Can people with different roommate styles live together?
April 22, 2010 2:18 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with having a roommate who has never had roommates before and has different expectations about being roommates than I do?

I am going to live with someone who has never had roommates before. She and I have different perspectives on what it means to be roommates. The future roomie expects that we will cook together regularly, share most household items, and hang out socially on top of seeing each other every day.

I like this person, but I expect entirely different things from my living situation. My schedule and moods are not going to work with a 7pm planned dinner most nights. I like shopping for myself and knowing that if I run out of butter, it's my own fault and not because someone else just used the last of it for their toast.

I also have some nice household items that I have invested in that I do not want to share. Roommate does not have these things because she hasn't needed to stock an apartment of her own before, but I'm a jerk if I say "you can't use my $$$ good knives" or "you may only use my good knives on the wood cutting board for approved items, and only if you wash them immediately after, and by the way no friends of yours may touch the good knives because I don't trust them to follow the rules of good knives." I don't want to be a harpy, but this is the only way I've ever felt comfortable with roommates, but it has been less of a big deal before because the feeling was mutual and we were roommates, not friends.

Overall, I'm concerned that she doesn't yet realize the reality of living with another person who is not a significant other or family. She's thinking it will all be sunshine and roses, and not alot of tedious conversations about utilities and quiet hours and overnight guests.

If I come down on my future roommate with my list of requirements and preferences, she's going to be put off because it's not what she envisions, but we might be able to come to an understanding. If I tell her we can't live together because we want different things, she's going to be offended and angry and it might have alot of repercussions for me socially. Do I try to compromise, or call off our plans and get out before we've signed a lease?
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You need to come to an agreement on the "terms" of living together before you move in. It is much easier to get out of a difficult living situation before you're actually in it. Sit down with future roommate for coffee, talk about some boundaries and rules you can both agree to.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:21 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

You haven't even moved in, and already you're planning how to nag her about stuff. I love all my friends, but this is exactly why I would never want to live with any of them- I don't want to lose them. Call it off.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:23 PM on April 22, 2010 [21 favorites]

Sit her down, talk to her about what your expectations are for people who live with you as a roommate, and let her know that if she has different expectations, you'll try to work with her but you may not be a good fit.

The key here is not to wait until you've signed a lease, and not to present her with a laundry list of requirements, but just to set an appropriate expectation for your shared tenancy. Treat it like the business portion of your relationship, because it is.

It might be as simple as that, to say "Yes, there are going to be fun times together, but we won't always be eating meals together or share all of our things without asking first. We will be roommates, and we are friends, but if we have this expectation that we'll be joined at the hip we'll have a terrible time living together. Sometimes we're going to have to talk about the bills, sometimes we're going to have to deal with hearing no, and sometimes we're going to want alone time -- maybe when the other is feeling lonely. I value our friendship enough that I don't want to risk losing it over stupid roommate issues, the kind of roommate issues everyone going through. How do you feel about this?"
posted by davejay at 2:23 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Call it off.

Seconding. Not to say that your issues aren't perfectly legit, but reading your question made me feel sorry for this would-be roommate.
posted by applemeat at 2:29 PM on April 22, 2010 [13 favorites]

agreeing with the calling it off. i've never been able to live with friends because i didn't want to ruin our friendships with my OCDness (example: i need a spic and span bathroom and kitchen, sadly i've found that most other people don't....) and what was certain to be clashing lifestyles. it's a lot easier to have those hard roommate talks with a friendly acquaintance than a friend. i watched a lot of friends' friendships with each other fall completely apart due to living together.
posted by raw sugar at 2:30 PM on April 22, 2010

For what it's worth, it's much easier to say, "Don't use my good knives/stainless," rather than putting conditionals on it. She'll buy $20 knives and pans from Ikea and ruin those, instead of going through your rules in her head. Easier for everyone, including your cutlery.
posted by supercres at 2:34 PM on April 22, 2010

"Your roommate can be your best friend, but your best friend can't be your roommate."

A friend of mine told me that years ago, and I have never seen it not to be true.
posted by Etrigan at 2:35 PM on April 22, 2010 [11 favorites]

I think you are not intentionally doing this, but there is something in the way you speak that leaves me with the impression that you feel in some small, subtle way, that your way of living with roommates is 'right' and your new roomie's is 'wrong'.

Get that out of your head, because it just ain't so.

Two roommates who want entirely different styles of living might be a very bad fit. If you are moving into a college dorm where you have no choice of roommate, or if otherwise you two have little-to-no choice but to live together (for example not a lot of roommate situations available in your town), there are some tips to manage it. One might be to create a list of hot button items that in your mind it would cause too much angst to share. Like knives, for example. Then create a list of items that in your mind you can compromise on and share. Perhaps you are comfortable with others using your TP, or going in together on groceries (though it sounds like maybe not) or sharing - I don't know - beach chairs. The point is to find a place where a combo of good communication and compromise can establish certain shared items, and certain 'don't touch my stuff' items. A meeting in the middle. Similarly, you might recognize that your roomie wants to be social by planning one night a week where you do stuff together. Whether it's making dinner, meeting for happy hour, whatever.

