Here’s the thing about roommates. Sometimes, you can be mere acquaintances with someone, and not like them much at all, but as soon as you become roommates, you are suddenly best friends. And sometimes, you are best friends with someone and get along swimmingly, but as soon as you become roommates, everything changes and you have suddenly become arch nemeses. It’s great fun to watch. It’s sort of like gambling – will they bond and become best friends, or make life miserable until one of them moves out? It’s 50/50, which makes for exciting odds.
Of course, when it’s you yourself playing the odds, it’s not as much fun. Moving is hard enough without worrying about whether your roommate will develop a vendetta against you. But my brother and I had an advantage – we had lived together before.
I haven’t introduced J properly yet. He is the tall, dark, and brooding type, without the tall part, and he only broods occasionally. He does think deeply, though, and has a tendency to work ten times harder than he needs to. Needless to say, he never does shoddy work. He is also a musician and composer, and has the wild, curly hair to prove it. Many of his compositions have brought me to tears, and many of his technology skills have saved me from tears. All in all, the tears have balanced out so far.
And now, the long-awaited weekend in July arrive and J and I fulfilled our life-long dream as he moved everything from his SUV to the room on the west side of the house. The family members who had come to help were on their way back home, and we were now officially roommates.
It felt strange. In the time I’d been away, we’d become very different people, and I think we both felt at once like we knew each other perfectly, and yet didn’t know each other at all. But we were blessed with a good relationship, which took countless painful years to develop, and we weren’t going to let that pain go to waste now.
Still, it was a surprise how many little things turned out to be big issues. Nesting bowls for one.
Over the summer months, I had collected all sorts of cheap and eclectic dishware, cutlery, and cabinet nobs from thrift stores and garage sales. In my opinion, nothing in the kitchen should have a match. For one, it adds character and interest to a table when the plates are all different colors, shapes and patterns. And mis-matched cabinet nobs add a touch of eccentricity that will bring color and life to any room. For another, there is something very special about having a favorite fork, favorite plate, favorite bowl… Ah, the delight you feel when you sit down to dinner and find that no one has used your favorite fork yet, and it is yours for the evening!
J, however, did not see the appeal.
“The bowls don’t match,” was the first thing he said the evening he moved in.
“Uh-huh,” I smiled, oblivious to the subtle hint.
Weeks passed, and I thought nothing of it. Then one morning I woke up to a loud crash from the kitchen. I leapt out of bed and hurried in, expecting some catastrophe, and there was J, trying to put away the clean dishes and stacking the bowls with… gusto.
“The bowls don’t match,” he said with a huff. “They don’t fit in the cabinet.”
“Yeah… you have to stack them like this,” I said, demonstrating. I put the big round bowls on the bottom, followed by the small round bowls, with any remaining flat-ish bowls on top, and slid them into the cabinet. “There. See?”
“Do the bowls have to be different? Does every single thing in this house have to not match?”
Ah. The dreaded first argument.
We had a long conversation, which remained reasonably calm, and J explained to me how chaotic mis-matched things made him feel, and I explained to J the cost of matching dishware, the frugality of buying used, and my preferences on the matter. Afterwards, he decided to prefer me, and learned to stack the bowls so they would fit in the cabinet.
And there is the first thought about dealing with roommates – it’s okay to let them (it’s even okay to ask them) to prefer you sometimes. Relationships go both ways, and sometimes, in trying to keep a relationship healthy, we do so by never voicing our preferences or opinions, always doing whatever the other person wants. There’s a time to let someone else prefer you.
There is also a time to prefer others.
I repainted the doors that fall. They were the last things left to paint, and I spent the entire weekend taking them off their hinges, carting them outside, painting, turning, painting, turning, and trying to keep the falling leaves from sticking to the wet doors. While I was at it, I decided the doorknobs were looking rather old and shoddy, so I ran to the hardware store to get new ones. As I was perusing the many, varied brands and styles, it hit my mind that it would be so much fun to have a different doorknob on each door. And then I thought about how J would feel about it and decided instead to buy MATCHING doorknobs.
Knowing he would be ecstatic, I hurried home and installed them, then put the doors back in. When he returned from college later that day, I asked him,
“Do you notice anything different?”
“Uh…” he started, suddenly nervous. “New haircut?”
“About the house? The doors specifically.”
He looked. “You repainted them?”
“Yes, but anything else about them?”
“They look nice?” he ventured.
“I changed the doorknobs.”
“They all match!”
He peered down the hall at the other doorknobs and looked back at his. “Oh. Why wouldn’t they?” He gave a bemused smile before dropping his backpack distractedly and pulling out his load of homework.
Oh, well. I’d tried.
There is another option for conflict resolution that works almost all the time if you can think outside-the-box enough, and that is to compromise.
In the beginning, some of us were of the persuasion that cabinet doors are there to close the cabinet’s contents away from the kitchen – that is, to remain shut when not in use. However, others of us were of the persuasion that once opened, the cabinet door’s natural position is to stay open for the remainder of the day. This is not true. Some of us tried to convince others of us about this fact, but some beliefs are so ingrained that, if they ever do get unwound, it takes decades to do so. For instance, I still believe stepping on sidewalk cracks is bad luck. Now, I understand intellectually that there is no such thing as luck, bad or otherwise, and I have in fact stepped on many sidewalk cracks in my life and never seen any adverse effects from doing so, but as soon as I step onto a sidewalk I’m hopscotching like a professional. At least it’s good exercise. I also believe, irrationally, that lucky pennies do in fact bring good luck, so I’ve begun a collection. I have 29 now. So far, no noticeable change – I still lose every game of UNO. But everyone needs a hobby, so I keep collecting them, and keep testing my inalterably bad luck with dismal games of UNO.
All this to say, the leaving open of cabinet doors was so deeply ingrained in some of our minds, that it was proving useless to try to reason. That is when, for others of us, the fuse finally burned down to the dynamite and something drastic was done.
Might I ask you – what is the point of cabinet doors if they are left open all day anyway? And given that there is now no use for them, what harm is there when others of us remove them completely?
I don’t think I was overreacting, and I didn’t remove all of them. Only four doors, and I lined the cabinet back with a vintage, newspapery print and arranged the dishware and serving bowls tastefully, and since doing so, we’ve both found we like the convenience of glasses and mugs being so accessible. I won’t lie, though. There was another long conversation after that incident.
Despite these small hiccups in the relationship, though, we were really rather good roommates. We shared the rare taste for anime and homemade ramen, along with the introversion necessary for companionable silence (which is so important in a roommate). Sometimes we would study together, and sometimes we would talk deeply about the purpose of art and the philosophy of music, and sometimes we would talk about pure nonsense for hours on end. Those days were some of the sweetest I’ve had.
But we were getting along too well. It was all a little too perfect. Something to be done. We needed another roommate.
That was when I received a text from a friend in my old hometown, who said that a kitten had followed them home from a walk, and they had looked high and low for its owner and found no one. They couldn’t keep it, and would we want to adopt it?
Is a lizard’s favorite pastime a game called Heart-Attack Lizard Surprise?
Yes, of course we… er, rather, I… wanted to adopt it. J took some convincing, but I worked hard and he eventually gave in, and the next week we brought the kitten home. He was a grey tabby with white paws and a white chest. His eyes were grey-ish green and he had a black button nose, and I adored him. It took us a while to come up with a name for him, but we eventually settled on Lewis – an oddly sophisticated name for the monstrous street-cat he turned out to be. Therein lay a whole new set of challenges in learning to deal with this new roommate, but that’s for another chapter…