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Living with strangers: How to deal with a bad roommate

The Jungle is a column that uses connections through social media to explore the fault lines in adult relationships.

Living with strangers in temporary (and cramped, filthy, loud, whatever) housing situations is a socially and economically essential rite of passage for most twentysomethings (and, more and more frequently, thirtysomethings). And that rite of passage usually includes at least a few roommates gone wild. What is it about semi-strangers and subleases that encourages doing the kind of stuff that seems implausibly ridiculous or disgusting only a few years later? Not to mention putting up with all that implausibly ridiculous or disgusting behaviour.

When @muumuu2 was sharing a dorm room with a visiting student – luckily, for just one semester – she experienced possibly the single grossest and most off-putting roommate story I've ever heard: "[She] used my scissors to cut her never-been-shaved armpits and left the hair on my vanity." (The same girl also left the gas oven on, but for some reason the threat of bodily harm seems less of an imposition than body hair.)

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A more common example of bad roommate behaviour is what Dave* experienced, or experiences; he messaged me via Facebook about the "daily revolving door of various unnamed people" that his (otherwise kind and considerate) roommate meets on the gay hookup sites Grindr and Scruff. Dave says, "I don't judge and what happens in his life is his business; the thing is he never answers the door, ever. So, I get up and let these people in and just sit on the couch waiting for my roommate to finally come out of his room. I'm left with these awkward moments where we look at each other. … I don't really want to play the role of sexceptionist." Dave says the best and worst part is "the ridiculous entrances," like the guy who came up the stairs on his Rollerblades.

How to confront (or ignore) these situations is one of the main takeaway lessons of living with other people; where else but a shared kitchen can you glean such important life lessons about mutual respect and boundaries? Of the rogue bedroom haircut, @muumuu2 tweeted, "I cleaned it up and never said anything bc I'm a baby/scared of confrontation." In a follow-up e-mail, she wrote, "I get really nervous about talking to my roommates about things that are bothering me even if it's just dishes or whatever."

Dave took a braver and always more effective approach; he wrote that he initiated a conversation with his roommate, and "he does text [me] before bringing dudes into the house, or at least has the past couple of times." In roommate terms, that's serious progress.

Follow Kate Carraway on Twitter: @KateCarraway

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