Live together, learn together

This column is written in response to the April 7 column, “Reforming random roommate pairings will create less stress.”

Tomorrow, scores of potential College of William and Mary students will pour into campus for Day for Admitted Students. Among all the stresses of starting college, they will most certainly be concerned about their future roommates. They will be wondering if they should take advantage of the various forums that offer the dubious promise of a new best friend, or if they should trust “the system” of random roommate assignment. My freshman year, I went random — and I could not be happier that I did.

My rationale: Realistically speaking, it could go miserably wrong either way, but if I get a random roommate that turns out to be crazy, at least it wasn’t my fault for choosing her. On the other hand, if I found this hypothetical psychopath online and requested to live with her because we both love Harry Potter, and then woke up to a séance in the dead of night, I’d have no one to blame but myself.

Thankfully, I got lucky. My roommate and I are a happily-ever-after story, going on four years together. In some people’s eyes, this may preclude me from being a credible advocate for random roommate assignment, but I readily acknowledge that not everyone’s situation works out the way mine did. Nevertheless, I believe that having a random roommate is an important lesson in compromise and cohabitation.

The survey offered by the College to incoming freshmen asks very basic questions, measuring a person’s preferences about smoking, noise level, cleanliness and sleep schedule. This system does not pretend to scientifically match you with your soul mate; rather, it lets you establish your deal-breakers, or the things that you absolutely need in order to thrive. The rest is left to chance.

Our roommates teach us at the same time how to be respectful of others and how to stand up for ourselves. If, for instance, you unwillingly become a chronic victim of the dreaded sexile, then it is your responsibility to speak up on your own behalf and let your roommate know there is problem. Similarly, if you are constantly the one putting the sock on the door, you probably wish you didn’t have to worry about your roommate walking in at any given moment. This is an opportunity for compromise and communication; if the two of you avoid the problem and stew in angry silence, you are the perpetuators of your own unhappiness.

Maybe your differences aren’t this big. There are still lessons to be learned. I’m a notoriously messy person, but I make my bed every day and keep my desk clean because my roommate does, and I respect her need for tidiness even if I do not share that need. One day, when I’m living on my own, I’ll be grateful that she helped me cultivate this habit of neatness.

Conflict in cohabitation is inevitable. Maybe you just get sick of each other after too much togetherness, or maybe your personalities really do clash and whatever you do, you can’t spend another minute in that person’s presence. If your safety or health is genuinely in danger, the option to leave is there. You absolutely should not stay in a situation that jeopardizes your welfare. However, if you just happen to be very different kinds of people, you always have something to learn — whether it’s how to be neat or how to be patient with someone whose lifestyle doesn’t work for you. If you pick your roommate based on your similar personalities or previously established friendship, you will probably still face these problems, and it’s important that you do.

We all came to the College to challenge ourselves, to develop, and to prepare to live independently as well-rounded, self-sufficient people. Rooming with a stranger — and having no control over who this stranger may be — contributes critically to this personal growth, whether or not you choose to continue living together after freshman year.

Email Sarah Caspari at


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