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I need advice for a very specific situation, which I have described below.

Context: I am a college student, and I live on-campus. Due to a bit of a space crunch on campus this year, the rules require everyone to live with one or two roommates, barring exceptions. However, I have certain health problems* which prevent me from staying with roommates with significantly different sleep habits. I have been staying with the same roommate (a pretty good friend) since freshman year, and I'm currently a junior. However, we did not stay together for long, due to the pandemic (I got back to campus only recently). On another note, I also suffer from several anxiety issues (I've been going to therapy for them, but my roommate doesn't know that) which makes me highly sensitive to sounds in general. It would have been very difficult for me to continue staying on-campus with a roommate (any roommate with different sleep habits, nothing against a particular person), as my physical and mental health both would suffer, making it impossible to stay on track academically. I had to figure something out to make things better, and so I tried to explain my case to the campus housing authorities. Luckily, they were quite understanding and sympathetic; and readily agreed to provide me single-seated accommodation, i.e., a private bedroom to myself without any roommates. I'm sure this will help me regulate my sleep better.


The Problem: As a result of limited rooms on-campus, my roommate has been asked by student housing to share accommodation with two other people on the same floor. Meanwhile, I shall stay alone in my room. My roommate is aware of most or all of my health issues, and since he's a close friend, I expected him to understand why I took this decision. However, he has been very frustrated and annoyed (understandably so) - because one of his potential roommates is not a good friend. Moreover, he has an extra roommate now (space is not an issue, their accommodation is proportionately larger) - which could be undesirable? I'm not sure. Of course, I did not have any role to play in decisions made by student housing for my roommate, and my request for a single-seated room had underlying genuine health issues, so it was not ill-intentioned at all. My roommate did not explicitly express why he was pissed until I decided to ask him, hoping that things would get better. Unfortunately, he started screaming at me and using insensitive slurs - which was totally unexpected. He hasn't talked to me since, and the situation is getting worse by the minute. While I understand his reaction, it seems unreasonable and out-of-proportion. I felt that his tone and reaction were quite insensitive to my health issues, and I feel deeply hurt to see that a close friend would dismiss my struggles as not worthy of attention. A few days have passed, and he refuses to calm down or have a mature discussion.


Question: How do I explain this moving out due to medical reasons to my roommate, so that he hopefully calms down? My roommate is unwilling to talk in person (he willfully ignores me all the time), so the only avenue available is texting. Besides, he does not seem to want to apologize or initiate any conversation about what happened, so thinking about this situation seems hopeless. I don't want to lose a friend, but at the same time I have personal boundaries and limitations - and I cannot lose myself in the process of pleasing everyone.


*I do not think that more details are necessary, but to elaborate, I am a very light-sleeper (this runs in the family), and I have trouble sleeping at night without the ideal or close-to-ideal environment. Due to lack of sleep, I get extremely painful headaches, and the only way to get rid of them is through strong painkillers. My doctor has advised me not to take many of those painkillers since they are quite strong, and injurious to the liver if taken frequently.

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    Not an answer to the question, but you need to put your mental and physical health first and not feel guilty about that. You can try and help your friend find a better place to sleep, but don't sacrifice your own health.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 21 at 9:55

1 Answer 1

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Your room-mate is angry about going from having one room-mate, a friend, to having two room-mates (which can be awkward; while they have more space they may share areas that are used at urgent times, like the kitchen or bathroom, and there will now be more waiting, or more having to hurry because someone is waiting, or more being exposed to mess created by others) and further, one is not a friend. What's more, each of the two new room-mates may be similarly grumpy about the changes in their living arrangements, and take that out on the newcomer. This is a significant down-turn in your room-mate's fortunes.

One could argue (in fact you appear to be arguing) that this is not on you, but on the university who just moved your room-mate without considering the impact such a move would have. This may be a logical position, but your room-mate seems to feel that it's on you: that you went to the power that be and said "my room mate is so noisy that I can't sleep" and they said "ok, we'll just kick him out of your room and give him something not so nice."

I don't know if you looped the room-mate in before you did this: if not it may have all come as a bolt from the blue and been a shock and a surprise. That could add to feelings of betrayal for the room-mate.

You don't really say what you've tried, other than asking why he was mad. I expect some of the anger you got there was from a position "you have to ASK? It NEVER OCCURRED TO YOU how much this sucks for me? You just got me kicked out of my room - I thought we were friends! - and you aren't even sure why I'm mad about it?"

