At first glance, living with a friend can seem like a safe choice. You care about one another, enjoy each other’s company and share similar tastes. What could go wrong? Plenty. Many friendships don’t survive the transition to roommate-hood. The very factors that drew you together may push you apart when you share a roof. Marisa remembers what made her want to live with her friend Rebecca during their senior year in college. “Rebecca had the kind of energy that drew people to her; everyone wanted to be around her, including me. I figured that our senior year apartment would be a really fun place to be.” The apartment was fun–maybe a little too much fun. “We had crazy parties that Becca organized. She always had the energy to plan the party, but never to clean up. She didn’t seem to mind if the apartment was always a terrible mess. Or maybe she didn’t know it because I was always cleaning it.” By the end of their senior year, Marisa came to feel that she was being taken advantage of. “It really spoiled the friendship. I talk to her once in a while on IM, but it’s really not the same.”
Many people assume that living with a friend takes less work than living with a stranger. In reality, it may take more: more care, more consideration and more effort. After all, roommates come and go, but friends are supposed to be forever. Here are some tips about how to live with a friend and ensure that your friendship survives.
Outline expectations from the beginning. You may be able to read your friend’s mind when it comes to dating and mutual friends, but you may not be able to figure out when your dirty dishes are really starting to annoy her. Even if you’ve been friends forever, you still need to talk about the basics, like expectations about cleanliness, privacy and noise. Meg and her best friend from high school moved into the same Boston apartment when they graduated from college. “My friend/roommate started leaving dirty dishes out on the coffee table for days at a time,” she remembers. “It drove me crazy, but I never said anything. The only time we ever had confrontations in the past, it was about really personal things. I didn’t even know how to bring it up, so I just put up with it.” Discussing your pet peeves, quirky habits and morning routine upfront can help you avoid awkward moments later on. You may be surprised by all the little things you learn about your friend during that conversation.
Think long and hard about how much time you want to spend together. Better not to discuss this one with your roommate, but to figure it out for yourself beforehand. Roommates who meet on Craigslist often make their feelings about hanging out together known from the beginning. With friends, the dynamic is often worked out without a discussion, but it doesn’t always end up to the liking of both parties. “I was so excited when my college friend from Austin got a job in New York,” says Jill, a paralegal living in Brooklyn. “She had fallen out of touch with most of our college friends, but when she moved in with me, she reconnected with them.” As her apartment turned into the meeting place for movie nights and Thursday drinks, Jill began to notice that her one-on-one time with her old college friends had disappeared. “I guess as I got older, I started to like doing dinner or coffee with just one friend so that we could really catch up. Except that with Meredith as my roommate, my one-on-one time turned into dinner for three, and then drinks for eight. Meredith didn’t have many friends in New York, so she wanted recreate our social circle from college.” Wanting special one-on-one time with her friends, Jill wasn’t sure how to keep Meredith from tagging along. “It sounds awful, but this is what I did. I would just lie to her about where I was going. It got to be really stressful.” If you and your new roommate share mutual friends, think about your needs and how you’d like the new dynamic to play out. Do you need alone time with mutual friends, or will you be happy to be part of a large group? If you need your one-on-one time with mutual friends, arrange to meet them at places other than your apartment, so that your private time can be really private.
You still need to be careful about how you manage significant others. Roommates that work well together discuss their expectations regarding significant others. These talks are often easier to have when the significant others in question are hypothetical or are relative strangers. They become more complicated when your roommate’s girlfriend is someone you know well. When Tom moved in with his good friend Mark, he had already known Mark’s girlfriend Jessica for several years. “She was a great girl and I loved having her around. But she was always, always there. Four, five, six nights a week. It’s not like she did or said anything annoying. She was always nice, chipped in for groceries. But I hadn’t signed on to live with a couple.” Mark and Tom never had a conversation about Jessica’s ubiquitous presence; Tom thinks he knows why. “Mark is a real considerate guy. I think he just assumed that because Jessica and I were friends, I’d always want her around. I don’t think he could imagine that I’d need a break from having her there.” It’s best to play it safe. Always assume that less is more when it comes to visits from boyfriends, girlfriends and causal dates.
Consider using a roommate contract. A roommate contract is a written agreement between roommates, stating clear expectations and responsibilities for each roommate regarding a wide range of issues. Although these agreements are non-binding, they can be a real help in avoiding conflict. Of course, asking your friend to create a roommate contract can feel a little weird. Perhaps this is because of an assumption many friends make when they decide to live together: that the friendship is so strong that a roommate contract just isn’t necessary. Given the trouble that many friend-turned-roommate arrangements face, it should be clear that a strong friendship is not enough to create a great living situation. If using a roommate contract feels silly, you may want to think about using this approach. “I wanted to use a roommate contract of some sort, but it just seemed ridiculous to have one with my best friend,” explains Sarah. “So we decided to have a contract, but make signing it as ridiculous as we felt. We dressed up in formal clothes, had Earl Grey tea and signed our contract with a fountain pen. It made the whole experience really fun. The contract is on our fridge.”
Have you ever lived with a friend? How did it go? Most importantly, is the friendship still intact? Tell us all about it in our comments section!