Awkward: ‘And they were roommates’—what to do if feelings develop between you and your roomie

By Summer Hoagland-Abernathy, Copy Chief

Savanna Steffens

You and your roommate have been a little off around each other lately. They get more clumsy when you’re in the room, and you can’t speak in full sentences when they’re nearby.

This morning, you see their face is flushed, and you wonder if yours looks the same because you feel a little sweaty. You catch yourself wondering, “Do they have a crush on me?”

At first, you feel conceited, but when you put the clues together, you think it’s definitely a possibility. After all, spending a year in quarantine with another person will do that to you.

The question is whether you feel the same way, but you’re not quite sure yet.

How do you handle a situation wherein feelings develop between roommates? The Chronicle spoke with mental health, sex and relationship experts to find out.

If it’s just them:

If the feelings only go one way—from your roommate to you—be sure you develop boundaries that make you comfortable, said Hollie Schmid, marriage and family therapist at Relationship Reality 312.

She said you could say something along the lines of: “I think it’s important that we draw a line in terms of what’s OK and what’s not OK, considering the fact that we’re roommates. Feelings are not necessarily mutual, and I want us to remain cordial roommates.”

The goal is to find what will make you most comfortable in this situation. Give your roommate the opportunity to respect your boundaries, but if flirtation or advancements continue in a way that makes you uncomfortable, Schmid said, it may be time to move out and look for someone else with whom to live.

If it’s just you:

“When it comes to disclosure of feelings in a roommate situation, there are so many things that come into play, but I think the first thing is safety—psychologically, emotionally and physically,” said Jennifer Litner, sexologist and founder of Embrace Sexual Wellness.

If you suspect your feelings for your roommate might be one-sided, processing your feelings before you disclose them is important, she said. Ask yourself if your feelings are fleeting and lustful or if you are craving a longer, deeper relationship. And think about how your relationship would function if you never told them—is it difficult to coexist without your roommate knowing how you feel?

Sometimes letting someone know how you feel about them can be “freeing and affirming and helpful,” Litner said. But it can also be scary and challenging if those feelings are unrequited, so before you tell them, make sure you have somewhere else to live if you need to.

If it’s both of you:

If both of you know you have mutual feelings for each other, that’s wonderful because you’re already friends, said Catalina Lawsin, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist, specializing in sex and relationships at her private practice. What you need to do now is lean into the foundation you’ve already built together and have conversations about what your relationship means now.

She said you should still discuss boundaries and think about how you can protect your friendship and expand upon it as you enter this relationship with a different level of intimacy.

Similarly, Lawsin said to talk about what living together might look like if the relationship doesn’t work out. You are, after all, bound together in a financial contract.

The answer might be that you won’t be OK to live together, and that’s fine, but it’s something you have to work out before going into the relationship, she said.

Trying new relationships with people you already know is completely normal, she said, and preparing for possible outcomes is just one way to make them function more smoothly.

“The number one thing our bodies want is acceptance and connection,” Lawsin said. “I always say if you don’t take the chances, then you never really know.”