It was the day I’d both dreamed about and dreaded for months: dorm room move-in day. As a local starting at Arizona State University in the fall of 1987 (I lived just 20 minutes up the road) I had opted for the random roommate option in hopes of meeting someone new, showing her the ins and outs of the University and its cute town that I’d grown up around, and being her instant new BFF, obviously.
I arrived – freshly lettered from sorority rush — loaded down with my ruffly new pink and green floral comforter and sheet set; pink SONY cassette tape deck (you know the one); matching pink TV, and the pièce de résistance – a 24” x 36” black and white framed poster of James Dean, because I was edgy. I couldn’t wait to meet my new roommate, scam on the cute boys on fraternity row together, and French braid each other’s hair while we listened to Erasure.
I walked in, full of shiny optimism, to find my new room — and my imaginary BFF— completely covered in black: bedding; towels; lipstick; hair dye; attitude.
Morticia Addams, meet Laura Ashley.
Needless to say, she was clearly as disappointed as I was. Although I remember a polite yet awkward attempt to chat each other up that crashed and burned pretty much after she got a load of the gigantic bow on my ponytail, we both quickly — and separately — requested a roommate change and I ended up living with a girl from a neighboring high school who was a new sorority sister of mine. A girl who had —get this — a white wicker loveseat to put in our room, a matching SONY cassette player, and who was as excited about the new pink and green rug my mom got us as I was.
Was it a perfect match? Not at all. Not only was she a jock, she was quite a bit more, shall we say, experienced than I was, yet we managed to adjust expectations and accept each other’s differences. I learned a lot that year about compromise, patience, how to avert my eyes when walking in on make out sessions, and developed an appreciation for a Friday night vodka Collins (or three). She learned a lot about Knots Landing and how to wear my jelly shoes without me noticing.
Of all the stresses of starting college, perhaps the biggest is learning to co-exist peacefully with someone you have just met. When my daughter moved in with her new roommate freshman year, her resident assistant had them sign a roommate contract that outlined everything from noise levels to cleanliness. It might not have prevented more than a few annoyances that popped up during the year, but it did start them off with some important conversations about boundaries and respect, which are vital in any new relationship.
If you have a child who’s getting ready to meet the unknown, or even if she or he is rooming with an old friend, I have a few important dos and don’ts that you might want to share with them before they go. Things I learned myself, and things my daughter learned as well, 27 years later. Because perfecting the art of holding hair back without getting puked on knows no timeline.
Do invite special friends over to your room to visit if you choose to do so.
Don’t take the friendship to the next level in the other roommate’s bed — especially if the roommate is in it.
Do share occasional food items.
Don’t chew up her tootsie rolls and reform them in the wrapper when you realize she’s stolen your Pop-Tarts.
Do split up housekeeping duties.
Don’t dump your trash in her can because you don’t feel like emptying it, no matter how good of an idea that is
Do listen when she wants to gush about how great her new boyfriend is.
Don’t drunkenly make-out with him to prove her wrong.
Do share clothing items with each other if agreed upon.
Don’t wear the item to a frat house if you don’t want to have to replace it.
Do open your door to welcome other residents to pop in and say hello.
Don’t do it when your roommate is naked.
Do celebrate your shared interests.
Don’t request a roommate switch because she’s not a Harry Potter fan.
Do respect her privacy.
Don’t read her texts or rummage around in her drawers unless you want to learn things about her – or yourself – that you do not want to know.
Do set up rules about alcohol use in the room.
Don’t drink her vodka and refill the bottle with water when she’s away for the weekend.
Do communicate if problems pop up.
Don’t ghost her IRL.
Do be open about sharing your things.
Don’t take her last La Croix without asking unless you’re okay with Regina George-like retaliation.
Do make it a point to keep things tidy.
Don’t forget that leaving dirty underwear on the floor – in plain sight, or worse, on her side of the room – will result in everyone else in your dorm knowing about it … not to mention a fun new nickname.
Do hold her hair back when she overindulges.
Don’t judge; you might be the one kneeling on the floor the next time.
Do use ear buds when she’s sleeping and you’re up late watching Netflix.
Don’t quote entire scenes from The Office out loud, no matter how tempting it is.
Do make it a point to keep an open mind and appreciate each other’s differences even if you aren’t a great match.
Don’t forget that your dorm room might be one of the most important classrooms you’ll have.