But that stuff is only really worth it if you are stuck with each other because frankly, when it comes to having your home - your refuge, after all - be the way you want it, compromise can be difficult. These are often ingrained living styles. Going in knowing you are polar opposite is just fodder for even innocent misunderstandings.
posted by bunnycup at 2:38 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ugghhh. I'm you. I did this with her exactly. AVOID.
posted by dong_resin at 2:43 PM on April 22, 2010

Have you had many roommates before? Because your concerns sound... very anxious. It sounds like both of you have unrealistic expectations--or, at least, expectations that require a lot of very specific, honest communication.

If you can't have a very frank conversation about your respective opinions and preferences, you shouldn't live with this person. Also, you'll each need to do some compromising: you may need to learn to share basic grocery staples and not freak out if she uses the last of the butter, and she may need to learn to accept that you're going to have a social life beyond her/the apartment.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:46 PM on April 22, 2010

How have you reacted when she's mentioned all of the wonderful things she's going to expect from roommateship? Because if you've just been gritting your teeth and smiling, you've already done yourself a huge disservice. It's much easier to nicely set someone straight when you haven't been allowing them to believe that you share their mistaken beliefs.

From the mismatch as you've described it, yes, call it off. The pain of disappointing her now is nothing compared to what will happen socially when you live together.

If you do wind up living together, it is totally okay to have certain things that are off-limits for shared use. You wouldn't let someone borrow your most valuable heirloom piece of jewelry, right? This doesn't need to be that weird. Don't put conditions on these things, they're just off-limits. These are your good knives, they're important to you, and sorry, you can't use them.

Butter is not one of those things. It is reasonable to expect her to not use the last of the butter without replacing it, but don't be that roommate who writes her name on the eggs.
posted by desuetude at 2:47 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your personalities make you incompatible as roommates. That's ok, I have good friends I would never in a million years live with. More importantly, if you can't even talk about your living situation before it has even happened without it turning into a big drama-fest, how are you going to work out any issues that will inevitably arise?

I say try to have a reasonable conversation about what kind of roommate you tend to be (instead of kind of picking apart her ideas of what kind of roommate she wants to be) and see how it goes. If she gets upset or it doesn't go well, that's your sign to end it. Tell her that you value her friendship more than you value the living arrangement so you would rather live somewhere else than lose her as a friend.
posted by Kimberly at 2:49 PM on April 22, 2010

This is coming from someone who is a friend or so short because of a friends being roommates that failed situation.

Get your expectations/"demands"/stuff you want to have happen straight before you move in. And honestly, expect the worst. My wife and I (from now on we) told our roommate we didn't care when his girlfriend (which we knew and were friends with only through him) was over. This turned into every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. Complete with him leaving her without a car or any way to get away from our apartment while he went to work Saturday and Sunday mornings. We didn't feel like we could go anywhere since it would leave her at the apartment all alone with no way to lock the door if she wanted to leave, and really no way to get anywhere anyway.

Sleeping schedules mess things up. We had to be up at 5:30am for work. He had to be up for classes that started no earlier than 8 but I know he didn't have any that early. So we were up way earlier than him. Which was a pain after he came out of his room practically yelling at us for being too loud when we were talking in a normal inside voice while we were getting ready for work.

The kitchen is a pain in the ass. There's the issue with how clean it has to be. If food will be shared. We told them they could use baking things since you pretty much have to buy those in bulk. They understood that to mean they could use eggs. We didn't mean it like that, and all the time they had to make fudge or a cake or brownies or something. There's also the issue with stuff in the kitchen. You can only have so many kitchen toys. Which means that if someone pretty much has the square pyrex pan constantly in use with fudge, then nobody else gets to use it. And all the times when there was food left on the pots and pans and he still put them away...

If/when things go bad, who's going to be on the hook for the place? Our roommate just decided right before Thanksgiving that he was moving out and was going to make us pay for the entire apartment. Luckily we had another friend my wife had lived with before who needed a place to live so we didn't press him on that issue. But you might not be so lucky. He also assumed that he wouldn't have to pay the last month of utilities since he was paying the fee for him breaking the lease. Are you prepared to deal with any of those?

Really, if you're questioning things this way before you move in then there will probably be issues. You might want to reconsider. And yes, not wanting to ruin a friendship is a good reason in my book not to live with someone.

