This was written by Merlin Missy in 2007. Some references are now dated but the general advice is very good. It is used with permission. — Cygnet


This week, we turn our attention to that most desired of living options: rooming with your fellow fen. Say you’re living at home, or at school. You spend all your time online trying to find people to chat with about your latest squee. You write about it. You dream about it. You are a fan. Alas, you are most likely not surrounded by fellow fans, but instead by mundanes: those poor, deluded folks who think reality shows are more interesting than the Winchester brothers and that Friends is superior to Battlestar Galactica. We pity these people, but many of us have had to live with them during our lives. (They’re often named “Mom” and “Dad,” though not for everyone, fortunately – Dr. Merlin was raised by a mother who wrote Man From U.N.C.L.E. fanfics longhand and a father who told her Star Wars stories at bedtime.)

But lo! On the horizon, something sparks. You get the golden opportunity, the one you’ve secretly wished for ever since you stole your brother’s He-Man figures so you could act out Adam and Teela’s wedding (and later, Adam and Skeletor’s wedding). You, little fanthing, are moving in with someone who is just as geeky as you are.

Fantopia is the dream: living with someone who understands that We Do Not Talk Between Commercials, who knows firsthand that writing fanfic is a vital part of one’s mental health, who groks your take on Kirk/Spock. Congratulations. You have arrived.

I have been privileged to witness many a fantopia, and even live in a few during my time. I have also seen them shatter apart, many times over frictions that could have been prevented. This guide is intended as a helpful point of reference for avoiding many of the major pitfalls of cohabitation among fans. It is not an end-all essay; please feel free to share your own tips in the comments below.

First, and I cannot stress this enough, set up your own spaces. Sharing the squee is great, but there are times when you and your roomie will need alone time to decompress. Set your boundaries early, and make sure you agree on them. A good rule is the rule of rooms: this is my bedroom and this is your bedroom, please do not enter without me there except under circumstances (list as needed). Many fans come into roommate situations with boundary issues in their pasts, and starting out with good limits will help when the inevitable frictions rear their heads anyway.

Once you have set your private spaces, you must set your expectations on cleaning. Seriously. You probably want to divide the housework along the lines that you are capable of doing it. For example, if you would rather walk over broken glass than vacuum, say so up front. There may be another household chore that your roommate despises equally. (In my home, I do the yard work while Mr. Merlin does the vacuuming.) Remember that if you do not keep up with your part of the cleaning, your roommate will resent it, and that leads to bad situations. Also remember that no one likes roaches. At a minimum, make sure your kitchen area is free of bug-attractors like crumbs and dirty dishes. An unvacuumed carpet is a pain; an ant invasion is grounds for mutiny.

Related to this, define up front all the care that will be undertaken for your pets.

The average fantopia consists of two women in their late twenties/early thirties with at least two cats. Someone will have to clean out the litterbox. Establish a means to ensure that this occurs on a regular basis, or not only will you cause conflict with your roommate, you may lose your home. (True story: A friend of mine had a roommate whose pets peed and pooped on the hardwood floor for three months without the roommate cleaning up after them, and the roommate was shocked when the landlords finally evicted her.) Clean up after your pets, or find them a home with someone who will.

To sum up the above: your roommate is not your mom. (*cough* *waves to friend reading this whose roommate actually is her mom* You know what I mean, dear.) Do not expect her to clean up after you or your pets. If you can’t clean up on your own, hire a cleaning service. If you can’t afford that OR clean up on your own, move back home and trying living on your own again when you’ve learned.

Close to this: your roommate is not your best friend. At least, typically your roommate will not be your best friend, especially if you’re moving in together as a result of a shared fannish interest. I know, I know. You’re excited that you’re finally living with someone who gets you. However, back to the boundaries thing, your roommate likely already has friends of her own. While they might eventually be your friends too, she’ll want to spend time with them that doesn’t include you. Sure, you can ask to go along, but don’t take a “no” as a rebuff; think of it as recharging time for yourself. Take time to cultivate friendships away from your roommate too. You’re two separate people, and you’re allowed–indeed encouraged– to spend time on different things.

Speaking of which, your squee might not be your roommate’s squee. While you both might enjoy LOTR RPS, she might be more of a Viggorli person, while you’re mad about Domlijah. And that’s okay. Everyone has their squee. You can celebrate your roommate’s squee without being obligated to share it. That goes in reverse, too. Just because you believe in your heart of hearts that Harry should marry Hermione (for reasons you will happily go into in detail) does not mean you should try to convert your roommate away from her Harry/Sirius fixation. Celebrate the fact that you both thought the last book sucked dead donkey, and leave it there. ‘Shipwars should not come home with you.

One of the big things you need to know every early on in any fantopia is your roommie’s policy on spoilers. You don’t want to be avoiding every mention of the season finale of your favorite show, only for your roommate to flounce into your room fresh from torrenting the UK feed and announce: “The butler did it! OMG!” (This is considered justifiable grounds for homicide in many fannish circles.) If it pains you to sit on spoilers, go online and share as loud and as long as you can, but don’t ruin it for the person you’re living with, and know well in advance what will and won’t ruin someone’s experience.

