I am notorious for having psycho roommates. Okay, well none have been legitimate psychopaths, but some have been very difficult to understand and get along with. Out of the dozen plus people I’ve lived with in the past six years, half have been wonderful! But the other half have been…challenging.
In each scenario, I’ve gone in feeling optimistic and excited. Maybe we’d taken some classes together and I thought they were cool. Or maybe we met through Facebook and seemed like a good match. We always hit it off right away, but then we move in together and my vision of a happy household falls apart.
I learn who they really are behind closed doors– then I’m trapped until my lease is up.
Each time, I find myself wondering: Why does this always happen to me?My first shared housing experience was in a shoe box-sized dormitory my Freshman year at Chapman University. North Morlan, or “NoMo” as it was called, was the boonies compared to the brand new, full amenity complexes like Pralle-Sodaro or Henley, with their elevators and late-night dining options. NoMo was a janky, motel-style, stone and mortar building that was located far away from the others. It was preserved for “historical value”. Not only was I given the fuzzy end of the lollipop for housing, but my first ever roommate proved to test my inner peace me, too.
Paul, let’s call him, was a perfectly nice guy. He was friendly, respectful, and clean– what more could you ask for? We weren’t made to be BFFs, though. We simply did not have a lot in common; he was into death metal and baseball and trying to score chicks, while I was into Lady Gaga and Tigerheat and Skinnygirl Margaritas. But no matter– he had no negative character traits, which is the important thing. There was one aspect, however, I took major issue with: his snoring.
It was so loud and ferocious at night that it would interrupt my sleep. I would lay in bed glaring at him through the darkness, sighing dramatically, in a passive aggressive effort to wake him. When that didn’t work, I performed what eventually became my go-to move: I slapped the wall with my hand until he stirred, then fell asleep in the quiet moments that followed. Immature, yet effective.
It’s such a small offense, but I used to focus on this microgression all the time. I was always complaining about it to people. Perhaps I just enjoyed having a story to tell my friends.
But by magnifying the situation and re-living the annoyance all over again, I was only making myself more agitated.
It’s like the saying goes, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” It is only now that I recognize it how much of an ideal living arrangement it really was. What could be better than having a totally chill roommate who you can be pleasant with, yet not expected to hold conversation? If snoring was the only issue, why couldn’t I have just bought a pair of earplugs and gotten over it?
If only I’d seen the situation clearly, my experience would have been positive. Instead, I chose (albeit, unaware I was choosing) to make it a negative one. The more I told myself that he was problematic, the more I sought out reasons that confirmed it was true. This is called the confirmation bias. It’s a pattern reflected in how I viewed and dealt with some increasingly difficult roommates that followed: This one’s a loose canon. That one’s a compulsive liar. This one has an allergy to cleanliness. That one has a passive aggressive texting problem (“Guys, somebody’s spoon is on the counter”.)
The worst situation happened last year. After graduating from college, I was hired to work on a beautiful, luxury cruise ship. I spent a year traveling the world, getting paid to host trivia and karaoke. Due to the nature of the business and our different contracts, I had a revolving door of cabin mates from all different parts of the world. Most of them were great! But one was the most psycho of all. Prone to aggression, angry outbursts, compulsive lying, and controlling behavior, this person was the embodiment of all the worst elements of past roommates rolled into one. And he was a gay Republican (um).
Outside of the cabin, it was the most magical time of my life. But inside, it was my own personal hell.
We fought about everything: the temperature in the room, the placement of the bedside tables, the volume of the TV, you name it. If it was petty, it was right up our alley. And we weren’t dealing with the drama directly, we fed off of passive aggression: I would be gone and he would change the temperature; he would go to the bathroom and I would turn up the volume of the TV. You get the (ugly) picture.
On and on it went, never ending. It was childish and exhausting, but neither of us were willing to compromise. Even if we didn’t care at all about an issue, we still didn’t want to give in and let the other person win. This is the most quintessential characterization of the ego, and we were both fully under its control. Eventually we just stopped speaking entirely, and lived within a permanent Cold War stalemate.
The situation never resolved. We parted ways at the end of the contract without saying a single word to each other. No goodbye. No amends. So what’s the point of these anecdotes, other than providing self-incriminating evidence of my own judgmental tendencies?
The point is that this string of bad roommates did not just “happen” to me. It was not a random series of events. Everything that happened was the result of my own karma.
I don’t mean karma as in a punishment, like they are bad eggs thrown down to me from the heavens. I mean karma as in scenarios planted for my benefit. These situations were dealt to me purposefully as opportunities to grow, second chances to do the right thing. The roommates were no angels, but that’s only because I saw them that way. In some cases, there were other roommates in the household who didn’t have a problem with them. So it must have been coming from my end. It was my brain that focused on the imperfections and twisted them out of hand. After forming a solid judgement, based off what my brain perceived as “not the way it should be,” I made a decision on how to proceed, usually wrongly.
In certain situations, my actions exasperated the negativity and made the situations worse. Other times, I chose to deal with the problematic people by avoiding them like the Zika virus. (AKA: Hiding in my bedroom if I knew they were in the living room. Classic.) This was not a solution, however, as it only delayed the inevitable.
By not accepting and working with what was placed in my life, it prompted the creation of similar scenarios in the future.
This is how karma works. Pema Chodron explains the concept so beautifully: “The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To the degree that you didn’t understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you’re given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to open further“. Until we demonstrate our growth through changing our behavior, we won’t be able to move on from the obstacles that have been designed to aid in our evolution. One way or another, the universe is sure to help us learn our lessons. I can switch apartments, move across the country, do whatever, but I can’t escape my own self-prescribed destiny.
Karma follows you wherever you go.
This was never proven to be truer than a couple of months ago when I received an email from the cruise line. They asked me to join the ship again. I thought about it all day, going through the pros and cons, before letting them know that yes, I would accept the offer. I was to board in Iceland in August and cruise Europe for the next three months. And I was to live with my former psycho roommate once again. I couldn’t believe it. But on the other hand, I could. This was part of karma, and the divine comedy that is life. Whether I was ready or not, I was going to be forced to make peace with my past. It couldn’t be clearer what I had to do. So, I bit the bullet and I reached out to him. We talked about what happened. Time and distance apart had softened the blows, and we were able to make amends. And then, in another twist of fate, the cruise line called and said there was a change of plans; I would not be joining the ship. They were unaware prior to offering me the contract that I had not completed a certain required safety training, which rendered me ineligible of boarding at that moment. They expressed their deep regret. As did I. I was disappointed, but I accepted it. What’s meant to be is meant to be.
It seems I was not meant to return to the ship, but to heal an old wound.
At this point I’ve learned to stop being surprised by life, and instead be in awe of the infinite wisdom and great humor it provides. But just because I’ve recognized my personal patterns and intellectually understood the lessons to be learned, doesn’t mean the cycle of my karma will end. Awareness is only half the battle. Real learning is not about “knowing” mentally, but about applying concepts and taking appropriate action. Now is the time to put my evolution to the test and make conscious decisions that will determine my growth.
This is easier said than done. Currently, I’m trying to find a way to tell my new roommate I hate the tacky Yankee candles she insists on adorning the apartment with. I have many routes I could take: I could choose to be passive aggressive and move the candles myself; I could be bullish and simply demand she take them away; I could accept that they are there, and try to let my festering thoughts go; I can communicate gently and directly and allow for a compromise on the decor of the shared living space; or I can let the cycle of drama continue and act psycho right back.