Meet the Roommate

by Josh Kornberg '13 | 10/6/09 10:00pm

"Joshua, based on the information you provided on your housing questionnaire, your suitemates(s)" I began to sweat like a galley slave on a Byzantine warship.

For months, I'd been able to ignore my anxiety about a future roommate. But now, in August, the truth was as depressing as the fact that these days, to get a bank loan, you first have to prove that you don't genuinely need the money anyway.

I'd had enough time to contemplate every miserable scenario: a roommate who would stink up the couch all day playing video games, a roommate who would pee in bottles that he'd keep under his bed to use when he got drunk, a roommate who would hijack my whiteboard and write on it things like "We raaage hard" and worst of all, a roommate who would brush his teeth so hard that he would pass out and slam his head on the bathroom sink.

Of course, to allay my fears, I immediately logged into Facebook and looked up this new sidekick making snap judgments about someone is always a cathartic and healthy way to begin a relationship.

Luckily, my roommate had blinked first. His friend request was already waiting. After all, inherent in any roommate relationship is the risk that both parties end up playing a game of chicken, neither budging to submit the friend request, each trying to assert his coolness over the other.

Without delay, I perused all 1,023 of his pictures, checked the groups to which he belonged, read his wall posts and scoured his information, sighing in relief that he too loved Nick Jonas. I felt great.

But then, as is inevitable, he sent me a message. It read, "Hey roommate! :) Tell me something about yourself!" Suddenly the situation began to spiral out of control.

I was at a loss, intimidated and shocked by such unbridled enthusiasm. I had been planning to send him a message that would subtly hint at my nonchalant joviality, tempered enthusiasm and cosmopolitan world view, a message that would say, "I'm sort of excited to meet you."

My response could only disillusion such an optimist. And even worse, the lazy bastard hadn't described himself.

I felt as though I were drafting a personal ad, except instead of writing something sexy, like "I have the tanned, supple body of a pastoral nomad," I was writing something trite, like "I'm from Long Island and I play tennis."

It was very unsettling to know so much about this roommate, who only a few days ago, I wasn't aware existed. I learned that he ran track, performed "I'm on a Boat" in the senior talent show, campaigned against Proposition 8 and played the violin. And at any moment, I could see precisely what he doing simply by checking his status. Once it read, "layin up in da b^rib lolnah let me stoprelaxin in da house.just finished cooking...pasta n' mutton!"

As our arrival at Dartmouth approached, we interacted progressively more. Although he rejected my plan to turn our empty room into a McDonalds-inspired ball pit complete with an inflatable palm tree, we did manage to coordinate who would bring the fridge, TV, futon and token 1983 disco ball.

By the time that I left for the College, I was so comfortable in our online relationship responding to his messages days later and carefully crafting my words so that I'd seem really chill that I never wanted to meet him for real.

And yet, inevitably, move-in day arrived. There were some awkward moments, like the dreaded initial handshake, and lots of forced laughter, especially as our fathers exchanged stories of recent car trouble. While sharing the mundane aspects of our lives is apparently a sign of kinship, there are no bona fide ways, unfortunately, to make a friend. I've learned the hard way that icebreakers, like asking your roommate about his favorite ice cream flavor, are just sad attempts at becoming close.

Ultimately, I've found the main thing is not to force the roommate relationship. And forget Facebook. No matter how much you discover about someone, you won't be real friends until you've actually lived together. That's because whether it's sharing a meal at Food Court or staring into a lava lamp while listening to Jimi Hendrix, you never know when the moment will come that everything finally clicks.