Roommatism - Rolling Stone
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How to live with others without killing yourself.

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Student Residents of Colorado State University Dorm 'Ski Floor' at CSU. Circa 1987.

Dave Buresh/The Denver Post via Getty

The first step to mastering roommate relations is understanding the process by which housing officials match incoming freshmen. Before school begins, colleges send out roommate questionnaires to find out whether you are a morning or night person, whether you smoke, whether you have ever engaged in acts of bestiality, etc. After careful analysis, the officials then take delight in matching you with people whose answers are the opposite of yours. Once it has been determined that the students in each pair will be entirely incompatible, they are made roommates.

At this point, it may seem like the best idea is to answer each question the opposite of how you would normally respond. This is risky, because there’s always that rare chance you’ll be matched with someone who really is a peppy morning person whose hobbies include vacuuming, Bible study and sex with livestock. A better idea is to get matched with that one person to whom you are truly best suited: yourself.

How to Score a Single Room

To ensure a roommate-free abode, leave your survey entirely blank except for the section below:

Q: Do you have a medical condition?

A: Yes, I suffer from severe multiple-environmental-allergy syndrome. I am allergic to dust, air, sounds and all synthetic or natural materials. That John Travolta Movie of the Week The Boy in the Plastic Bubble was based on my life.

What to Do If You Don’t

If by some fluke the above strategy fails, resign yourself to spending the next year living in an enclosed space with a complete stranger, most likely one who does sleep in a plastic bubble. To pave the way for a smooth transition, most colleges advise contacting your designated roommate before you actually meet. This is a good idea; it allows you to ask personal, probing questions to make sure he or she is the right match for you: (1) Do you own a CD player and/or a TV? (2) A car? (3) Do you have wealthy parents who send generous care packages to share with your roommate? (4) Do you have a girlfriend or boyfriend at a nearby school, where you will spend evenings and weekends? (5) Do you require any special breathing apparatus?

Moving Day

Of course, you’ve arrived early enough on moving day to take the bigger closet, the larger desk and the unstained mattress before your roommate gets there. When he finally arrives, make him feel like a guest in your home. Show him where he’ll be sleeping. Then treat him to dinner at the cafeteria to make others think you have a friend.

It is especially important to arrive early if you are placed in a triple. When you live as a threesome, it is standard practice for two to team up against the other. If you show up last, your roommates will have already bonded, and you will be outnumbered.

What if you do arrive late on moving day? Seize the opportunity to snoop through your roommates’ personal belongings while they are plotting against you in the cafeteria. Flee the premises at once if you come across any of the following warning signs: framed prom picture; Garfield memo board; feathered roach clip; stuffed unicorn; alarm clock; broken glass vial and hypodermic needle.

Advice for College Copulators

Once you live in a dorm, sex is no longer the personal, private affair it was in your sheltered bedroom back home. For one thing, now you might have a partner. For another, your roommate will usually be present during the act itself.

To prevent roommates from barging in on you during sex, employ the time-honored College Copulation Code. Put something on your doorknob – a rubber band, tie or generous coating of sulfuric acid. This sends a signal to roommates that they should find somewhere else to spend the night – like the floor of a celibate friends room or the chemical-burn unit at campus health services.

What if you should arrive at your door one evening to find you’ve been shut out by a randy roommate? In this case, you have every right to ignore the copulators code and barge right in. Bring a date so you don’t feel like the third wheel.

Roommate Stereotyping

In college it’s possible to tell everything about a person from the type of music they like. Take some time to familiarize yourself with each genre.

(A) The Woodstock Wanna Be: This alarmingly laid-back roommate seeks to transform your room into a patchouli-soaked commune with mattresses on the floor, tapestries on the ceiling and the same Joni Mitchell song playing hour after hour on the stereo. Hidden payoff: gets kicked out second semester for possession and decides to follow the Dead with prep-school friends.

(B) The Grunge Guy/Gal: These hygiene-challenged roommates mark their territory with a trail of soiled undergarments, used birth-control devices and unwieldy phlegm balls, making them ideal companions for anthropology majors.

(C) The Classic Hitter: Popular at fraternity- and sorority-infested schools, these students enjoy donning vomit-stained togas, drinking to the point of alcohol poisoning and singing “Louie Louie” out the window by your bed until they pass out, or you push them out. Early tip-offs: guys named Chunks; girls who own pompoms; beer-can pyramids on windowsill.

(D) The Alternative Act: Nemesis of the Classic Hitter, these anemic, body-piercing victims get along best with desperately “different” roommates like pretentious film majors, clove-cigarette smokers and clinically depressed hermaphrodites like themselves.

Effective Roommate Communication

Sometimes it is not possible to know everything about your roommates from the music they listen to. Often you must also talk to them. Begin by talking to them about their tendency to keep you up all night with the music they listen to – especially if it is accompanied by high-volume paper rustling, computer-keyboard banging and yellow-Hi-liter squeaking. Before you know it, you’ll be engaged in deep, philosophical shouting matches about missed messages and unpaid phone bills.

By semester’s end, you will come to know your roommate so well that words won’t be necessary at all especially since you will no longer be on speaking terms. It is at this point that you will want to make use of three roommate-communication tools:

(A) Yellow Post It Notes: A handy way to remind roomies of the concept of yours vs. mine. Stick them on your computer, your clothes, your girlfriend or boyfriend.

(B) Resident Assistant: An objective third party trained to settle disputes and disagreements (see this issue, Page 125). Bribe them with alcohol and sexual favors, then ask nicely for a single.

(C) Sign Language: There is no more effective means of roommate communication than forming a fist with one’s hand and extending one’s middle finger in a vertical fashion. For emphasis, fold finger down and direct fist toward roommate in a rapid forward motion.

What If I Like My Roommate?

If you enjoy your roommate’s company, you must move out immediately. Living together is no way to treat a friend.

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