I have had the ultimate roommate experience. I mean, I shared a womb with someone! In other words, I am a twin. How could anything else compare? We have shared a bedroom our entire 21 years. We’ve done the classic bunk bed thing. Right now, in our first college apartment, our beds are not more than a foot-and-a-half apart.
Living in a confined space with someone for your whole life can lead to a lot of tension, no matter how close you are. We fight a lot — about petty things, about serious things — but I appreciate it in the end. Because I always have had to share a space, I know what it takes to be a good roommate.
We moved into our first apartment with two of our friends just over a year ago. I knew there would be small squabbles. It’s just something natural that happens when living with people. However, it turned out I was not as prepared as I thought.
We started with four roommates, and now we are down to three. Several weeks into the semester, Jenny*, one of our roommates, went home to her family.
This happened before. Last year, Jenny became depressed. She had lost a lot of weight in the summer and was manic for several days before settling into everlasting glum. She was lethargic and sad, which was strange.
We were friends with Jenny for two years prior, and this was unlike her talkative, cheery self. Jenny left for that semester and returned in January. Things were weird, and she wasn’t herself. But hey, she was back in school.
Fast forward to this fall semester. Jenny found out she had a thyroid disorder. Her hormones were unbalanced and she was still figuring out medication levels, but her parents sent her back to school anyway. The three of us hoped she was stable enough.
We knew it wasn’t right when Jenny’s mom offered to pay my sister to watch her daughter — to make sure she takes her meds, does her homework, etc. It wasn’t right that she hardly slept, drank more than normal (while on about a dozen meds) and had not unpacked from summer after two weeks.
Being at home was draining. The three of us had a hard time sleeping. Jenny was defensive and hyper. It was clear she was manic. She definitely had more than just a thyroid problem. Jenny was not the same person we met freshman year.
My sister, our other roommate and I communicated with Jenny’s parents to let them know about her behavior. Ultimately we wanted Jenny to get better and knew the environment she was in was not conducive to her lifestyle.
In the end however, we lost a friend. Jenny found out we were talking to her parents and took it as us kicking her out. Indeed, it was a relief that she would be gone. Still, it was sad that she despised us so much. I hope someday Jenny will be able to see why she needed to go home.
Living with other people is hard. Sometimes you have to deal with a slob, other times you have to deal with a little more.
Here are my top five pieces of advice for living with a roommate.
Unfortunately, humans don’t have the ability to read each other’s minds. Remember this! How will your roommate know it bothers you when they leave their dishes in the sink until the weekend, if you don’t say anything? Keeping things bottled up will make you unnecessarily annoyed, which will slowly deteriorate any relationship you have.
2) Don’t be petty.
Remember those dishes in the sink? If you are going to talk to your roommate about it, don’t be sarcastic. The way you phrase something means everything, especially when you are asking someone to change their behavior.
The other day, my sister asked when I was picking her up. My response: “You would know if you didn’t shut the door on me while I was talking.” Trust me. Not a good idea.
3) Keep things in perspective.
I think the most important lesson I’ve learned from being a twin is how different we all are. Your roommate will have a different schedule. They might have different values and behavioral routines. A person’s character is the result of their own human experience.
Knowing this can make you more understanding. It can make you more patient if something they do bothers you or if you need to make sure they are OK. You shouldn’t have to take care of your roommate, but life is hard. It’s nice to cut each other some slack every once in a while.
4) Find support from your other roommates.
If it weren’t for my sister and our friend who is our other roommate, I’m not sure how I would have gotten through dealing with Jenny. Home was not a haven for those first few weeks.
Nevertheless, the three of us were in the same boat. We got out of the house if we needed to and could talk about how it was giving us awful anxiety. We worked together to stand up to Jenny’s parents, who seemed to want to believe there was nothing wrong with her. You don’t want to be exclusive, but it is necessary to have a support system in more extreme situations.
5) Don’t be afraid to reach out to the parents.
That means yours or theirs. We had to take a firm stance with Jenny’s parents. They were in denial that their daughter needed professional help to get better. We could see something was wrong with Jenny, and it was more than just her autoimmune disease.
We knew, for the sake of everyone’s mental health, that she needed to go home and get help. After a while, we could not agree to her parents’ requests.
They asked us to not tell Jenny we were communicating, and we obliged. We updated them on their daughter’s health because it was the right thing to do. We were understanding that Jenny’s behavior was not her fault.
But things got to the tipping point. With school, internships, work, homework and other daily duties, their requests became too much. My sister put her foot down and told them to talk to our mom if they needed anything else. They were essentially asking us to be her surrogate parents, and that was not OK.
Our mom was an ear to let us vent, and when we asked for her help, she stepped in. It’s a weird thing being 21 years old. You are an adult, but not quite. There comes a time to ask for help, so don’t let your pride stand in the way.
We were recently informed that Jenny was being treated for bipolar disorder, and I am happy to hear she is able to receive help. We suspected this all along. I am not sure how well treatment is going, though. Her parents are the type that keep the stigma around mental health alive.
I hope Jenny gets what she needs. I hope her parents truly do what’s best for her. And I hope you deal with your bad roommate situation with grace because you shouldn’t have to be in such a situation.
*Name has been changed.
Edited by Jody Smith Read more in Being HER