Should I have a roommate if I'm bad at having one?
March 30, 2014 11:35 PM   Subscribe

Should I have a roommate if most of my experiences with roommates have been bad? / How can I be better at living with others?

I am thinking about moving out of my parents' house. I will probably have to/ I would like to live with a roommate. I do not want to live by myself, although it's easier in some ways, because I am scared of living alone.

However, I've had poor relationships with some of my roommates in the past (in dorm situations). Looking back, some of it was a poor fit (in lifestyle) but a lot of it was my unwillingness to get along with them. I shut myself off from a lot of social situations and I have problems I need to work on myself, in how I make friends and relate to others.

Now I know it's important to find roommates with similar lifestyle who's on the same page. For example, time to sleep/wake up, whether other people come in, etc. But in general, I'm not great at being with people yet. I wonder if I should look for roommates when I do move out, or what kind of living situation would be best. It likely will not be with someone I know.

To put it another way, how can a kind of anti-social person be a good roommate?
posted by ichomp to Human Relations (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Were your roommates in the dorm sharing your room? Because that's very different from sharing an apartment with separate bedrooms, which is probably what you will do.

Anti-social people can be great roommates, as long as they room with similar people. If you move in with someone who likes to talk about their day regularly, or throws a lot of parties, it probably won't work. But there are people out there who don't mind a quietly amicable living situation where any communication among the roommates is strictly business. The important thing is that you and your roommates respect each other, and are willing to communicate openly and calmly. Make sure you discuss your preferences regarding cleanliness, visitors, etc. before moving in with someone.

Living by yourself can be great, but from what you say, it sounds like having roommates would be good for you! It will help build your social skills, and perhaps even introduce you to new friend circles. At the very least, you'll learn how to negotiate and compromise with people who are not your parents, which comes in handy at work and other situations as well.
posted by redlines at 11:52 PM on March 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yeah, you just need introverted roommates. Redlines has good advice. I roomed with a few graduate students (like, PhD in a science types) and it was great. My two best friends are former roommates because I'm so quiet that if I don't live with you I just won't ever talk to you enough!

Yup, make sure there are clear house rules... previous questions cover that though ;-)
posted by jrobin276 at 12:34 AM on March 31, 2014

I'm shy and I've rarely had a problem with roommates. When looking for roommates, I always explained that the kind of relationship I was looking for was 'we get the rent paid, we split household tasks, and otherwise try to stay out of each others hair'. I had good luck finding people who who were looking for the same kind of arrangement and ended up being good roommates for me.

Having your own bedroom makes this a very different situation from living in a dormitory, as does being able to pick your roommates and being able to negotiate upfront about what your arrangements are going to be.
posted by nangar at 1:12 AM on March 31, 2014

Nthing the above advice. College dormmates are not going to be the same kettle of fish as adult roomies who just want to get the rent paid and get on with their lives. Being quiet and doing your fair share of the chores will make you a stellar roomie in many people's eyes.

It's admirable that you seem concerned with dealing with some things about yourself that you're not happy with, but maybe try and divorce the "being more sociable" and "being a good roommate" issues. It might work out better for you to have a calm home life where you can be by yourself and have friends in other life zones like work or clubs/hobbies, for example.
posted by mymbleth at 1:30 AM on March 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do not acquire roommates with the expectation, intent or wish that you will be friends. You are looking for pleasant people who can pay their rent on time and are not ax murderers. How social or anti-social you are isn't really a thing the way it is in a dorm. Also unlike a dorm, the hours at which your roommate gets up, comes home or goes to bed in none of your business as long as they are quiet.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:33 AM on March 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

How to be a good roommate in 6 easy steps:
1. Pay your bills on time.
2. Clean up after yourself. Be generous about chores and cleaning, do extra.
3. Don't dump on your roommates. Had a bad day? They don't give a shit. They're roommates, not your mom.
4. Don't have your SO over more than 1-2 days per week without discussing it. Even then limit their time at your place.
5. Don't get drawn into drama. Roommate has drama? Smile and nod and back away.
6. Boundaries. Have them.
posted by fshgrl at 1:36 AM on March 31, 2014 [20 favorites]

You are looking for pleasant people who can pay their rent on time and are not ax murderers.

Actually you're looking for pleasant people who can pay their rent on time, are not ax murderers, and leave the shared spaces (especially the kitchen) cleaner than they found them without ever needing to be reminded to.