As for your household items that you don't want to share... That's perfectly fine. As long as you can keep them in your room and pull them out when you want to use them. It's not really fair to have something sitting out in the open when people aren't allowed to use them. I'm sure the roommate will have some things they won't want to share either.
posted by theichibun at 2:49 PM on April 22, 2010

I'm moving out of a flat I share, as a lodger, because for the rent I pay I want to be able to have more autonomy over where I live rather than feel as though I'm encroaching on someone else's space. By the same token, I wanted to move somewhere where I wouldn't be expected to be the other housemates' new best friend, because I have my own friends and like being antisocial now and again. It sounds like you might get easily frustrated with this new room-mate - you're at different stages in the rental world, and I can see a lot of upset and angst in the future.
posted by mippy at 2:53 PM on April 22, 2010

I lived with my best friend for years, and it went peachy! And I had that EXACT conversation about the good knives. Seriously, like: "Yo, here's the deal with the knives, I can bore you with the science behind it or I can just straight up tell you the ground rules, your call."

Just tell her, right away, "Heads up: being roommates means there's gonna be lots of INCREDIBLY tedious annoying details we need to organize, so because I love and respect you, I'm going to be pretty up-front about what I need, and I want you to do the same. This will be harsh on both of us at many points, but it's the only way I can live sanely. If you're not willing to meet me on this, then we should live with other people, but if you ARE willing to keep things direct and honest, I would be delighted, because I value you as a friend and think you'd be tops to be around when I'm at home. Feel free to think on it, no need to answer right away."
posted by Greg Nog at 2:56 PM on April 22, 2010

To answer your question, "Can people with different roommate styles live together?" No, they cannot. Some people thrive on the "let's do everything together bit", others are the complete opposite. I went through a roommate like that, and barely survived. I can't live with anyone unless I'm sleeping with them (and even then it's questionable :) ), because I need, NEED that flexibility and downtime. Sounds like you do too.
posted by Melismata at 2:56 PM on April 22, 2010

desuetude: "Butter is not one of those things. It is reasonable to expect her to not use the last of the butter without replacing it, but don't be that roommate who writes her name on the eggs."

Oh, I wish I had previewed to see that. Maybe it's because I was that roommate, but I have to disagree with the idea that as a 100% of the time rule this is a bad idea. It really depends on what everyone agrees to and what everyone's eating habits are. If we had split milk with our old roommate we would have had to buy about 3 gallons a week since he drank so much milk. Splitting eggs would have been a pain since they used so many at a time, we wouldn't have been able to ever count on having any. Splitting pasta would have been terrible because I really love pasta and would have eaten it all the time.

Some people can share food stuff and be fine. Some can't. And really, if you buy it then it's yours to do with as you will unless there's some other agreement in place.
posted by theichibun at 2:57 PM on April 22, 2010

Completely agree with DaveJay. If don't want to call it off, you MUST call a ground-rules meeting. Better to have her jump back a foot and go, "OH, she's like THAT" than to walk into a situation eyes-wide-open that you suspect won't be tenable for you. The discomfort of doing it will be infinitely less than the discomfort of living with a person who has no idea where you're coming from and no idea how to avoid annoying you.

It doesn't need to be presented as a referendum on lifestyles; more like, "hey, I can see we have very different styles for approaching stuff. Let's talk about it now, and figure a few things out before we jump in whole-hog."

For what it's worth, the roommates I have dreaded the most have been some of the best. I think going in with low expectations can help when things require adjustment. Hard to know for sure how it will go, but a DT(R)R would definitely give you some ideas about how tolerant she is going to be about other people's lifestyles. And give her some time to digest the input you provide.
posted by Ys at 3:03 PM on April 22, 2010

I was just like you as a roommate. That's why I decided not to have roommates anymore.
posted by nosila at 3:26 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry to be Negative just wasn't any fun for me and undoubtedly not fun for my roommates either. YMMV and all.
posted by nosila at 3:27 PM on April 22, 2010

but I have to disagree with the idea that as a 100% of the time rule this is a bad idea. It really depends on what everyone agrees to and what everyone's eating habits are.

Is it not normal for sharers to buy and eat their own food? Because, damn, I'm too old to be having angsty conversations about mayonnaise.

As a student I moved back into halls of residence (like on-campus) for my final year. When you've lived out of home for two years, it feels different to doing it for the first time. One girl knocked on my door and demanded to know if I'd been 'looking through her vegetables' (no) then became affronted when I said that if nothing had been taken, did it really matter if they had?

What I'm saying is, you migth get on fine, but you've had time to get used to sharing space and this girl has not. You need to have a chat.
posted by mippy at 3:30 PM on April 22, 2010

I don't think this is so much a situation where you know what roommates are like and she doesn't. It's more that she isn't the sort of roommate that you want. My wife and I have a roommate with whom we share everything, including most dinners since she's not much of a cook. It's probably the type of relationship your friend is imagining, and while it's not in line with your experience it's also not abnormal.

