Everyone should live with a stranger once

As my freshman year winds down, or rather, barrels unstoppably toward finals, I’m beginning to reflect on where I’ve made my home and the people I’ve made it with. It’s even the phrase “where I’ve made my home” that gets me thinking because before I arrived and the few weeks afterward, I would’ve really said that the College made my home. It placed me in the enormous dorm where I currently dwell. It placed me around 25 young men in my hall. And it placed me with my roommate. Randomly. I’m not going to claim that I wasn’t scared of living with a complete stranger; I was. But after eight months, I can say I’m glad that I did.

From observing my relationship with my roommate and my friends’ relationships with theirs, I’ve realized that there seems to be a roommate relationship spectrum. On one side is sheer hatred. With zero compatibility, two people will be fighting their own version of the Cold War, engaging in petty conflicts and proxy wars that end with one of the two (or three) leaving. On the other side, you have inseparable BFFs well on their to way to the four-year roommate luncheon with College President Taylor Reveley. For better or worse, though, most of us end somewhere in the middle.

I realized soon during our time together that my roommate and I are nothing alike: He reads William F. Buckley, I read Kurt Vonnegut. He leaves Q-tips on the floor, I pick them up. He works out everyday, I’m lucky if I exercise twice a week. He drinks heavily, I occasionally partake. He’s in a fraternity, I’m a GDI. He sexiles me, I don’t sexile him. Nothing about this list of contrasts suggests that we would live well together. And there are times when I agreed with that assessment. His belligerent, often emotional drunkenness has created problems for me. He has, in the past, left the door unlocked and exposed my innocent eyes to sights better left to the imagination. That’s not even mentioning the time I was already in the room trying to sleep during a weeknight, but I threw the book at him the next day. No, really, he mentioned something about free porn, and I literally threw a paperback of “The Rise of Silas Lapham” at him.

But now for the good news; he’s one of my closest friends. I say this having met many kind, friend-worthy people on this campus. Not only does my roommate respect me, but he listens to me. He is brutally honest and has always encouraged me to be open with him, which makes sorting out problems significantly easier. We ask each other for advice weekly. He’s more loyal than a golden retriever in a bad ’90s movie.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I think the freshman roommate experience, especially the random part, is so important. For people like me, who up until college have never lived with anyone outside their immediate family, it forces us to deal with people, to make compromises, to seriously consider a situation from another’s point of view, to be open to change. For many of us, our room is our sanctuary. It’s where we’re most vulnerable. If one can maintain civility, and possibly friendship under those circumstances, it’s something to be admired. I may only see these skills as positives because of my personality, but I honestly believe that unless you plan on living alone, you need to learn how to live with another human being.

As for the random aspect of the freshman roommate experience, maybe I only appreciate it because it paired me with someone who became my friend. I know others who weren’t so lucky. But we could all use a little serendipity in our lives.

Email Matt Camarda at mjcamarda@email.wm.edu.


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