For many people, your flatmate is the first person you’ve had to share such close quarters with who isn’t related to you. They might be less annoying than a sibling, but you won’t have parents there to mediate disputes. Here’s how to get off on the right foot with the person who will sleeping under the same roof as you.
Quartz writer Annabelle Timsit solicited flatmate horror stories from her co-workers and they came flooding in. Not all of them were bad; some people are still great friends with their flatmate. For most others, that flatmate is just a memory. But not a distant one!
Everyone seems to have some very specific criticism or experience to share, and these tidbits might help you navigate your experience.
They aren’t as obnoxious as you think
A guy named Edmund told Timsit that when he first met his flatmate at Trinity College, he hated him:
I immediately clashed with one of the guys I was assigned to live with in Trinity. Genuinely, everything he did seemed anathema to me — he was loud, annoying, thought too highly of himself. Initially, I was probably too reserved and a bit timid, but, for the better part of six months, it was constant minor arguments and random sneering at each other. […] But at some point, we both realised that we were way more alike than we were different. Five years later, we’re best friends — and he’s the one person who’s been there for me through everything.
Change makes us uneasy. It messes with our sense of identity. It’s easy to project our discomfort on another, especially when they’re directly across the room loudly eating cereal. Before you freak out, consider that there may be nothing all that weird or bad about your flatmate. You’re just stressed out. Give yourself time to settle in before you condemn them for all eternity.
Many of us will pick up and re-locate at some point. Even knowing it’s a pretty common adventure, moving is supposedly the third most stressful event in a person’s life, after death and divorce. Here’s how to deal with it.
Find common ground
One point of common interest or understanding can make all the difference in flatmate relations. Being open and generous also makes a huge impact, according to Timsit’s co-worker Marc:
It’s not all that hard to find common ground with people, and that can quickly lead to a feeling of "I get it" that you share, which creates the foundation for friendship.
Or it might just give you something to talk about. A foundation for friendship is great, but you probably need something you can say to your flatmate to be polite and keep the peace. Maybe you like the same football team, have a shared favourite instant noodle flavour, or are both taking the same subject.
You’re both people — look for something you can chat about when the atmosphere is tense over toilet paper.
Show some respect
One story was about a fairly cute misunderstanding from a woman named Sarah, who had never met a Jewish person in her life before she was paired up in university with her first flatmate. The two are supposedly still close friends, even though Sarah literally hid her roommate’s matzah after misunderstanding the tradition of hiding the afikomen at passover. That story might go over differently if told by Sarah’s old roommate, and that’s the whole issue: Perspective.
You might be assigned a roommate with a different cultural background from your own who celebrates different holidays, eats different food, and who has different ideas about what’s appropriate to do at home. Navigating those differences will always be challenging, so let’s just say the foremost thing to keep in mind is respect. Treat other people with it and reap the benefits.
The second thing to keep in mind is that it’s often people with marginalised identities who end up doing a lot of educating for roommates who are more privileged.
If you’re on the privileged end of things, don’t burden anyone with your ignorance or bias, as noted by Timsit’s co-worker Nikhil, who explained that some universities' randomised flatmate policies may “expose” privileged people to knew experiences, but it’s often at the expense of folks being turned into an experience, adding that “rich people get to ‘learn’ about the poor; [heterosexuals] get to ‘learn’ about the queer” because of the “work from the less powerful group”.
Treating people well may be one of the best lessons you can learn, so get started with your new BFF.