Fall and the start of a new school year, for many, means moving back in with a roommate. Living with another person—or multiple other people—is a rite of passage for most students. The experience is often good, sometime not so good, and sometimes downright awful—but always unforgettable. Chances are you have some funny stories of your own, whether it’s your first year or your fourth.
In honor of this common experience, Mochi editor-in-chief and now author Stephanie Wu recently compiled a collection of real-life roommate stories—from a student who stole her roommate’s identity to a woman who lived on a private yacht. While not everyone has such wild tales, we’ve all felt the frustration, shared in the pure craziness, and built the heartwarming bonds that only comes with having a roommate.
We caught up with our editor-in-chief to learn about the book writing process, her own roommate experiences, and more.
How did you manage to find the time to work on the book while juggling Mochi and your day job as an editor at Town & Country?
I truly perfected my time management skills while working on this book, cramming interviewing, editing, and writing into my nights and weekends. My friends were understanding for the four months I was writing—they knew that if they wanted to see me socially, they’d have to join me at a coffee shop or grab a bite with me. I even spent part of my family vacation polishing the manuscript. Not that I’m complaining: editing on an island resort is as luxurious as it sounds!
What’s one of your favorite stories from Roommates? Can you share a memorable roommate story from your personal life?
One of my favorite stories is a chapter called “The Multiple Personalities,” about a group of twenty-something girls who found out one of their roommates had dissociative identity disorder. Instead of moving out or isolating her, they went to roommate therapy together, learned how to deal with her mental illness, and helped her through an incredibly tough time in her life. It was an incredible example of how roommates can be life changing—not just for worse, but for better as well—and truly band together in times of need.
As for me, I have to admit I have been incredibly lucky when it comes to roommate experiences. Part of the reason I wanted to write this book is because I knew there were so many stories out there, unlike mine, where living with others made for extraordinary tales. One personal story does stand out—once, at camp, I had a roommate who refused to change in the room. Every morning and night, she would step into our very tiny wardrobe, close the doors behind her, and change from pajamas into her clothes for the day.
What do you think is so special about the experience of having a roommate (or roommates)?
It might sound self-contradictory, but what makes the idea of a roommate so special is that just about everyone has one at some point. Those who go through life without ever living with a stranger are the exception.
For those who are just starting to live with a stranger, it’s the unpredictability that makes it exciting: the idea of spending a few weeks at summer camp, or a semester of college living with someone else, with the potential of meeting someone who will change your life. The impermanence is attractive as well—if you don’t get along with your roommate, you can request a room change, or at the end of your time together, part ways and never see each other again.
As we get older, more and more of us tend to pick roommates we already know—acquaintances, friends, significant others—who we’re more likely to have a lifelong relationship with, because there is no longer a built-in expiration date. One thing I discovered while writing this book: roommate stories, whether bad or good, are the ultimate icebreaker.
Tell us about the book publishing process, briefly. Were there any aspects of it that surprised you?
I was surprised by how quickly it all came together. I work in the publishing industry, but I’ve always thought of books as projects that take years and years. It was only one year between signing contract and the book itself being in stores—which seems insane to me.
Can you give us some tips for living with a roommate?
After interviewing 70-some people for their stories, I can safely say that communication is always key. Never let the relationship become a passive-aggressive one. Thanks to technology, there are now thousands of ways to send a snarky message. Roommates have always had the old-fashioned Post-it; now we have texts, e-mails, and so many other ways to avoid actually talking to each other. But it’s always better to confront conflict as head-on as possible.
Also, understanding personal space is important. If you’re lucky enough to have your own bedroom, you have a door you can close when you need your own time. But in most college dorms, you can reach out and high-five your roommate from your bed. And when you exist in such close quarters, sometimes you just need some space to yourself, or to give your roommate some. I’m a big proponent of finding a second home of sorts—whether it’s a sunny corner of the library, a quirky café, or even a friend’s room. Just because you’re living with someone, whether it’s a friend or a random roommate, doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking moment with that person.