Roommates, oh dear, oh dear

Hello, Faithful Readers, and welcome to your monthly installment of advice and etiquette! Now this month, the Lady of the Manners is going to hold forth on a subject she hasn’t had to personally deal with in a while … roommates. (When one is married, one’s spouse is not considered a roommate. Really. It’s a subtle distinction, but the Lady of the Manners trusts that when or if any of you get married, you’ll understand what she means.)

Roommates are quirky creatures. On one hand, they can be your closest friend and confidant; on the other hand, they can be the evil thing that borrows your clothes without asking first and leaves the bathroom resembling a disaster area. Sometimes, they’re all those things — the trick is to have a roommate with more good qualities than bad, and make sure that you don’t unthinkingly annoy them as much as or more than they can potentially annoy you.

Now, while the above is true for roommates from all walks of life, a goth on a quest for a roommate may have some unique concerns that your average folk don’t run into. Take the wide-open topic of home decorating, as a starting example —

Yes, regular folks have to negotiate how the shared living quarters will look with their roommates, just like goths. However, non-goths probably don’t have to have a conversation that covers points like, “Do you mind if I hang mounted and framed dead animals on the walls?,” “Oh, while you were out I decided to paint the walls glossy black,” or, “I’ve replaced all the light bulbs with red ones”. When you get a new roommate, make sure they don’t plan on springing decorating surprises on you, and explain to them that you might have visitors who wouldn’t appreciate the morbid charm of animal skulls hung on the walls. Also, if you live in a rental domicile, make sure everyone is aware of what a landlord may consider unacceptable or as damage, and what the penalties for those things are.

Now, all housemates have to deal with borrowing each other’s clothes. However, in an all-goth household, it isn’t so much about raiding one other’s closet, but about being able to figure out whose black lace skirt is whose. It’s all well and good to have a roommate who’s taste in clothing compliments yours, but it makes sorting laundry a bit difficult. Sewing name-tags into your clothing is one tedious option, though most people just make each roommate responsible for their own laundry, thus avoiding the whole “are these your stripey tights or mine?” quandary.

Goth housekeeping also presents its own unique set of problems. Goths who are planning on sharing a house or apartment with others should be armed with the knowledge of how to remove candle wax from shag carpeting, wine stains from upholstery, the lingering smell of cigarettes and incense, and hair dye stains from any bathroom surface. (Upon reflection, even goths who live on their own should probably know all those things, just to make their lives a tidier place.)

General Rules Roommates Should Set Out When First Setting Up House:

1. A house policy on overnight guests. The thrill of meeting naked strangers in your own bathroom becomes wearing after a while — try to make sure that you don’t spring surprise guests on your housemates. Contrariwise, make sure to not barge in on a roommate when they are … er … occupied with company. Always knock first, even when you’re sure that they’re just reading.

2. A house policy on long-term romantic entanglements. One group of the Lady of the Manners’ friends has the rule that if a boyfriend/girlfriend regularly spends more than three nights a week at the house, they have to contribute to the rent. Some people don’t want their roommate’s loves to spend the night, while other people just want a rough idea how often to expect the other half of the couple to be around. Try to set up guidelines even if none of the people sharing living quarters are involved with anyone at the time – things change, and it’s easier to have an idea of how things should work before everyone gets all dewy-eyed with new romance and lust.

3. An emergency rule for music. While no one should dictate the soundtrack of a living arrangement, it is helpful to know that if you are in the throes of sleeplessness or a high-stress work week, you can respectfully request that your roommate not play certain music that might aggravate things. The same rule must apply to all roommates, with the person experiencing the greater level of stress or chaos in their lives at the moment getting the ultimate vote. However, that does not mean that a roommate could get away with playing the latest Pigface CD at top volume at 3AM because “they’re upset.” Being upset does not mean, under any circumstances, that you get to deprive others of their much-needed rest.

4. A general idea of what sorts of behavior are acceptable or not. Some people wouldn’t mind at all if their roommate decided to start selling drugs out of the house; others might object strenuously to that. If you aren’t sure about what a roommate’s reaction to something might be, ask. Don’t leave little notes on the refrigerator after the fact, don’t casually mention that “oh, I’m throwing a big party” on the day of the event, and don’t spontaneously re-arrange the furniture while the roommates are out of town. Just don’t.

5. A set date for when the household bills are to be paid. Yes, even if there’s a new outfit or concert tickets you just have to have, the bills must be paid, and preferably on time. Roommates who routinely neglect this important idea should be asked to find a new place to live, and quickly.

6. How household chores are going to be split up. It is very disheartening to come home to a dirty kitchen because you’ve only just discovered that your roommate loves to cook, but can’t stand to do dishes. Deciding who does what task in advance is far better than standing in a dirty bathroom screaming at each other, and a checklist of household tasks can ensure that the cat box does get cleaned in a timely manner.

Other things potential goth roommates should ask each other? Oh, the usual run-down: likes, dislikes, intolerance levels, sexual orientation (just so there are no surprises), vegetarian or not, and so on. DO be sure to talk about pets with about-to-be-housemates — it’s only fair to people who have allergies or, in the case of more unusual pets, phobias.

The short version of all of the above advice can be summed up as, “treat your roommates as you would like to be treated.” There are very few things that are as awful as sharing a home with someone whom you’ve grown to dislike intensely; do what you can to avoid that by talking about potential problems before they happen.

With that parting comment, this topic has been wrapped tidily up. Be sure to come back next month for more etiquette advice, and send any questions you may have to

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