Tales of The Terrible Roommate: Four Students Reflect
by Jocelyn Rubin | University of Maryland- College Park
Have you received your housing assignment yet? Worried about the crazy stranger who could potentially be your bunk mate for an entire semester? It’s alright to be nervous. We’ve all been there, and in fact, some of us have been there more than once.
Whether you’re a first year or a fourth year college student, learning to live with someone new is bound to be a challenge. But according to these next four students, a successful school year with a new roommate begins with open communication and addressing problems as soon as they arise. If anything, when the going gets tough, just remember these tales of the terrible roommate and feel lucky that you still have the chance to make things right.
Sarah Margerison is in her first year of grad school at the University of Delaware, but as an undergrad at the University of Maryland, College Park, she had her fair share of roommate run-ins. During her senior year she found herself living in an apartment with a roommate who had different ideas about cleanliness than she did.
“My one roommate last year is not the cleanest person at all,” Margerison said, “so we would always have food stains all over the furniture and crumbs and things all over the floor.”
Laundry caused more strife, she said.
“She would also never get her clothes out of the washer or drier; it would be there for a few days,” Margerison said. ”I remember one time I took out her laundry and there was a pepper in it. And after I emptied her stuff out of the drier, I had to wash the drier because there was pepper seeds all over it.”
Margerison said she found herself with extra chores in order to keep the room clean, but communication early on can keep things from getting out of control.
“We actually lived together for two years, and on the first year there were also cleanliness problems,” Margerison said, “but we didn’t have very good communication between all four roommates so she was able to blame it on other people. We figured it out the second year we lived with her about, I want to say about two to three months into the year, and that was because we actually were taking.”
Talking to your bedroom buddies should always be the first step, but don’t underestimate the benefit that comes with asking an outsider to mediate, Margerison said. In her case, when she and two of her roommates were not able to work things out with the fourth girl in their apartment, they ended up asking their community assistant for help.
Susan Peters, a rising junior at the University of California, Los Angeles, said she also believes students shouldn’t shy away from reaching out to a community or resident assistant.
“If it’s something that compromises your comfort or one of your values, it is important to immediately address it,” Peters said. “And it’s great doing it through an R.A., because they’re kind of a mediator.”
Peters’ problems began while living in a dorm room with two other roommates during her freshman year. Within the first two weeks of school, one of the girls decided to bail out, leaving Peters and her remaining roommate with a random person. Adjusting to someone new in the room took time and shook up the dynamic of the previous living arrangement, Peters said. Besides being loud and disrespectful, the new girl had a habit of inviting her friends over without asking Peters or their other roommate first, and it was already a very tiny space for three people, she said.
However, once Peters requested help from her R.A., learning to live together was not as hard as it originally appeared to be.
“Once we sat down and had that little roommate chat, she was totally fine,” Peters said. “Obviously it’s going to take a little while to learn how to live with people and learn people’s different styles.”
Abigail Barenblitt, a rising senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, said she didn’t have much time at all to get used to her roommate’s living style. She had just started her freshman year of college, and within the first few days of living in the dorms, her roommate woke her up in an unusual way, she said.
“I don’t remember if it was the first night, I believe it was, it was at least the first weekend, I was woken up in the middle of the night by a bunch of drunk college students coming in my room,” Barenblitt said. “When I woke up in the morning there were four kids sleeping on my floor, and I believe there were two guys. It’s bad enough that she had people over without asking me, but there were two men there as well that I did not know.”
Often, freshman year is the first time students abide in a co-ed living situation, and Barenblitt said she felt uncomfortable when a member of the opposite sex would invade her space.
“And I should have known then, ‘Hey, this roommate thing is not going to work,’ and asked for a switch, but I didn’t because I’m a pushover,” Barenblitt said.
Her roommate continued to push the limits, from illegally drinking in their room and spilling wine on Barenblitt’s carpet, to inviting more people over and leaving trash for Barenblitt to clean up, she said.
At one point Barenblitt said she couldn’t take it anymore.
“I packed up all my stuff and went to [a friend's place] and spent the night there,” she said.
In her case, the R.A. was not able to solve the problem and so she suffered for the majority of the year, often continuing to stay at a friend’s when she couldn’t cope.
“My advice is if they do something that makes you extremely uncomfortable, yes, you can call them out on it, but if you’re going to continue living with them, you can’t be a pushover, because you have to live there.,” Barenblitt said. “It will be your home for the majority of the year.”
Barenblitt said a roommate’s behavior is not likely to change.
“If they do something that makes you extremely uncomfortable, or angry or frustrated, it is highly likely that it will happen again, at least in my experience,” she said. “I feel I should have asked for a reassignment, because I did address certain things with her that ended up reoccurring. We were freshmen, so we were not as specific with our contract, from what I remember, so I would say if there are things that you know will bug you, don’t just assume that the other person has the common sense not to do it.”
Describing herself as shy, Barenblitt said she should have spoken up. She encouraged other passive people to do the same before it’s too late.
“If you’re in that situation and you don’t want to switch roommates, and you want to make it work out, you have to stand your ground,” she said. “If there is something that bothers you or upsets you, you can’t just compromise.”
While learning to compromise is a valuable skill, one that students often learn in college, if you do ever feel like your values have been violated, or that you are in danger because of your roommate’s behavior, then you need to try an alternative solution, she said.
When she was a sophomore, rising senior at the University of Maryland, College Park Rachael Pacella said her boyfriend faced housing hell while living in a home off-campus.
“He didn’t know the people before moving into the house,” she said. “These people threw parties in the house all the time, every single weekend, and they would invite more than 100 people for the parties. The house would get trashed, and they wouldn’t clean it for a couple days after the party.”
Pacella said some of these parties caused problems specifically for her boyfriend.
“I remember one time [we] left for the weekend and we locked the door to [his] room, and during one of the parties somebody broke down the door and had sex on [his] bed,” she said. “We found a used condom on the floor afterwards.”
At first, Pacella said her boyfriend did not want to talk to the landlord for fear of upsetting his roommates, but once he did the situation cleared up pretty quickly.
But more incidents occurred, and one of them led Pacella to call the police.
“The guy had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend, and they were standing on the lawn at 4:30 in the morning, and they had been fighting for like, a couple hours, and we finally called the police on them, probably because we were worried about the girl,” she said.
But despite the severity of that housing horror, Pacella said she still believes that in most situations, the fundamental solution is the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.
“I feel like as long as you are as respectful to your roommates as you would want them to be to you, you’re going to have a good living situation,” she said.Jocelyn Rubin is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is majoring in broadcast journalism with a concentration in American Studies. She hopes to work one day in the field of entertainment journalism.