Surviving and Thriving with Roommates: Does Faith Matter?

Fifth in a series of posts, first found hereherehere and here.

There are a lot of reasons a single Catholic person might choose to live with roommates. One of the most common (and definitely the reason I lived with roommates in the past) is because it’s cheap.

Times can be tight. So why not split that outrageous rent two, three, or even four ways? It can make good financial sense.

But when the reasons you’re moving in with other people are purely about saving money, it might mean that you’re not giving a lot of thought to the character of these new roommates, especially if it’s a move of absolute financial necessity. And I definitely get that.

I have been there in the past, just needing a cheap place to live and not thinking too much about what the other occupants of that living space will be like. And so has a certain relative of mine.

For now, I’ll call this relative Mr. McRoommate, because he’s certainly had his fair share of experience in the area. So have I, but I was fortunate enough to have Catholic roommates. He wasn’t. Here’s what was different about our experiences.

Living with Friends From High School Might Seem like a Good Idea

Surviving and Thriving with Roommates || Living with Friends From High School Might  Seem like a Good Idea<

When Mr. Mc-Roommate graduated from high school, certain family issues at home meant that he needed to move out, pronto. So he utilized his network of high school friends and ended up living with a couple of them in a rental house.

None of these friends he lived with were Catholic or particularly religious (read: moral) in any way, but they were all already acquainted, familiar with each other’s lifestyles, and did get along fairly well in your typical every day settings. So of course, things started out just fine.

But soon, there were clashes over things like his roommates’ late night parties, while Mr. McRoommate had to get up very early for work in the mornings. Of course, things like this could happen even with Catholic roommates. But (at least I would hope) not the illicit substance issues that went along with these roommates’ parties.

In fact, his roommates’ pot smoking was so bad that sometimes his clothes and shoes started to smell like it. And, poof, there goes any good impression he was ever hoping to make on the world.

Different Sexual Morals Can Get Pretty Awkward

Surviving and Thriving with Roommates || Different Sexual Morals Can Get Pretty Awkward

Somehow, Mr. McRoommate made it through his time living with these guys without really having the need to express how uncomfortable their premarital sex lives made him. Mostly, their opposite schedules and a big enough house at least kept him from having to actually know about the things he suspected they did with their girlfriends or what have you.

But then one day, the issue stared him right in the face, in the form of a very disgusting sex toy he found in the bathroom. Basically the epitome of the clash between his morals and theirs.

He ended up trying to mention it to the others and to hint at how disgusting he found it without coming across as judgmental or condemning—which is a pretty tricky thing to accomplish. And, even years later when he was telling me about all this, he still felt pretty darn sickened by the incident.

Would things like this always happen to a Catholic living with non-Catholics? No, especially if you were able to find some non-Catholics that did have similar values and morals. But as far as your run-of-the-mill roommates with no general religious convictions, I suspect experiences like this are pretty typical.

Next Came Craigslist Roommates

Surviving and Thriving with Roommates || Next Came Craigslist Roommates

After a couple tough years in this living situation, Mr. McRoommate ended up deciding to move to another state to be close to his fiancee (though escaping this living situation might have added to his motivation…).

With no solid network of friends in his new area, he did what a lot of people in such a situation do: he took to Craigslist.

Now, you might think that finding a bunch of random guys to live with from a website might turn out even more disastrously than his previous living arrangement. But luckily, he ended up living with three older professional men who were more mature than those high school friends had been.

So now he didn’t have to put up with partying and other immaturity issues anymore. Thank goodness! But, having virtually nothing in common with these new guys, religion included, it was still not ideal. He formed no bonds with any of them and it ended up being a pretty lonely living situation.

Luckily for Mr. McRoommate, he was preparing for marriage to his fiancee by this point, and I’m glad to say that he’s now happily married. So the only roommate issues he faces these days are marital in nature, and I can only assume that they’re probably much more happily ended.

The Catholic Side of the Story

Surviving and Thriving with Roommates || The Catholic Side of the Story

I’ve spent about much of my adult life living with roommates as my relative Mr. McRoommate has. But my experiences were very different.

Between assigned dorm roommates during my undergrad at Franciscan University and the classmates I lived with during grad school, I have always had Catholic roommates. Even with sharing a religion and similar values, the situation was still often far from perfect. But, the one thing that did make those inevitable struggles easier was the shared faith.

Try staying irritated at the girl whose snoring kept you up last night while you sit next to her at Sunday Mass. It’s not possible, at least without feeling like somewhat of a hypocrite.

Try getting getting so frustrated with your roommate’s clutter that you start to throw her crap back to her side of the room – and feel somewhat cowed when you realize that half the clutter is made up of stuff like prayer books and religious paraphernalia.

Shared Faith Can Do More than You Think

Surviving and Thriving with Roommates || Shared Faith Can Do More than You Think

I never had to deal with roommates doing terribly immoral stuff I didn’t agree with. But beyond that, I also had people nearby me who understood the things I was going through and dealing with from a perspective of our shared faith—people who would pray for me, people who would discuss issues I was passionate about, people who would not look at me weird if they happened to walk in on me saying my rosary.

In my experiences, personalities clashed and things occasionally got ugly, but the foundation of having the Catholic faith in common kept things from getting too ugly.

At the end of the day, I know it’s not always possible to live with other Catholics. But sometimes, it is. And from my experience, when it is possible, those inevitable clashes and conflicts will be both less frequent and easier to solve.

Living with other people is hard. So, if it’s possible, don’t make it even harder by living with people who have radically different ideas than you about the way life should be lived.