Ask a fifth-year: Dealing with ‘that’ roommate

Dear Will,

My roommate and I got along so well during Welcome Week, but lately she’s been starting to really irritate me. She’s very clingy, messy and rude sometimes. She’s even started talking about living together all four years. How do I get through this year and let her know I’m not interested in living with her in the future without being mean or hurtful?

Cursed in Colman


Dear Cursed,

This is definitely one of the more delicate experiences you’ll face at Lawrence. I’m all for honesty; but in this case, being totally frank with your roommate at this point can create a lot of awkwardness. People deal with awkwardness differently and some are even immune to it, but it often makes living with someone very difficult.

Small things first—it’s easier to deal with things that you can be honest about with little amount of collateral awkwardness. Messiness can be solved easily by suggesting that you both have a time of the week when you straighten things up—this makes it less accusatory and more about mutual responsibility for cleanliness. It’s also important to listen in return, as your roommate may also have minor issues to approach you about.

A clingy roommate can present a slightly more delicate situation. This can be solved by planning to go to mealtimes and other social activities when your roommate is not around or available. It may seem mean, but if you really want more time away from your roommate, you’ll need to avoid her whenever possible. She will eventually seek out friends elsewhere and will not be so dependent on you.

Rudeness has to be dealt with in a slightly more confrontational manner—for example, if your roommate is constantly sex-iling you or making tons of noise when you’re sleeping. It is important to not return the rudeness. Be as polite and calm as possible while still making it clear that you are asking her to change her behavior. Avoid passive-aggressiveness at all costs! A polite and honest approach gives her no reason to return fire.

The last thing to work on is your future living situations. If your roommate is really convinced that you will be living together in future years, you will need to break the news to her soon enough that she will have time to figure something else out. The best way to do this is to explain the reasons why you want to live with someone else rather than the reasons why you don’t want to live with her again.

Explain that you want to live with someone else because your schedules are similar or because you are emotionally supportive of one another. If you are even considering living in a single, tell her that you will be doing so because you enjoy privacy and personal space. She may be disappointed, but it’s certainly better to do so sooner before it becomes hurtful or even puts her in a situation where she won’t be able to find a roommate in time for housing selection.

If you’ve tried all my suggestions and your roommate doesn’t respond or becomes defensive and hostile, it’s unfortunately time to get your RLA involved. They’ll sit you down with the hall director and attempt to do some mediation, which usually will relieve some of the problem but will introduce a ton of awkwardness.

As unpleasant an endeavor as this is, keep in mind that taking initiative to solve these problems on your own will help you far more than you realize in the future. Learning to deal with difficult people in a diplomatic and honest way is a vital skill to have at Lawrence and in your future career.

Burning metaphysical questions, annoying roommate problems or other random thoughts? Email if you’d like to be advised in next week’s issue.