Maybe liking your college roommate has nothing to do with what you have in common. We don’t watch the same shows, we don’t go to sleep at the same time, we don’t study the same thing or the same way, we joined different circles, we don’t share the same sense of humor, we spend our days thinking about different things. Jeannie decorates a room with white space, some string and maybe a flower. Paris adorns the floor with three rug patterns and leaves not one inch of wall exposed through newspaper clippings and postcards.
When you put a minimalist and a maximalist in a room together at 18 and tell them to make the arrangement work, it makes no sense that ours did. For four years, we inhabited two different Cornells, but we worked as roommates because we both wanted to create the same Cornell: a place where you can be both soft and strong, thriving and hurt, grounded in your being and terrified of your becoming.
Chance and an algorithm brought us to each other’s Facebook posts in the Class of 2021 roommate search group. “As long you love life and want to make the most of your experience at Cornell,” Paris wrote, “then there’s a high chance I already really want to get to know you!” And she wasn’t lying. Jeannie felt “really excited (and I guess a little scared?) to start college.” And then they were roommates.
Despite the statistical unlikelihood of a four-year roommate, we’ve come to the conclusion that we didn’t do anything extraordinary. In fact, we did the most ordinary thing that people do when they go to college: We changed.
To change means that your highest highs could be followed by your lowest lows. To be a roommate means that you watch another bleeding, beating heart weather these highs and lows, too. You bear witness to their metamorphosis, all while navigating your own. We dropped classes, clubs and crushes. We grasped for identity, reconciled with what our upbringings didn’t prepare us for and ground against the limits of Cornell. We welcomed our discomfort, even if making space wouldn’t ease it.
Jeannie couldn’t tell Paris that maybe she doesn’t want to pursue medicine, maybe what Paris needed was not exertion but a pause, maybe if she stopped thinking she is too much she could revel in her abundance. Paris couldn’t help Jeannie figure out if two majors or one would fulfill her ambitions. She couldn’t be the one to tell Jeannie that despite years of depression and eating disorders saying otherwise, Jeannie is not just worth loving but in fact already loved.
What we need is not always each other, but by being roommates, we have always been what is there. In college, as we pretend we are already certain of our roles, we check our performances at our room door. In our hiding place, we found another seeking refuge. When we entered our four walls, dizzied by growth, fatigued and tense, our discomfort was our cue to talk. In four years of coexistence we have shifted in silence, in glee, sometimes while laying on the floor, sometimes with tears in our eyes, sometimes with a fleeting squeeze before we part ways to say I see you, and I love you.
Soon, we won’t share an address or even a time zone. More highs will come and lows will follow. Still, as we meet new people and create new spaces, we will reference the other as “my roommate.” We may struggle to accept our continuous change, but we will feel secure knowing that somewhere there is a person who for four years saw our vulnerability and accepted it — sometimes before we could even accept it ourselves.
So maybe liking your college roommate isn’t really about liking them (their online shopping habits, their jokes, their penchant for Renaissance art when your favorite painting is a black square). Maybe it just means that as you meet yourself where you are and let go of who you think you should be, you learn to do the same for them. We let ourselves grow away and have faith that we will wind our way back to each other.
We entered Cornell as two vulnerable and uncertain but willing kids. We now prepare to leave Cornell as two vulnerable and uncertain but willing roommates.
Jeannie Yamazaki is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Paris Ghazi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. La Vie en Prose runs every other Wednesday this semester. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.