Monday, August 22, 2011

On Roommates

For the past week or so, I've seen a lot of mothers who are letting little ones...excuse me..."young men and women"...take off into the great beyond...otherwise known as college.  There is always that little wistful feeling of knowing that they are truly on their own and may no longer need our intervention as often.

Oh, please.  If only. 

They have absolutely no problem driving home with a sackful (or car trunk) of laundry because they've been so stressed that they just need to unwind at home.  What that really means is that they want a break from being all grown up...which hey, I'd kind of like myself every now and then.

Okay...every day that I draw breath.  I'd like someone to worry about my bills, make my dental appointments, insure that I have enough contacts and medication, and be concerned that I am doing okay. In all fairness, my mother does check to see if I'm okay...and if I'm still wearing sunglasses, getting mammograms and having my roots tended to.  So, there's that.

While they are off on their own they learn about things like ice cube trays (who knew?) and how to properly put a trash bag in the trash can so that all manner of nastiness doesn't get piled on top of a bag that has crumpled into the bottom of the can.  They learn that they can buy socks and underwear at WalMart and get through an entire semester, and that it is possible to eat nothing but pizza and ramen noodles for a week and survive.  Seriously.

They figure out a lot of things like money management, getting along with roommates, and time management.  Some of what worked for them in high school will continue to work...and some of it will be an abject failure.  Like thinking that the professors give a rat's behind if one shows up for class or not.  They don't.  But my thoughts are...if I'm paying for'd better have your posterior in that seat.

I know that one of the trickiest parts of the whole living independent "thing" is dealing with roommates.  Now, I have to give a disclaimer here...because I know that sometimes my daughter or her friends read this...and I don't want there to be ANY misunderstanding.  See, Jill got VERY lucky with her roommate experiences...and the worst she ever had to deal with was the occasional irritation of something scary left in the refrigerator or someone's "stuff" in the living room.  On a scale of 1 to 10...with one being no issues and ten being huge drama...Jill's scale never got past a 2 at any given time...except for one two week period when she and a roommate were on the "outs."  She was one of the really, really lucky ones.

So, as I talk about this clear that I am NOT talking about my daughter.  Not at all.  I actually love her roommates...and she's had six over her four years of college.  One two years, two one year, and three another year.  She is still speaking to all of her former roommates...and to her present ones.  Life is good.

Others are not so lucky.  Believe me...I've heard the horror stories.  In fact, I've lived a few either myself...or been on the listening end of hours of extreme whining through the years.  Sad thing is...most if not all of the whining was justified.

I think that most girls in college break down into one of four basic groups: serious and studious, spirited and social, homebodies, or unleashed.  And each of these groups has its challenges when they have to live with someone who is not exactly like them.  Which is, of course, generally always.  Guys tend to fall along these same lines...but the edges are a little more blurred and they don't tend to want to kill each other over something like failure to replace the toilet paper roll or using up the last of the Reynolds wrap.

The studious girls do not appreciate parties being thrown in their apartments while they are trying to study for a test or make 1,000 note cards for their next test.  Granted, they are more often than not at the library, but there are those times when they just want a quiet corner to do what they need to do.  They also tend to be a little bit more living with someone who is a little less studious can be "interesting" a not so good way.  These are the rule followers, the high achievers, and the neatniks.  They also generally care about their "stuff" and about keeping things done on a schedule.  After all, they invest a lot of time studying...and don't have a lot of spare time to clean up after everybody.

The social girls generally believe that every gathering is a party and they rarely meet a stranger.  They have friends in every group on campus, and they are constantly in motion.  This generally means that they are a whirlwind of activity and they can be a bit forgetful about doing the routine chores like cleaning the bathroom, returning clothes they've borrowed, or leaving a rent check at the office on time.  They also have people looking for them at all hours and they are constantly trying to get you to abandon whatever you are doing to do something fun.  This is fine...unless what you were doing was studying. 

The homebodies tend to have a smaller circle of friends, and they like being in their own space.  This is fine if they are living with someone studious, but can be a hassle to folks who like to have the place to themselves from time to time.  Homebodies are generally always home.  Always home.  They are the kind that don't really care what is going on "out there" as long as they can do what they need to do and live in relative peace. 

The unleashed are always a handle for most people...they have no they find it difficult to follow any standard rules of common courtesy.  They tend to bring people around at all hours and usually don't pull their load.  They also tend to flunk out the fastest.  The unleashed are often folks that were held to very strict standards at home...and they have absolutely no idea what to do with this much freedom.  If a girl had to ask permission to leave the house to go to the mailbox...I can almost guarantee you that she will be dancing on a table at a bar and it will end up on YouTube.

I had two lives in at Wesleyan and one at Troy.  I will tell you that I spent my time at Troy in the studious camp.  I was the nerd who used to "hush" people in the chapter room.  My first two years were totally different.  Which means I didn't study a lot and went out too much. 

