Having the COVID-19 conversation with your roommates

Living with roommates can sometimes be the worst. Whether you’re sharing a dorm or at an apartment with separate bedrooms — there is probably going to be a time where you’re laying in bed pretending to be asleep thinking to yourself, “Wow, I wished I lived alone.” 

Just a few months ago, we never thought too much about where our roommates were going, who they were with, or who they brought over — unless you’re that roommate, of course. The typical outlook is “Because I pay rent, you pay rent, live however you please as long as it doesn’t affect my well-being.” 

Well, that was pre-pandemic. Times have changed. 

This virus doesn’t care if you pay rent or tuition to live where you are living. It doesn’t just stop at the front door and turn around because you’re in a home and that’s “safe.”

Universities have put us in a position to come back to campus, whether that be having your classes online or in person. Most campuses are somewhat more open and accessible than they were during the last half of the academic season. And as the typical college situation usually goes, it’s likely that most students returning back to campuses are also returning to having roommates. 

Madeline Fleming, a senior at the University of Dayton, lives in a house with four other roommates. She shares the experience and her concerns she had initially while she was living again with her roommates involving COVID-19. 

“We really didn’t have any conversation about it since right when we got here, one of my roommates got COVID-19,” she said. “We haven’t really gone to any parties because of that. We all quarantined once we found out she had it, and our school is pretty strict about COVID-19 in general, so we haven’t been doing much but hanging out with each other on our porch. My only concern with my roommates would be if they got COVID-19 and purposely went out, because I just think that’s completely unfair to other people.” 

Not everybody, though, is currently living in on-campus housing and has strict rules set in place by their universities. Without any sort of campus protocol in your off-campus home, it’s important to set your own rules in your living situation. 

When you’re living with someone else, it’s hard to know where they have been, who they have been around, or even who they have at your house when you’re gone — and if you’re asking them a lot, it might seem like you’re stepping over some boundaries and trying to control them. But there’s nothing wrong with playing it too safe right now. 

While nobody wants to be that roommate, I think it’s ok for the time being.

Sabrina Barghouty is a senior at Ohio State University and is currently living off campus with one roommate. She believes that setting some boundaries and guidelines with your roommate(s) isn’t controlling or unrealistic. 

“I believe these conversations are really important to have and so I wouldn’t consider them too controlling,” she said. “This is just a very uncertain time and any precautions we can take should be taken, even if that means sacrificing a night of going out.” 

In a normal situation, it might feel a little extreme to be worried about where your roommate is going, who they see and who they bring over, but it isn’t a normal situation right now. It’s the “new normal” to have that kind of conversation with the people you live with — especially if you haven’t already and you’re worried about yourself or anyone else getting sick.

Fleming shares that she believes a solution is to sit down and have a conversation with your roommates about boundaries while living together during a pandemic. 

“I think it’s really necessary and realistic to have these types of conversations because this is a serious issue and people can be seriously affected,” Fleming said. “It’s extremely selfish to go against your roommates’ wishes and in a time like this there needs to be some type of agreement.” 

The key part of having this type of conversation is to make sure it’s relaxed and collaborative. Don’t go spitting off rules and orders, turning the entire thing into a soliloquy and ruining the relationships you have with your roommates. Set boundaries for each other and compile a list of wishes and expectations you all have for each other while you’re living together during this time. Then close your agreement with an at home wine night or a shot!  

But remember — you cannot of course control your roommate and demand their whereabouts, you can only express your concerns and hope they respect them, as well as reciprocate. 

Barghouty explains the type of conversation she had with her roommate during this time. 

“In regards to the COVID-19 situation, we have to come to an understanding about who we socialize with,” Barghouty said. “We try not to see people outside of our social circle and we generally don’t have people over, especially in larger groups.” 

I’m not sure who you’re living with, but maybe your roommate (or roommates) doesn’t care about getting sick from this virus or even getting you sick from it — maybe they’re just selfish. But if you’re hitting a brick wall trying to come up with any solutions for living together during this time, then just steal their keys when they’re in the bathroom or something. 

Just kidding, don’t do that.

First, if you’re living with someone who doesn’t care about their personal health or others personal health, they probably should not have a roommate in the first place. But when you repeatedly try to break the walls with your roommate, and they still don’t have any regard for your well-being, keep trying to come up with some sort of middle ground. 

It’s entirely okay to ask them to limit the amount of people they bring into the home, or create a shared list of people that can come over, express your concern about them going to parties or being in large groups. If you’re comfortable enough and it’s accessible to you, maybe suggest getting COVID tests together when one of you has concerns after a risky situation. 

“If my roommate did make me feel uncomfortable I would sit down and have a conversation with her and suggest getting another COVID test before we make any other plans,” Barghouty said. 

It’s expected that college students and young adults want to see their friends, go out for a night and have a good time and party — but it’s not entirely worth it right now when you can be putting yourself, your friends, family and your roommates at risk.

It may seem awkward and uncomfortable to express these types of concerns with the person you’re living with, but it’s essential for everybody’s health. You can’t control your roommates’ actions during this time, but you can establish boundaries and guidelines for your living situation just like you would have before the pandemic — they may just look a little different.