tips for picking the right roommate

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Coming home should be something you look forward to, whatever that means for you. You have every right to enjoy yourself, but so does your roommate. Conflict happens when your idea about what enjoyment consists of doesn’t mesh well with theirs. 

You can find a roommate in a rushed or ill-informed way, and hope you’d stumbled upon the right one by chance. OR, you can avoid the need to pack your stuff and/or look for a new roommate frequently by being more clever about it upfront. 

Find a roommate with whom you share some degree of lifestyle compatibility. Opposites may attract in some romantic situations, but a lack of lifestyle compatibility is only a recipe for disaster in a roommate situation. 

roommate realism
Be realistic in that no roommate situation is going to be perfect, a few conflicts will always arise.

On the other hand, some things are going to be non-negotiable for you if you intend to keep living a certain lifestyle.

Try to figure out what the biggies are for you, and make sure to find a roommate based on those, investigate and decide upfront. Do NOT compromise anything you know is important to you, but DO compromise on the stuff that isn’t.

time with roommate outside the home
Probably not your issue if you’re looking for a roommate on the internet, but in case you arrived here otherwise, this bears mentioning. It’s not usually the best idea to find a roommate at work or any other relatively small space you are required to exist within regularly.

Even deliriously happy newlyweds need time apart. No matter how fabulously you and your new roommate get along, so will you. Probably better to aim for enjoying each other’s company when together over constant non-optional togetherness.

find-a-roommate stereotypes
Don’t rely on tired outdated stereotypes to find a roommate. As almost anyone who has had multiple and demographically diverse roommates will tell you, not all women are tidy, and not all young men are loud.

Or vice versa. If what you want is clean and quiet, ask about those behaviors specifically.

If you imagine picking someone on the basis of age or gender or some other demographic detail is necessarily going to guarantee any particular roommate-related adjective for you by default, you’re likely in for a VERY rude awakening.

how many bedrooms per roommate?
Sharing a bedroom with your roommate is really NOT best. Yes, you’d save even more money. But the downside is substantial, that being you will have nowhere in the dwelling to go that’s all for you and you alone. 

NO . . . PRIVACY . . . WHAT-SO-EV-ER (said slowly and ominously).

Having roommates does necessarily involve some loss of privacy, but sharing ALL (as opposed to just most) living spaces makes the loss much more severe.

find a roommate timeframe
Leaving it to the last minute to find a roommate means you’ll: 1) Panic 2) Settle for less.

But you procrastinators out there probably knew that already, didn’t you? More time to be choosy ahead of time almost always means less hassle later.

my roommate was here . . . and here . . . and here
Some folks leave little trails of evidence detailing all their activities wherever they go, while others are compulsively tidy. Figure out who you are and find a roommate in the same general area of the continuum.

Messies can sometimes pacify the tidy by confining their mess to their personal area, but folks that are extremely different in this regard are bound to bug the hell out of each other.

However, don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll be in Roommate Nirvana if you’re both total slobs. Eventually someone will have to clean up, or the roaches and/or the Health Department will make you wish you had.

first roommate interview
Trust your gut instincts during that initial roommate interview.

If something seems a little off about the person and/or you just plain don’t think you like them so much, trust yourself.

The initial interview is “best behavior” time. If you’re less than thrilled to be spending time with them now, you’ll likely be much MUCH less than thrilled later.

Some may request a credit report on any new roommate. If you want to be the early bird that gets the worm and plan to look at a lot of places, requesting one for yourself in advance could put you at the head of the pack for a choice situation.

If it’s good, it will be an interpersonal selling point, perhaps helping you get in good with the landlord if that’s required as well. If there are negatives on your report, be prepared to explain the what and why.

why do they want to find a roommate NOW?
Try to find out why a potential new roommate is looking at this time. It could give you some insight into compatibility.

Is this their first flail into the adult world? How long have they been away from Mom and/or Dad? Did they not get along with their last roommate? Did their wife kick them out? Could they not pay their bills?

Why, why, and why?

roommate comings and goings
Do you like to come and go on a whim, even frequently during the wee hours?

Or will you freak out if you hear your front door opening at 3 a.m.? 

Definitely questions to ask when looking for a roommate, a lack of compatibility here will be sorely missed.

“morality” and your roommate
If you have a platform on moral issues, definitely add that to the list of questions to ask when looking for a roommate. Best to find a roommate that is somewhat similar to yourself on those issues by sharing before moving in together. 

Like, does a sizable segment of society-at-large do something that severely annoys you, or something you think makes them “bad people?” If your roommate did that and you found out, would it make them roommate-non-grata in your eyes to the extent you wouldn’t want to be around them anymore?

Often in the getting-to-know-you stage folks are more polite about this sort of thing, which works well for many relationships (say, someone working near you in an office) but not so much on the roommate front. Get it out in the open before you discover it with horror after signing a lease and moving your stuff.

who will be visiting your roommate?
How many, how often? Parties? Significant others sleeping over regularly but not contributing to the bills? Family members dropping by? Even if you and your roommate(s) get along just fine, what sort of friends will they have over regularly? What if the visitors need to use your bathroom/shower regularly? OK vs. not? How often?

All important questions to ask when looking for a roommate. Even if you think you don’t care, fair warning is always more agreeable.

what kind of roommate will you be?
Be honest when describing yourself to a potential roommate. Are you really tidy?

No, for real.

