When it comes to roommate relationships, I’m a bit of an odd case. As I fling myself into my second year of college, I can’t imagine regressing back to freshman me and floundering my way around campus without my three house chums as my makeshift family. (That is to say, I still flounder—it’s just that my roommates are there to eat popcorn on the sidelines of the tragicomedy that is my life.)
By now, I know my living companions so well that I’ve been known to shout their full names, angry mom-style, when I wish to summon them from their rooms. A few weeks into any given semester, I can recite their class schedules better than they can. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t devising a roommate-themed trivia game based on the minutiae of their lives I’ve gathered after a full year of living in such close quarters. (Hey, if you don’t want me to creepily remember your grandmother’s favorite dessert, don’t tell me!)
Entire seasons fluttered by and calendar pages flew off the wall before I realized that most people in my building barely knew their roommates’ first names, let alone their middle and last. And when I started opening my ears a little wider, it became clear to me that this miserable apathy toward the people who live three feet from you is the norm practically everywhere.
Intimate dorm familyhood is apparently a rarer phenomenon than I thought, but let me assure you, it’s something worth striving for. The friendless sack of potatoes that arrived at university a year ago is not the same starchy wonder that sits here today, typing this article and wondering how relentlessly her roommates would make fun of her if they read it. And the main reason for that is the close-knit atmosphere of friendos and chumeroos I get to come home and tell stories of misfortune to every night.
Living with people your age who know you like family is a lot like having a sleepover that lasts four years. At least, I assume it is. My childhood wasn’t great, guys. Not in the friend department, anyway.
Unsettling truths aside, I consider myself somewhat qualified to enlighten you on how to force your roommates to become your friends. (Did I say force? I meant encourage. Put your flails away, Renaissance Joe.)
So, here are some suggestions gathered from 12 months of slightly disturbing overinvestment in my dorm room social life.
1. Establish (Mandatory) Traditions
…And shame your roommates until they come. On the first weekend of freshman year, the lovely residents of my dorm invented a festivity called “Sunday Funday,” during which we prepare some sort of mildly nutritionally redeemable meal and then promptly induce heart disease by the will of Nestlé Tollhouse. Now the cholesterol-fests are weekly traditions—the love for butter is still going strong (if likely fatal) one whole year later.
Seriously, watching four honors students attempt to cook zucchini without sending a seven-story building up in flames is nothing short of comical. The point here is that discovering new depths to your ineptitude at adulthood together, week after week, fosters roommate bonding like you wouldn’t believe.
Another top-drawer opportunity: birthdays. Especially when you’re new to campus and have not a single friend to speak of, your roommates are pretty much your only hope in the cake-and-decorations department.
Even silly little things like sticking a Post-it note that says “Happy birthday, dumbface” on your bedfellow’s bathroom mirror can speak volumes about your openness to close friendship.
It certainly worked for Room 304. For proof of my apartment’s zest for celebration, just consult the “Happy Fucking Birthday” banner strewn across the wall year-round. And for proof of my roommates’ zest for baked goods, consult my arteries.
2. Let the Insults Fly
Sure, it may sound strange to encourage you to tear your roommates a new one—but think about it. If you don’t call them a mother-seducing, good-for-nothing hoebag, who will?
The influence of my particular buddypals is undoubtedly showing here, as I’m the resident (willing) punching bag of the room. But honestly, being comfortable enough around someone to desecrate their family name and live to tell the tale is a definite mark of friendship, in my book.
I tell ya, nothing warms my right atrium quite like waking up with the knowledge that one of my roommates will probably call me a dumbass today. Truly. I’d hate for anyone who spends so much of their time five feet from my face to think they couldn’t tell me exactly how much of a dunce I am—especially when I’m making terrible, irrational, emotion-based decisions. Which is often.
Of course, I’m not actually suggesting anyone hurl colorful vocabulary at their living companions with genuine anger.
Just love. Take it from me: It’s entirely possible to jest with your roommates without being a total asshole. You don’t even have to be a salty sailor like me; plain old “dummy” and “moron” work just fine for a bit of casual drive-by ribbing between classes.
That said, offending your way to intimacy works best when you’re already relatively chummy with the dorm-dweller in question. I highly recommend dipping one of those colorful pool testers into the waters of someone’s dignity, sense of humor and openness to self-deprecation before grinding their self-esteem into a fine powder.
But if you do make it to the golden land of amiable abuse, you’ll see that the same level of comfort that allows you to openly ridicule your friends also means you’ll trust them with your most outlandish existential crises. Personally, I know that without my next-door neighbor to comb out my emotional plights in the wee hours of the morning, I’d be interrupting my mom’s daily endeavors a lot more than she’d desire!
Moral of the story: Persiflage leads to friendship. I guarantee it.
3. Find a Wii and Play Mario Kart
Okay, so Rainbow Road might be more of a destroyer of relationships than a catalyst. But even so, there’s something about howling “WHO THREW THAT BLUE SHELL?” at the top of your lungs and threatening to murder Baby Peach’s entire family that never fails to forge profound interpersonal connections.
But even if you think Mario Kart is overrated, the most important thing is to find an activity that eases social interaction and makes bonding inevitably enjoyable. And the enterprise of choice may vary depending on the person.
For example, I play Pokémon Go obsessively with one of my roomsters and Trivia Crack with another (screenshotting every time I beat her, naturally). Competition breeds familiarity, just as new ways to be a sore winner breed in my mind.
After spending enough time exchanging witty banter and chucking controllers across the room, it’s impossible not to think of your roommates like family. And before you know it, you’re coming home every day not to an apartment inhabited by four veritable strangers silently maneuvering their pots of ramen around each other, but a home.
The great thing about roommates is that you don’t have to have practically anything in common to bond, since you live together and don’t need a single mutual interest to see each other. In fact, I speak from experience when I say that you and your roommate can be complete opposites in every way and still enjoy each other’s company. Hailing from polarities actually makes sharing life stories more interesting, since your hilarious class/club/hobby-related anecdotes are unlikely to have much overlap.
So I encourage everyone, especially hopeless social hermits like me, to embrace roommate relationships from the very first minute of move-in day. Drag your newest comrade out in the pouring rain, track down the elusive technology center—hell, get some waffles while you’re at it! Best case scenario, you’ll gain lifelong friends to live with you for at least the rest of your college career.
And even if winning over your quartered strangers with spirited insults and incessant badgering doesn’t work (and how could it not?), at least you tried. Above all, the chance to spin a super close buddy who knows you better than you do out of a dorm-lottery rando is worth your hardiest shot.
Just don’t try to grow strawberries in your common room window as your roommate bonding activity, unless you’re craving sun-dried raisins. There’s a reason that thing overlooks the dumpster.