Lay down some ground rules, and remember the first rule of conflict resolution: "It's not you, it's me. I'm weird about my [knives, butter, toilet paper], and I'm hoping you can put up with me by meeting in the middle." If you can't do that then call it off.
posted by monkeymadness at 3:41 PM on April 22, 2010

Until you've spoken to her about this, there's no reason to pre-emptively decide it won't work out. Her ideas about what housemates do and don't do aren't unrealistic, per se, they're just not what you want. If you talk to her and explain what kind of things you expect, she may very well be fine with it and adjust her expectations accordingly. When I first moved in to a share house I expected that cheap, daily essentials would be shared (do we really need a 'mine' and 'yours' butter?). When my housemate said that they preferred to keep everything separate so as to never have any issues with who finished what and whos turn it is to replace something, I didn't decide that I couldn't live with them; I just adjusted what I expected and things were fine.

So, talk to her first.
posted by twirlypen at 4:48 PM on April 22, 2010

You sound kinda uptight; to live successfully with someone else, you need to move in with someone as uptight as you, otherwise it will be like one of those buddy comedies - but more accurately: it will be like watching one of those buddy comedies; an irritating and pointless exercise that leaves you feeling dissatisfied, angry, and like you've wasted time and money.
posted by smoke at 5:04 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm totally "you", I moved in with exactly "her" and now I live by myself and we aren't friends any more.

Me and my friend never talked about it until she told me I had to find another place to live (I had moved into her place). Different roommate styles will always irritate each other unless there is a lot of compromise on both parts after a very long and detailed discussion.
Be really really up front with her about your preferences, but I really don't think it would work out.

To soften the social blow, you might try to frame it with: "I'm really hard to live with, and I doubt you'd like me as a roommate, you should probably find someone more fun!"

Not saying you aren't fun AT ALL, but flipping it around and owning it in a light hearted way might help?

For me it's always the dishes. Is it so hard to clean up after yourself?
posted by smartypantz at 5:05 PM on April 22, 2010

I'm not trying to sound like a jerk or insult you or anything, but are you an only child? You sound like only children I know who as adults have some issues with sharing their space and their stuff.

You and this person may be able to work it out, but I wouldn't suggest signing a lease until you have a long, clarifying conversation about expectations and boundaries prior to anyone signing a lease.
posted by 4ster at 7:18 PM on April 22, 2010

Sit down with her at a coffee shop. Have two pieces of paper. On your piece of paper, write all the things you want from a roommate (not sharing groceries, not using your knives, keeping the kitchen clean, whatever). Have her do the same on hers. Compare the lists and figure out how you can compromise. For example, maybe you can't do dinner every night, but doing it twice a week would be fun and make her feel more at home. If your lists are irreconcilable, be happy you figured it out before moving in together.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:40 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I've been in a lot of roommate situations. A request for a housemate to be careful with your expensive items is NOT out of line. (The knife conversation in my life came from a roommate who had eight siblings. I think she was sick of her stuff getting ruined by others.)

In every household that worked out, we had all sat together and discussed our expectations. In some households, we shared food. In others, names were on EVERYTHING. If you can sit down with her, you can figure out how to make it work. Or, if you are already feeling like this is a bad idea, maybe you should listen to your instincts and be upfront with "I don't think you'll enjoy living with me".

In the two that didn't work for me... well, when the first time you learn your roommate takes anti-psychotics shouldn't be when she says, "Oh, I decided to stop taking my anti-psychotics last week!" My flatware was never the same after I pulled half of it out of the cinder block wall. *sigh* Also, any housemate that steals your epilepsy Rx is a risk, too.

Also, if you do sit and work out the expectations, you should also make sure everyone is clear on what medical issues one another may have in case paramedics must be called. This is the voice of experience...
posted by _paegan_ at 3:26 AM on April 23, 2010

Overall, I'm concerned that she doesn't yet realize the reality of living with another person who is not a significant other or family.

Keep in mind that this is a shared accommodation; for every rule that you impose, she has a right to ask you to share a little more (of yourself, of your stuff if she does not have something). If that is not something you are interested in (and basically want it to be your apartment with someone splitting the rent) perhaps it is time to get a place of your own.
posted by Hiker at 4:51 AM on April 23, 2010

I was just like you as a roommate. That's why I decided not to have roommates anymore.
posted by nosila at 3:26 PM on April 22 [1 favorite +] [!]

Sorry to be Negative just wasn't any fun for me and undoubtedly not fun for my roommates either. YMMV and all.
posted by nosila at 3:27 PM on April 22 [+] [!]

I was the same as this person. I found that once I got to a point in my life where I had the money to invest in nice things, I needed to be responsible with money enought to get my own (teeny tiny cheap) place to live to protect said things.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:14 AM on April 23, 2010

« Older Making love out of nothing at all.   |   Need help with Google Voice Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.