You move into a new place and discover that one of your roommates is a hottie: It sounds like the setup to an adult movie, but it can happen in real life. Like hooking up with a coworker, acting on your attraction to a roommate might be ill-advised, all things considered, but horniness tends to supersede intellect. So if you find yourself unable to stop fantasizing about what it would be like to date your roomie—and how much money you’d save if you moved into a one-bedroom—here are some tips on how not to inadvertently destroy your home life in the process.
Assess if your roommate feels the same
As with any other situation where you’re into someone, you first need to figure out if they’re into you in return. This could be a little harder than you’re used to, because your roommate might be more keenly aware (or afraid) of all the ways a possible hookup could go wrong. Even if they do like you, they may not show it.
That does not mean you should push the issue or delude yourself into thinking that if they’re not flirting with you, they’re just repressing their true feelings. Be smart, and take baby steps. Invite them to hang out outside of your home. This will give you a sense of if they’re interested in you as a friend, not just a roommate, and will give you a chance to see if you have more in common than an address. If they decline, don’t push the subject. No always means no, but it’s especially nasty to make someone feel harassed and uncomfortable in their own home.
For this how-to, we turned to two people with firsthand knowledge of how a roommate hookup affects a whole household: A Brooklyn man named Patrick who entered into a relationship with his roommate, Sam, and has been dating her for three and a half years; and a woman named Caitlyn, who was the third housemate of the budding couple before Patrick and Sam moved into their own place. Patrick described being worried that taking action on his attraction would be inappropriate, given that the woman he was developing feelings for lived in the same apartment he did.
“I had an inkling that I would like her as more than a friend before I moved in, but feared acknowledging it because we were roommates,” he said, explaining that the two first met on Twitter, where he eventually replied to a post she made about seeking a third roommate. “I was very shy in the beginning, but we grew more comfortable with each other over time.”
Talk it out with third parties
Caitlyn told Lifehacker she was friends with both of her roommates back when they were all just roommates. The three of them hung out a lot, but Caitlyn was closer to Sam. When Sam started telling Caitlyn she was into Patrick, Caitlyn immediately tried to talk her out of acting on her feelings.
“I thought it was just a crush for a while! My roommate would kind of jokingly—I thought—mention crushing on Patrick. I was always like, ‘Ok, but you know nothing can happen, right?’ And she always said, ‘Yes, yes, of course,’ but her comments got more and more intense to me. Still, I didn’t think it would actually happen until one morning she was knocking on my door saying, ‘We hooked up last night.’”
Yeah, Caitlyn kind of got this one wrong, considering the couple has been going strong for years now. But at the time, she had no way to know that they’d be compatible and not blow up the positive atmosphere of the three friends’ shared home by fighting or breaking up. It was important that she got to make that point before the couple hooked up: Always give any other housemates a heads-up, if you can, and take their advice seriously. A third party usually has insights you don’t, especially if they’re close to the situation. Who knows, maybe they’ll have noticed that you and the hot roommate have a lot in common. They might even encourage you! But you have to give them that chance. It’s only fair.
Make a move
If you really think your roommate is into it and you’ve already sought counsel from outside sources, you might as well go for it. This might take a while to work up to: Patrick said it took him a year and a half to make a move on his now-girlfriend. With the peace and harmony of your living situation at stake, you can (and should) take your time.
For Patrick and Sam, things fell into place naturally one night while they were hanging out in the living room. We generally recommend making your move outside of the home, though, because if things go wrong, you don’t want to associate an awkward memory with one of the rooms in your house.
Be upfront and honest. Instead of leaning in for a kiss with no warning, express your feelings. There’s a chance your roommate won’t see this coming, so as much as you want that movie-perfect first kiss scene, be careful. Still, only you know the real vibes of the situation. If it truly feels like you can just go for it, go ahead, but only if you’re totally certain you both want it to happen.
Understand if other roommates are unhappy
Caitlyn summed up how she took her roommates’ new union like this: “NOT WELL.
“I was mad, to be honest,” she said. “We were all really really close friends and [suddenly] I felt left out. I kind of blew up, and there were a few days of silence, which is not fun when there’s two of them and one of you. We were a really close group of friends and I was so sad that the dynamic was changing.”
Ultimately, of course, she recognized that her roommates’ affection for each other was real.
Patrick’s memories of that time are the same: “It was hard because Caitlyn promptly kind of lost her shit when we first got together. We still had separate bedrooms but would alternate bedrooms and were always sleeping together.”
He added that he and Sam were as respectful as they could be, keeping PDA “to an absolute minimum” and telling Caitlyn immediately the morning after they first got together. If you share a home with multiple people and start hooking up with one of them, do what they did and be honest with your other roommates. Remember, they deserve to have transparency about the goings-on in their own home. You want to avoid anything that could cause a fight, like lying or being too handsy in shared spaces, because that’s only going to make the whole thing worse.
Caitlyn was grateful for their honest approach… eventually.
“Ultimately, this is two adults making their own decisions and they are entitled to that even if you worry about the end result,” she said. “Thankfully, they were really respectful with not being super intimate in shared spaces, so that wasn’t an issue.”
Have a contingency plan
You still need to function as roommates as well as lovers, just so you know. Make sure you still split chores and finances normally, or at least talk about any changes to the set-up thoroughly so no one gets resentful. Most couples wait a while to move in together, but you won’t get that chance. You’re already entering into this with personal grievances about each other’s tidiness or the individual habits most people keep from the partners for as long as possible. Knowing each other that well from the beginning has its drawbacks, but it can also make your partnership stronger and more authentic right off the bat. Always communicate, be honest, and respect that you’re functioning as a couple and as joint caretakers of the home.
And be prepared: If you break up, it’s going to be weird. It’s going to be so weird, even weirder than any other breakup you’ve had. For a while at least, you’ll have to come home every night to see the person you just broke up with. You’ll know if they sleep over at someone else’s house or—worse—have a new hookup come over.
“I think one of us would have had to move out,” Patrick said when asked what would have happened if he and Sam had broken up while still on their old lease. “Or both of us.”
If you end up hooking up with or dating a roommate, it’ll take you some time (and probably a few awkward moments) to get there. Once you both establish you’re into each other and go for it, don’t forget to relax and have fun. You have a great meet-cute and already have a good sense of what it will be like to co-habitate, so at least you have that going for you.
Bask a little in how cute and fortuitous it is! For all you know, you could end up remaining together long after your lease is up.
“After the initial shock of it all, I honestly just felt happy for them,” said Caitlyn. “And they’re still together several years later.”