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Image from Pexels

The summer before my first year of college, I was pretty anxious about my future roommate situation. In the great tradition of meeting one’s roommate on the first day of college, I had decided to “go random” instead of rooming with somebody I already knew. I had faith in the matching system and wanted to “have the experience” of living with someone I hadn’t met before. Now, I’d never shared a room with anyone for longer than a month, and my mind was full of petty concerns: would my roommate mind that my side of the room was pinker than Elle Woods’ sorority house? Would she think I was crazy for lugging my Keurig to college in lieu of a microwave? Would she snore? Did I snore?

I remember my parents telling me to stop fretting, and reassuring me that I haven’t snored since I was in diapers. Unlike me, they were remarkably calm – adamant that I wasn’t going to end up living with the collegiate archetype feared above all others: the Bad Freshman Roommate. Marked by a distinct lack of respect for the possessions, privacy, and personal comfort of others, the Bad Freshman Roommate is never really supposed to affect you. If you’re like most collegians, he/she will end up terrorizing your neighbor, your cousin, or your friend-of-a-friend, but not you. You’ll enjoy listening to all the horror stories these distant relations will share with you, and thank your lucky stars that everything worked out okay for you. However, if the random roommate selection odds are not in your favor, you might end up living in your own personal 16 x 16 block of Hell, which is exactly what happened to me.

My relationship with my now ex-roommate (I’ll call her Mona) started off rocky – I had a hard time getting a hold of her during the summer to coordinate who was bringing what appliances, so I ended up bringing everything. We didn’t have much in common besides our major – English – and even then, we disagreed about almost every book ever published. Mona would constantly bombard me with her bizarre attempts to seem cultured and wise – from blasting an audiobook of the Koran (she wasn’t Muslim) at nine o’clock at night to waxing lyrical about how she almost got hit by a car while biking to the library, and how alive that made her feel. She would belittle me for my enjoyment of Jane Austen, my interest in U.Va.’s greek life, and the fact that I didn’t drink or engage in hookup culture. And all of this was unfortunate, but tolerable.

Then Mona got a boyfriend. This boyfriend would knock on the door at all hours of the day or night asking me where Mona was, and whenever she could be found, I was immediately sexiled – whether it was 2:00 p.m. or 2:00 a.m. Mona would also never text me when she and her boyfriend were, well, engaged, so I ended walking in on them in the act so many times I lost track. The room was always a mess, and whenever I would ask Mona to do a simple chore – from washing a grand total of four dishes to taking out the trash – she would either ignore my request or call her boyfriend to come do it for her.

Mona’s ridiculous behavior quickly became a running joke in my dorm – I wasn’t Beth, I was “Beth with the awful roommate.” People egged me on for the latest Mona-induced horror stories and chuckled when they saw me in the study lounge in the wee hours of the morn, since I couldn’t sleep in my own room. After I came back from Thanksgiving break to find my dorm room’s door wedged wide open – exactly as Mona had left it half a week earlier – my parents called U.Va.’s office of Housing & Residence life, I met with my dorm’s area coordinator to plead my case for moving out, and two days later, I did.

If you’re finding yourself living with your own incarnation of Mona, I’m going to first reassure you that you’re going to survive this crummy situation. Second, I’m going to tell you how.

Create a Contract

If you’re like me, this will be a mandatory exercise conducted by your Resident Advisr. About a week into the semester, my roommate and I were handed a sheet full of potential points of roommate conflict: preferred levels of tidiness and noise, wakeup times, preferences surrounding visitors to the room, etc. We had to discuss all of these points, write out how we would handle them as a pair, and sign the sheet.

Even if your RA doesn’t require this exercise of you, you should still do it. Type up a contract stating how your room is to be run and how you’re going to treat each other with respect, and sign it. That way, if things start getting out of hand – whether your roommate is sexiling you on a nightly basis or letting your room become a biohazard zone – you will have physical proof for your RA that your roommate is disrespecting your earlier agreement. Also, I recommend you keep a record of every time your roommate violates the contract in a major way; this will be a good thing to have on hand if you find yourself begging your housing office to let you move out.

Speak Up

Communication is an important part of any roommate relationship, but in one that’s approaching especially toxic territory, it’s absolutely vital. If you’re uncomfortable about any aspect of your roommate situation, you cannot stay quiet about it. I’m as non-confrontational as they come, so I’ll admit that I struggled with this initially; but polite, adult confrontation (passive-aggressive sticky notes left on the fridge aren’t going to fly here) is the only way you’re ever going to make progress in your relationship.

