Three rules for dormitory living regardless of age

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Before I joined the Air Force, I was a college graduate disillusioned with the 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. grind. I was living at home, buried in student loans and yearning for something more. So, like many young people I walked into the recruiter's office and signed up.
 
Joining the Air Force late has been an adjustment. It's a little jarring to have a supervisor the same age as you or living in a dorm where 99 percent of your peers were born in the early 1990s. The apparent age gap is discernible when I talk about the austerity measures in Greece and get a deer-in-the-headlights look.

The assumption has been since I am an Airman; I joined fresh out of high school, have never been overseas and never had a real job. It's funny when I play the guess-my-age game; the responses usually range from 18-21. When I do reveal my age of 26, the conversation goes something like this, "No way, you're not that old," usually followed by, "Why did you join the Air Force so late?" Imagine my excitement when I find anyone living in the dorm older than 25. I am instantly overcome with joy. "Yes, someone who understands; I'm not the only one."

Being 26 and in the dorms reminds me of my college years -- the communal living spaces, lack of privacy, and drunken outbursts after "Thirsty Thursdays" at the E-Club. I've seen and dealt with it all -- from the immature roommate who eats your last yogurt, to the inconsiderate neighbor blasting their music at 3 a.m. I like to think that joining the Air Force later than most has afforded me some wisdom to deal with less than desirable situations. During the years, I have learned to master the many challenges presented by dorm life like establish ground rules. Respect is a two-way street; and, if you don't buy it, don't eat it. Allow me to elaborate on those three "rules to live by."

First up is establishing ground rules. Remember when you first met your roommate and things seemed cool, you watched a movie together, cooked dinner, went shopping at the commissary. Weeks pass and you notice little quirks here and there; a couple of dishes in the sink, late-night Skype sessions and un-replenished toilet paper.

The relationship dynamic quickly changes and your roommate who seemed cool is now getting on your nerves. If you have no agreed upon rules, it's understandable they will be broken. What one person may consider clean may be totally different to another person. Make sure there is a common understanding so when problems arise, someone can be held responsible for breaking the rules.

The next rule to know is respect is a two-way street. If you know your roommate is exhausted because they just got off the night-shift, don't play your music loud enough so the whole third floor can hear it. Yes, it may be a Saturday but be considerate of those around you. I would say 90 percent of conflicts could be resolved by simply following this rule.

The last rule should be a no-brainer: if you don't buy it, don't eat it. True story, I had one roommate who constantly ate my food. It didn't bother me at first until one long, tiresome morning after physical training and I was looking forward to eating my last strawberry yogurt. I looked in the fridge, and my yogurt was nowhere to be found. I nearly lost it; as petty as it sounded, this simple act of defiance drove me past the edge. I work hard for my pay check, and we make the same amount of money so buy your own food.

Having stated all of that, I feel it is worth noting it's important to take a critical, internal look from time-to-time. As much as we like to believe we are always the victim, sometimes we can alleviate some conflicts by taking ownership of our own behavior.

Although, I might not have the ideal living situation, I remind myself this is temporary. Who knows maybe in a couple of years, despite the fact that my yogurt was stolen, I might look back at my experience with nostalgia saying, "Man, I miss those days as an Airman."