Recently, the New York Times published an article about the 13 questions you should always ask someone before getting married. Which got me thinking about another kind of relationship, one possibly even more fraught than marriage, and one that people enter into with perhaps even more unwarranted optimism: that between roommates. Here are a list of 11 questions you really ought to be asking your potential roommate, before you move in.
What temperature do you like to set the thermostat on?
The Apartment Therapy staff once joked about creating a dating app that would match people based on the temperature they like to set the thermostat on. But I can say, speaking from experience, that this is not a joke at all. Of course, if you're living in an NYC apartment with radiators you can't control and window units in every room, it's kind of a moot point, but if you are living like an actual human being, the temperature at which you wish to set the thermostat is perhaps the most important consideration for roommate harmony. A few degrees can be negotiated, but if your roommate is happy at 64 and you prefer a balmier 78 — well, you better be prepared for some serious compromise.
How are rent and bills going to be handled?
I've often heard it said that the biggest sources of stress in marriage are sex and money. Unless you have a very unconventional relationship, you are probably not having sex with your roommate, but there's still the money thing to think about. It's a good idea to establish, before you move in, how the bills will be paid each month, who's responsible for paying them, and who will be paying who back for what. It's also a good idea to establish an expected timeline for payments. If you pay the full rent every first of the month, do you expect your roommate to get you back that day? Or is five days later ok?
Do you like to entertain?
For you, inviting a a few friends over at the last minute may seem totally ok, but for your roommate it may be a completely different story. This is a good thing to talk about ahead of time. Does your roommate need warning when people are coming over? And what's the expected timeline? 30 minutes? Three days? If you love to be spontaneous and your potential roommate requires planning ahead, this may not be the best match.
What will our policy be about significant others?
As a relationship begins to develop, it's natural that your significant other may begin spending a lot of time at your place. But it's also important to speak to your roommate about these situations before they happen. Is it ok for a significant other to stay at your apartment overnight? For three days? Indefinitely?
How will we split up chores?
This one's pretty straightforward, but definitely worth discussing. Will you take turns cleaning the bathroom, the kitchen, the floors? Or each adopt a different zone? Be specific. Make a chart if necessary.
Let's talk about your threshold of cleanliness.
Here's a thing I've learned from experience: everybody has a different 'threshold of cleanliness,' or the point at which a mess becomes so disgusting to you that you can't help but clean it up. Some people (I am guilty here) are totally fine with cleaning the bathroom once a month, while for others anything less than a week is abhorrent. Some people are appalled by dishes sitting in the sink overnight; others are not. If you're living with someone with a much lower threshold than yours, you may discover that they wind up cleaning up after you a lot more often than you would like, because what seems like not a big deal to you is in fact a very big deal to them. It's important to discuss not merely who does what chores, but how often you do them.
How do you prefer to handle conflict?
Talking to your roommate about this might be awkward, but it might also help you learn a lot about other types of relationships, too. If you can, try to get your roommate (before tension mounts over the overflowing garbage can) to talk to you about the way they prefer to handle conflict. Are they the sort of person who likes to be direct? Or do they expect that certain things to be taken care of without their having to ask about them? If they wind up having to do one of your chores one day, will they mention this to you so you can make amends? Or merely resent you forever? If one of you is very conflict avoidant and the other is not, you might consider finding someone else to cohabitate with.
How will we handle decorating?
When you move in together, who will be responsible for contributing which items to the common areas? And what about purchases after the fact? If your roommate brings home, say, a new poster or rug, do you expect to be consulted? (Also, here, a word to the wise: don't buy furniture together with your roommate. This is a terrible idea.)
What does your daily schedule look like?
This is an especially important question if you're sharing a bathroom (or, I suppose, if you're a particularly light sleeper and your roommate regularly coming in late at night is going to wake you up). At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I will say here that often the best roommate is someone whose schedule is as dissimilar from yours as possible, so you both have a little privacy and don't wind up stepping on each others' toes.
What's your noise threshold?
Some people find the sound of a television comforting, even if they're not watching. Others find it maddening. Some people like to listen to music all the time, while others prefer the sound of silence. Which kind of person is your potential roommate? Your auditory could be just as important as your temperature match.
What are your feelings about pets?
If one of you already has a pet, would the other roommate be comfortable taking care of said pet when the owner is out of town? And if you don't have a pet, but are thinking about getting one, now would be a great time to mention it.
What did I forget?