If you’re roommate is violating a part of your contract; find a time when both of you aren’t rushing off to class, a practice, or a rehearsal; sit down; and calmly tell your roommate that what he/she is doing is unacceptable and you need it to stop immediately. If your roommate is a reasonable adult, this should be enough to diffuse the situation; however, if you’re dealing with a disrespectful roommate, he/she will probably take this opportunity to become defensive and, by extension, abrasive. I once sat down Mona to talk about how her sexiling me on a daily basis was affecting my study and sleep habits, and how that wasn’t okay with me. She responded by bursting into tears and screaming at me for being “mean” to her and her boyfriend. Seriously.

In situations like this – when your roommate is being completely unreasonable – talking with him/her is only going to fuel the conflict between you two. It’s time for your RA to get involved.

Keep Your RA in the Loop

Even if you think your “roommate conflict of the day” isn’t dire enough to warrant your RA’s attention, talk to him/her anyway, and do it as soon as possible. Every single time your roommate breaks your contract, march over to the RA and let him/her know about it. Again, if you’re a non-confrontational person, this is going to go against your nature, and it’s going to be uncomfortable. But if you want any action taken to improve your living situation, you have to rock the boat a bit.

There’s no telling how effective your RA is going to be in helping your situation, but the important thing about consulting him/her is this: if push comes to shove and you need to request to move out of your room, you’ll be able to say that you did everything in your power to mend the roommate relationship – otherwise, you might have to go through a mediation period with your roommate and your RA, which might not even be successful.

Move Out

If you’ve tried everything – open, honest, communication with your roommate and reaching out to your RA – and your roommate is still making your life a living hell, I hate to tell you this, but you have to move out of your room.

I know it seems extreme, and it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing for you to do in your situation. The bottom line is that you cannot possibly perform to your best ability in your academics, extracurricular activities, or even your social life if your “home life” is an nonstop anxiety-producing disaster. You (or your parents) are paying an absurd amount of money for you to live on-campus, and if you’re living in the library because of a toxic roommate, that money is essentially funding your roommate’s ability to live alone in a large, single room. It’s infuriating, I know.

Do understand that by moving out of your room, you might have to move out of your dorm complex as well. Even if you have to sacrifice some amenities – fully-functioning air conditioning, indoor laundry rooms, posh study lounges, and elevators – I heartily recommend you do so. I left behind U.Va.’s swanky “New Dorms” complex (complete with all the aforementioned perks) for a single room sans every luxury in the “Old Dorms” complex, and it was still the best possible decision I could have made for my personal happiness in college.

So do whatever it takes to pump yourself up- put on some red lipstick, blast some Kanye, or run a few miles at the gym – pick up the phone, and call your college’s office of Housing & Residence Life to schedule an appointment. Don’t waste your time with an email, especially if you attend a larger school. After all, you’re trying to get out of this awful living situation as soon as humanly possible, so you don’t have time to waste by being coy.

Keep Your Head Held High

Also, understand that you might get some flack for moving out of your room, especially if your roommate is pretty popular. People in your dorm are going to gawk at you when you haul the entire contents of your room out into the elevator. People are going to whisper about you behind your back and heckle you about your roommate’s current antics when all you want to do is move on with your life. Gossip doesn’t get left behind in the hallways of high school.

But please do not let your concerns about your campus reputation keep you from making a responsible and healthy decision for yourself. If you need extra reassurance, this Auntie Sparknotes letter response should provide it. Don’t choose to “live in a state of sleepless, filthy, creeped-out misery [rather] than be considered less than chill by your roommate or her various dumbass sycophants.” I repeat: do not choose popularity over your personal needs.

Since moving away from Mona and into my itty-bitty single room (rumor has it that it’s a former janitor’s closet), my quality of life has improved immeasurable. I no longer deal with a daily dose of passive-aggression. I don’t have to worry about the next time Mona will find it appropriate to start a heated argument in a public place, and I can come home at the end of the day to find my room unoccupied by a young couple in the “throes of passion.” I can also break it down to Salt n’ Pepa’s “Shoop” at any hour of the day or night without repercussion, but that’s just a bonus perk. Moving out of my dorm after an entire semester was difficult – physically and emotionally – but it was so, so unbelievably worth it.

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the author

Elizabeth Watson (just call her Beth) is a senior at an itty-bitty private Catholic high school in Virginia. In addition to writing for The Prospect, she writes and performs sketch comedy with her improv troupe, rehearses like mad for school theatre productions, suits up for forensics competitions, and writes poetry for her school’s literary magazine. A brief rundown of Beth’s favorite people and things ever to exist in no particular order: hole-in-the-wall bookshops, sweaters, Jane Eyre, peppermint tea (in a Troy and Abed mug, of course), Broadway musicals, British period dramas, Neil Patrick Harris, and Hugh Jackman. Beth’s long-term goal in life to is to become Julie Andrews, but for now she’s focusing on surviving the final stretch of high school and getting into college–hopefully as an English major

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