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November 19 2017

When Your College Roommate Becomes Your “Real Life” Roommate

A year ago, if you’d asked me if I’d be living with a roommate after I graduated, I probably would have laughed. At the time, graduation seemed a promise of independence — that I would finally be an adult and do the things that adults do, like have their own apartment.

Nine months later, I realized that there was no clear exit strategy from my current living arrangement. The same month that I was slated to walk across that stage to grab my fake little diploma, I was going to move into a new apartment. With my roommate.

The Post-College Roommate

Lots of recent graduates, and not-so-recent graduates, are finding themselves in the same spot. There are a few reasons for it: our jobs don’t pay very well, we’re single, and we have a lot of debt. Some of us have bad credit, no credit, or too many bills. Others just don’t want to live alone.

And while living with friends — or strangers — may not be the most ideal setup for some of us, it might be better than going back to mom and dad.

Living with a roommate does not make you less of an adult. In fact, living with roommates is a great way to build your interpersonal skills and learn to be adaptable. It’s also got some other pluses. One of them is that it’s helping us preserve our relationships and networks after we graduate.

Anyone who’s in a long-term romantic relationship is familiar with the struggle to maintain friendships when we also have to find time for our partners, jobs, families, and hobbies. It can be tough, and friends are usually some of the first to fall on the schedule chopping block. Having a roommate makes it easier to pencil in your friends.

The kind of intimate relationships that come from living platonically with another person can be valuable. They’re lower-stakes relationships than those with romantic partners, meaning you’re less likely to run into problems that will cause a falling-out, but they can still be close enough that you feel comfortable relying on them from time to time.

Roommates can also stave off loneliness. A college roommate can help fill in the social gaps left when we move out of our family homes, and the same role carries over to post-college roommates.

But anyone who’s lived with roommates knows it’s not always fun.

The Struggle

There’s a lot that can go wrong when people are living together.

Different schedules, budgets, and relationship statuses can add tension. How do you navigate letting romantic partners stay the night? What if it’s your turn to buy toilet paper, but you don’t want to shell out for the Cottonelle your roommate prefers? Who gets morning shower rights if you both have to work at 8 a.m.?

It can also be difficult to figure out what your friendship looks like without the influence of the collegiate environment. Busy schedules can turn best buddies who did everything together into friends who are lucky to see each other once a week, despite living in close quarters. If one is busier than the other, feelings can get hurt.

Boundaries are tough as well. A closed-door rule helps with everyone’s sanity, but it can be frustrating when you need to talk and your roommate hasn’t texted back yet, and you know they’re sitting right in the other room.

For college roommates, graduation is a clear and easy point of separation — you’re both moving on to new things, and it’s not likely that anyone will take the split personally. But when it’s time to move out because of a promotion or a long-term partner, if your roomie isn’t on the same page, it can sting.

For adults struggling to find their independence, a roommate taking their leave can be a reminder that they’re not there yet. They’re not ready to live without roommates, and now they might have to find a new one — maybe a stranger. Finding a solid roommate can be hard, and it can be even harder to see them go.

And if you need to find a roommate, things get much more complicated without the help of a university to pair you off. If you don’t have a friend who’s also looking to shack up, finding a roommate can feel a little like speed dating, but with even more CIA-style web searches. The stakes are high when you’re trusting someone around everything you own.

No matter if you’re friends or acquaintances, it’s a good idea to lay out the rules before you need them. Having open and honest conversations about what you expect from your roommate — even if you’ve already been living together in college — will help both of you understand how your lives will fit together.

Respect Boundaries

Even for the closest of friends, graduation brings changes. The relationships we have with others are often situational. How close we are to other people depends on lots of factors besides the dynamic between us. A great example of this is a coworker who you love to speak with every day, but who you lose contact with almost immediately after leaving the job.

It might seem like your friend is pulling away if they’re never home, but give them the benefit of the doubt. Try focusing on the quality of the interactions you have together instead of how often you hang out. If you guys are getting along fine besides not seeing each other as often as you used to, there’s probably no reason to worry about the relationship.

Getting busy is totally normal, and it’s also normal to be the one who’s less busy. Neither is necessarily better or worse. Chances are, if your friend seems to have pulled a disappearing act, they probably miss you too.

If you’re in this situation, avoid pressuring or guilting your roommate into hanging out. Try to be respectful of their schedule, and if you really want to hang out with them, give them plenty of low-pressure opportunities to spend time with you. Don’t take it personally if they can’t — giving your roommate space and support when they’re busy will only make them think more positively about their relationship with you.

One great way to make sure you’re making time for your friendship is planning the times you hang out. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of assuming that since you live with your roommate, you don’t need to plan to hang out with them like you would with another friend. Instead of taking this approach, pretend you don’t live with your roommate when scheduling get-togethers. This makes it easier to be intentional about the time you spend together.

Curb Your Jealousy

College friendships after graduation can be a strange beast, especially if you’re in the same field.

It can be a true test of character to watch the friend you helped with essays find a better job than you right after graduation. This gets amplified when you’re living with that same friend.

The best thing to do in this circumstance is to talk to your roommate about the situation. Don’t guilt them about their success. Focus on yourself. If you feel bad for turning them down when they invite you on a buddy-date, tell them you’d love to spend time with them, but that you’re not in a place financially where you can afford to go on expensive outings.

It’s nice to have someone to go to when you need to get things off your chest. Having these conversations with your roommate will likely bring you closer and will do a lot to address the elephant in the room. Your roommate is likely also very aware of the situation, and any awkwardness that’s being caused by it. While you might be faking it till you make it around others, your roommate knows your financial situation more intimately than most, so it’s likely no surprise to them if you’re having money troubles anyway.

If you’re the roommate with the better job, try to be sensitive to your housemate’s situation. Offer affordable suggestions when you’re planning out things to do with them. They will appreciate it, and the two of you will get to spend some valuable time together.

Stay Fit and Healthy

Appreciate the Relationship

It might not come as a big surprise that if maintaining college friendships is hard after graduation, making friends after college is even harder. After all, if we don’t have time for the friends we already have, where will we find time for new ones?

Your roommate can play a lot of roles in your life — friend, confidant, or family. They might even be the person who you write down as your emergency contact when you’re filling out that onboarding paperwork at your first “real job.”

Being an adult is hard. The post-graduation waters can be rough, and it’s great to have someone right there with you who’s experiencing many of the same changes. No one can do it all alone, even the most capable of us. If you made it through college with your roommate, you likely have bonded over the good and bad times and are stronger for it.

And while it’s important to embrace the relationships you have, it’s also important to recognize the opportunities that living with a roommate opens up. You might just become great friends with those coworkers that your friend was out to a fancy dinner with on Friday night, too — people you likely never would have met had your roommate not introduced you.

Roommates, even the ones who start as strangers, help widen our social circles and push us to experience new things. Having roommates also teaches us respect for others, adaptability, and can help build good habits.

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