Even in ordinary circumstances, having a roommate can be an awkward, stressful, and sometimes disastrous experience, but dorm living can feel like a sociological experiment. You're 18, all kinds of hormones crawling through your bloodstream, dropped headfirst into the heretofore mythical land of college, eager to prove you're an adult, simultaneously eager to drink a six pack of Smirnoff Ices on a Tuesday night, searching for some sort of identity but also terrified of embarrassment. Here is a tiny room with two or three beds barely ten feet apart; this is where you and another hormone-filled teen you've never met before will be living. You are about to spend more time with this stranger than anyone you know, and they will usually be close enough to you to watch you sleep. Have fun!
Everyone, without fail, has a weird freshman-year roommate. This is because everyone is weird as a freshman. Everyone drinks or smokes too much, or has weird habits, or is a control freak or a slob, or brings terrible people over. No one that age knows how to live, let alone live with someone else. If you doubt this, gaze upon the recent viral email sent by a UCLA freshman to her future roommates.
In celebration—or dread—of the beginning of college, here are a few stories of freshman-year roommate nightmares culled from VICE staff, contributors, and friends, some of whom have opted to remain anonymous so as not to humiliate their old roomies, who are probably very normal, productive people now.
It was freshman year of college, and I was living in an apartment with five girls. It was a crazy time. One of the girls in particular gave zero fucks about anything. She came from a lot of money, unlike the rest of us, and never had any responsibilities. There were many a night where I'd come home to her throwing up in a mug, or passed out on the couch with a cigarette burning in her hand, or with a large group of random people doing all kinds of drugs. We even had a drug dealer squatting on our couch for literally six months thanks to her! (His laugh was something from hell, it still haunts me today.) One thing she did that was just a serious WTF moment was when the DEA called one of our roommates' dads because they were inspecting a "suspicious package" with his name on it. Turns out our roommate was having drugs delivered to our apartment under our other roommate's dad's name. What!? Of course, her rich mom was able to clear things up for us, but it didn't stop us from throwing all her crap on the streets.
During freshman year of college, I lived in a triple on the west side of Boston University's campus. I had two roommates. One was Sam, who would become my best friend before having an existential crisis a year ago, breaking off contact with me, and riding his motorcycle across the country as he worked remotely as a programmer for a health insurance company. The other guy, Dan, who would never be my friend, hailed from western Massachusetts and became extremely interested in the college's kendo club, where they practiced this ancient art of Japanese sword-fighting with wooden sticks in the gym. When I was drunk and Dan was nowhere to be found, I would often pick up this bamboo pole and swing it in the direction of anyone who came near me. Between watching anime, pretending to study chemistry, and eating white cheddar Cheeze-Its, Dan practiced once or twice a week, and it was apparently a grueling activity, at least for him, because he would sweat more than I've ever witnessed a man sweat.
He always wore the traditional robe, which for some reason he was incapable of ever washing. He would keep it in the wardrobe next to his lofted bed, and by the end of my first semester, it was eliciting an odor I did not think could be produced by the human body. Initially, I thought the smell was from Sam—he showered infrequently and often bragged about not wearing deodorant—but he assured me it wasn't. One night, while Dan was absent and the stink had become unbearable (it is to this day the worst thing I've ever smelled), we went in search of the stench's origin. It didn't take us long to discover it. Not sure if it would be safe in the laundry, and not wanting to do laundry, and not having any desire to speak to him about cleaning it, we decided the next best thing would be to buy 15 cans of Febreze and spray the outfit until the fumes suffocated us. He mentioned nothing about his clothing—or the entire room—reeking of "Coastal Escape," but the next morning, I saw him put the robe in his laundry basket.
–Alex Norcia, VICE.com copy editor
My freshman-year college roommate was into weird, dramatic, long-distance online relationships. After talking to a random guy from a school across the country for a while, she invited him to visit her (technically "us" since we shared a room). For weeks, she tried to convince me to let this strange Midwestern possibly-serial-killer white dude she'd never met before chill six feet away from my head in her twin-XL bed. I wasn't having it. He came to visit (for a week!) anyway, and the RA had to physically restrain them from entering our room. She didn't speak to me for the rest of the school year.
He covered the microwave in tinfoil in order to protect himself from radiation and slept fully clothed on top of his covers with his arms crossed over his chest, sometimes in the middle of the day, like a vampire.
Even at art school, my freshman year roommate stood out. He was tall and thin and white and wore all black everywhere, which, fine—art school. But he also went barefoot around the campus, which was in New York and naturally had its share of broken glass and other hazards. He also had some odd habits. For instance, he covered the microwave in tinfoil in order to protect himself from radiation and slept fully clothed on top of his covers with his arms crossed over his chest, sometimes in the middle of the day, like a vampire.
He may have been somewhere on the Aspergers spectrum, and in any case either had trouble reading social cues or just ignored them. He'd mostly be quiet, but when he talked he could be breathtakingly rude and condescending. He didn't have many friends as a result (I definitely went out of my way to avoid him as much as I could), but he did talk to this one girl who was similarly socially underdeveloped. One day, weeks after they'd started hanging out, she came to drop off some books he had loaned her and they had a fairly involved conversation about a sci-fi series they both liked. Then, during a pause, he said, "I'm sorry, but what is your name?"
My roommate in college my freshman year seemed pretty great at first. She was nice, fairly quiet, and didn't snore really loud, smoke in our room, or bring boys back every night—things I'd half expected from horror stories I'd heard and movies I'd seen about college before getting to campus. She was normal. The only thing out of the ordinary that happened was our toilet overflowed a couple times that first month. Turns out, she'd tried to flush her pads when she was on her period. No big deal, lesson learned, just don't do that again. After she'd done it a few times that first month, things continued normally after that. We even started getting lunch together Tuesdays and Thursdays when we knew our schedules matched. Month two, more overflowing toilets. Same reason. Month three rolled around, more flushed pads, more overflowed toilet. I even started to know her schedule. I was becoming her own Period Tracker app. After a few dozen overflows in a matter of months, our RA finally demanded an explanation—deeply embarrassed, she'd lied up to this point, and I plead ignorance. Shortly after she moved off campus into her boyfriend's place. I remember thinking, on the date her period usually started, "I hope that guy has incredible plumbing!"
My freshman year of college I was assigned to something called a "permanent triple," which meant that the housing department was going to cram me in a room designed for two people with a couple of girls who had been best friends since childhood. Clearly that was not happening, so I found some random girl who had also gotten fucked over, and we decided to get an apartment like a block away from the library. Flash-forward to my friend and I waking up covered in fleas because she'd adopted a cat and then neglected it.
My roommate, who majored in "event planning," also had a habit that I still think about from time to time of eating cold Oscar Meyer hot dogs filled with processed cheese out of the fridge as a snack. I honestly don't know why this still makes me so upset, but I started thinking of her as "female Joe Dirt" and still do. I worried that putting this on the internet under my name would be mean, but she also ended up keeping my deposit, so fuck her.
–Allie Conti, VICE.com staff writer