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How to Live with a Difficult Roommate at Music School

Music school is an intense, exciting opportunity. Good roommate or bad roommate – how you handle your living situation will impact the quality of your experience. Learning how to handle a bad roommate situation is one of those life lessons best learned early. Since we want you to achieve everything you can while at the conservatory, here's our contribution so you can avoid having a dodgy roommate derail you.

Starting out and moving forwarD

Ideally, you've been able to meet other rising students before school starts and select your roommate. This isn't always an option. Nor does picking your own roommate ensure you'll ultimately mesh well once living together. So…

  1. Manage your expectations. You don't need to become besties with your roommate. In some cases, the healthiest roommate situation is one where you both have separate circles. Don't try to manufacture a friendship with your roommate.
  2. Have "the talk" early. Whether you're friends with your roommate or strangers, living together is a distinct interpersonal territory. It's worthwhile for the two of you to talk early on about your rules for getting on. No Sheldon-esque roommate contract is required. Just a calm, collaborative talk about how you'll both manage things like differing sleep schedules, having guests over, fridge management, and practicing in the room.
  • Don't let issues fester. If your roommate is misbehaving, they may not know it. Leaving half-eaten sandwiches on their desk for days may be normal behavior for them. If you don't let them know what's bothering you, don't expect them to change their behavior.

Before you approach a roommate about something, take a beat to assess the situation. Is the action something you don't like but won't really impact your quality of life? You have your quirks too, and you wouldn't want your roommate calling out every peeve they may have with you. Is there a chance you're being too sensitive? You don't want to create an AITA situation here.

If, after your assessment, you do think it's an issue to be raised, approach your roommate in a non-accusatory way. Accusations put people on the defensive, which escalates a situation. A more nonjudgmental, "hey, your sandwich is turning funky" may be enough.

  • Be the example you want your roommate to follow. You can help mold your roommate's behavior by showing them an alternative. When you know you'll be setting your alarm clock for much earlier than usual, let your roommate know the night before. Make sure you keep all your stuff on your side of the room. Whatever you want to see in your roommate, make sure that's what you're giving to them.

When resolution doesn't look like it's going to happen

Not all issues can be resolved. That's life. In that case, you have other options for protecting your mental health while living with a trying roommate.

  • Lean on your social network. Hopefully, you've been building a strong social network at music school, regardless of your roommate relationship. First, enjoying a busy life will keep you outside your room and lessen the impact of your roommate's negativity in your life. Second, turn to your network for encouragement and venting time.
  • Create clear boundaries. Stay a polite, respectful roommate, confining interaction to only what's strictly necessary. Riding a rollercoaster of good roommate/bad roommate with the same person will be stressful and taxing. Clarify to yourself what the scope of your relationship will be and stick with that.
  • Will outside mediation help? Whether it's an overall clash of personalities or merely a couple of bad habits, a third-party mediator may help the two of you resolve it. Find out what resources your conservatory has available, whether an RA (resident assistant) or student life counselor. There may even be a neighborhood mediation center in the local community that provides free or low-cost mediation for neighbor and roommate issues.
  • Don't compromise on your safety. If the roommate's behavior is egregious, remove yourself from the situation. There could be competitive sabotage like damaging your instrument or computer, or behavior that threatens your physical safety. Turn to the school and your network immediately to exercise the options you have available to get new housing. Yeah, moving is a drag and if you're not the pile of crazy, why should you have to move? All true. It doesn't matter. If your roommate has created a genuinely unsafe environment, get out.

Fortunately, most lousy roommate situations aren't threatening. They can range from the ridiculous to annoying. What's your worst roommate story? How did you handle it? Let others learn from your experience and  leave a comment below.

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