Random roommates and the hero’s journey

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“Beowulf,” “The Odyssey,” “Avatar: The Last Airbender” — what do these legendary works all have in common? That’s right,  they follow Joseph Campbell’s good ol’  hero’s journey, or monomyth. Unless you are a comparative literature major, you may not have not given serious thought to this pattern since high school English class. But little did you know that if you were assigned a random roommate your freshman year, you were the hero. And you’ve been on the journey. Let us explain:

The call to adventure: You’re out basking in the company of your best friends from high school when, lo and behold, the topic of roommates comes up. You’ve checked periodically throughout the summer, longing for updates, but to your dismay, the Berkeley housing website, much like your post-high school academic pursuits, has remained neglected for months. But today, today something in the air is different. Today, that once blank page bears the key to your destiny. The singular piece of information that will make or break your freshman year. The ingredient that will set the tone for your entire college experience and maybe even the rest of your life (dramatized for effect). Today, the page bears the name of your random roommate. There is no turning back. The journey has begun.

Refusal of the call: Like all great relationships, the one between you and your roommate will start on Facebook. As mature, intelligent college students, we accept that people’s profiles are just limited, possibly skewed accounts of what people are actually like and do not lend to the totality of one’s  character. Just kidding. We judge our roommate. We judge them like it’s our job. Unfairly and prematurely, too — like one of those creepy-as-shit toddler beauty pageants. After frantically clicking through profile pictures, schematically deciphering personality traits based on music selections and trying to psychoanalyze what liking of the page “popping bubble wrap” says about him or her, you are skeptical. At this point, you may even have serious doubts as to why you didn’t just room with that one kid you know from your high school. At least that person showers on a consistent basis and already knows about that weird thing you sometimes do in your sleep.  But alas, you cling to your hope and continue on your quest through Cal.

Supernatural aid: In “Star Wars,” it’s Obi-Wan’s lightsaber. In “Lord of the Rings,” it’s the Phial of Galadriel. In Harry Potter, it’s Dumbledore’s cloak of invisibility. In real life, its your parents’ care package full of candy that will get you through the trials and tribulations ahead. Candy heals all wounds.

The crossing of the first threshold: With the healing powers of junk food close at hand, you are ready to venture from the familiar. When you finally meet your roommate at the dorms, introductions will be exchanged, parents and siblings will nervously laugh over small talk and passive-aggressive attempts at acquiring more space in the cramped room will be staged in an awkward but terribly exciting affair. You have entered the unknown: life with a complete stranger.

Belly of the whale: Contrary to what its title might suggest, this stage  of the hero’s journey marks the honeymoon phase between you and your random roommate. You start to realize that you have more in common than Facebook let on.  You are friendly and respectful and genuinely enjoy their company. Their odd, foreign habits really don’t faze you. You’re a more patient and understanding person than you thought. Go you. 

The road of trials: But here’s where things get really juicy.  Maybe at this point you’ve hardly spoken to your roommate. Maybe you two are best friends. No matter how close you two may be, at some point, those proverbial rose-colored glasses are snapped in half, and shit gets real. While we’ve never seen “The Roommate” (a whopping 4% on Rotten Tomatoes)  we imagine this is the part where Leighton Meester goes full-blown, weapons-grade stalker.  It’s doubtful that your roommate will attempt to steal your identity and kill your love interest, but you two will face analogous real-life problems — like who killed the last of the Pop-Tarts. Even if you struck roommate gold and both of you are easygoing individuals, tastes eventually clash. He or she might insist on country, while your indifference toward the genre has led you to believe until very recently that Toby Keith was a baseball player. Undesirable habits may start to emerge. By now, your roommate is well aware that your shower-singing is reminiscent of those fascinating tone-deaf individuals we meet in the first rounds of American Idol and can only be drowned out by the equally frustrating habit of chewing on crunchy foods. Passive reminders that one of you guys has been slacking on their cleaning duties turns into a not-so-passive diatribe regarding who’s responsible for the creature that’s growing at the bottom of your refrigerator. Suddenly, the arguments you remember your parents having in your childhood make sense. The only way to rescue this dysfunctional marriage between you and your roommate is to meet with the goddess.

Meeting with the goddess: In this scenario, the goddess takes the form of your sophomore RA. He or she may not provide the “all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother” that is associated with goddesses in classic examples of the journey (at least, we hope not). But they DO have a binder and a can-do attitude if you and your roommate need counseling. In these situations, RAs are the best kind of people. They listen intently to the issues that you and your roommate are having and try to offer unbiased, rational advice that will help you two respectfully reconcile your differences. Or, if you decide you’d rather shish-kebab yourself onto an elephant tusk than live another day with your roommate and need to GTFO, they can also help with transfers too.

Woman as temptress: This one might not apply. We mean, it could, but we’d rather not.

Apotheosis: Typically this is when someone in the story dies a physical or spiritual death. Once again, we could factor this one, in but we’re trying to entertain you here, not land you in therapy.

Master of two worlds: Here’s where your life becomes your favorite Disney Channel original movie as you and your roommate learn to tolerate each other’s differences and coexist. It could be achieved by something as simple as frankly and respectfully discussing your “feels” with a spirit of camaraderie and the help of the sweet elixir that is Two-Buck Chuck. You have acquired at least some level of courtesy and compromise that comes along with this kind of of major life experience, and you are a better person for it. Go. Be at peace. The 10-month journey with your random roommate is now over.

Image Source:  National Library NZ on The Commons under Creative Commons 

Contact Liz Zarka at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @Zarkotics.