The Important Lesson My Roommate Taught Me

Hope, in the guest bedroom
Hope, in the guest bedroom (Bar Harbor, ME) 2012. By Frances F. Denny

Finding Common Ground

It took me 25 years to learn what finding common ground really meant. When I was in the third grade, my teacher put a piece of construction paper in the shape of a heart on the wall for every student. And on that heart she wrote a word that she felt encapsulated who we were as individuals. Being the self-observing egotist I was at that age, I immediately searched for my name and saw that underneath it was the word determined. I didn’t know what it meant, but I wasted no time in looking it up.

My teacher was pretty spot on. From a very young age, I’ve fought to have my thoughts and opinions heard. I’ve been decisive about my desires and unfaltering in my quests to achieve them. My nature has propelled me towards establishing a good life for myself, and in the process of doing so I’ve learned how to circumvent obstacles, the biggest of which was my own insecurity. I’ve also developed a steadfast sense of ambition. Being confident and determined has served me well in many ways, but it hasn’t always allowed me to see eye to eye with others.

 
I felt the tension build up between us over several months and the negativity it produced started to weigh on me.
 

This became evident when I was living with a new roommate a year ago who turned out to be far different than I’d imagined when I interviewed her. I thought she would be an innocent, socially awkward, gentle girl from Minnesota who would bake relentlessly. She turned out to be anything but, with the exception of the baking. She was hardheaded, incredibly intelligent and extremely ambitious. She had a very specific way of doing things and was curt in suggesting that others follow her lead. Of course, I had my own way of doing things and didn’t take kindly to being told what to do.

I felt the tension build up between us over several months and the negativity it produced started to weigh on me. It wasn’t that either of us was good or bad. It wasn’t about being right or wrong. Our characters were simply not harmonious. I really didn’t want to fight with someone I lived with though, so I mostly held in my unhappiness or made the occasional passive aggressive remark.

It took over a year for me to finally address the issue in the most diplomatic way I could. I gathered my courage and spoke up about what was bothering me. After everything was out in the open, I endeavored to turn the negatives into something more positive. Although I knew our personalities would never be a perfect match, I realized that there must be a level on which we could connect. I found comfort in sharing things we both enjoyed, like our love of culinary culture. I decided not to broach topics that would lead to a disagreement and instead focus on picking her brain about things I could learn. In the process, I realized how important it is to figure out what you have in common with others in order to balance out dissonance. I also realized that we can learn things from anyone if we’re receptive to them.

The situation taught me how to channel my determination in different ways, including how to find common ground and harmony with people of different opinions and viewpoints. It was a simple playing field for contention, but one that taught me the rules for a much bigger game.

This essay originally appeared in the Fight issue. Find more inspiring stories from the Fight issue here or read My Hairy Legs and Me: A Puberty Story.

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