05 August 2007

Freshman Counseling: You and Your New Roommate

The Temple of Dorm, formerly known as West Quad
Brown University, Providence, RI

As the beginning of the academic year approaches, we remind younger readers that there is no more important business in life than those first, crucial hours with your college roommate.

The first time you leave your dirty socks on his/her side of the room, you’re probably denying yourself an Old Boy/Girl Network connection that would have brought you a starting salary in the high six figures, membership in exclusive country clubs, and a new puppy, all within weeks of your college graduation.

In the shorter term, a good roommate relationship can help you cope with school pressures and social anxieties, introduce you to potential dates, and provide you with nachos and beer you’ll never have to pay for.

You and your roommate must communicate constantly, even when you have nothing to say. You and he/she should share new experiences, respect each other’s limits, and remember at all times that rooming together is really just practice for living with a lover or spouse. So if you can’t get along with your roommate, your chances of ever having a happy, fulfilling sex life are nil. You may as well give up now.

And you thought choosing a college was high-pressure! The ways you do or don’t get along with your roommate can determine your entire future.

Don’t believe me? Consider this:
* Former Vice-President Al Gore and actors Tommy Lee Jones, Kris Kristofferson, and John Hurt were all roommates at Harvard, either in reality or else in the film Heaven’s Gate, which you’re too young to remember.

* Tommy Lee Jones was also Ryan O’Neal’s roommate at Harvard, but that was a different movie.

* Although I didn’t go to Harvard, I once got a job because my college roommate used to date the college roommate of the woman who hired me. And my college roommate now teaches at Harvard. (Uncanny, isn’t it?)

* Sally Boldt of Los Angeles, CA, sent a chain letter to her college roommate. The next day, she acquired over $3 million.

* Since her arrest, Sally has developed productive relationships with many roommates in prison.
Still don’t believe me? Consider this:
* I’m smarter than you.
By now you must be asking yourself: Are my roommate and I compatible? Are we in touch with each other’s needs? Have we found the ability to communicate? Have we lost the ability to communicate? Where did we see it last? Are we taking each other for granted? Is every time as good as the first?

Since the average freshman roommating lasts longer than many American marriages, it’s surprising that so little advice or self-help is available, certainly nothing like the multi-million-dollar marriage counseling industry in this country.

I am ready to address that need. Here’s a test.

1. When you met his/her family, did his/her father
a. Give you the keys to the Mercedes?
b. Advise you to keep sharp objects hidden?
c. Touch you in your "special place"?
d. Ask your name?
2. When you try to carry on a meaningful conversation, does he/she
a. Listen carefully, then give his/her opinion?
b. Consult an attorney?
c. Borrow your best outfit?
d. Ask your name?
3. Which of the following best characterizes the first words he/she says to you each day?
a. “Good morning.”
b. “Good night.”
c. “This is a stick-up.”
d. “I hate you, you disgusting smelly pervert.”
4. When you’re out together with friends, does he/she
a. Mock your grooming and personal hygiene?
b. Steal your date?
c. Nothing, I don’t have any friends.
d. Serve charming little hors d’oeuvres on matching plates, all of which he/she made him/herself? (Warning: Your roommate may be Martha Stewart. Make no sudden movements. Notify campus security.)
5. When you’re in the shower, does he/she
a. Breathe a sigh relief?
b. Download your econ notes?

c. Lock you out of the room?
d. Make your bed?
If you answered mostly
a. Seek professional help.

b. Try standing naked about a foot apart and staring at each other fifteen minutes a day. This may not help your relationship, but at least you’ll settle the “he/she” question.

c. Think about transferring to another school, perhaps in another state, perhaps under an assumed name.

d. Refresh your dorm room with fresh-cut flowers. Brighten drab wastebaskets and notebook covers with postcard collages. Don’t throw out old nylons! They can be used to make a sturdy noose.

e. You were taking the wrong test. There are no "e" answers on this test. How did you get into college, anyway?
But don’t despair! This roomie relationship can be saved. Here are a few simple steps to dorm-estic bliss:
1. Make a chart of your roommate’s annoying habits, post it prominently, and allot good-conduct stars each day a bad habit is not observed.

2. Don’t be bashful about searching your roomie’s closet, desk, or dresser. It’s those unspoken secrets from the hidden past that prevent healthy communication and mutual respect.

3. Excessive tidiness will only make your roommate more demanding. Week-old pizza, nail clippings, beer bottles, and DNA samples lend character to a floor.

4. Remember, it's not identity theft if you plan to give the credit card back after Spring Break.

5. Read my book, Men Are from Mars, My Roommate Is from Shaker Heights (forthcoming from All-American Press, a division of Götherdsmann-Blickspitz GMBH). If your roommate is still uncooperative, hit him with the book.
Good luck and happy rooming!

NOTE: I found this in a drawer. It was written so long ago, I think most of this year’s freshman class were still in diapers. (The Martha Stewart joke is kind of a giveaway, eh?) What the hell.