4 Tips for Living With Difficult Roommates
Living with new people can be daunting, especially if you don’t know them before moving in. Whether you are going to be starting university (or college), setting up in a new city or even just moving in with your friends, negotiating living with others can be delicate. Your home should be a place where you can retreat to and feel safe and comfortable in, and a lot of this comes down to who you’re living with.
Despite being such a common human experience, addressing the awkwardness with the people you live with can feel taboo. I am not referring to complaining behind the backs of your flatmates- everyone has something to say about so-and-so not doing their dishes again.
I am referring to the ability to address a problem head on, whether it is telling your flatmate what you would like them to do differently or explaining that you don’t think the living situation is mutually beneficial. It might be the classic British case of rather dying of built up resentment after your flatmate has yet again eaten the last of your pasta instead of actually maybe asking them not to do it. However, I do believe it is a universal issue that sometimes we want to ignore ‘the little things’ to make life easier.
My first experience with flatmates was when I started university in the September of 2016. I metaphorically hit the jackpot, with all of us clicking almost immediately and three years on we are all still good friends. Although I am aware of people who have had a similar experience, I know far more with their own horror stories to tell. For a while I naively believed that my initial experience was standard- whenever my mates complained about their flatmates I would smugly tell myself that if I were in their position I would be able to navigate it no problem.
I now recognise how oversimplified and arrogant my view was because when I ran into issues with my latest flatmates it threw me as I couldn’t rationalise what was wrong. Some people just aren’t compatible to live with, much in the same way some people get on great as friends but aren’t compatible as a couple. In retrospect, I would definitely have done things differently and I believe my experiences could help people going through their own tricky living situations. So without further ado, here are my four tips for if you find yourself in a place that doesn’t feel like home.
1. Check Yourself
If you find yourself not getting along with the people you live with I would say it is important to check yourself before anything. Obviously, if your housemates are blatantly behaving badly, this step won’t help you (I will get to this scenario later on). However, if the issues are more complex than that I would suggest taking a look inward and really being honest with what is wrong. I look back and know that, while I was trying to be a good flatmate, there was more I could have done. It is easy to delude yourself that other people are the problem, and much more difficult to accept your own role. To be fully objective you needed to look at both sides and focus on what you can do to make things better.
2. Make an Effort
This step goes hand in hand with the previous, as once you have thought about what part you’re playing in the problem it is your responsibility to make a change. Whether that be ensuring you’re paying bills/rent on time, keeping loud music down on weeknights or cleaning up after yourself, by making an effort to be considerate you may be actually nipping your problems in the bud. It is surprising how quickly resentment can build in one person over things another person would consider small.
While I believed I was being considerate by not messing up communal spaces and just messing up my bedroom, realistically I see now I should have taken more initiative to help around the house. Although I don’t think these were the main basis of our difficulties, I definitely think an earlier look at myself and what I could do better would have helped improve relations. Gestures of goodwill can go a long way and I think a clean and tidy up of my room or the kitchen while they were out would’ve helped. Even if nothing comes from making this effort, you can at least have peace of mind knowing you did everything you could to improve things and help you move forward without feeling guilty.
I am a strong believer in communication in any scenario. Communication is key in reaching compromise and understanding as no one can be expected to guess what you want or how you’re feeling. I really struggled with this for many reasons, not least because my flatmates spoke my second language and I was often worried I would express myself badly. It was an unconventional situation and I could not bring myself to sit down and acknowledge any tensions in the flat, I preferred to gloss over them and act oblivious to them. Luckily, my setup was temporary and the end date was set from the day I moved in, but of course this isn’t always the case. If you are planning to live with someone for an unknown length of time, it is worth discussing any issues you have and setting boundaries as early on as you can to avoid conflict. In turn you should ask your flatmates what issues and boundaries they have, listen and respect them. Everyone needs to be listened to and more importantly heard. Healthy communication can resolve a world of problems and prevent even more.
Unfortunately, there are some occasions where you do as much as you can and it still isn’t enough. If you are living with someone that is unequivocally ‘the problem’, no ifs or buts, and they don’t respond to communication then you may have to accept there is nothing you can do to change things, other than moving out. In a feuding scenario, I would strongly recommend moving out if possible, to save your own mental health. It is all very well tolerating awkwardness, but if you are living in hostility, sticking it out may not be your best option.
I had a friend whose ex-boyfriend literally pissed in his flatmate’s milk after she hid his wallet. That level of pettiness was so unbearable to the entire flat that when their contract was up they went their separate ways and it was the only way that the conflict was ‘resolved’, if you can even say that. A lot of stress can be saved by accepting the situation for what it is and deciding where to go from there.
However, acceptance can come in other forms, and to me this meant letting go. I had such a great relationship initially in my most recent flat-share, that when it began to deteriorate I desperately tried to ignore it and act as though nothing was wrong. It took me moving out and being removed from their social media to fully accept the fact our friendship had run its course. It is what it is and I feel happier now living with my uni friends, who are all much more similar to me. Some things are situational and while it was not ideal, I did leave my old flat-mates on good terms. I’d recommend accepting that not everything is within your control and to take comfort in trying your best. Accept that you aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (and not everyone will be yours) and you will be much happier for it.