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How to Handle Horrible Roommates

Scheduling conflicts. Dietary habits. Personal hygiene. There are tons of ways roommates’ lives and personalities can conflict. Here’s some help to handle the nine most difficult people you may ever live with.
How to Handle Horrible Roommates
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Most of us can call to mind a roommate who made us think we’d never peaceably coexist with another human being again. Since 2000, college students have been getting less and less pleased with their living pals. And prospects for blissful solitude don’t necessarily look better after graduation. A 2010 Census report found over 30 percent of adults live with at least one other person in non-family households — up from just under 28 percent in 2007 (#housingcrisis). So if you end up splitting the rent with a less-than-desirable character, we’ve got you covered. Check out our advice for dealing with these nine common types of horrible roommates.


Photo: Bigstock

Terror Down The Hall — The Need-to-Know

From midnight moaning to dirty dishes, living with another person isn’t always easy. So find out how to handle pretty much any roommate situation that comes your way.

1. The Partier: OMG this roommate is sooo drunk aaaall the time. Like the kind of drunk you have to clean up after [1].

How to deal: Explain to your roommate specifically how their behavior is affecting you, advises couples therapist Susan Heitler. (I’m falling asleep in class. I get really stressed out worrying whether you need to go to the hospital.) Don’t expect them to change their behavior immediately, but if you have to ask more than three times, consider reaching out to an RA or a landlord.

2. The Sex Maniac: Awwwkward. This type fills your head with all sorts of unwanted thoughts based on what you hear going down in the next room [2].

How to deal: White noise and earplugs can help block out unwanted, erm, sounds. Counseling psychologist Will Meek suggests having a playful but serious next-day conversation: “Say something like, Hey, it sure sounded like you were having some fun last night, but I was wondering if we could chat about keeping the noise level down when I need to sleep?

3. The Drama King/Queen: Everything’s a BFD with these rent-splitters, and you’re often caught in the middle.

How to deal: Meek warns us not to get entangled in the drama, and also not to say sorry just to end a conflict. But before you go looking for a new living situation, try looking at things from his/her perspective. Who knows? Maybe you are doing something to provoke unwanted drama.

4. The Antisocialite: Some people are more hermits than social butterflies [3]. Sometimes this can be a blessing. Other times, it can weird you out.

How to deal: Allow the roommate some space, but kindly invite him/her into conversation every once in a while. Try suggesting books, articles, or movies you can watch together. But don't feel rejected if turned down, Meek cautions. Pro tip: Avoid trash-talking the roommate with your pals.

5. The Dirtbag: Notorious for leaving dirty dishes, funky laundry, and stale towels in shared living spaces, these roomies often prompt investments in hand sanitizer and Glade plugins.

How to deal: Keep your space clean as a model. Set specific rules all rent-splitters can agree on, says Heitler, like alternate kitchen or bathroom cleanup days. Or agree to throw out unclaimed messes in communal areas if they stay there for days. Keep in mind a messy roommate may need a few friendly reminders to consistently keep things tidy.

6. The Talks-Too-Much. These types are tricky — they’re usually nice and they’re genuinely interested in your life. Problem is, they can’t take the hint that you kiiinda have something to do, or just need alone time.

How to deal: Prep a nice-as-possible speech about when you’d like some quiet time and emphasize it’s not a sign of any ill feelings, advises life skills coach Rick Kirschner. Present it to the talker before they start chatting your ear off. Note: These kinds of characters can be sensitive, so try and take it easy on them — but don’t feel guilty for setting a firm boundary.

7. The Stress-Case: By habit or by nature, some people just tend to get more stressed out than others [4]. The key is not letting ’em rub off on you when they share your digs.

How to deal: Avoid offering yourself as the problem-solver or therapist, says Meek. It’ll only get you sucked into the stress. Take a page from mindfulness techniques to help keep a house-sharer’s woes out of mind.

8. The Night-Owl: It’s difficult to grasp how this one functions in daylight [5]. And his/her 12am to sunrise schedule may keep you up as well.

How to deal: Heitler advises offering a friendly tip of the hat (I really respect your ability to stay up so late. You’re lucky to be able to use those extra hours) followed by a request that they keep it down beginning at a set time each night (say, an hour before you want to be in bed). Pop in some earplugs and cue the white noise for extra assistance, as needed.

9. The Doctrinaire: Everyone has his/her own opinion, but these types can’t pipe down about their own worldview and how everyone else is wrong for not agreeing.

How to deal: Respect your housemate’s belief system but kindly request that they respect yours in return. If you can’t find a common ground, then try switching the topic whenever religion, politics, or another controversial topic comes into the conversation.

Personality can be hard to work with. But it’s possible to change behavior and set boundaries. After a few friendly chats with a housemate, you may be surprised at how easily you two can find a common ground.

Special thanks to Will Meek, Rick Kirschner, and Susan Heitler for their expert advice on dealing with different personality types.

Photo Credit: Bigstock.

Have something to say? Leave it in the comments below, or tweet the author at @ktschreib.

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Works Cited +

  1. "Partier" self-concept mediates the relationship between college student binge drinking and related adverse consequences. Reslan, S. Saules, K.K., Serras, A. Psychology Department, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI. Addictive Behavior, 2011 Aug;36(8):855-60.
  2. Sexual compulsivity among heterosexual college students. Dodge, B. Reece, M. Cole, S.L., et al. Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies, Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York. Journal of Sex Research, 2004 Nov;41(4):343-50.
  3. Differences in regional brain volume related to the extraversion-introversion dimension—a voxel based morphomtery study. Forsman, L.J., de Manzano, O., Karabanov, A. et al. Neuropediatric Research Unit, Department of Women's and Children's Health, Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm Brain Institute, Sweden. Neuroscience Research, 2012 Jan;72(1):59-67.
  4. Acute stress modulates genotype effects on amygdala processing in humans. Cousijn, H., Rijpkema, M., Qin, S., et al. Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2010 May 25;107(21):9867-72.
  5. Associations between chronotypes, psychopathology, and personality among incoming college students. Hsu, C.Y., Gau, S.S., Shang, C.Y., et al. Department of Psychiatry, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan. Chronobiology International, 2010 May;29(4):491-501.

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