Although my university room-mate days are long behind me now, I remember them well. Some of those friendships lasted decades. Some of the pain and heartbreak when those friendships ended can still feel fresh decades later. It's possible you will not be able to fix things with this friend. However, if you can, it would probably build on some of this:

  • start by acknowledging his pain. What the university chose to do about your problem was not fair. It must really suck for him. (Don't ask if it does, commiserate in advance.)
  • if they had asked you what you thought of the plan, you would not have agreed to it (if that's true, that they didn't ask you and that you don't like their solution). If you're willing to go as far as to say you would have withdrawn your request if that's the only solution, say it, but only if it's true, since he might go to them and say you're willing to reverse everything.
  • apologize for not sharing your plan in advance if that's appropriate.
  • only after these things, mention (with no details) your private health issues, for which you are getting treatment, and that you shared with officials. Point out they wouldn't have done this thing for trivial selfish things but are accommodating your very real (and private) health issues. Do not mention the headaches, the light sleeping, the anxiety etc. That just opens a line of "have you tried earplugs? what about an eye mask? meditation can be very helpful..." and you aren't trying to have that conversation. Just say "health issues." It's not your room-mate's role to evaluate whether your health issues warrant the accommodation you have been given, nor yours to convince him of this fact.
  • re-iterate that you know they chose to downgrade your room-mates living arrangement and that you wish they had made a different choice while still giving you the health support you needed
  • re-affirm your wish to be friends with this person. Invite them over to do something you used to do together (eat a meal, watch something, play something) and say that you miss doing that.

Will it work? Maybe not. I know in retrospect that when life was hard and I was struggling, it was easier to blame one former friend for "ruining everything" than to face the reality that luck, my own shortcomings, and the behaviour of many other people all combined to create the situations I was in. But I also know that I and others had big "betrayal" blowups where people didn't speak for weeks and in the end they worked out. That was usually where our friends in common, our courses in common, or living near each other meant we kept seeing each other, and repeated small reaching-outs could finally work. I see in hindsight that a good reaching out is "I know that was horrible for you. I wish you had not been subjected to that" and a bad reaching out is "I hope you are not still mad and have come to realize it was never my fault." It's not that the second is inaccurate; it's just not helpful if your goal is to regain the friendship.

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    Thanks for your response, Kate! I must clarify a few things. My roommate already knew this was happening (and did not raise any objections), the only unknown was where the new room would be allocated to me. As a matter of chance, it happened to be on the same floor, which may have led to him having to move in with two roommates (instead of, say, one). If student housing were smart enough to find me a different floor, I don't think this situation would've arisen. Also, I didn't say that "my roommate is so noisy that I can't sleep", because that is not quite the case. (1/n) Mar 27 at 16:21
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    More precisely, my health issues make me highly sensitive to sounds in general - so I have nothing against him as a person, I just cannot live with any roommate who has different sleep habits. It's tough. I made this clear to student housing - that I had no specific personal issues with my roommate (in fact, I don't think he would intentionally create problems for me), rather it is a matter of taking care of my own health and finding a better environment in general. By the way, it wouldn't make sense to mention my private health issues without details (2/n) Mar 27 at 16:24
  • since my roommate was always aware of my issues, it's definitely not a shock or a surprise. In fact, he also knows most of the details. This is what makes me think that his reaction was quite insensitive! Also, I can't even say that I'm willing to withdraw my request, because I'm not - it's a pretty serious issue :'( Lastly, I did not know until much after my request was approved, that student housing had this particular allocation in mind. I really could not have done anything! (3/n) Thanks again, Kate. Let me know what you think. Mar 27 at 16:29
  • I know you don't mean "my roommate is so noisy that I can't sleep" -- I am suggesting your angry and upset room-mate thinks you said "my roommate is so noisy that I can't sleep" - in other words, that this became a complaint about them. I'm encouraging you to characterize it as about you, not them, but only after you offer sympathy and understanding about what happened to them. If your room-mate knew you intended to go to housing, then the "if appropriate" part isn't, so don't say that part. And if you're not willing to withdraw your request, don't say that. I thought my "ifs" covered that. Mar 27 at 16:49
  • The problem is not your fault, but you caused it. You call your friend insensitive, but it doesn’t look like you ever tried to see it from his point of view. You solved your problem, at your friends expense. Not that you shouldn’t solve your own problems but acknowledge that you caused him a problem.
    – gnasher729
    May 24 at 7:31

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