How to Choose a Roommate: A Quick Guide

How to Choose a Roommate
You’ve found that dream condo—but it’s a little expensive for your budget, and now buddying up with a friend and sharing the place seems like a really attractive option. But finding a roommate who fits just right is just as finicky as finding a good romantic relationship, and the emotional and financial cost can be just as huge when you break up with your roommate.

So before you take the plunge, here are a few tips to consider when looking for your perfect roommate.

Think about your systems

We have systems with the people in our lives: How we make plans, how we interact together, how we solve problems when something goes wrong in the friendship or relationship. The first thing to ask when you’re eyeing a friend to potentially be a roommate is your systems of interaction: How developed are they, how solid are they, and how do they work?

In short: Can you solve problems well together, and not hate each other after you do it?

The best roommate relationships aren’t ones where you never disagree, but where you respect each other’s needs and boundaries enough—and trust each other enough—to work together to repair the issues that come up and build better systems going forward. Live with someone who you can forgive and who forgives you; live with someone you’ll sincerely do better for next time, and vice versa. But if you can’t mutually compromise or work forward with that particular friend, don’t live with them.

Talk about your respective habits

What’s the shape of your day? What’s the shape of your potential roommate’s, and are they compatible?

Sharing a space can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people: Some will want a family-style arrangement where you pool the grocery money, eat dinner together, and spend quality time, like any other household does. Some people look at roommate relationships as two people sharing a space, period, and won’t be aiming to interact with you more than any other part of their life. If you’ve got different concepts or goals for a roommate relationship, that can be very hard and put a great deal of strain on the relationship—and on your feeling of a comfortable home.

In less big-picture terms, quiz each other on your day-to-day lives. How much time is each of you at work, and when are you working? Do you have opposite shifts? Do you like to have friends over a lot and entertain, or are you more into meeting people elsewhere and keeping your home as a private space? How clean do you like a kitchen? When do you pay bills? What annoys you? What are you allergic to? If one of you is in a relationship, or gets into a relationship, what ground rules do you want to set on how their SO moves in your shared space? (No naked parts on the communal couch is a perfectly cromulent house rule.)

While you don’t need to have 100% agreement on what the proper habits for a upright and just person should be, you should have a solid base of commonality—and the ability to flex for each other on the disagreements without those disagreements being total deal-breakers.

Be clear about money

The money talk is one of the most awkward ones to have, period, but if you’re looking at living with someone, have it. Moving in with someone means forming a household, and you can’t make functional decisions without knowing what your household finances are.

Set clear guidelines together about what you can afford in rent and utilities, how you’d like to handle bills, and what your bill-paying habits are. Which utilities can you live without? Which ones are necessities? How much of a cushion do each of you have if everything goes south and you have to look for new work contracts, and are you comfortable with each other’s cushion?

Decide how the money will go, and you’ll spare yourself potential bad surprises—up to and including finding yourself on the hook for your roommate’s rent.

Check out their current space

How people live how they’re going to live later. Or, alternately, there’s what people say they want and what people do right now.

Habit’s a really strong force, and no matter how much someone says they want to change, if there are dirty dishes in the sink when you’re over at their current place, those dishes will be hanging out in your sink in a roommate situation. If someone’s current living situation makes you itch—or they’re always complaining about it, and looking at you with beseeching eyes—they’re probably not a good candidate to take on as a roommate, because sometimes “I hate all these dirty dishes” means they’d love it if you did theirs.

Keep your standards high

If you find yourself going, “Well, maybe that endless dirty sock collection won’t be too bad. It’s only a year,” remember: Yes, it will.

Just like with dating, anything that already annoys you will be magnified by ten thousand when this person is the person you come home to. It’s tempting to try to let things slide—especially because we’re told that certain kinds of forbearance with other people’s tics is what makes us Good People—but again, just like dating, roommate relationships are a question of fit. The socks will drive you crazy. You’ll drive your roommate crazy grinding your teeth about the socks. Just hold out for someone you’re more compatible with and save the friendship.

Best of luck!

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