“Yo, just a heads up, I have practice in the morning so I might be brushing my teeth in your room real early.”
My new roommate offered me that warning only three years ago, on one of the first nights of our freshman year, but it feels like a lifetime ago. I’m currently lounging in a corner booth at Brew Bakers, safely nestled in a pocket of the world deeply removed from cleats, two-a-day practices, and round objects (think about it, what’s the most spherical thing you’ve ever seen at Brews?). Living with a varsity athlete sounds laughably foreign. My three housemates this year are seniors who spend a lot more time at Red Feather than football games. It’s a far cry from autumn 2015, where it was a fairly common occurrence to find myself on our balcony chatting with midfielders and backstrokers about their weekend trip to Colby.
Disclaimer: I love sports, and I don’t care who knows it. Unpopular, I know. I even love Wesleyan sports, enough to cover them at the Argus for two full years. This alone left me far better equipped to handle athletic-adjacency than the average ’22 non-athlete that finds themself compulsorily attached at the hip with their fhocking Taft-grad roommate this week. It also helped that my former roommate is a kind human and respectful living partner. Our two-room double made a big difference too, no doubt.
But I still remember the initial confusion. I had a lot of questions. Why do you have practice in September if swimming is a winter sport? How are you so strong? Why aren’t you brushing your teeth in the bathroom, or in your room at the very least? Turns out that water polo is a whole big thing in the fall, and that swimming multiple hours a day year-round gets you in pretty good shape. I never received a great answer to the last question.
Some of the questions that I developed didn’t have such neat solutions, though. Most of his friends were just as kind and good-natured as he was, and I had plenty to talk about with them (as I may have mentioned, I love sports). What about the others, though? What about the few of his friends from assorted sports teams—they once claimed that this made them “intersectional”—who were openly homophobic, misogynistic, and otherwise invalidating of identities that my friends and I held close? After one of them loudly used queer as a derogatory word in our hallway, I remember a particularly passionate and self-confident sophomore popping out of her room to yell at them until they retreated back through our door. It was real cool. I was a big fan of this strategy. But it didn’t stop the behavior; it just kept it confined to my room.
In my case—as likely will be the case for a few of class of 2022’s random roommates—the clichéd-but-true non/athlete divide was too deep to write off. He and the vast majority of his friends were wonderful. A few were deafeningly loud-side. But it goes without saying that this issue isn’t confined to athletes. Almost everyone will have differences with their roommates’ friends, and deeply insensitive (or worse) people exist in all of campus’s nooks and crannies. Maybe the question is broader: how do you react when those you care about choose to spend time with people who cause you pain?
Eventually, I realized that my roomate had just as many questions for me, too. Some of them, just like my questions about his practice schedule and forearms, were simple enough. (What’s Duke Day? Who is Bernie Sandals?) Others, like the tooth-brushing question, didn’t have an easy answer. (Are your friends listening to Taylor Swift ironically or seriously? Did I leave my chocolate milk in Sarah’s room?) We answered each other’s questions as best as we could, and we learned a lot about each other in the process. Even as our social venn diagrams inched in opposite directions, that bond of learning (learning how to be college students, learning how to be better people, learning how to share a fridge) kept us out on the balcony for late-evening chats pretty often.
By the end of the year, his friends that I didn’t enjoy stopped coming around. I still don’t know exactly why. But I do know that these days, he mostly spends his time around people who seem just as compassionate as he is. They’re pretty much all athletes, and the overlap in our circles has almost entirely dissipated. But it still makes me happy to see.
It’s not a profound observation, but I think it’s worth repeating: college students change a lot, and we’re hyper-reactive to the people by whom we’re surrounded. Your athletic roommate’s team will of course have a huge impact on what type of adult they grow into, as will your coworkers, your castmates, etc. But if you’re not careful, you’ll have an impact on each other too. And if you get as lucky in the roommate lottery as I did, that might not be such a bad thing.
Sam Prescott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.