Oberlin Blogs

On Having a Roommate

May 1, 2020

Emily Humphreys ’21

Before I came to college, I had never shared a room. Needless to say, I was nervous. What if my roommate had a completely different schedule than me? What if we disagreed about who got which side of the room? What if we just didn’t get along?

About a month before Orientation, the college sent out a survey that would help them pair us with our soon-to-be roommates.  I pored over questions about what time I went to bed, whether I was neat or messy, whether I was comfortable sharing a room with someone of a different gender, and how I felt about substance use. After carefully considering my answers, I submitted the survey, and the waiting began. After what felt like forever, I got an email with a name. I would be living with Caitlin McDermott.

I immediately did what any sane person would do and rushed to Facebook. I went through profile after profile trying to find someone who fit the description. The first Caitlin McDermott was too old. The second was too young. The third already went to college in California. Finally, I accepted defeat. I would just have to wait.

In the end, she found me. Looking back, our first conversation was painfully awkward.

Caitie: “Hi! So, we are roommates! I’m really excited to finally be able to talk to you! Sorry, it’s so late, don’t feel pressured to respond now, but yeah I’m excited to get to know you :)”

Me: “Hey! I’m excited to get to know you, too!”

Caitie: “Aw yay! Sorry if I'm bad at responding, I’m currently in NH on vacation with not a lot of wifi hahaha. So, I mean … what should I know about you? Lol I’m not particularly sure how to start this conversation haha”

Me: “No worries! I’m bad at responding, too.”

Over the next few days, we talked about where we’re from, what we wanted to study, whether we’re cat people or dog people, and a million other small talk topics. Behind the nervous chatter and plethora of exclamation points, we were doing the hard work of getting to know someone new, building a relationship, and though we did not know it yet, laying the foundation of a fast friendship.

My first few weeks living with Caitie were incredibly uncomfortable. She is a tremendously sweet person, and there was nothing she was doing that made her hard to live with, I just wasn’t used to sharing a space with someone else yet. I’m a pretty shy person, and also an introvert, so my room is a really important place for me. It’s somewhere I can go to relax, a place I can exist and know I’m safe. Especially, those first few weeks, I was super overwhelmed by college, so every chance I got I retreated back to our dorm room. Because I didn’t know Caitie well, I had a hard time relaxing when she was around. I felt like my room was a public space, which was a really stressful experience for me.

As time went on, we slowly got more comfortable with each other.  Occasionally, we would talk about how our days went, what we were excited about, or how much homework we had. A lot of the time, though, we just sat in silence, each doing our own thing. I found I really enjoyed just existing side by side. Quiet moments are less lonely when someone you care about is nearby.

One day, when I got back to our room, she asked me how I was doing and I told her I was feeling stressed, and overwhelmed, and alone. She offered to make me tea and we both talked about life while clutching steaming mugs against our chests. Thus, began a long tradition of making tea for each other. When we’re happy, we make tea. When we’re tired, we make tea. And, most of all, when life is dreadful, unkind, and terribly unfair, we make tea. It’s a way of acknowledging that we might not be able to change the way the world is, but we can care about each other and face it together.  

Over the course of that first year, we went to almost every one of our dorm activities, stayed up late into the night talking about religion, and comforted each other through midnight tears. She came to cheer me on at my Ultimate Frisbee competitions, and I went to see her K-Pop dancing class perform. When it came time to decide on housing for our second year, we found that while we both were enticed by the idea of having our own room, we didn’t want to live alone quite as much as we wanted to live together.

To this day, Caitie and I are very different. She goes to bed late, and I go to bed early. She tends to be more messy, and I tend to be more clean. She’s studies humanities and I study science. But I’ve come to find none of that really matters. We have learned to compromise and communicate. If something is bothering one of us, we make time to talk about it. That way resentments never linger for too long. Sometimes we can’t understand where the other person is coming from, but we always respect each other and make sure to listen.

Caitie and I have been roommates for the last three years, with plans to live together next year as well. I’m writing this from my room at home, and honestly, it feels kind of empty without the silent-togetherness that is Caitie typing on her laptop, doing makeup at her desk, or just generally living her life parallel to mine.

Looking back, between opposite schedules and divergent interests, I don’t think we would have become friends if we hadn’t been placed together our freshman year. I know lots of people who had freshman roommates with whom they never got particularly close. They lived together for a while but ultimately found their own niche.

It would have been fine if this were my experience too. But I’m grateful that, filling out that survey, I got so much more than just a roommate. I stumbled across one of the people who informs the way I live my life, and, until I stopped to think about it, I didn’t even notice. I was too busy making tea.

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