How to have an awesome roommate relationship

Most of us at some point in our lives will have a roommate. If that weren’t true, we wouldn’t be so compelled to watch all the rad television shows that depict the roommate relationship at its core, like Friends and New Girl and, well, almost every sitcom there is. There are so many different kinds of roommate scenarios. You might have shared a room with a sibling growing up, doubled up for a bunk at camp, or moved into an apartment with pals after graduating college. Your roommate might be your bestie or a stranger or your longterm committed partner. Whatever the situation, different people learning to peacefully coexist in a living space is hardly ever seamless. Habits, aptitude for cleaning, and just general routines tend to not match up perfectly. Maintaining a stress-free roommate relationship is a lot of work, but something that will make your life much, much better. Here are some of the ways you can make sure you can have the most optimal living situation.

Before you move in, suss out your future roommate 

Sometimes life circumstances don’t allow you to choose your roommate: Maybe you’re randomly assigned to a dorm room at a college, or you’re finding roommates through Craigslist. It happens! And that means you have somewhat limited information about your new roomie.  But if you do know them? Pay attention. Is this a friend you have spent a lot of time with? Is their current living situation cleanly? Do you see them making decisions you’d be comfortable with when it comes to sharing a place? The saying that you never really know someone until you live with them is entirely true, and friendships can easily be tested when two vastly different people set in their ways attempt to live together. Not that you can’t work it out—you can, totally. But going into a situation with your eyes open will really help.

It’s great if your roommate is your best friend, but it’s totally OK if they’re not

When I went to college, I had this idealized notion that we would immediately be the absolute best of friends. We would brush our teeth side by side at the sink, arrange our class schedule to be similar and always go to the dining hall together. Did I end up liking my roommate? Yes. Did we eat a fair number of meals together? Yes. But we also cultivated our individual college freshman experiences based on our own personalities which were very different. It worried me at first and I wondered if something was wrong that we didn’t spend more time together, until I realized I was ignoring the fact that when we did, it was so much fun. It prepared me well for roommates later in life who I wouldn’t even often see due to our opposite schedules, even though we still co-existed in perfect harmony. Rent was paid on time, dishes got washed and when we had dinner or hung out together it was always a good time. We just didn’t do it every single second of every single day. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Have a discussion about a cleaning schedule and don’t be afraid to enforce it

I like things clean. Most people do. But what I realized when I first began living with other people was that the definition of what passes for “clean” varies person to person. And let’s face it, cleaning isn’t the absolute most fun party of all time for everyone. But if you make it clear what needs to be done for you to feel comfortable, and are reasonable about it—no mold in the shower, no piles of dishes in the sink—then you won’t have to tiptoe around your roommates piles of trash or feel a building resentment every time you have to stop to scrub all their dirty bowls as well as your own. Life happens, so sometimes not everything will be spic and span, but setting some ground rules together will go a long way.

Don’t be afraid to speak up (kindly!) if something isn’t cool

I learned after living with various people that just because you think something is cool, doesn’t mean your roommate will. I used to love to have people in my dorm room on Wednesdays to watch a block of MTV shows together and my roommate never seemed to mind. Whenever I had to study I liked to go to the student lounge or the library, and assumed she felt the same way. Turns out she preferred to study at her desk in our room. She felt distracted in larger spaces with so many people around but my Wednesday night TV party made her feel like her choices were to skip studying for the night or go do it in a place she didn’t feel comfortable. Once we finally talked about it, we agreed that if she had to study, Wednesday night TV would be held in someone else’s room. As long as you’re open-minded and respectful of that person’s space, and they are of yours, you can get over any bumps in the road.

Set a guest policy

I’ve always been pretty easygoing when it comes to having people over and tend to live with people who are as well. But a few things should always be discussed beforehand. The obvious one is if your roommate is OK with a few friends coming by, but even if he/she is, it’s also considerate to ask if they need to be up really early the next day so you can be aware of noise level or when to call it a night out of respect. It’s also important to talk about overnight guests, whether it’s a friend crashing on the couch or a significant other. If a boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t paying rent but their constant presence is making your roommate feel like your significant other is living there for free, recognize that and rectify it. Make sure your partner isn’t emptying the freezer of ice cream, and that you alternate times between each other’s houses.

Be mindful of each other’s space and things

I ate my roommate’s leftover macaroni and cheese because it had been in the fridge for two days and I figured she wouldn’t care. She did. I had a roommate who routinely used the last of my laundry detergent and never mentioned it, leaving me to discover it late at night on a Sunday when I was all out of clean socks and underwear and all the stores were closed. Sharing is wonderful, but it’s a great rule of thumb to ask permission to borrow or use and replace.

Pay your rent and bills on time

This one should go without saying, but let’s say it anyway: Don’t stick your roommate with three months of an electricity bill or covering your share of the rent unless there’s some kind of financial emergency on your end. Keeping things equitable on the money front means that you both have responsibility for the place, and neither of you feels like you’re parenting the other.

So whether you’re gearing up this summer to go off to college, move in to a new apartment or you’re currently in a roommate situation, just remember to be respectful of your roommate’s space, and it’ll be OK. Let the roommate drama just be something you can giggle together over on television while cracking open a bottle of rosé.

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[Image via Fox]