If you are or can be a person like that, you will have no trouble living with others similar.
posted by flabdablet at 4:23 AM on March 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

A couple of thoughts:

1. Are you taking the advice you received when you asked this question? If so, I think you are probably in a decent place in terms of managing the hard parts of living with roommates. If not, I encourage you to do more personal work before living with other people.

2. You say: I do not want to live by myself, although it's easier in some ways, because I am scared of living alone. This sets off some major red flags for me. In most cases your roommates won't be close enough to you to want to help you with your issues, and it isn't fair to rely on them to help you manage your fear of living alone. I encourage you to get therapy re: this fear rather than using roommates as a band-aid solution.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:27 AM on March 31, 2014 [11 favorites]

In a dorm, you're sharing a room. In an apartment you won't be. (Or you shouldn't - those situations are wonderfully cheap but don't work out well.) I had mediocre roommate experiences in college (even with people I liked) but I love living in a group house and have always chosen to have housemates, even now as I approach a dignified middle age.

Seek an introverted housemate, as advised above. Meet before moving in. If you get bad vibes, don't seal the deal; if there's a dealbreaker, don't seal the deal. The only bad housemate situations I've ever had, I've been able to see coming a mile away - but politeness or wishful thinking led me to ignore incompatibility.

The advice above is very good. Also things to consider:

How much stuff will you have? I have sometimes encountered minor friction when all parties have a lot of stuff. IME, the best solution is splitting the shared space fairly.

How will you handle food? Will you share anything? At our house, we share oil and seasonings and that's it. We each have our own space in the fridge. Because we all get along well, there's a lot of "oh, I ran out of flour so I borrowed half a cup of yours" and "I made all these cookies - they're in a tin on the counter if you want them", but we don't try anything fancy with sharing other supplies.

How will you share important things? Do you have anything nice, such as nice pots and pans? Do you have anything fragile and nice? Lay out the rules for sharing. I once had a college roommate who took my good kitchen knife which had been a big deal birthday present and cost $54 in 1995 - to scrape her potter's wheel and then left it at the studio for weeks so I thought I had lost it somehow.

I find that while quiet housemates are great, I also like to have a powerful fan (a white noise machine would do the same thing) so that when my housemates are making totally reasonable noises but I want quiet, I can adjust.

You'll need to buy shared things like paper towels and dish soap. I suggest that you each throw X amount into the rent, put that money in a jar and spend it as needed on agreed upon items. Trying to manage this is stressful. Also - buy bulk. You will be happier if you both go to Target once every three months and split a giant purchase than if you're trying to work it out week by week.

It's difficult to get dishes right. IME, the best thing to do is to accept that dishes will never be absolutely right. I have never, ever lived in a house where we were all happy about the dishes all the time. Just focus on keeping the kitchen clean enough to use and when you feel grumpy, try to rise above.
posted by Frowner at 4:32 AM on March 31, 2014 [7 favorites]

I do not want to live by myself, although it's easier in some ways, because I am scared of living alone.

What's scary about living alone? Have you ever lived alone in the past? Based on what you've written above it doesn't sound as if you have. My guess is that you are afraid of living alone only because you haven't done it before.

Living alone can seem scary at first, but unless there's an issue you haven't disclosed here, you can do it. The actual fact of living alone is generally mundane and not scary, especially if you pick a neighborhood / building that feels safe and comfortable to you.

As an introvert you might have to do some extra work on blazing your own social path without the help of roommates (should you choose to live alone, or have a strictly professional roommate situation) but is rich with suggestions for navigating this - and if none suit, you can always post another question.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 5:18 AM on March 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got on alright sharing (ups and downs, of course) but living alone was the best. Doesn't mean you're always solitary - your place might be full of people 24 hours - just means that ultimately you please yourself.
posted by Segundus at 5:55 AM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think you should get a roommate. Why would I suggest you as a roommate to someone else? Live alone, see a therapist, and go out to do things once a week.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:21 AM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Roommates don't have to get along they just need to be polite and responsible. As others have said I'm nthing dorm situations are totally different. You know your limitations and your needs and can communicate them. That's exactly what you need to be able to start off a good roommate relationship.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:29 AM on March 31, 2014

I am a person who is absolutely not meant to live with people - I make an exception for my partner but even then it's touch and go some days. I say that so you will understand that I really mean it when I confirm what's been said above - dorm situations are very different from 'roommate in shared apartment/house with separate rooms' situations.

