Living with other people can be a real rollercoaster ride—everything is going nice and easy, until you snap and start screaming your lungs out.
You probably share your living space with someone else, be it family, strangers, friends, or lovers. Maybe you’re too broke to move out, or maybe you thought living together would be a good idea. Whatever the reason, you’re stuck with them and they’re stuck with you.
Most of the time, it’s not too bad. You make compromises, sometimes you fight, but at the end of the day, you move on and keep doing your own thing. It doesn’t matter if things aren’t ideal because you spend most of your time out of the house, be it at work or school, with friends, or at the gym.
So even if your roommates annoy the crap out of you, you rarely get to see them anyway.
In 2020, all of us got a collective reminder of how much living with other people can be complicated. When the lockdowns hit, you lost most of your privacy overnight. “Me time” became “we time”. Suddenly, everything you used to do outside of the house—like study, work, or daily routines—had to be done within the same four walls.
While most of us aren’t forced in this situation anymore, living with others can still be a real pain if you don’t find some common ground with your roommates.
All relationships have a certain balance to them. But no matter how well-balanced is, the more time you spend with someone, the faster that balance breaks. You argue more, get annoyed more, and become less willing to forgive and compromise.
So, how do you keep your sanity? Here are a few tricks that might help.
Why problems happen
I’ve lived with a bunch of people in different parts of the world—from family, friends, and girlfriends to complete strangers. In my experience, there are a few core issues that always seem to come up:
- People not cleaning up after themselves. Seriously, is it so hard to put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher?
- Not being considerate if someone is sleeping or studying. I don’t care if you’re awake all night or get up super early, just be quiet.
- Others are invading your personal space. Look, I know we’re living together, but I still want to be left alone.
- People not contributing equally when it comes to finances, chores, and all that other boring stuff. There’s always an excuse, but I seriously do not care. Do your part.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. And let’s be real, I know you’re reading this and nodding your head like “Yup, been there, done that.”
If these problems are so common, why do they happen?
Like most things in life, it usually boils down to different perspectives and expectations. What you find outrageous, others don’t even notice. What you think is common sense, others think it’s stupid. In some cases, people are simply lazy and entitled, or just don’t give a fuck.
Either way, most of these problems can be solved by a right approach.
But before I get into some advice on how to deal with these problems, I need to give you a little caveat. I’m all about empathy and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. I really believe that most relationships can be improved if we take the time to understand each other.
But when it comes to roommates—especially strangers—some people are just fucking crazy.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced something so bizarre I thought: “This is it. This is the craziest thing I will ever see from a roommate. It can’t get any worse than this.” The sure enough, something even crazier happens.
I could fill a whole stand-up special with these stories, but let me just give you a few highlights of some of the craziest things I’ve experienced:
- A guy busting into my room without knocking while I was cuddling with my girlfriend, saying “I thought you weren’t home”, then leaving the house and not coming back for two days.
- Coming home to my roommate—a tall, muscular black man—dressed as a woman in a robe and blonde wig, playing an RPG on his phone by a candle in an otherwise a completely dark room. When I got to my room, he started moaning before texting our other roommate some creepy, incoherent messages.
- Waking up to smoke because a guy (a professional cook, at that) forgot to turn off the oven after frying chicken at 2 am, so the entire pot of dirty oil burned up and almost started a fire.
- Opening my door to see my roommate just standing in front of my door, staring. After politely asking her what the fuck she is doing, she backed away silently and ran down the stairs. She never uttered a word of this later.
- Coming home to find a bag of literal garbage on the kitchen table, complete with leftover food as decorations around it and flies buzzing over it. I repeat: a bag of garbage, spread across the table we eat from. I mean, what the actual fuck?
Maybe you’re a better person that I am, but when it comes to random stalking, almost burning the house down, or leaving garbage on the table, the only solution I can recommend is to move out and get away from these people. I don’t know what’s going on in their heads, but I don’t plan on sticking around long enough to find out.
In wise words of Alfred Pennyworth: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
How to find common ground
There are lots of tips you’ll find online on how to deal with specific situations in the household. They range from “be assertive and give them a piece of your mind to” to “try to manipulate them into doing what you want”.
I think both of these approaches are generally unhelpful. Here is what I suggest:
First approach (works for most situations)
Most people are not purposely trying to annoy you. They’re not out to get you and probably genuinely don’t even notice the things you get so worked up about. So before going full John Wick on your roommates, it’s worth it to start with the basics.
- Talk to them. Crazy, I know. But have you actually tried talking to the other person? Like, actually sitting them down and calmly explaining what’s bothering you. You’d be surprised how often this is enough to solve most problems.
- Be genuinely empathetic. Instead of pointing fingers, ask questions. Ask them why they do a certain way. Maybe they have a logical explanation in their heads. Maybe you even find out their way of doing things is better than yours. Only one way to find out.
- Compromise. You want everything to be exactly how you want it, but guess what? So does the other person. So unless you want to be stuck in an endless tug-of-war, choose your battles. Both of you will give in a bit to the other person; nobody is fully happy, but you can happily coexist regardless.
Tough cookie? Some more advanced tactics
Sometimes, no matter how well-intentioned you are, some people are just too inconsiderate to work with you. It’s like talking to a wall. With these types, you need more advanced measures.
- Set clear boundaries. Tell them—in no uncertain terms—what behavior you absolutely will not accept. Be very clear and very direct. Explain why you will not accept it.
- Don’t be afraid of conflict. Contrary to popular belief, conflict isn’t synonymous with fighting or yelling. It’s just the clashing of opposing ideas, and sometimes, it’s necessary.
- Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Setting boundaries often leads to conflict, which in turn leads to people feeling attacked. To avoid this, focus on talking about your experience and emotions instead of facts. People can’t (shouldn’t) get mad at you feeling a certain way.
If you succeed, you will find yourself living with someone you’re “okay” with. You’re not best friends or anything, but you respect each other enough to stay in your own lane.
All hope is lost
Like I mentioned earlier, some people are just nuts. Whether they are unwilling or unable to change is irrelevant. It’s completely up to you to protect yourself and your own sanity.
In extreme cases, the only sensible solution is to move out as soon as possible. But until you’re able to do so, here are a few tactics to hold you over:
- Accept the things you can’t control. The old Stoic principle won’t help you change your roommate, but it will at least help you reduce anxiety and stress your probably feel every time you walk through the door.
- Take breaks. When things get really bad, get out of the house. I know, it’s your house too and you shouldn’t be the one running away. However, sometimes it’s better for your sanity to do it anyway. Go for a walk, meet up with a friend, or hit the gym. Anything for a little peace of mind.
- Practice forgiveness. Holding grudges or resentment towards someone can be toxic and can create a lot of unnecessary tension. By forgiving someone, you’re not letting them off the hook but doing it for your own benefit. Until you do, they’re not just your roommate in real life, they’re also living in your mind rent-free.
Living with others can be a… well, living hell. But like most hardships of life, it’s an opportunity to build mental strength and become a better, stronger person. On day, you’ll end up truly alone and long for the days you had someone to share your life with, no matter how crazy. So make the most of it.
If nothing else, it will lead to some crazy story. Stay safe and enjoy the rollercoaster ride.