I have shared a bedroom with another person on two occasions in my life.
The first was when I shared a room with my older brother, an arrangement that ended before my fifth birthday. The decision to part ways was my brother’s. He did not especially appreciate that, as a wee bairn, instead of counting sheep, I sang myself to sleep. Apparently, my late-night renditions of “Jesus loves me this I know” did not have the same sleep-inducing effect on him.
The second was 12 years later when I attended summer camp during high school. My roommate and I were an unlikely pair: a northeastern city girl and a rural Texan. The first couple days were pleasant enough; we respected each others’ space and sleep schedules. Neither of us snored. But after a couple weeks of witnessing her experiments testing the shelf-life of unrefrigerated takeout and the amount of laundry she could amass on my side of the room, I changed my mind. I decided, however, not to make a big deal out of it.
Then she almost burned down the room.
A week and a half before camp ended, I stood in front of the mirror brushing my teeth and noticed that heat was emanating from the pile of towels on the counter to my left. I was confused. To my knowledge, my roommate did not own an electric towel. After lifting the top towel, I discovered a mass of charred fabric and melting countertop, gently cradling a straightening iron. I’m a relatively understanding person, but when it comes to fire safety, I don’t play. Disorder and spoiled food I could handle, but not a roommate who put my life in danger. I cursed random housing assignment and vowed that in college, when I finally selected my own living situation, there would be no problems at all.
Fast forward to the summer before freshman year. My housing packet had finally arrived in the mail. I crouched on my knees and combed through the spreadsheets scattered across the red carpet of my living room and looked for my room assignment. My name was the only one listed next to FB21E and upon double-checking to make sure that no one else was assigned the room, I rejoiced. It was a single. It seemed like redemption after the towel-burning debacle of 2003. The random-selection gods believed in karma after all.
I think back to how excited I was to hear about housing that summer, and what a difference two years makes. Now, the mere mention of the selection process makes me cringe. I’ve found that agency in the housing process doesn’t make things easier or less stressful. It causes mad drama.
Housing selection season brings out the worst in people. It is a time when all social conventions of propriety and respect are thrown to the wind. The docile become vicious. After a year of politeness and tolerance, loyalties are exposed, some more tactfully than others.
I used to assume that there no could be no honor in housing. I believed people did what was necessary to get what they wanted. However, I’ve realized this shouldn’t be the case. An ideal housing situation doesn’t justify the misdoings committed to obtain it. The belief that any and all behavior is excusable during housing selection trivializes human relationships and notions of common courtesy. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to live with certain individuals or making contingency plans with multiple groups, so long as everyone’s honest and, more importantly, tactful.
Housing is important, but it’s not everything. Where you live certainly affects your social network and the activities in which you engage. (Living in Swing Space, for instance, I experience firsthand the effects of functional distance, a term I learned in social psych last year that describes the impact of geography on social interactions.)
In the end, you will have to live with these people for at least another year, and it will be a heck of a lot more pleasant without swirling grudge clouds 24/7. One perfect room is not worth a handful of destroyed relationships.
For most, another rooming cycle has already come and gone. We have survived. Everyone eventually gets a room. If you got what you wanted, congrats. If not, get some perspective. I assure you that you will live to see another day.
Kristen Ng is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.