So I’m in class the other day, and a student asks me if it’s a good idea to move in with a roommate. He’s planning on getting a place away from his family until he can effect reconciliation with his parents, and he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to afford a decent place on the salary he plans on making. His choices are to get a cheaper place, which would put him in jeopardy of ruining his chances of success; making more money, which he doesn’t see as a viable option given the current job market and his particular work history; or getting a roommate.

Okay, I have to admit that I’m floored at the question. First, this kid is incarcerated. Most kids in his situation don’t have a long view of life, and would never even consider what he is contemplating. Second, he appears to have given this some real thought and has, in my opinion, nailed all the probable choices he has. Third, I got the impression that he wasn’t my biggest fan, so I was a little shocked that he would even ask my opinion.

I’ve talked about the process of moving out before, but I’ve never really covered the idea of moving in with a roommate. There’s a reason for that. Quite honestly, the only roommate I’ve had has been my wife, and there is a huge difference between a regular roommate and a spouse. There are expectations you might have for a roommate that you wouldn’t have for your spouse, or significant other, and vice-versa. That being said, let’s give it a shot.

 

What a roommate is:

A roommate is, in the simplest terms, another person who will share and occupy the same space as you while they take on the burden of a portion of the total expenses involved in living in a particular situation.

Notice I didn’t say they split the expenses with you? Notice I didn’t say they are in any way subservient to you? Good. There’s a reason. Let’s look at it this way: You and Bob (Bob is someone who also wants to live in the same place, but they can’t afford to do so by themselves either) move into a new house. There is a master bedroom with an attached bathroom, and two other, smaller, bedrooms that share a bathroom. You and Bob decide that the living room, kitchen, and garage are all common areas, and you decide to split the rent for those areas. You’re a nice person, so you let Bob have the master bedroom. Is it fair to you that you are paying the same amount for less house than Bob? Of course not, so you and Bob agree that Bob will pay an extra $25 a month for the extra space. Bob may be paying more than you, but this is actually more fair than if Bob didn’t, and just because Bob is paying more, doesn’t give Bob more power or control than you have.

In general, I suggest you choose as a roommate, someone you feel comfortable living with. Someone who shares many of the values you have, especially in the subjects of cleanliness, punctuality, work ethic, and appropriate volume levels for music when someone is sleeping. This doesn’t have to be someone of the same gender, but you definitely want to consider any sexual tension that might arise from a potential roommate. Sure, it sounds good to bring in the really hot chick (or dude, depending on your preference), and they might be just as into it as you are, but think ahead to when the shit hits the fan and you are no longer an item, but you still have to share a small space. Life without risk is boring, but I’m not sure that isn’t a little too much risk.

I also suggest you are careful when moving in with a friend, for many of the same reasons. If you have been friends with someone for a while, you probably know how reliable and responsible they are. Good friends are great, but many good friendships have been ruined when one friend couldn’t meet the responsibilities needed in order for both parties to keep up with the rent.

 

What a roommate isn’t:

A roommate isn’t your friend. Sound confused based on what I just said? Let me explain. A roommate is a contractual living arrangement. You might find a friend to be a roommate, and you might even become friends with your roommate that started off as a stranger, but don’t assume you are automatically friends with your roommate. To this end, don’t take advantages of your roommate that you would feel okay with taking of your friends. It sounds cliché, but don’t eat their food unless they tell you they are okay with it. Don’t lock them out with the tie or sock or whatever on the doorknob unless you have already worked out this system beforehand. Don’t burden your roommate with your personal problems. Make a fart policy right up front, so there are no surprises later on after your semi-monthly broccoli and cabbage binge.

A roommate isn’t your mother. Unless you work out some arrangement when it comes to housework, assume that you are going to have to clean up after yourself, and your roommate will have to clean up after themselves.

 

Making roommate situations work:

1. Put it in writing. The characters in CBS’Big Bang Theory” have a roommate agreement that covers everything from use of the common areas, to rules for bringing in “hook-ups”. I’m not saying you need a document that is quite so detailed, but having most of the major responsibilities for each roommate spelled out in an agreement that everybody signs off on is a great way to avoid problems later.

2. Spell out consequences. What do you do if your roommate is $50 short on rent one month? Are you willing to piss off your landlord by withholding rent altogether? Are you going to cover the difference? Whichever you do, spell out the process for you to be remedied before it becomes an issue. You agree to cover your roommate, but they will have to make payments to you every week, or you might have to look for a new roommate.

3. Use common sense. If you are living on your own (even with a roommate), presumably you are smart enough to know that some things are common sense. Don’t go rifling through your roommate’s stuff. Don’t deliberately try to piss them off so they leave and you can keep the place all to yourself or with a new roommate. Don’t bring your significant other to stay for 20 out of 30 days and still expect your roommate to want to pay for half the rent even though he is only one-third of the occupants.

4. Be respectful of your roommate. They might have rituals they do that don’t make sense to you. I personally, before I leave the house, still have to go through a ritual to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. My wife laughs, but other roommates might start looking at me like I’m a little off-balanced.

5. Be flexible. I guarantee you that shit is going to go wrong eventually. It happens. How you react is more important than the event itself. Don’t take out on your roommate your frustrations about something unrelated. Also, don’t flip out about every little thing they do that annoys you that day. Maybe you are having a bad day and are hyper-sensitive to what would normally be a non-issue.

Nothing says roommates to me like this song, enjoy!

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