Have multiple televisions. Really. No matter how close your and your roommate are in viewing habits, there will be times when you want to rewatch two characters in a scene together fifteen times in a row, while your roommate is sitting beside you ready to spork out her own eyes. Plus, you’ll want the setup to make sure you get everything on your DVR.

Buy bookshelves. Then buy more. If you can’t afford them, find a friend with a hatchback, go to the closest lumber store and buy some 2 by 4s, a hammer and some nails. You and your roommate are going to have enough books, tapes, DVDs, comics and collector’s editions to make a small-town library ashamed in comparison. (This is a normal part of fantopia, just like the cats.) Plan ahead on putting up bookshelves wherever you can find space, and decide whose things are going on which (separate) shelves. In the event of a sudden move, you’ll want your books in a place where they won’t get mixed up with your roommate’s, and while you can put things in storage, I’ve known too many folks who’ve had their comics collections lost, stolen or destroyed. Put as much as you can up near you and store what you can live without.

Establish guest rules and stick to them. Some fans like to be surrounded by fellow fen and will have week-long sleepovers while they marathon all of Babylon 5. Others would rather go out to find people and come home to silence. If your roommate is not a social butterfly, be kind and go elsewhere for the fannish puppy piles, or at least give her plenty of advance warning.

Establish financial responsibilities and stick to those, too. Do not get a joint account unless you also plan on filing domestic partnership papers. As a rule, it’s usually best to have people buy their own food. Hopefully it won’t come to where you have to label the foodstuffs with your names, but if it does, establish that, too. If you’re sharing meals, you’ll want to work out an equitable system for paying for the staples. Find out what works for you both, and talk about it every so often. This is also important in paying your rent. Some people choose to pay one roommate who then pays the whole thing. Others include separate checks in the envelope. My living arrangements tended towards alternating months. If you can’t pay your share of the rent, your roommate may or may not float you, but never go into a living situation expecting that this will happen. Get a (second) job if you have to, flipping burgers or stocking shelves if nothing else. When you are living somewhere that isn’t home, rent/mortgage is your number one priority, then food, then your internet connection. (These last two might swap positions in your household.) Early on, decide what the rule is for opening windows and using the AC. If you sweat at anything above sixty-five Fahrenheit, and your roommate is freezing at anything under eighty, you will likely spend a lot of time on your blog complaining about the air conditioner bills, and that is less time spent on squee. We like squee.

Your roommate is not your therapist. While you might be perfectly comfortable relating the terrible things that happened to you in your past, you have no way of knowing if bringing up those topics is going to send your roommate into a bad mental place of her own.

You don’t always know what your roommate has been through in her life, what’s triggery for her, what’s going to make her revisit things she thought she’d dealt with years ago. Respect her boundaries in this regard just as much as you want her to respect yours. It’s always better to preface a conversation with: “Will this put you in a bad place if I talk about it?” than find out you’ve triggered someone’s PTSD. Abuse and assault are unfortunately common, in and out of fannish groups, and everyone has a story.

Speaking of stories, one of the bonuses of having a fannish roommate is the live-in beta reader aspect. Before you take advantage of this, though, ask yourself if you can deal with having your heart-wrenching prose red-penned by the person you’re sitting across from at suppertime. Many a fantopia has fallen due to one too many grammar corrections and a cry of “Split THIS infinitive, you tramp!” Don’t let this be you. If you are sensitive about your stories, domestic harmony suggests you ship your work elsewhere for beta.

This also applies to cowriting. Some roommates can write together. Some can’t. If you don’t know, start small. Do a drabble series together. The epics can wait until you’re sure neither of you will break the lease and run screaming away because Spike should have been the bottom instead of the top.

Your roommate does not exist to entertain you. You do not exist to entertain your roommate. Not every conversation should involve Jack Harkness, as much fun as that might be to try. Even in fantopia, sometimes you just want to talk about the weather.

Headphones. 1. Buy good ones. 2. Use them. More politely, as someone who is fannish, you will have an eclectic, one might even say a unique, taste in music. Be careful how much you share with the people who live in adjoining apartments or houses.

Respect your roommate’s allergies and medication schedule. Again, as someone who is fannish, you have a higher than likely average chance of taking some medication or another on a regular basis, or that the sight of a strawberry will kill you dead. Ditto for your roommate. I once had a roommate with a medical condition that included getting extremely ill if she didn’t get a large amount of sleep. That meant no late-night gatherings at our place, and occasionally tromping upstairs to ask the people above us to pipe down at midnight. Fantopia comes with a high pharmacy bill and odd rules sometimes.

Fantopia seems like a lot of work, I know. You’d think it’s the ideal, and in some ways it really is: better to live with someone who understands the importance of defending your choices in narrative structure than with someone who thinks quoting the William Shatner “Get a life” skit from SNL is the height of humor. It just takes some forethought to get right, and getting it right is worth it. You preserve friendships, you build your fannish cred, and most importantly, you don’t become “Oh … THAT fan …”

But I mean it about cleaning the litterbox.

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