A shared apartment is a big step up in tolerability even for the deeply anti-social, like you and me. It's amazing what psychic wonders a door can do for you. I wouldn't recommend getting a roommate just as an experiment in getting better at interacting with people. If you can find a way to live alone, that might be best. Honestly, I am better at social interaction when I don't live with anyone - it's a lot easier to get it together to be social for a night out with friends, when I know I will be going home to my own place, exactly as I like it, quiet but for me, where I can do exactly what I want.

But if you need a roommate for financial or practical reasons, don't be too scared by bad dorm experiences. This is a whole other thing, it will be easier.

Be polite, be responsible, talk about stuff like cleaning schedules and who buys the groceries and toilet paper up front before they become issues. A roommate is not and, I would argue, shouldn't be your very best friend - it's someone you share some bills and living space with, and try not to annoy each other too much.
posted by Stacey at 8:09 AM on March 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I never had a roommate in a college dorm; I was fortunate enough to have a single dorm room all four years.

In grad school, I had a roommate, but only because I couldn't afford Boston rent on the half of my salary I was paid through my then-employer's grad school scholarship program. I shared a 2 bedroom, 2 1/2 bathroom apartment. My roommate and I did not see each other much. We each got our own bedroom and our own bathroom. He kept his bathroom fairly disgusting while I cleaned mine regularly.

I had my own plates and silverware, which I washed in the dishwasher, and he had his own plates and silverware which he only ever rinsed off in the sink and put back in the cabinet. I had my food in the fridge and he had his. He and I both kept common areas clean, whereas I kept my bedroom a cluttered mess and he kept his neat at all times.

My roommate and I had very different schedules -- he was out of school and had a full-time job with 8-5 hours, whereas I was a grad student and therefore in and out at all hours of the day. I rarely saw him. When I did see him, he was watching sports on the TV we shared. We exchanged the bare minimum of words. I apologized for the nasty arguments I had with my then-girlfriend if they happened while he was home.

The bills were all in his name (with the exception of rent, which we'd worked out we'd each pay the landlord separately for our portions). I paid my half of rent and all bills promptly and on time each month. (I took issue paying half of the cable that I never had time to watch, but I just shut up and paid it.)

After I moved out, we didn't stay in touch. We didn't really get along, but that didn't matter when we were roommates.

Point is, though my roommate did a lot of things differently that annoyed me, I didn't care, because those things didn't affect me nearly as much as they would have were we sharing a college dorm room instead of a decently sized apartment.

Now, I also helped out a friend of mine in times of trouble by renting him my extra bedroom in my house. This really strained our friendship, even though we had been friends for several years and we got along. This was solely due to the fact that he didn't pay his agreed-upon rent and portion of the bills, because he was having financial troubles at the time (I knew this beforehand, so I couldn't really get too upset). Honestly, I really appreciated having a good friend around the house, so I guess that was worth the amount I ate on bills that quite honestly I would have been paying anyway if he wasn't there.

So, my suggestion is to go do it, provided you each have your own bedroom and bathroom. Make sure you pay your portion of rent and bills on time. Make sure you keep common areas clean even if you keep your own areas messy.
posted by tckma at 8:43 AM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Something that hasn't been mentioned yet, that I think matters when finding roommates - try to find someone who is at least somewhat similar to you re: being a morning person or night person. I'm a morning person. I once had a roommate who was a night person. We got on each other's nerves through no fault of our own - I wanted to run the vacuum at 10 AM on a weekend morning, and she wanted quiet so she could sleep in. She wanted to watch TV, chat with her boyfriend, play noisy computer games, etc. at midnight when I wanted to sleep - and I'm a light sleeper.

Fans and earplugs helped a bit, but I would never live with a "night owl" again, because tiny annoying things become big annoying things when you are sleep-deprived. Likewise night owls won't want to live with me!

The holy trinity of roommate living is: pay your share of the bills, do your share of the chores, and treat each other with respect. I would add: look for roommates who are compatible enough that you don't get on each other's nerves just by living your lives. You don't have to be buddies, or even socialize together at all. But in general, quiet people are better off living with other quiet people, morning people with other morning people, etc.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:08 AM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can find a good roommate, go for it. Otherwise, if it's financially feasible for you to live alone, you should do so. I regret every roommate situation I've had, college years and beyond. However, it might be a different case for you. Even if you're afraid of being alone, it's a lot less stress-free. Don't get a roommate unless you can't afford it and are DYING to move out. But YMMV. Personally, it's not for me. Just get a cat.
posted by lunastellasol at 10:18 AM on March 31, 2014

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