Living with your polar opposite roommate during a pandemic

Illustration of two people becoming friends over the course of a year
Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff

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This past semester, I moved into the UC Berkeley housing for the first time as a second semester freshman. I was so excited because I was placed in an apartment with one of my friends as well as a new roommate that I met over Facebook: Emma (name has been changed). I knew very little about Emma; we naively thought that one Zoom call was sufficient enough to decide to spend the next five months living together in the middle of a pandemic. I would very soon find out that Emma and I are completely and fundamentally entirely different people. When I first met her, I eagerly introduced myself as I gave her a big hug. Emma would later inform me that she hates physical contact. Emma and I look at life from completely different perspectives. To put it in simple terms, she is a realist and I am an idealist.

I expected us to coexist, but I don’t think either of us imagined having a strong relationship with the other. That was until the COVID-19 cases began rising again and we decided to reduce our contact with the outside world. Since we couldn’t meet new people very easily, Emma suddenly became one of my only friends, but I knew alarmingly little about her. This leads me to my first piece of advice: ​Try to learn what the other is interested in to find something to talk about. I initially tried connecting with Emma by telling her some of the things that I enjoy to see if we had any commonalities. Though we didn’t have that much in common on paper, we proceeded to have a two-hour conversation explaining who we were, why we were and how we saw the world.

This leads me to my next piece of advice: Ask somewhat invasive questions that aren’t socially acceptable to casually chat about.​ To our surprise, we both found it easier to talk about ourselves with each other than with some of our closest friends. Because we did not have preconceived ideas of who the other was, we held no judgment of the other. Emma is completely disconnected from my past, as I am with her, and because of that, we had the chance to reintroduce ourselves in a new image. That night, for the first time, I saw Emma not in all the ways that she was different from me, but for who she was: an artistic introvert, who is extremely loyal, way too detailed for her own good and admirably honest and insightful.

Following this conversation, I understood Emma and she understood me. We didn’t have to be best friends, but we respected each other, which slowly began to show. I was there when she came home after meeting new people whom she disliked, and I was there when she ​finally​ found people who made her happy. She was there when I came home crying one night and when I needed to dance the stress away. One night in our kitchen as I was running around and singing SZA at the top of my lungs while Emma went through my Spotify playlist judging my music, I suddenly became very grateful for her. And thus my final piece of advice: ​Be grateful for what you have. For all you know, a global pandemic will suddenly make you realize that you’ve grown apart from your old friends and that your closest friend is your roommate whom you met three weeks ago.

Despite our differences, at the end of the day, Emma and I were there to talk to each other, check in with each other and be there for one another during these difficult times. With her rather frank and dry humor, she makes me laugh and forget our somewhat unfortunate situation. And with my high energy, I hype her up when she gets down on herself. We found beauty in each other, and I think that’s the most important thing to do when you live with someone who is the complete opposite of you. 

Contact Paloma Torres at [email protected].