To help you navigate the complicated terms of roommate hell, we caught up with writer and speaker Harlan Cohen, a how-to-deal-with-your-roommate expert, author of Naked Roommate, and host of NakedRoommate.com, which is a community forum for college students with roommate issues. We approached him with six common upsets that are likely to occur with a bad roommate, and the resulting advice is clean, no-nonsense, and guaranteed to help those living in fear for the last half of the year.
Ice Queen: Your roommate is completely anti-social, and you want to be friendly with her.
Harlan’s advice: “It’s very nice of you to want to help, but it’s not your responsibility. You can invite her out and include her in things, but you need to give permission for her to be herself.” If she decides to stay in rather than come hang out? “Find friends outside of your room.”
Not Quite 50/50: One roommate provided all the furniture and kitchen equipment, and the other feels awkward about using it.
Harlan’s advice: “Be grateful your roommate has a lot of things. If she’s not controlling how you use them, then enjoy.” But what if she is? “Examine your usage of her belongings. There might be some truth to it. We always think the other person is the roommate from hell, but that can’t always be true.”
Sticky Fingers: You suspect your roommate is using stuff you agreed not to share, like your super-fancy shampoo, your organic honey, or your perfect-fit leather leggings.
Harlan’s advice: “Assume your roommate was just confused, and approach the problem from a compassionate point of view,” he says. “For example, 'I noticed you’ve been using stuff we agreed to not share. Do you need to borrow something?'"
Silence Not Golden: What's the best way out of a cold standoff between roommates who were friends and now are completely ignoring each other because of an unresolved issue?
Harlan’s advice: “Friendship should endure conflict,” Harlan says. “If you can’t talk about what’s going on, maybe this person is not that good of a friend.” But what if she is, or at least, was a good friend? “Some friends should never live together. A friend and a roommate are two different things. If you are living with a friend, there’s a chance you may lose that friend. If your friend lives nearby, you will always have a place to go to escape your roommate.”
Three's A Crowd: Your roommate’s boyfriend/girlfriend has practically taken up a permanent residence at your apartment.
Harlan’s advice: “Bringing a boy or girl into the room is a sensitive issue,” Harlan warns. “If you try to prevent it, you’re preventing your roommate from being in love. Therefore, safety concern is a great approach. All you need to say is ‘I’m not used to having people in the room" and that it sometimes makes you uncomfortable. Harlan says you can use this as an excuse even if it’s not entirely true, however, “give permission to your roommate to have someone over, and find other places to hang out."
Overshare: How can you avoid hurting an eager roommate's feelings when she is constantly trying to share her singing/paintings/photos with me and you just want your alone time?
Harlan’s advice: Harlan urges you to “set boundaries, which means saying what you think and doing what you feel. Try something like, ‘I’d love to see what you want to show me, can I see it at X time?” He also suggests “headphones. They separate you from the world, or find a quieter space so your roommate is not tempted to talk to you.” He says a lot of people suffer from the “I shouldn’t have to leave, it's my room," issue, but each person has to learn to share.
Photo: Courtesy of Free People