Sharing Stuff vs. Splitting Space
As soon as I received my roommate assignment from the school, my parents encouraged us to begin deciding who would bring what for our room. Fortunately, my roommate already had a mini fridge and I had a spare TV, so we didn't have to worry about any expenses. A common concern among most roommates is the idea of splitting everything 50-50: after all, who wants to start the school year in debt to the person sleeping only a few feet from them? However, when considering actual necessities for your room, remember that dividing up items (rather than splitting the cost) will make the end of the year a far smoother experience. Chances are that if you end up having to settle your debts with your roommate in May, someone is going to end up getting stiffed, and suddenly a great year with your new best friend can feel like a giant sting operation.
Having said that, the exact opposite is true when dividing your dorm between you and your roommate. Aside from equal sharing, there is no other way to apportion your limited space that won't end in your roommate telling everyone on Facebook how selfish you are for hogging that third desk drawer. It may be a challenge, but keeping your stuff in your half of the room is not only respectful, but great practice for when an unhappy roommate means a night on the couch.
Pick your Battles Wisely
Don't take this tip too literally: letting a roommate take advantage of your kindness or casual attitude only serves to turn a simple request into a large and unnecessary fight. However, part of the roommate experience means letting certain missteps slide: If your roommate continuously locks you out of the room (deliberately or accidentally), then a discussion may be warranted. If your roommate accidentally eats your Cup Noodles thinking it belonged to them, then an all-out brawl is probably overkill. It is up to you to decide what battles to pick.
Avoiding a Forced Friendship
I was very lucky to find a roommate that could recite entire scenes from all of my favorite movies. Unfortunately, not all housing situations are so easily accepted. In this way, your friendship with your roommate is a lot like a newborn puppy: if you overwhelm them, they just make a mess. Eat meals with your roommate and hang out with them while in the room - do not follow them everywhere and try to integrate yourself into their daily routine. Sometimes, the best roommates are the ones that you only hang out with casually, avoiding overexposure. This is not to suggest that your roommate cannot be your friend - it simply means that your housing agreement is not necessarily a best friend contract.
Keep yourself in Check
Most of us are far better at providing criticism than we are at accepting it. However, it is important to remember that your dorm is a two-way street: if you ask your roommate to stop talking on the phone so loudly, you better believe that they will bring up your noisy morning routine. As important as it is to be able to maturely discuss your concerns with your roommate, it is even more important for you to acknowledge mistakes of your own. This allows your roommate to see that even though you may seem high-maintenance, you hold yourself to the same standard.
Clearly, finding the perfect balance in your roomy relationship is not always a one-step process. However, a very minor amount of work goes a long way, and helps to make the transition from only child to one in 20,000 occur smoothly. And as someone who moved from the dorms to their fraternity house during their second year of college, I can tell you firsthand that these are not single-use tools.
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