CARMI HEYMAN

When studying at university, students find themselves having to make a decision regarding accommodation. Whether it be in res, communes or flats, this question is bound to arise: will I be sharing a room or not, and if I do, with whom? This question should be carefully considered before entering into any agreement. You never know who you might be sharing your space with and you don’t only want to find out when it’s too late.

In res, you are not always allowed to choose who your roommate will be and are assigned one instead. Living with a roommate may either be very fun or very painful.

Zanelle du Toit, a first-year BSc Biological Sciences student and resident at Jasmyn, told Perdeby that the first day she met her roommate, they did not get along at all. Du Toit believes that this was due to stress and the fact that they had to get used to living in each other’s space. “We’re in the same boat now. We look out for each other because not only did we realise that we are a lot alike, but that we both take our studies seriously. We make turns when cleaning our room and we stay out of each other’s way when needed.”

Unfortunately, not all assigned roommates are meant to be. Anthony Müller, a second-year BCom Economics student, says that his last roommate was a burden. “Not only was he always late with his electricity bills, but I constantly found him taking some of my food without asking and then never replacing it.” Müller is currently staying alone in a flat and says that he will never live with a roommate again.

Dr Irene Levine, who has a PhD in psychology, says that you need to change your mindset when you decide to live with someone and that you need to approach the relationship in a specific way. “Reframe your thinking so that you approach the relationship as roommates rather than friends. Remind your roommate about the lease and tell [them] that your goal is to work out a peaceable arrangement. [They don’t] have to be your friend but you live together, and you don’t want your relationship to have an adverse impact on your primary reason for being there: completing your education.”

According to Roommates4You.com, a website dedicated to helping people find suitable roommates, any parties that choose to stay together should develop basic ground rules which they call the “roommate pre-nup”. Scott Acord from the website says, “You may find it helpful to put [it] in writing and have everyone sign it, but if this is too much, you should at least discuss the essential potential hot topics such as rent and other shared bills, living space, who gets the good room, cleaning, food, guests, noise, moving out and the best way to handle disagreements.”

But what if you choose to stay with friends? Many would believe that because of the already established friendship, the living arrangements would be easier. According to Dr Cara Sprunk from Psychology Today, this may not be the case and living together could take a toll on your friendship. “When you live with someone, you get to know them better than you’d want to. You know how clean they are, how often they shower – every little thing you didn’t need to know. Again, you can’t penalise your roommate for being kind of messy in situations outside of your room if you intend to continue a friendship with them.”

But not all students find living with friends difficult. “I guess you could say we all have our personal space troubles, but once you establish who you are open enough to share space with, it could be a lot of fun,” says Melissa O’Conner, a second-year psychology student who shares a flat with her best friend in Menlo Park. “But I still believe some people are just meant to stay alone and [others] ought [to] be around someone all the time.”

Because of the many complications coupled with living with someone, some students have decided to avoid it completely. Wian van der Walt, a second-year BSc Human Physiology student and a resident at Mopanie, chooses to stay in a single room. “Having my own room gives me a feeling of privacy that really helps when I have a bad day and [am] not in the mood for a conversation. It also makes you a lot more independent as you have your own responsibilities in your room. Nobody is there to clean it for you.”

Whether it is deciding to move in with friends, or being assigned to a new roomie at the end of an academic year, be cautious of whom you pick (if you have that luxury).

“My best advice for living with a roommate can be summed up in [one word]: communicate,” says Dr Sprunk. “Communicate rules, boundaries, and expectations. Then, if you want to have a relationship with the person beyond just roommates, keep roommate issues in the room.”

Image: Hendro van der Merwe

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