Roommate Series #3: Jane* (Not her real name) Aug. 2007 – Dec. 2007 (Freshman year, 1st semester).
Roommate Award: Biggest Disney fan AND Most Unique
The boxes of disney movies, romance novels, and pajama pants should’ve been my first sign.
When I moved into my first college dorm room, I was freshly 18, and for most of my life I’d shared a room, so I wasn’t intimidated by the thought of a random roommate. I was pretty confident I could live well with anyone.
In the weeks before, Jane* and I had been sent each others names. She’d found me on Facebook and started a conversation. Her photos were of her traveling with her sister throughout Europe. “That’s cool, I just started traveling, too!” I thought. I had just come back from my first big travel experience — a short two-week trip to the continent of Africa — and I was eager for more travel and adventure in my life.
She also said she liked to read, as did I, and watch movies, as did I.
Sweet. I thought we sounded like compatible roommates. Good job, college roommate appointer people.
But when I arrived at the dorm and started to unpack my books which consisted mainly of classic literature, and she unpacked her two-shelves worth of romance novel after romance novel, I started to see the best friendship potentially fade.
As I unpacked my movies like Gladiator, Blood Diamond, and Batman Begins, she unpacked her mostly-disney-channel-originals, and lined them up on her shelf above her romance novels.
As I set up a little place on my counter for my coffee and coffee pot, she set up the microwave which she’d agreed to bring, and which she promptly began using for large quantities of microwave bacon daily. (The kind that doesn’t even have to be refrigerated.)
As I unpacked my too-large collection of swimsuits, shorts, and tank tops, she unpacked two drawers full of Pajama pants. Though her chic-fil-a PJ pants were mostly all she ever wore.
Mostly, we co-existed. She watched all three High School Musical movies on a loop while I came in and out of the room as needed to sleep, eat, or get my books or clothes.
We actually did have the same cleanliness level when it came to our room — not to our bodies, but that’s neither here nor there.
One day, though, it was a beautiful, sunny, afternoon and I needed to do some homework at my desk. My neighbors’ room was too distracting, and the hallway didn’t provide the desk space I needed to research and write and article for my journalism class. I had come in and she was in bed, eating bacon, with the lights off, watching the disney channel or abc family or something of the sort. I’d told her I needed to turn the lights on and do some homework.
“OK.” She’d said, not looking at me.
I went to my desk next to the window, opened the blinds and started to work.
Soon, my neighbor, Kate, called my name out. I went to go see what she needed, and promptly returned. The door was shut. The lights were off. The blinds were closed.
“Hey, Jane, can we please leave the lights on and the blinds open? It’s 2pm and it’s gorgeous outside, and I need light to do my work. Is that fine, or do I need to go to the library?”
“OK,” she said.
I turned the lights on, opened the blinds, and resumed my work.
An hour later I went to the restroom down the hall. When I returned two minutes later, the lights were off, blinds were closed, tv was louder.
“Hey, Jane. I’ll tell you when I’m done, and I’ll leave. But for now, I’m in here, got it?”
She finally looked at me with such denial and innocence as if to say she didn’t know how the blinds got shut and the lights turned off.
“I’m turning the lights back on, ok?”
“That’s fine,” she said.
Once again, I left the room for a moment, and came back to the darkened cave. I fixed the problem silently the last time, stayed until my work was done, and then I left for my neighbor’s room.
By the end of the semester, Jane and I had actually found an OK rhythm. I didn’t spend much time in the room aside from sleeping, but I found other spaces where I felt at home, and when I did need to use the room or do anything, I voiced what I needed, and I did it.
Nearing the end of the semester, the staff member serving as the residential director for our dorm approached me, and offered me a different room. “I think it’s OK for me to stay. I was frustrated at the beginning, but I think we’ve worked it out ok now,” I responded, “unless she doesn’t want to live with me anymore.”
“No, she’s fine with living with you. We’re just concerned about you having to live with her. You can stay on the same hall, live with one of your friends, and Jane can live by herself. We don’t think it’s fair for anyone to have to share a room with her. You’ve handled it well.”
I was taken aback. In living with Jane, I really found my voice to ask for what I needed or wanted, and I stretched my ability to be flexible and go with the flow in other ways. I was convinced I could live with anyone and make it work.
But, I also knew that for Jane, having her own space was probably a healthy thing, and I thought it might be nice to have a room I actually felt OK spending time in every now and again. So, I started the long-standing pattern that would follow of moving places and living with someone new.
To this day, I can see how ridiculous some of mine and Jane’s interactions were, but still, when I look back, I didn’t hate living with her. I learned about myself. I learned about her. And I learned how to make it work.
I still think that’s a valuable roommate lesson.
Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.
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