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Social Graces: Social distancing with roommates because of the coronavirus

By Hannah Herrera Greenspan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Q: How do you ask your roommate to stay away from you while quarantined due to the coronavirus?

A: Because of this pandemic, social norms, routines and expectations have changed from what was originally agreed upon when you moved in together. For many people, working from home is the new norm, and in many households, two to three people are now under the same roof doing what they normally would have done separately in their own office spaces.

For this reason, having "process"-oriented conversations instead of just "content" conversations is necessary. "Content" refers to what is being talked about, and "process" means how you are talking about it. Instead of just focusing on the changes in routines and schedules, focusing on how these changes can be implemented is productive and impactful.

I would hope the use of shared spaces (i.e., bathroom, kitchen, living room) is already respectful regardless of COVID-19, but tidiness, cleanliness and timeliness may need to be discussed and renegotiated based on each roommate's comfort levels.

Finally, it is a common narrative that the increase in time together under one space leads to dysfunction. Taking this opportunity to increase closeness is essential. Instead of focusing on how to not drive each other crazy, I would encourage roommates to look for ways each of you can spark joy and have productive time together. Knowing what we don't want from others does not always translate into what we do want.

- Dr. Casey Gamboni, licensed therapist and faculty member at The Family Institute at Northwestern University


A: Sometimes, people differ on what precautions they're willing to take for their physical and mental health. Roommates, like it or not, are in this thing together, and it's best to clear this up before people become uncomfortable in their own living space.

I have two roommates; all of us are artists and, now, un- or under-employed. This has taken some adjustment, as part of our living arrangement has been that all of us would be constantly on the go between gigs and social engagements. Space has become a premium like never before! But by being direct without being rude, we've been able to address topics like having guests over, shared working areas, increased chores/groceries, etc.

It may not be fun, it may even be awkward, but you can't let things just be "business as usual," hoping that people agree with you on every boundary and guideline without any discussion. You are well within your rights to say, "We are in the middle of a pandemic, and however much I'd like to, I can no longer share space with you." After all, there's nothing usual about the current state of affairs! Just don't be passive-aggressive - that's a whole other can of worms, believe me.

- Spencer Ryan Diedrick, theater director and administrator

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