Moving into a tiny space with perfectly random strangers is one of the first rites of passage for most freshmen. You’ve probably spent the summer wondering what your new roommate is like and whether or not the two (or more) of you will get along. Thankfully, there are things you can do once you’ve unpacked and settled in to ensure that your time together doesn’t shift from wow-this-is-great to whoa-this-totally-sucks.
A roommate agreement, or contract, is a good place to start. Many colleges provide them, but if yours doesn’t, you should think about drafting one together. It’s a smart way to hammer out some of the practical living arrangements of your humble abode, setting boundaries around when it’s OK to have visitors, how to divvy up chores, and rules about what can you borrow or take from each other (food? clothes?).
Have you ever watched The Big Bang Theory? Sheldon and Leonard’s roommate agreement is a running joke on the sitcom, leaving nothing to chance, including what to do if one of them happens to invent time travel. “Although exaggerated, I think it’s a great example of the concept of roommate agreements in action,” says Juliette Duke, director of Residential Student Experience, University Housing/Student Affairs, at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “Nothing should be off limits.” While it is unlikely that you’ll need a back-to-the-future clause, covering everything else you can think of—including pet peeves—is a solid step toward addressing any issues that could arise throughout the year.
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But to create the type of bond that makes living together more companionable, you and your roommate need more than a written set of rules to adhere to. Even if you don’t become best friends (or even great friends), getting to know each other’s backstories, likes and dislikes, hopes, and fears can build feelings of trust and empathy. It’s about getting to know each other as people.
A study put together by academic researchers Arthur and Elaine Aron took a look at how to do just that. By posing a list of 36 questions to psychology students at Berkeley, the husband and wife team set out to explore how feelings of closeness develop. The questions, or prompts, were broken down into 3 sets, each set designed to be more probing than the one before it. What the researchers found was that in less than an hour—the time it takes for 2 people to take turns answering all 36 questions—feelings of intimacy between their subjects intensified.
The 36 questions, or variations thereof, have since been used in hundreds of other studies, immortalized in the Modern Love column in The New York Times, and shared over countless dinner tables and coffees (and, most likely, drinks) for close to 20 years. What the study makes clear is that the more you understand someone, the better you will get along.
The questions almost always make two people feel better about each other, wrote Dr. Elaine Aron, PhD, in an article for HuffPost. The back-and-forth self-disclosure, which increases gradually, is consistently linked with feeling more connected with the person you do this with.
Aron points out that 36 questions in their study are just suggestions. So in that spirit, we swapped out a few of the original prompts with those from an alternate group the researchers used in their studies, all in an effort to tailor the list to college life.
After taking a few weeks to settle in to your new digs, invite your roommate out for coffee and get to know each other a little better. Take turns asking and answering the questions in the order they’re listed here. And really take to heart the responses.
Questions for new roommates
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want to have dinner with?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. When was the last time you walked for more than an hour? Describe where you went and what you saw.
7. What was the best gift you ever received and why?
8. Name three things you and your roommate appear to have in common.
9. What in your life do you feel most grateful for?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your roommate your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What did you do this summer?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your favorite book? Describe it to your roommate and explain why you like it.
18. Did you have a pet (or pets) growing up?
19. What is the best show you’ve ever binge-watched? Describe it to your roommate.
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What was your impression of campus the first time you visited?
22. Do you keep up with the news and current events?
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel you had a happy childhood?
24. What is your favorite holiday? Why?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … ”
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … ”
27. What foreign country would you most like to visit? What attracts you to this place?
28. What is your most treasured memory?
29. Share an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your roommate something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. What is the last concert you saw? How many of that band’s songs have you downloaded? Had you seen them before? Where?
34. Your childhood home, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life so far?
36. If you were going to become close friends (with your roommate) what would be important for them to know?