This story first appeared in print in the July issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
By Cara Smith
In a city like Revelstoke, where accommodation demand vastly exceeds supply, finding a decent spot to live can sometimes feel like a competitive sport. You scour Facebook rental groups – a flurry of activity even during shoulder season – send out feelers to your network, and desperately hope for somewhere half decent and affordable.
With a market this competitive, the people we live with can almost seem like a secondary concern. But more people living together can mean less than ideal living situations.
Talia Camozzi is a registered clinical counsellor in Revelstoke. She has seen a number of clients dealing with conflict in roommate relationships and believes it’s a common issue in the area.
“I see people who are struggling with their roommates and struggling to feel comfortable in their house and feel like it’s their home,” she says. “If you don’t feel comfortable, how do you ever rest and relax at the end of the day?
“I think it is quite unaffordable for people to live alone and I think that’s amplified in Revelstoke… They can’t afford not to live together. It’s the financially responsible thing to do. We do have one of the highest costs of living in the province so you just naturally see more of that here.”
Revelstoke resident Vicky Roy experienced an instance of differing expectations with a roommate when she came home looking forward to a high-quality cut of meat after a long day at work.
“I once had a roommate eat my $25 T-bone steak while I was at work. I remember coming home to him with his bong between his legs, watching TV and eating my $25 T-bone,” she says. “It was a hell of a surprise after eight hours of dreaming of my dinner. When I came home not too impressed, he was like, ‘Don’t go crazy. It’s only a steak.’”
Camozzi says she’s seen situations like these with her clients before and that living well with roommates requires either setting clear expectations for the living situation in the beginning or communicating effectively when there is a problem.
“We think to ourselves, ‘How could you not know?’ But often people actually don’t so we have to be able to take a courageous and vulnerable step of communication and say how it actually impacted us,” she says.
“If we let things slide, maybe they took your Miss Vickie’s salt and vinegar chips and that wasn’t a big deal, but then they did something else. Suddenly your roommate thinks this is all okay but it was never okay. You have to address expectations around sharing and not sharing food.”
The kitchen seems to be a common centre of roommate woes, with the possibility of unwashed dishes, dried and mouldy food bits, and fridge space arguments. Revelstoke resident Christin Plaice experienced an especially extreme version of this.
“My worst housemate story is from five years ago living on Catherwood Road. I lived with a friend and six dudes. Two of the guys refused to do dishes so would pile them across the kitchen,” she says.
“When they ran out, they wouldn’t wash them. Instead, they would go to the thrift store and buy a whole new set and throw the dirty ones in the trash.”
This is a familiar story for Camozzi, who says one of the most common roommate issues is people having different comfort levels with different levels of cleanliness.
Sometimes our roommate horror stories aren’t about what a roommate does, but rather who they are, as another Revelstoke resident, Matt Williams (name changed to remain anonymous), found out.
“I met this girl on Tinder and we hung out for a bit and we got to know each other pretty well and she went away travelling for quite a while. She left on good terms. When she got back into town, I had a bunch of fish so I invited her over for fish tacos. I invited a bunch of my friends too. She gave me this really sassy answer like, ‘I have a boyfriend now. I know what you’re trying to do.’ It was really weird and it ended our friendship.”
“We had a new roommate that moved in downstairs but no one really knew him because he kept to himself quite a bit. One night he was down there and I went down to invite him upstairs for fish tacos and his new girlfriend, that same girl was in the basement there with him.”
Of course, not everyone is going to have stories like these, but as shared living situations become more and more commonplace in Revelstoke, many may be wondering how to keep the peace with roommates.
Camozzi says we should give our roommates the benefit of the doubt and not assume they’re just being assholes.
“If you just assume that they meant well or at least that they didn’t mean bad, then it can really change how you approach the conversation,” she says. “Most people are good people and most of us make mistakes.”
“I think you want to make it a simple conversation and it doesn’t have to be a big thing. But it’s important to address it before it gets out of control and it’s a set pattern.”
Camozzi recommends having these conversations in person rather than over text message and to be aware that the conversation could bring up some shame about causing you harm for the other person.
“Feeling connected and together on something is an important way to get through conflict and makes it a lot smoother on both sides and a little less like an attack.”