POV: You’re living with a difficult flatmate

Prachi Tailor talks successfully navigating flatmate relationships

Sharing a living space can be tricky whether you live with your friends, family, or random strangers. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent potential arguments from escalating.

“Is successfully navigating the minefield of flatmate relationships purely a myth?”

 We’ve all been there. You come back from vacation welcomed by a house of tension and hostility. The dread of facing your flatmates is enough to make anyone want to stay on holiday forever. Something about walking into your kitchen and looking at the bread crumbs on the floor and the spilled curry dried on the stove makes your skin crawl. Most of us look forward to finally getting out of our parent’s house and living independently to let the world know that we will make it on our own and prove them all wrong. However, the reality can be disappointing. It can be hard to find common ground with your flatmate, from differences of opinions and habits to loud music and unsolicited advice (not to mention a lack of peace and quiet). Is successfully navigating the minefield of flatmate relationships purely a myth? I walked around town meeting people in student accommodation to discuss this and talk about setting boundaries, resolving disputes, and maintaining healthy relationships with your flatmates.

 People had conflicting opinions. Disagreements over trivial matters such as taking out the bins can be solved, but it is more challenging when it involves someone disapproving of your social habits. One person divulged that she has had her flatmate judge her on the people she hangs out with, creating a tense atmosphere between them. “She always gives me an eye roll when I bring guys over. Once, she made a very ignorant comment on how there are always guys in this flat even though it is an all-girls flat in front of a guy.”  Living with an intrusive person who is always sticking their nose in your business as a flatmate can be a strenuous situation, especially if they are not on board with the idea of respect and mutual support. Disagreements such as these can result in isolation and gaslighting, especially if you’re a freshman. It can constrict your mental space, suffocate you, and make you feel like you have nowhere to turn.

 Not to mention that it’s the same cycle every year of holding your breath, hoping your flatmates this year would be more tolerable than the last. It’s like playing a game of Jenga: you carefully build up your tower of harmony, only to have it come crashing down at the slightest movement. There is incredible disheartenment when your expectations of a decent amount of tranquillity are destroyed having the same disagreements and annoyances every year. Confrontational people definitely seem to have it easier, but the majority of us have spent our entire lives avoiding conflict and prefer to do the same when there is a party going on in the kitchen, and you have a 9am lecture the following day. 

No matter how difficult your flatmate situation may seem, conflict resolution is key. Establishing boundaries right away is essential; know what’s acceptable in terms of noise levels, cleanliness standards, guest visits, etc. and communicate these expectations clearly to your flatmates. It is vital to ensure everyone feels comfortable expressing their needs and desires. Being open and honest about expectations and feelings even if they’re difficult will help create an environment where issues can be faced without judgement and hostility. A harmonious flat dynamic is not impossible as long as you’re trying your best to communicate openly and honestly.

Everyone dreams about sharing a flat with their best friend or being close enough to their flatmates to relax and chat after a long day and find comfort in each other’s company. However, we must all be aware not to approach the situation with that mindset; rather, we must accept that there will be conflicts. Moving into a flat expecting to find your ideal roommate only serves to cause excessive disappointment. Hence, being realistic is the first step to building a foundation for a healthy relationship with your flatmate. With patience and consideration on both sides, it’s possible to find a way forward that works for everyone involved and show that successfully co-living with unfamiliar housemates is not just a myth!