I learned a lot from living with people who were a whole lot different than I was...and I like to think that it made me a decent roommate to the girls I lived with at Troy.  I only came unglued once at Troy during my junior year...when my roommate had been wearing my clothes all weekend and I came home to find them all over the floor of the room.  It wasn't as if she'd asked to borrow anything either. This totally did not rock. 

At Wesleyan, I had roommates that were in the unleased category...who left their junk everywhere and had very little consideration for the fact that I also had to live there.  With one, I had a piece of paper that was supposed to tell me where my roommate really was was if someone called...and all of the different stories I was expected to relay depending on who it was that was calling.  I quit answering the phone.

I had another roommate who went absolutely nuts and went from being a scholarship student to flunking out. 

I even know of one instance of roommates locking one girl in the bathroom because she was too busy to bother to clean it although it was her turn.  They didn't let her out until she did. 

I also know of roommates who stole from friends, who ate everyone's food and denied it, and who did stuff that was so bizarre that they are still wondering exactly what her problem was.  They'd just prefer to never talk to her again to find out.  Never ever.

I know of instances of best friends striking out to live together and finding out that some friendships require a little bit of space to keep them.  Or a whole lot of space.

There are also some people who decide to be roommates but there is a misunderstanding.  Actually, one of the roommates will never be there because the place is actually a back up residence.  The majority of time is spent at another friend or even a boyfriend's house.  This is annoying if someone thinks it is going to be one way...and then it turns out being something entirely different.  You never know when they are coming around...and it makes it really difficult to share chores with someone who pops in and out randomly. 

There's no end to the examples...or to the drama.

I suppose the best advice I can give people who are choosing to be roommates is to live with someone that you like...and that is somewhat like you.  It is hard for a studious girl to live with someone social, and an unleashed girl to live with a homebody.  It is just far too easy for one party to take advantage of the other party...and it normally isn't going to end well.  Opposites attract in most relationships...but not in the case of roommates. 

But sometimes people change.  You think all will be well...and then it isn't. 

That's when you have to set the ground rules.  Actually, you should probably set the ground rules before you move in...but it is never too late to go back to basics.  After all, it is better to start now instead of being miserable for the remainder of the lease.

Here are a few good guidelines:

No male overnight guests (or female guests if you have males) unless it is a blood relative or there is unanimous consent from all parties involved. 

The common areas are to remain clean.  If you mess it clean it up.  For general cleaning...rotate the weeks to unload the dishwasher, clean the bathroom, etc.

You don't get to sleep in the living room because your room is too messy for you to sleep in.  Your room is your room.  The common area is not your room.

Eat your own food.  But if you park it in the refrigerator and forget about haven't relinquished your ownership rights.  If you lift the lid and something in there winks at you...well, it is still your responsibility to get it out of there.

Personal items like underwear, or even REALLY personal items need to stay in your room.  I mean...come on.  There are some things that other people really don't need to know about you.  Even if they live with you.

I guess the bottom line is this: be considerate.

Because if you aren't...your roommates are within their rights to make your life as difficult as they are perceiving that you are making theirs.  Possibly even more so.  And seriously?  Haven't we seen enough creepy roommate movies already?  Don't give anyone any ideas. 

Maybe part of growing up is learning that you are always accountable to someone.  Unless you choose to live on a mountaintop or in a cabin in the deep woods...there is always going to be someone to whom you owe some consideration.  You may not be living with your parents...but you are still accountable to your roommates...your professors...your group on a project...or perhaps your sorority/fraternity.  Above all, though, you are accountable to God to conduct yourself in a manner that doesn't trash your parents' faith in you and doesn't make your roommates want to smother you with a pillow while you sleep.

Or worse.

The college years are meant to be fun and carefree...but with all of this freedom comes responsibility.  If you are living with someone need to consider their feelings before you make decisions that are going to affect them.  And if push comes to shove...I'm a big fan of calling in the big guns - the parents - whose names are more than likely on the lease.  As I tell my kids...if I'm paying for it...I have a say in it.  That goes for an apartment situation too.

So, if you are out there living with someone, conduct yourself in a manner that wouldn't shame you if that person's parents walked in for a surprise visit.  Because if you think that THAT doesn't obviously haven't lived away from home for very long.  It totally does. 

Like a mother who walked into her son's apartment on a female friend who had stayed the night had to take the "walk of shame" out of his apartment in front of his mother.  Or the mother who came in and roused everyone to clean up the pig sty of an apartment that she was paying for while she threw a giant fit in the living room.  Her son was embarrassed...but that apartment got cleaned.

And if you are one of the lucky ones like my daughter...consider yourself blessed.  Very blessed indeed. 

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