Monday, August 29, 2011

Random roommates

When I entered college seven years ago, I was paired to live in a dorm room with Annie, a girl I'd never met before. We talked on the phone once that summer, and I found out she was a soccer player from Duluth, MN. She later told me than (due to an error on my application), the roommate match letter said I was from Minneapolis instead of the suburb in which my parents actually resided.

"I was terrified to call you," she said meekly, a few days after we'd moved in and became fast pals. "I though you were going to be really ghetto and inner city - I thought you were a thug. Then I called you and you seemed bubbly and mentioned dance team, and I was super confused."

If Annie and I were matched today, she could have easily Facebooked me and found that I was neither ghetto nor thug. In fact, I was a lot like Annie - headstrong, easily excitable and 100% addicted to Dr. Pepper.

Instead, we had to navigate through the first few weeks of school rather awkwardly. After a few beers at a party, I got teary over the boy I was missing, and she walked me home early and talked me through it until 3 AM. When I found out that she (4'11" and no more than 90 lbs) was planning to walk home from her job at 11 p.m. three nights a week, I began walking there with another member of our floor to pick her up and escort her home.

We annoyed one another, I'm sure - the boy I was crying over soon became a regular weekend guest, and she had a love for Disney soundtracks that I could never quite get behind. Still, living with Annie was a fabulous experience. I found a partner in procrastination, late night studying and sleeping past alarms. We talked politics, religion, and other adult topics that I'd never once thought about only months before. Despite taking divergent paths the last few years of school, we still remain friendly and in sporadic contact.

As this article in the New York Times mentions, the "random roommate" match has largely become obselete, thanks to Facebook and other online tools that allow students to find roommates with similar backgrounds and interests. An NYU professor writes, "I am sad that most of my students will not experience what I did back when Mark Zuckerberg was in diapers. While the Internet has made it easy to reconnect with the lost [acquaintances] of our lives, it has made it a lot more difficult to meet them in the first place, by taking a lot of randomness out of life. We tend to value order and control over randomness, but when we lose randomness, we also lose serendipity."

This loss of serendipity is true, I think, and also so sad. I learned more in college outside the classroom than I did within it, from being placed in awkward situations that challenged who I thought I was and who I wanted to be. The bubble I'd always known and lived within was stretched and punctured, and I was left questioning, rather than accepting, what I'd been told was true.

Perhaps most importantly, the guy who walked with me to pick up Annie each Monday, Tuesday and Thursday was Joel. At first I was proud that the most popular guy on the floor wanted to walk with me - then, over the course of those few months, over 10:30 p.m. chai tea lattes at Espresso Royale, we became inseparable confidantes. Because of those walks, we shared Joel's first walk during a snowfall, detouring for several additional blocks so he could properly catch and melt snowflakes on his tongue. We crafted a plan for him to come out to his dad. We locked ourselves in his room to watch movies the night our whole floor went out together before spring break. We laughed each time he arrived, pillow in hand, to sleep on our floor after his roommate had brought home yet another girl.

You can see, without my random roommate, I'd have missed out on so many important life experiences. So I'm pretty bummed that the incoming freshman of the future will arrive not only to gleaming new dorms with bathrooms in each unit, but also to a fresh-faced roommate who looks and acts just like them. Where's the fun in that?


TMW said...

Awww you and Joelsy :)

LH said...

20 something daughter is living in her co-op right now. After 2 weeks they decide about the room mates. That would make me kind of nervous I think. The randomness does have advantages.