Updated: Oct 14, 2019
By Nancy Gabriel, Mediation Around the Table
If you're familiar with the long-running sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory," you are probably aware that Sheldon and Leonard have an elaborate roommate agreement. Drafted by Sheldon, it covers all aspects of living together, from the ridiculous Godzilla clause (what happens in the event someone threatens to destroy Tokyo) to the unlikely (rules about being invited to swim at Bill Gates's house), and everything in between. While the clauses in this fictional document are designed to get a laugh, sharing a residence with an inconsiderate slob can be anything but funny.
My first roommate (other than my sister) was in my freshman year of college. After filling out an exhaustive survey submitted by the dorm, they matched me, a newbie, with a grad student. A smoker, I might add. We only lasted for one quarter, and I spent most of the time avoiding her.
As a Mediator, I have experience in helping people resolve the conflict. In a perfect world, I would much rather see conflict avoided in the first place, rather than resorting to the help of a neutral third party. (I know, I'm talking myself out of a job here.) In a roommate situation, many potential conflicts can be avoided by creating a Roommate Agreement. This doesn't need to be the daunting, overreaching document that Sheldon Cooper authored in "The Big Bang Theory." It could be as simple as a list of house rules. The significant part here is to have a conversation or two in order to determine what goes on the list.
I'd suggest you start out by writing down what's really important to you. Some things to include should be the move-in date, move-out date, how much rent, when the rent is due, and how to divide the common expenses such as utilities and cable. Next, make another list of what might irritate the you-know-what out of you. While we're all different, some things I'd include would be noise levels, guests, refrigerator space, and clutter in the common areas. And while you're making lists, ask your future roommate to make one of her own. Maybe she works the graveyard shift and would appreciate some consideration when she's asleep during the day.
Once you've both made your respective lists, put everything together into a written document. There are forms you can download, and you might want to seek the advice of an attorney to make sure you are protected, especially in the event your roommate doesn't comply with the terms of your agreement. The eviction process can be costly, and it definitely will be stressful, so it's wise to take the steps necessary to protect your premises. And your sanity.
The roommate situation doesn't only apply to a platonic relationship. Let's take a moment to talk about when your committed relationship goes to the next level, and you've decided to live together. It's romantic, exciting, and wrapped in optimism. In spite of your best intentions, sharing a closet and a medicine cabinet can prove tricky. Same goes for sharing the household duties. Who's going to dust? Vacuum? Do you each do your own laundry? Do you open a joint checking account? In "The Big Bang Theory," (I know, I'm kind of obsessed) Sheldon and Amy enter into a relationship agreement. That's not a bad idea. Although you might not need a written document, you certainly will benefit by a serious conversation, including some note-taking, to address the minutiae of your impending cohabitation. I would suggest that you each come to the table (or the couch) with a written list of what's absolutely non-negotiable. And then be prepared to do some horse-trading. "If you do the laundry, I promise to iron anything you need ironed, whenever you need it." Or, "if you do the cooking, I'll clean the kitchen afterwards." You get the idea.
Whether your roommate is a stranger, a family member, a friend, or a lover, make sure to have an end date to your agreement. Six months is a good idea. If things aren't working out for any reason, you'll know for sure within the first six months. And you can always renew the arrangement for another six months. In spite of Sheldon's agreements (or maybe because of him), "The Big Bang Theory" is still going strong in its 12th and final season, and we'll be able to watch the reruns forever.
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