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Overton: Roomies aren't for everyone

BY JON OVERTON | FEBRUARY 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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Roommates are like a lottery. Sometimes you get paired with one who becomes your best friend for years to come. Alternatively, your roomie can be an asocial shut-in or an obnoxious jerk who regularly blasts terrible music that’s loud enough to be heard three floors below.

There’s been some speculation, however, that the college roommate may soon become a relic of the past, though evidence of this as a nationwide trend is slim. The advent of the super single is upon us — or so the story goes. These rooms are the size of normal dorm rooms but with only one person in them.

The University of Northern Iowa is one of a handful of colleges that has adopted the super single, having converted one of its residence halls to only house single rooms.

But people such as freelance journalist David Wheeler in The Atlantic have bemoaned the speculative end of the college roommate, suggesting that it will hinder students’ social development. He acknowledges super singles have some benefits, such as privacy and making it easier to concentrate on work.

But then Wheeler quotes a number of people who talk up all the great benefits of having a roommate, including learning to live with others, becoming more accepting of diverse people, and generally helping students learn how to make friends.

One college student told him “with a private room, it’s very easy to find yourself cut off from a social life. If you just go back to your room as soon as class is over; you’re never going to meet anyone new or have any experiences beyond those in the classroom.”

It smells like one of those pesky, condescending millennial trend stories in disguise.

Still, many of Wheeler’s points are basically true, but he overlooks something pretty basic. If I live in a dorm, I can open my door and — alakazam — I’ve found fellow humans.

There is a danger of shutting yourself in your room all the time, so you have to be mindful of that, but come on. If you’re in college, you’re an adult. You have to take care of yourself and that means making friends. If you’re not ready for that responsibility, don’t live by yourself.

Furthermore, having your own space isn’t necessarily just a convenience. For some people, that private space to be alone is crucial.

When I lived in the dorms last year, I had a really nice and easygoing roommate, but when I had to cope with a lot of emotional stress, all I needed was a place where I could really be alone. But it’s hard to get that when you live in a glorified closet with another person, and your only retreat is a public space.

There’s no one to blame. I was in an environment that stressed me out at a time of ever-mounting stress. And now that I live alone in my own apartment, I’m happy as can be.

Some people need that level of solitude at times. For many, that super single may not be a detriment to social development, but a necessary place to recharge and cope with the very real stress of college life.

There are benefits to having roommates, but there are costs too, and for those who truly need their own space, the supposed end of the college roommate (if that ever really happens) is nothing to mourn.


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