You probably already know the most important thing about roommates, the main reason for having one (or more) in the first place: sharing expenses. If we were all independently wealthy, decisions about whether or not to have roommates would be less stressful but clearly that isn't the case. But they are important, maybe even more important, than this-and this is why I insist that roommate problems are important. Roommate problems are important because roommates are important.

Having other people on our side, people who know and respect and trust us, is widely recognized as a huge advantage in our lives. Connections, networking, and a variety of other terms all refer to this important yet surprisingly difficult aspect of our existence. Even though most of us are around people for most of our lives, forming these connections does not happen automatically or easily. Many of our interactions with others are specialized and transitory in nature, so they don't lend themselves to the kind of ongoing connection that can become long-lasting and valuable relationships.

This is where roommates, especially roommates in a peaceful and mutually enjoyable environment, have a big advantage: by definition, they are spending large amounts of time together, so they have a perfect opportunity to form the kinds of connections that can make a difference. And in many cases, this is exactly what happens-when the opportunity is not lost because of roommate problems and difficulties.

And there are more reasons why roommates are important.

More accurately, knowing how to deal with these problems is a really important skill to develop. Solving, or at least improving roommate problems requires the ability to develop an interaction between people in such a way that everyone involved is doing their best to make the relationship work. This is no small accomplishment, to be sure-yet, the fact that successful and mutually beneficial relationships of all kinds, not just roommates, do exist is proof that this can be done.

Note the clue to my strategy in the last paragraph: the hint is the phrase “everyone involved is doing their best.” The skill I’m referring to is actually dual in nature: it is critical to be able to get others to treat us well, to deal with us fairly, and to more or less give us their best when dealing with us. Yet every bit as important, and widely overlooked, is the exact opposite, or the importance of doing our best for others as well.

So let's summarize: we know roommates are important because most of the time we need them to share expenses and keep our budgets in line.

And when we manage to maintain good relationships with them, at least some of the time it's possible to form really important connections that can turn into lasting friendships, future important business contacts, or introductions to other important people such as romantic partners.

But perhaps even more important than the roommates and the connections that they may represent are the skills we will develop when we learn how to really make the most of our roommate relationships. It is hard to overestimate the importance of forming mutually beneficial relationships with others throughout our lives. One place where this is possibly the most important of all is at work, or in the process of developing your career. But this skill is important just about everywhere-and if you are able to create and maintain good roommate interactions, it is likely that you will have developed this skill. Believe me, you will benefit from this ability in ways that you might not even imagine today.

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