When you move in with new people, there are a few generally accepted Golden Rules: pay them back for Ubers, don’t steal their milk and don’t, under any circumstances, sleep with one of them – even if they look a bit like Paul Mescal when you squint. That said, rules are made to be broken, and many people inevitably fall down at that final hurdle.
As someone who has committed this cardinal tenancy sin, I know the deathly awkwardness of running into each other in the kitchen the night after a drunken handy, or having to explain to your other housemates why the two of you are avoiding eye contact at all costs.
Since many of you are now moving in with new flatmates after outgrowing your lockdown ones, or starting a brand new year at uni, it’s likely you might find yourselves in my shoes. So from one rule-breaker to another, here is some advice on what to do if you end up shitting where you eat.
Do: Actually talk about it
While the tempting response to waking up in a bedroom two doors down from yours may be to flee the scene and hide for the rest of the decade, this isn’t the best plan of action. You’re both adults and adults don’t dance around the fact you smashed coochies last week.
As awful as it sounds, a Big Chat about where you’re both at is the best way to move forward if you’re going to be living together. You could move out, of course, but who in their right mind wants to spend another three months scrolling Facebook “housing co-ops” for an £850pcm kitchen slash bedroom in Sydenham.
“Never interacting with them again isn't really an option! Just face the music and talk about it openly and honestly,” says Rowdy Duncan, an Interpersonal Communications Professor at Phoenix College. “In the conversation, you need to get a sense of what you’re OK with doing and what you’re not OK with doing.”
Maureen Tara Nelson, a certified matchmaker and relationship expert, warns of the dangers of leaving things unsaid: “Once there is intimacy in a friendship, it will either grow into a passionate romance or, more often, crumble into feelings of insecurity, jealousy and discomfort.” Yay!
Don’t: immediately act like it was no big deal
Even if from your perspective it was a Very Bad Idea, or perhaps the best night of your life, you don’t know what’s going on in the other person's head. Assumptions can be harmful. In other words: don’t be performatively chill about it.
“Acting like what happened was no big deal could really hurt feelings. At times, we downplay how much sex can affect us as humans,” says Duncan.
“We want to make it neat and controllable, but there is a giant neuro-chemical cocktail of bonding hormones that blast all through us when we have sex. You might not have planned this, but there is a large probability things are going to be different.”
Do: set boundaries and stick to them
“Boundaries” aren't just those things people make Tiktok videos about to the sound of that Hoàng Read song. They’re also the thing that stops the both of you from living in a hellscape for ten months. So if you’ve hooked up with your flatmate, it’s a good idea to set clear boundaries and stick to them.
“Be honest with each other with what you want moving forward,” says dating expert Rachel DeAlto. “Be willing to hear what you may not want to hear and respect their wishes. Practicing acceptance allows those involved in this situation to move on without hard feelings. Everyone is entitled to feel what they feel. Communication is key here.”
Things might change between the two of you, and that’s OK! Just make sure it aligns with what both of you want, be it giving each other space or seeing where it goes as a casual thing or more.
“Boundaries are not just a critical component of self-care, but also the cornerstone of healthy relationships in general,” adds Yamila Lezcano, Psychology Professor at Albizu University.
And if you both end up breaking the boundaries you set – such as, for example, shagging again after you said you wouldn’t – then revisit what the new boundaries are. “It is imperative to revisit the boundaries and maintain an open communication based on the new relationship,” says Lezcano.
“If you don’t, there may be consequences, such as discomfort in seeing this person every day, or worse, someone moving out.”
Don’t: drag other flatmates into unnecessary drama
Something that comes with shagging someone you live with is other flatmates inevitably getting involved. This is where things can get messy – leading to a whole bunch of opinions and jokes that could complicate an already complicated situation.
With that in mind, it’s probably best to not go running down the hallway to your bestie's room to talk about that thing they did with their pinkie. However, that doesn’t mean being weird and secretive about it either.
“You can avoid dragging other housemates into the drama by first being honest about the situation, including them in setting new boundaries and maintaining transparency and open communication,” says Lezcano.
Like maybe, for example, you don’t want to speak about it all the time. “Politely and calmly state your position; this simply means being assertive. I think it is also important to be receptive to other housemates’ feelings and opinions out of respect and to avoid future conflict.”
Do: keep an open mind
It’s not impossible for a flatmate fuck to blossom into a real relationship, and a good one at that. Of course, you already live together, so that throws a few extra challenges into the mix, but in my experience, being able to spend casual time together, cook together and share comfortable silence can fast-track a relationship to the good stuff. It can also fast-track to the bad stuff (two months in and you’re already saying things like, “Babe, you need to use a scourer to get off that sausage grease.”)
So while it might not have been the wisest move, sleeping with a flatmate doesn’t have to be the end of the world, or even the end of a friendship. Handled correctly with honesty and respect, you’ll be able to joke about it (“haha!”) for months to come.
Or, you know, maybe just don’t go there.