A Shot in the Arm: How to Choose a Roommate

Recently, over coffee with a friend, I found myself in a discussion about what makes a good roommate and how to select the best option when you have a list of potentials staring you in the face. They all appear eager to move into your space and share in the singular experience that is living with another person, but chances are, very few are a good fit. Even I, a seasoned roommate-evaluator, had to admit that there is little in this world more difficult or frustrating than trying to find the right roommate. Since I’ve been through this process more times than anyone else I know (I swear to god it’s situational – or my apartment is cursed) I figured who better to guide others through the process? No one, that’s who.

So first off, YOU need to decide what you can and cannot live with. In fact, I would probably make the “I Can’t Live With _______” list first. It’s good to get all the negative stuff out of the way. If you really put some thought into it, this should help to avoid moving in with someone whose presence leads to your first manslaughter conviction. Some examples may include: people who blast music at inappropriate hours, eat all your food or never replace the TP. Once that is out of the way, the list of things you can live with should come pretty easy.

The next step is picking the wheat from the chaff. The thing to bear in mind here is that a roommate interview is much like a job interview, in so far as both parties are trying to put their best face on. Of course you’ll tell a potential employer that you’re willing to work late sometimes – but let’s be honest, you never intended to work those extra hours, you just wanted the job. Potential roommates will try to sell you the same bill of goods. The best thing you can do is be realistic about your expectations, and put everything in writing. If you expect your roommate to share the grocery bill, be up front about it in the interview. Then add it as a clause in your rental/sublease/roommate agreement. That’s right, make that shit legal. If the potential boarder balks at signing a document that ensures what you’ve mutually agreed to, you can be sure that your search is not over yet. On the other hand, some candidates will seems like everything you’ve ever wanted with a cherry on top. Dig deeper. Nobody is perfect. Get references from past landlords and roommates, find out what kind of trail of destruction this person has left in their wake. Refer back to your list of things you can/cannot live with and grill the person. This may seem excessive, but it will be well worth it if, through your bad cop routine, you find this person isn’t all they seemed to be. I fully endorse use of an overly-bright desk lamp for the interrogation.

Once you have narrowed your list of potentials down to a few strong candidates, conduct second interviews. Heck, conduct third and fourth interviews! The more time you spend with this person before you move in together, the more comfortable you will both be to show your true colours. It’s all well and good to see someone’s interview face, but what are they like after a long workday? Are there things that you simply don’t see eye to eye on? You won’t know unless you spend some time with this stranger to figure out what they’re all about. The most important thing is that you feel safe in your space and comfortable to be yourself.

A word on living with friends: It’s been my experience that living with friends can have catastrophic results. Alternatively, I know people who will only share their dwellings with their boon companions. But this is my advice column, so here’s my advice: live with acquaintances, not besties. When you live with a close friend, you run the risk of damaging your connection through over-exposure. Yes, friends are supposed to be forgiving and have your back – when the threat comes from a third party. When it’s just the two of you sharing the same space 24-7, the little things that seemed adorable/tolerable become annoying and it’s every man for himself. And, because you’re friends, each will expect the other to tolerate/forgive/ignore those irksome habits – but you won’t. You’ll bottle up your frustration until you can hardly stand to look at the other person. Then one day, out of the blue, you’ll lose your temper and regret it. On the other hand, strangers and acquaintances move in with an almost hyper-sensitivity to your reactions. They don’t want to rock your boat any more than you want to rock theirs. There is courtesy, respect and open dialogue in these situations because neither party knows the other’s habits/pet peeves/eccentricities (although, if you’ve made your lists and been honest in your interviews, they should have a pretty good idea about where you’re coming from). And ultimately, that’s the person you want to live with; someone who is courteous, respectful and with whom you can have an open and honest dialogue.



A Shot in the Arm is your weekly dose of advice, counsel and sound reasoning. Whether it be a serious dilemma or quirky happenstance, Cait’s here to post solutions to your prickly problems!

Send her an e-mail: cait@provocativepenguin.com

or post your comments/queries below

You can read Cait’s other posts on PP [here]

  • gisforgloria

    So true… You’ve got it down to a science. Thanks for sharing..

  • DarkStar

    Glad my roommates didn’t read this before I moved in.

    • MrWankertoYou

      The best thing to do, I think, is pretend you care a lot more than you do. Write a list of questions to ask them, and write down the answers in a little notebook.