You may be tempted to insinuate that you behave in the manner a potential roommate seems to prefer. However, the longer-term stress of trying to keep up a false front for any extended period of time after you move in . . . or the stress of having your new roommate hate your guts for not only not being tidy (or whatever it was you pretended to be) but also being a liar will be a drag, trust us.

your roommate’s pets
If you live in a household with pets, you will probably be asked to take care of them at some point. Even if owned by one person that sincerely intends to be entirely responsible for their care, personal emergencies and illness happen to everyone from time to time. And all pets create at least a few messes here and there.

If that’s cool with you with regard to the species in question, go for it. Just don’t join a household imagining these factors will somehow never apply to you.

And agreeing to help care for an animal then shirking your responsibility? Evil, evil, horrid bad you! What you roommate will say. Not going to be pleasant for the animal either, we wouldn’t imagine.

roommates and sleeping
If you like to go to bed early and are a light sleeper, don’t live with a night owl, unless you’re comfortable using earplugs. Similarly, if you know you like to be noisy late at night, you’d best find a roommate not so busy at the crack of what-in-the-world-are-they-doing-this-early unless they swear they sleep heavily.

the absentee roommate
Sometimes someone seems more appealing as a potential roommate because they say they’ll be spending little time at your shared abode . . . maybe they have a significant other in whose home they spend much time, a job that requires frequent travel, studying elsewhere several hours a day . . . whatever. But don’t ignore other roommate-related considerations just based on the appeal of a possibly “absentee” roommate.

First, their circumstances could suddenly change at any time, breakup, job change, library closing, etc., and then you might suddenly be seeing a lot more of them than you initially planned. The phantom roommate that cheerfully pays half the bills for an extended period of time but rarely intrudes upon your collectively paid space is usually just a fantasy.

Second, that person may suddenly and/or unilaterally decide they don’t owe on utility bills or should pay a reduced rent because they’re hardly ever there. Which may be fine if that’s acceptable and negotiated upfront, but if you’re on a tight budget, it’s likely you need to find a roommate that will pay a certain amount each month no matter how often you actually see them. Make sure expectations regarding bill-paying are clear from the start, and non-alterable unless all parties cheerfully agree.

friends becoming roommates
Unfortunately, the qualities you might find desirable in a fun friend may NOT be the same ones you will ultimately require in a roommate. Many now ex-roommates found this out the hard way. Friendships have been destroyed over a failure to recognize this at the outset.

Traits or lifestyle habits like a casual attitude toward paying the electric bill that you may have found charming, amusing, or at least tolerable in a friend or non-cohabiting acquaintance can suddenly seem much less so when you’re also in the dark at the end of a long day.

You may party like a Wild Thing with your friends on the weekends or during the week away from home, but require your homebase to be a more peaceful sanctuary when you actually are there.

That same friend you thought was such a riot during your last pubcrawl you may find less hysterical if he/she brings the party home on a night you were trying to study or get to sleep early. Or, conversely, if you want to whimsically bring home whomever/whenever, a roommate who regularly leads a more conservative lifestyle is going to cramp yours.

The best roommate relationships are primarily structured AS roommate relationships. Many roommate relationships that work well as that often lead to good friendships as well. Or, it could just stay a fine roommate situation, and be left less personally (but still quite functionally) as that.

Unfortunately, when you use your pool of friends to find a roommate and the roommate situation goes south, the entire friendship often follows . . . and your other friends may have to hear about it too.

If you and a friend even vaguely suspect you aren’t the best mesh just on the basis of specific roommate-related compatibility and that alone, live near each other, but find a roommate elsewhere. You can still see them regularly, preserve the friendship, and have someplace to crash if things get hairy back at your abode.

conflict resolution skills
One of the most important questions to ask when looking for a roommate is what happened the last few times they had an interpersonal conflict. What did they do, what did they say, how did that work out?

See, in any interpersonal situation, given enough time, conflicts WILL arise.

The mark of a reasonable, emotionally mature individual is not someone who denies conflicts, tries to ignore them, or stews in silence. Rather, it’s someone who can deal with one calmly, respectfully, and generally without the throwing of massive tantrums or the assigning of names one wouldn’t want one’s mother to hear WHEN a conflict arises.

The mature response given a conflict or complaint in a roommate situation would be to bring up concerns when they arise (not after you’ve stewed for 4 weeks straight), and do so in a way that does not involve name-calling and property throwing. Attempt to find a roommate that is capable of this.

your budget
Don’t overextend yourself in terms of what you can pay for rent, bills, etc. You might want to live in the nicest place you could possibly afford, but in the end, the stress of trying to afford something not in your budget will be more stressful than life in a more modest residence.

Even if you think you have it all covered, allow some wiggle room. Do you really want to live like a monk? Also, unplanned and/or accidental additional expenses happen to everyone. Don’t stretch to the limit, allow a bit of play (figuratively and literally).

roommates and kids
Your lifestyle check on any new roommate will need to be more thorough if you plan to have kids over regularly, yours or anyone else’s, even if you’re not the custodial parent. 

Similarly, expect more restrictions on your lifestyle if you opt for a roommate with regular kid visitors. Even something just fine and dandy amongst the adults with only them present (promiscuity, many cocktails, late night parties, rated R movies on TV) is going to be less so when minors are in the house. “Minding your manners” does (as it should) rise to a new level around the kiddies.

They also tend to go to bed and get up really early. Probably that whole elementary school thing.

Do you need to find a roommate?