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Remedial roommates 

Our reporters show how to avoid horror at home by examining the pitfalls of communicating by note and living with a friend who has more stuff than you do.

You and your roommate can be two ships passing in the night pretty easily during the school year. That may force you to communicate via the written word. Most of us are guilty of leaving behind a passive-aggressive note to get our point across, or have been on the receiving end. It's unavoidable sometimes, with conflicting class and work schedules and different groups of friends.

Maybe you're just non-confrontational, or you want your feelings on paper so they'll leave a lasting impression, or your note is meant to be a friendly reminder...but usually it's because you're fed up. You're faced with a recurring issue---say a sink piled high with dirty dishes. Instead of waiting to see them you quickly jot a note, ending with "...and if someone else could clean the dishes for once, it would be greatly appreciated." Sure, you'd never actually say that to your roommate but getting it off your chest, even to a piece of paper, makes you feel relieved.

One of my roommates says it's impossible to be diplomatic if you're addressing an issue with a note. Most times little letters or emails come off as an attack. The person on the receiving end has no opportunity to defend their case---the writer always gets the last word. So is it possible to write a friendly note that still drives your point home?

Firstly you should be aware of your tone: Avoid being condescending or offensive. Just because you don't have to say it to their face doesn't make it OK to be harsh, though it can be tempting. No matter how frustrated you are it's always better to ask rather than tell. While you may fear being too passive, the more demanding you are the greater the chance your request will be ignored.

Also, starting your note with a greeting and ending it with a thank you (as simple as it sounds) can cheer it up. And never address a major issue on paper. Refer to it by saying "the next time you're home, we really need to talk about loudness/mysterious smells/socks in the toilet." Diving into something serious in a letter or email is impersonal and belittles the issue. If you're afraid of forgetting something, make notes for your conversation.

I've lived with strangers, acquaintances and friends, and lived in tiny basement dungeons, residences and a big ol' house. It's rare that any living situation will be problem-free or without the odd snarky Post-it. In my experience, writing to your roommate as a form of communication usually ends up pissing someone off if it isn't given enough thought (and I'm not talking flashy stationery). Unless your friendly reminder is just that, give your roommate the respect they deserve and think before you write...and hey, maybe then they'll do the same to you.

---Allison Saunders

"You know, us talking about this may ruin the friendship," my friend Kate worried. "We could get into a lot of 'You never did the dishes, you never paid for anything' arguing."

But Kate and I sat down together recently to take on the task: our advice to first-time roommates on the nuances of cohabitation. Having spent a year as roommates and remained friends, we felt especially qualified to make broad generalizations about our success at sharing a home.

Kate and I met at Shirreff Hall at Dalhousie University. We had an idea as to each other's lifestyle; we were both messy, had causal notions of studying and still lurved The X-Files. After three years in residence, Kate was eager to escape campus and fill an apartment with housewares. I had lived alone off-campus before and hadn't enjoyed it, so sharing a place was appealing.

"One of the things that I think made us work," Kate suggested, "was that we did things together but we also had our own lives. I think that was key. We were good friends but we were also independent and didn't have to hang out together all the time."

"I think, as well, it helped that our apartment was really nice," I said. "If you want to eliminate some stress from your relationships with your roommates, be choosy and get a nice apartment. You will never fix anything up in it, so never get a fixer-upper."

Kate was the one who set about collecting furniture and kitchen gadgets and finding places for them in our apartment---unilateral decorating. We realize now what a bone of contention it could have been for us and how it could be one for other potential roomies. She asked if I had problems making it my own space because the apartment was filled with her stuff.

"No, I never felt that I wasn't at home," I began. "I sort of realized what I could bring to the situation. I mean, I couldn't afford furniture but I could buy us a DVD player and rent and buy lots of crazy DVDs for us to watch."

Obviously, it is as important to know yourself just as much as you know your potential roommate. Kate and I knew what we were getting into with each other because we knew what we could handle: Respect and affection born of friendship allows you to overlook a certain amount of unpleasantness, whether it is unwashed dishes or roommate clutter.

When I look back on our time as roomies, I don't think of Kate's stuff everywhere or our big mess, I remember we made a home.

---Hillary Titley

Home Tips
1. Be kind, be thoughtful, be conscientious.
2. Pick your battles and be OK with the little things that will probably never change. If you write a note, make it light, concise and polite.
3. Say please and thank you.
4. Above all, communicate. And don’t be a dick.

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In Print This Week

Vol 27, No 26
November 21, 2019

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