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The do's and don'ts of living with co-ed roommates

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While we've heard all sorts of roommate folklore—she made voodoo dolls with my stray hairs! His dog peed on my shoes! We were best friends … until she drank all my milk!—there’s one breed that doesn’t get discussed nearly enough: the co-ed roommate. No, not when you shack up with your significant other. We mean the murky territory of sharing a place platonically with a member of the opposite sex. 

Life with a roomie of another gender has its perks: “You know they won’t be stealing your stuff—clothes, hygiene products, and boyfriends!” says Sarah Beth Hill, founder of Perfect Strangers of NYC, a roommate-pairing site. (Not always, of course.) But “it’s definitely not for everyone," says Merritt Hummer, co-founder of roommate-matching service Roomidex. "It’s impossible to say whether it works better because it depends entirely on the individual. For those who are open to it, it can work out really well.”

If you're considering the co-ed route (or going through it currently), we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts to ensure the experience is as drama-free as possible:

DO: START WITH THE BASICS

Let's get this out of the way first: much of the advice that applies to all-female or all-male households carries over to those with a mix of genders. Be respectful, hash out roommate responsibilities and lifestyle preferences before you move in together, and "communicate early and often," says Hummer. 

Make sure you're on the same page when it comes to finances, relationships, work or school schedules, cleaning habits, smoking and drug use, and whether you see your roommate as a potential friend or simply a person to help cover the cost of rent, advises Hill. Also worth chatting about: your attitude(s) to overnight guests. (Nothing’s worse than a total stranger hogging the bathroom in the morning if you expect to live in a home without surprise visitors.)

DON’T: HOOK UP WITH EACH OTHER (UNLESS YOU LIKE DRAMA)

Assuming both you and your roomie are attracted to the opposite sex, this is the one area where living with a member of the other gender can get tricky. “Some people love drama, and hooking up with your roommate is one way to bring drama to your life," says Hummer. "It’s definitely not a 'good idea,' but then again neither is hooking up with your colleague or ex-boyfriend’s best friend, and sometimes those relationships end up in marriage! So who’s to say?”

The first step is avoiding the temptation altogether. “If you find a potential roommate attractive, it’s best to not live with them from the get-go," says Hill. "Things can get seriously ugly, especially if one has stronger feelings for the other.”

But let’s say you've already done the dirty deed. It's best to prepare yourself early on for it not going anywhere. For every roommate-hookup-turned-wedding story, there are probably more tales of roommate-hookups-that-stayed-hookups. Can you handle hearing them in the middle of a rendezvous in the next room over? Or seeing his or her new bedmate en route to the bathroom in the morning? Yes? Then great—proceed! No? Well, there's this thing called Tinder... 

DO: EXPAND YOUR SOCIAL CIRCLE

While your roommate may be off limits, that doesn't mean you can't befriend their friends. One of the pluses of having an opposite-sex roommate is "meeting people of the opposite sex if you are single, and making a broader circle of friends,” Hummer says. That said, it’s probably wise not to hook up with your roommate’s best friend or sibling. (“If you want to live the life of a soap opera," Hummer says, "go for it!”)

DO: BE SENSITIVE TO THE S.O. 

On a related note, it’s also important to accommodate your opposite-sex roommate's significant other. A twentysomething Brooklynite we'll call Karen lives with a male roommate, and her boyfriend shares an apartment with a woman. However, her co-ed living situation doesn’t make her much more comfortable with her boyfriend’s: “I’m not jealous of her, in the ‘she's going to have sex with my boyfriend when I'm not around kind of way,’ but in the way that her needs in the apartment are also his needs. So now they have a shared responsibility and a shared interest," she explains. "She has all the reasonable rights in the world to ask my boyfriend to help with bugs or calling the landlord, which can take time away from us together—because time is a zero sum game." 

So how does she deal with it? She just sucks it up: "Sometimes it's going to suck for me, because he needs to go home to pay rent and his roommate forgot, and sometimes, she'll have to hire someone to feed her cat.”

Her boyfriend, on the other hand, doesn’t seem fazed by her male roommate. “I've found that with boys who are never or rarely jealous, it doesn't matter who your roommate is," Karen says. "That's not to say boys are magic and don't possess insecure thoughts, this just isn't the area they exhibit them.”

DON’T: LEAVE A MESS, NO MATTER YOUR GENDER

Contrary to popular belief, women are not necessarily the tidier sex. “Frankly, I think the dudes are cleaner than the girls,” says Jessie, a 23-year-old who rents with two guys in Bushwick.

But often, men and women create different kinds of messes. "Women need to clean up their hair from the drains and makeup on the bathroom counters. Men need to clean up their pee on … the toilets, and their hairs when they shave," Hill says.

To avoid any issues, Hummer encourages roommates to tackle cleaning responsibilities equally, or split the cost of a regular house cleaner. “Roommates should assign specific cleaning abilities to each person to complete on a weekly or biweekly basis. One person does the dishes, the other empties the dishwasher. One person takes out the trash, the other replaces all of the garbage bags.”

DO: DISCUSS DECORATING

It’s important to agree on decor, and often preferences will boil down to gender. “My male roommate had a 'Boner Jams' poster hanging in our living room for two years," recalls Andrea, a 26-year-old in Astoria, recalling a poster that looked fine, except for those two words emblazoned on it. “The pictures on the poster were all phallic in nature, but not in an obvious way." Luckily, she didn't mind it enough to protest. 

In an earlier rental, however, the guys she lived with never bothered to buy a kitchen table. “They would stand in the kitchen where the table was supposed to be and eat their cereal out of the bowl ... standing up," she says. Her solution? She bought a table. 

Ultimately, whoever pays for the furniture and decor will have the upper hand. “If one roommate is willing to fund the furniture purchases, that person should be able to influence the décor,” Hummer says, “with some input from the other roommate.” 

Which brings us to the next point:

DON’T: MONOPOLIZE COMMUNAL AREAS

Women shouldn’t leave makeup all over the bathroom counter, but if a guy isn’t using the cabinet space, it’s fair game, Hill says. “Why waste valuable cabinet space?” she says. And as anyone who’s lived in a shoebox apartment in New York City knows, cabinet space is valuable as hell.

Another option? A makeup-loving girl "could set up a little vanity unit in her bedroom and keep all of her makeup there rather than crowd out all of the space in the bathroom," Hummer says. 

And, naturally, this goes both ways. Common spaces are called “common spaces” for a reason.

DO: DRESS APPROPRIATELY

So, is it okay for ladies to walk around without a bra? You know, like they’re chilling at home … since they are at home?

“I tell my clients, dress like you do in front of you parents," Hill says. "If you feel comfortable walking around with no bra on in front of your own father and your roommate is okay with it, then let ‘em out!” If not, keep your clothing on. Co-ed living isn’t cohabiting, so it’s important to be respectful, courteous, and aware of boundaries.

Related:

Sex with your roommate: no longer a terrible idea?

How to kick out a roommate—with minimal drama

20 questions: what to ask potential roommates to prove you're compatible

Would you rather: live with a same-sex or opposite-sex roommate

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