One morning in my early 20s, I woke up on a Saturday to ﬁnd our kitchen island up against the refrigerator. There were broken glasses everywhere and an oversized man sleeping on an undersized couch. He also might have been in costume—I’ve tried to block it out. The living room reeked of alcohol and mistakes, and my leather jacket that had been sitting on the countertop was nowhere to be found.
Welcome to the frat house, ladies and gentlemen.
When you leave the comfort and frustration of your parents’ house and head to college and then into real life, the idea of living with anyone that isn’t a blood relative sounds like a mix of unbridled joy sprinkled with a dash of The Real World. You dream about staying up watching The OC for 48 hours straight while eating ice cream and chicken ﬁngers out of a laundry basket ﬁlled with Cheetos. No parents, guys!
Then your roommate throws up on your desk and your dreams are crushed.
In college and right out of college, your housing situation can make or break the awesomeness of your daily life. When I was in school, I ﬂuctuated between random roommates, Christian roommates, non-Christian roommates and whoever-I-could-ﬁnd roommates. And each experience has led me to the realization that it’s good to think about roommates like any other long-term relationship—and there are definitely some things to think about before you sign a lease and start sharing uncomfortably intimate space with these people.
1. What do they value?
Does this person have to get up every morning and memorize verses from the Old Testament and paint them on your walls? Nah. Do they have to barge in at 7 a.m. and make sure you go to church every Sunday? No. But is it important to ﬁnd someone who at least understands or shares some of the things you value—whether that’s your faith, your friendships, your *NSYNC memorabilia or your privacy. The biggest frustrations with roommates come when your values have no logical match for each other—just like in relationships.
2. Are they considerate?
This is a broad brush. “Considerate” to some people means putting your own dishes away so no on else has to do them; “considerate” to other people means not much. If you’re not sure and want to test it out, crash on your prospective roommate’s couch for a night. See how they react and how you get along for a day. Considerate and hospitable people offer you a blanket and a pillow and wait until after you’ve woken up to practice their bagpipes. Inconsiderate people toss you a hospital gown as a sheet and show you where the bathroom is, which they’ll occupy until 9 a.m.
3. Do they do things for other people that you wish you would do for other people?
Although an unconventional standard, one quality I have found in the best roommates comes down to a measure of admiration. Do these people you live with do things for others you wish you were better at doing? I currently live with friends who make me dinner without asking, who hide my Justin Timberlake marionette doll because they know only I will ﬁnd it funny and who tell me every morning to have a great day at work. They make me want to do selﬂess things for other people that I don’t always think to do for myself, and living in a daily environment with them helps me reﬂect on the kind of person I want to be.
4. Do they encourage you to grow?
In college, your options for roommates (especially during your ﬁrst year) may not be plentiful. But as you move through the years, you get a signiﬁcant opportunity to pick and choose who you want to share your life space. And while some people stand by the fact that you don’t need to be best friends with your roommates, I stand by the fact that you need to be—at the least—”house friends” with your roommates. You don’t need to spend every waking second with them, but these people see you in your highest and lowest moment and should be people you can learn from, share with and grow with.
Like it or not, they’re going to be there when you wake up at six in the morning and decide you don’t feel like praying. And when you come home crying from a horrible day at work, chances are, they’ll still live there. So, ﬁnd people you can invest in and with, and don’t be afraid to allow those people to do the same for you.
5. Are they fun?
This is simultaneously the least important and most important characteristic of a good roommate. You don’t want to be bored in your own place. The Discovery Channel is only good in doses, needlepoint is only appropriate after a certain age and crossword puzzles are really only something one should do in private. Too much fun is the opposite—people who pressure you to go out constantly when you have real-life responsibilities are risky roommates and can be frustrating. Still, you want someone who will go grab a Sunkist with you on the porch on a work night.
Find the balance between people who make you feel like you’re in a history lecture and people who are auditioning for the cast of The Jersey Shore.
No matter how discerning or wise you try to be about your roommates, chances are that at some point in your young adult life, you are going to live with people you’re less than excited about. These are opportunities for growth, for self-examination and for some serious Craigslist prowling. It’s a time to develop patience for people and situations that may frustrate you. It’s a chance to determine how you would want someone to treat you, and it’s an opportunity to grow into the person you want to be by learning—for better or for worse—from those you share daily life with.
Liz Riggs is a freelance writer and English teacher in Nashville, Tenn. She eats stories like grapes and has a very serious appreciation for macaroni and cheese. Follow her on Twitter at your own risk @riggser.