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Dear Outlier,

I'm a freshman in college, and I'm living in a dorm with one roommate. We get along pretty well considering we were assigned to live together, and we've developed a system for letting the other person know when we're in the room and want privacy - we put a colored rubber band around the doorknob. When you see the band, you just head to a friend's place or the library for an hour or two.

Now, my roommate tends to use this when she's having sex. Which she does a lot. She's dated a couple different boys, and I wouldn't do what she does, but I guess she's having fun, and that's ok with me.

On the other hand, I'm not dating anyone. But I still feel like I deserve to have the room to myself from time to time too. After all, it's both our rooms, and shouldn't we both have some privacy when we want it? So I tend to use the rubber band when I'm on the phone, or in the middle of writing a paper. When she comes in afterwards, though, she always asks me what I was doing, and when I tell her, it's pretty obvious that she thinks it's not right to use the rubber band for something like that. As far as she's concerned, it should be for sex only. The last few times, she's started to complain about my use of the rubber band, while I feel like I should at least be getting equal privacy time in the room.

Like I said, aside from this, we mostly get along well, and we've got another semester of living together to go, so I want to make sure we keep getting along. But I also don't want to feel like it's more her room than mine. What should I do?

Thanks,

The Other Roommate


Dear Other,

Traditionally, the "when the van is a-rockin' don't come a-knockin'" symbol, be it a sock, scrunchie, or rubber band, has been used for sex or smooching purposes only. Your roommate has a fair point. Alone time for contemplation, reading, or studying is not really amenable to the rubber band because these activities can be done in other places, or at other times, when your roommate isn't there. They also are not (usually) of an intimate nature, such that your roommate would be walking in on something were she to return while you were mid-thought.

Have you considered asking her for some scheduled alone time if you're not getting enough? Or spending alone time at a café or somewhere else outside your room? In the interest of roommate harmony, I would not insist on a minute-by-minute divvying up of time alone in the room. Also, if you have a boyfriend in the future, your roommate might confuse your quality alone time with quality couple time - and you may inadvertently give her a show. The rubber band is valuable for its clarity.

Moreover, you never know when you might be put in the position of asking for a teeny bit more than your fair share in some other way. Having lived in a very small room with someone who whipped out the masking tape to demarcate "her" side, I can tell you that pettiness is a slippery slope.

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