Picture this: You and a few of your best friends move in together during your sophomore year of college. You have an adorable brick townhouse that’s within walking distance from your campus and a community pool in your backyard. Your rent is cheaper than paying for school housing, and you can cook your own meals rather than having to choke down food from the dining hall. It’s a student’s dream come true.
Your housemates are mixed genders, but you think it will be fine because you’re all so close. However, as time goes on, you realize that you’re completely wrong about that. The ever-present pile of dishes in the sink and the random sports equipment collecting in the living room begin to irk you. It turns out that living with three 19-year-old guys is a nightmare.
This is the exact situation I found myself in seven months ago. My freshman-year roommate and I decided to move off campus with our closest male friends. Both of us have brothers, so we didn’t think it would be too much of an adjustment, but reality hit us pretty quickly after moving in.
After about two months of misery, we stared to figure things out. I might have had a mini meltdown when I found two of the guys playing balloon tennis inside, and one of them might have called me a “psychotic control freak” when I refused to let him buy marshmallow fluff with our weekly grocery money. It was truly a period of growth.
Living with new people is always tough, but gender can exacerbate differences, making a challenging situation even more difficult. If you’re going to be living with both men and women, here are 10 ways to help make it work out.
1. Establish house rules early.
This is a good idea no matter who you’re living with, but it’s especially important in co-ed situations. It might seem ridiculous, but having a written agreement that everyone in my house signed really saved us.
Providing clear expectations eliminates confusion on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior and can prevent a lot of arguments and unhappiness. The more specific your rules are, the better.
2. Compromise is inevitable.
You’re going to have to compromise on so many things — pretty much everything.
Décor, storage space and cleanliness standards are just some examples of areas that require flexibility. You just have to be patient and understand that it’s your college housing, not your permanent home.
3. Be mindful of your guests.
Maybe your female roommates don’t want you bringing home half your football team when it’s late and they’re already in their pajamas. Maybe your male roommates don’t want you bringing your sorority sisters over to bake cupcakes at 8 a.m. on a Sunday.
Obvious stereotypes aside, there’s an extra level of consideration you need to employ when deciding who to invite to your co-ed space and when. You don’t want any of your guests to make your roommates feel uncomfortable in their own home.
4. Don’t date or hook up with each other. Just don’t.
Crossing this clear boundary can completely ruin your living situation.
Best case scenario, you make all your other roommates uncomfortable. Worst case scenario, you’re stuck in a year-long lease with your ex (or one of you is forced to move out). This hardly needs more elaboration. It’s much easier to just avoid all the drama by staying friends.
5. Don’t date or hook up with each other’s friends either.
Plenty of people do the exact opposite of this suggestion, but getting romantically involved with one of your roommate’s friends can be a recipe for disaster. If the relationship ends poorly, it can put your roommate in an uncomfortable position and force him/her to take sides. And even if all goes well, there can still be issues with feelings of exclusion.
Besides, do you really want to be living with your girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s close friend? One that can disclose how you don’t get out of bed until two in the afternoon on the weekends? There are just so many other people you could date.
6. Regularly spend free time outside the house/apartment.
To avoid cabin fever, make sure you’re spending an adequate amount of time away from your home and with other friends. Just going to class or work isn’t enough. If you’re really busy, try to set aside just a couple hours every week to go out and do something fun.
My go-to is to have dinner at a friend’s house on Wednesdays. Alternatively, you could use that time for some quality peace and quiet.
7. Be respectful of significant others.
An overly suspicious or jealous girlfriend/boyfriend is a red flag, but insecurities are natural, and respect for your roommates’ relationships should be a given. It’s important to be open to discussion without getting defensive and to be aware of how your actions and words could be perceived.
On the other side of this, remember that it can be annoying if your significant other is around all the time. If he or she doesn’t pay rent, it shouldn’t feel like the two of you are living together.
8. Dress appropriately.
This suggestion might not apply to everyone, but it’s worth at least considering. It might make your opposite gender roommates uncomfortable to see you walking around in your underwear or just a towel.
Be mindful of this, even if they say they don’t care. It’s really not that hard to just get dressed after you’re done in the shower.
9. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
All of the previous points can really be boiled down to communication. Communication is absolutely crucial in any living situation, but it can be difficult with co-ed roommates, as men and women tend to communicate in different ways.
For example, with my female roommate, making a casual comment about something she does that bothers me is enough for her to understand. In fact, being too direct offends her. However, it’s the complete opposite for the guys. For them, I’ve found it’s helpful to explicitly state what my complaint is and offer concrete solutions.
10. Appreciate each other
At the end of the day, your roommates can be like your little family. Taking some time to bond can do wonders for your happiness and the group dynamic. My friends and I aim to cook dinner together at least once a week. We all have to agree on the meal, and everyone has their role in the kitchen.
Of course, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get along with every member in your household, but it makes life much easier if you at least attempt to appreciate each other and focus on everyone’s positive qualities rather than their negative ones.
Finding ways to coexist with roommates of the opposite gender is going to take some trial and error, especially because living on your own is already difficult. The most important thing to remember is to just talk to each other. While I might sometimes want to scream when I find Cheeto dust on the couch, I wouldn’t trade my goofballs for anything.