Living with others for the first time? No problem!
I remember back when I was a student first leaving the nest and moving out on their own for the first time. I was so overjoyed at the opportunity to express myself in a new space. I’d binged cute apartment and dorm tour videos for weeks. I dreamed of my perfect trendy boho blush pink comforter and pillow combo. I hoped for a roommate I could “click with” and a fun dorm environment. I knew that things wouldn't be perfect, but I had hoped that I would be able to keep the peace and get by. Soon, I discovered that I needed something to hold on to. When I actually started to live my life as a college student, I was feeling lost, hurt, and bothered by my roommates.
Healthy confrontation skills were something that I lacked before I moved out. I didn't know that it could be practiced in a measured, compassionate way. I came from a low-income household and school district. Violence and anger were things that I conflated with conflict and I did my best to not care or involve myself. But even the most people-pleasing person (like myself) could get annoyed. There is a limit to how much anyone can take.
That being said, here are 3 things I keep in mind when I find myself at odds with my roommates.
Assume the best intent
Remember, your roommates are human too. They are also flawed and make mistakes. Try to see the situation from their perspective. When I found myself in need of practicing this, I would also remind myself to never attribute to malice what can be attributed to ignorance.
This helped me ease the tightness in my heart and let go of my initial anger. A lot of what made me so hurt or bothered at first was my knee-jerk assumption of “they tried to hurt/bother me on purpose.” Once I could let that go, I found it easier to try and see the situation from their point of view.
You deserve to be happy
I said it. As long as you haven't tried to take it from someone else, you absolutely deserve your chances at being happy. I have learned that to achieve this, it is important to verbalize my needs. I was worried that I would be seen as selfish, but after years of not ever expressing my needs, I felt unworthy and neglected. Then, I heard the words of John Ortberg, and they really struck a chord with me: "you are only able to live in a way that really helps others when your soul feels its worth."
It is not a selfish act to express your needs, it is a compassionate one. When you avoid resentment by facing issues with your roommate, you make life better for yourself and for those around you. You may need to take into account the time and place, but don’t skip a chance to respectfully express to your roommate how you feel.
Be honest with your feelings and learn when to let go
There was a time I didn’t really know how to express my feelings neutrally. I would accuse my roommate of “You never wash the dishes when it’s your turn, I’ve had to do it!” or “You didn’t take the trash out like you said you would!” Usually, when I did this, it was the 2nd or 3rd time my roommate had done this and I felt targeted and ignored. They of course felt attacked and returned my energy in kind. These confrontations never ended well and had lasting effects on the roommate dynamic.
I realized I had a hard time being vulnerable and didn’t take any time to define my feelings to myself. I didn’t think before I spoke and it hurt others even when they didn’t deserve it. To let yourself be vulnerable to a new person, a roommate who you may not even be friends yet is terrifying. I found this especially hard because I wanted to be a good person, but I kept reading so far into what my roommates did that I would work myself up and be inconsolable. Then I heard the phrase, “speak to how you feel about what actually happened, not what you think happened.” Instead of thinking,“I’m so mad, she’s just leaving all the work to me, does she think I’m going to be her mom?!” I would instead think, “I’m mad she left this here, but she probably forgot to take care of it. I’ll remind her, and find out how she feels about it.”
After thinking about these three elements I now work up the courage to speak to my roommate. I recognize that the goal is not to be the better person for the sake of getting to say that I was the better person; the goal is to address the conflict. I remind myself that people may have learned different ways of dealing with conflict and may need to take some time to cool down or take care of something before talking. I start off by being clear about what I need from them and listening to them and their situation.
Sometimes, I have faced people who don't take kindly to any kind of confrontation and push with hostility against my boundaries. In those cases, having a friend, community, or mentor to affirm and support me helped so much in standing firm.
College is so hectic, and you deserve a peaceful space after class. Delving further into conflict resolution skills has helped me so much in making friends with roommates that I had initially not gotten along with. College is a time to express yourself, and your needs and boundaries should be included in that too!
WRITTEN BY Lesley Ramirez University of North Texas
Armed with coffee and a clicky keyboard, Lesley is completing her BS in Business Computer Information Systems. She is Texas-born and raised and you can generally find her online enjoying cute parrot videos, pursuing creative narrative projects, or thinking up new gamer set-up themes for her workspace all while jamming out to synthwave!