Letters from the dorm: great friends don't necessarily make great flatmates

By Hilary Lok, Durham University, Britain
By Hilary Lok, Durham University, Britain |

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For those in Durham and many other universities, the frantic scramble to sign a house contract is about to begin. In two days, I’ve had two groups of people knocking at the door asking if they could do an impromptu house viewing.

If you’re a first-year student, you may be under immense pressure to find a group of friends to sign a house contract with – I know, because I first signed a lease with my friends after knowing them for less than a month. But how wise is it, really, to decide you want to live with people when you barely know them?

There’s a Chinese saying: “It’s easy to get along, but it’s hard to live together.” Some say living together is the true test of friendship, but I would beg to differ – living together tests so much more than just your friendship. When I decided to rent with my friends, it was because I thought we’d get along well and I enjoyed their company. What I failed to consider, however, was whether I’d enjoy their hygiene and eating habits, their overall cleanliness, their willingness to buy communal items … the list goes on.

The truth is, you’re going to be able to see your friends and enjoy their company regardless of whether you’re living together. What really matters are small things like the unwashed bowl with soggy cereal stuck to its sides that you see in the sink every morning, not your grand proclamations of eternal friendship during Freshers’ Week.

So, enough of the rant – when it’s your turn to sign a house contract, my advice is not the typical “wait until you know who your friends really are and don’t rush into it”, but rather take the time to go into your friends’ rooms and assess how dirty or messy they are. Are there crusty dishes lying around? Is there mould-inducing laundry scattered all over the floor? Then ask yourself: “Could I live in this room?” If the answer is no, then run for the hills. Regardless of how great a friend he or she might be, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy being housemates.

Friendship is, of course, an important part of university life, but housemates and friends don’t necessarily have to be the same thing. It’s tempting to think you’ll have movie nights and sleepovers every day of the week, but the reality of dirty dishes in the sink every morning will hit hard.

Be practical and remember that living alone is always an option.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne