Young People Ask . . .

Why Is My Roommate So Hard to Live With?

“I’m neat, real neat. But when I come home, my roommate is sprawled out on the floor watching TV​—papers and popcorn everywhere. Each time I come home, I have this mental picture of what I’m going to see, and I say to myself, ‘I don’t want to go in there.’”​—David.

“My roommate was a spoiled brat. I guess she figured that she had a maid and a butler living with us. And she always wanted things done her way.”​—Renee. *

“LEARNING to tolerate a stranger’s idiosyncrasies may teach . . . flexibility and the art of compromise,” said an article in U.S.News & World Report. “But the learning process is often painful.” Those who have ever had a roommate might agree.

Many university students live with a roommate to help trim the high cost of schooling. Other young ones move in with a roommate because they want independence from their parents. Among young Christians, many have taken on a roommate in order to pursue spiritual interests. (Matthew 6:33) They find that having someone to share living expenses helps them to serve as full-time evangelizers. Having a roommate is also at times part of missionary life and of service at various branch offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses. *

Awake! talked with a number of young men and women who have lived with roommates. All agreed that a roommate can be much more than someone who helps with the rent​—a roommate can be a source of companionship, someone to talk to and do things with. “We’d stay up and talk girl talk or just watch movies,” recalls Lynn. “A roommate  can also encourage you,” says Renee. “Sometimes when you’re working, trying to pay all your bills, trying to preach, it’s nice to have a roommate to encourage you.”

Even so, living with a roommate​—especially one who at first is a virtual stranger—​can be a great challenge. U.S.News & World Report observed regarding the college scene: “Despite extensive efforts by many schools to make felicitous roommate matches, unsatisfactory outcomes are common.” Indeed, conflicts between college roommates have been known to escalate to the point of violence! Internet Web sites have thus sprung up that allow students to vent their seemingly endless frustrations regarding their roommates. Why is it that living with a roommate often proves to be difficult?

Living With a Stranger

“Moving in with a stranger is kind of an interesting experience,” says Mark. “You don’t really know what he’s going to be like.” Indeed, the thought of living with someone with whom you may have little or nothing in common can be quite unsettling. True, Christians should have much in common and many things to talk about. Even so, David admits: “I had a lot of fears about having a roommate.”

It turned out, however, that David’s roommate had a background similar to his. But not all matches work so well. Says Mark: “My first roommate just didn’t talk much. When you are with someone in close quarters, you really need to talk. But he wouldn’t. It really got to me.”

Differences in background can cause yet other stresses and strains. Lynn says: “When you first move out on your own, you want to do things your way. But you soon find out that there are other people to consider.” Indeed, coming from the secure cocoon of your family’s home, it can be quite a shock to find out just how differently other people might view things.

Different Backgrounds, Different Ways

Much depends upon the training​—or lack of training—​that one received from his or her parents. (Proverbs 22:6) Young Fernando says: “I’m a neat person, and my roommate was sloppy. Take the closet: He liked throwing things all over. I liked hanging things up.” Sometimes the differences in standards are quite extreme.

Recalls Renee: “I had a roommate whose bedroom literally looked like a dump! I’ve also had roommates who don’t clean up the table after eating or who leave their dishes in the sink for two or three days.” Yes, when it comes to housework, some roommates seem to be the embodiment of the words of Proverbs 26:14: “A door keeps turning upon its pivot, and the lazy one upon his couch.”

On the other hand, rooming with someone who registers far on the other end of the neatness spectrum may not be much fun either. Says a young woman named Lee of one roommate: “As far as she was concerned, the cleaning needed to be done hourly. By no means am I dirty, but I sometimes left stuff, like books, out on my bed. And she felt she had to police the situation.”

Roommates may also have their own ideas about personal hygiene. Mark explains: “My roommate gets up at the last minute. He just runs to the sink, throws some water over his hair, and heads out the door.”

Differences in background and personality can affect choices of entertainment and recreation. “We don’t like the same kind of music,” says Mark of his roommate. Where there is mutual respect, however, such differences can be beneficial, perhaps helping both  roommates to broaden their tastes. But all too often, these differences result in conflict. “I like Spanish music,” says Fernando, “but my roommate is always criticizing it.”

The Phone​—A Problem

Use of the telephone can be one of the greatest causes of conflict. Says Mark: “I like to go to bed. But my roommate stays up late talking on the phone. That can get annoying after a while.” Lynn similarly recalls: “Sometimes my roommate’s friends would call at three or four in the morning. If she wasn’t there, I had to get up and answer the phone.” Their solution? “We made sure that we each had our own phone.”

However, not all youths can afford to have their own phones, and many are forced to share. This can set the stage for some very tense times. Recalls Renee: “One of my roommates was dating, and she was often on the phone for hours. One month she ran up a bill of over 90 dollars. She expected each of us to pay a part of it, since we had all agreed to split the bill evenly.”

Just getting access to the phone can be another issue. “I was rooming with someone older than me,” recalls Lee. “And we had just one phone. I’d be on the phone all the time because I had a lot of friends. She never said anything. I figured that if she wanted to use the phone, she would tell me. I realize now that I was being inconsiderate.”

Lack of Privacy

“Everybody needs some time by himself,” says David. “Sometimes, I just need to lay back and do nothing at all.” However, finding private moments can be challenging when you’re sharing your living quarters with someone. “I like to have my alone time,” agrees Mark. “So the hardest thing for me has been the lack of privacy. My roommate and I have the same schedule. So privacy is hard to find.”

Even Jesus Christ occasionally needed some time alone. (Matthew 14:13) It can be frustrating, therefore, when the presence of a roommate makes it difficult, if not impossible, to read, study, or meditate. Says Mark: “It’s hard to study because something is always going on. He has friends over, he’s on the phone, or he’s watching the TV or listening to the radio.”

Nevertheless, as challenging as putting up with a roommate can be, thousands of young ones have made a success of it. Further articles in this series will discuss some practical ways to make the most out of rooming with someone.


^ par. 4 Some of the names have been changed.

^ par. 6 Although this counsel is directed to young people, it may also prove helpful to older ones who have had to take up living with a roommate after changed circumstances, such as widowhood.

[Picture on page 16, 17]

Different tastes in music can present a challenge

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Lack of consideration can create tensions