After 2½ months, all this staying at home is hard on everybody. But the situation might be nearing impossible for adults sharing living space with non-familial roommates. For those waiting out the coronavirus crisis under these less-than-ideal circumstances, we sought the advice of Linda Fiore, director of communications for Pennsylvania’s United Lutheran Seminary. Her 2009 book, “The College Roommate From Hell,” outlined a variety of tactics for managing conflicts and lifestyle differences. We reached the Massachusetts native via phone.
On carving out some space to work from home:
Fiore recommends finding a designated spot for when you need to be alone and focus. “I can’t tell you how many Zoom calls I’ve been on where people are actually working from their bedrooms,” she said. “If you can, carve out any kind of dedicated space instead of setting up in the living room or dining room or some other shared space. Try to even find a corner where you can work, which is easier said than done for some people.”
On dealing with a roommate’s maddening personal habits:
Fiore recommends scheduling regular conversations to address housekeeping and other individualized needs. “It’s about getting used to other peoples’ personalities and their living habits,” she said. “Do they leave the dishes in the sink? Do they clean out their portion of the refrigerator? Do they help sweep the floor? Do they share in buying essentials? Have an open line of communication from the beginning.”
On finally having that difficult conversation:
“If it’s just two of you, that’s really tough,” Fiore said. “For example, if there’s four of you and you maybe get along with two but you’re not getting along with one of them and there’s a conflict, use those other roommates and go to them for advice. There’s strength in numbers — maybe the four of you can meet and talk about it."
It’s also important to keep some perspective, Fiore said. Because when it comes to roommates, some measure of conflict is inevitable. "There’s always going to be some disagreement, whether it’s the food you eat, how clean you keep your personal space, there are cultural differences, there are language differences. … That’s the real world.”
On maintaining sanity:
Even when isolating, Fiore recommends stepping away from it all when life with roommates becomes too much. As outlined in Governor Baker’s reopening plan, you might even make plans to socialize with friends while adhering to social distancing protocols — that is, meeting outdoors, wearing a mask, and standing (or sitting) at least 6 feet apart. “If you can, get out and go for a walk,” Fiore recommended. “If you have any type of hobby that makes you feel good and can lift your spirits or lift your mood a little bit, I would say pursue that, whether it’s playing an instrument or painting or knitting. And talk to friends on the phone and FaceTime. Try to create as many social activities as you can outside of the person you’re stuck with.”
Interview was edited and condensed.