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Rental

What You Can Learn From My Life With Roommates of the Opposite Sex

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bathroom sign ((c) Christopher Stevenson)

A few years into renting, I decided I wanted a house -- somewhere without shared walls and a three-floor walk-up. My imagination took flight: Maybe I could have a yard! And a dining room! And my own washer and dryer!

Of course, being young (and broke) meant I could possibly have these things, but I also had to also have roommates. And since I'd always had more guy friends than girlfriends, it came down to me, my one female friend, and three guys.

At first I thought this was going to be great -- guys don't care how I decorate, or if I let my dishes pile up on the end table all day during a Netflix binge, right? This would be a judgment-free zone where I could simply live my life and sock money away for an eventual down payment.

And it was great.

But it also got a little weird at times.

Sometimes, really weird.

So if you're hunting for an apartment and considering moving in with a friend or complete stranger of the opposite sex, here's what you should know -- from my own experience.

News flash: Guys and gals are different, and it can fuel tensions

"We all have our own personal tastes and preferences when it comes to cleanliness, organization, and decor, but these contrasts can be even more stark when gender is the main difference at play," says Maggie Oldham, modern etiquette coach.

But just how different?

Some go for style, others for comfort

The first time I noticed the clichs was when we were moving in. The other female in the house and I had gone to several stores to buy shiny matching things for the new place.

The three guys? Not so much. They'd brought things from their old apartments. Strange, horrible things -- such as an end table made out of glass and tire rims, unframed posters, and four nonmatching recliners.

Oh, how badly I wanted to be cool about it! Sure, let's hang this poster of international beer logos over the fireplace! It totally brings out the nacho cheese stains in that maroon recliner.

Instead, we felt the urge -- most likely developed over eons of evolution -- to defend our matching candlesticks. We were going to have the perfect mantel decor, no matter what.

So we argued, and we weren't tactful about it.

Renting reality: When you're moving in, remember this isn't his space or her space. Everyone should have something in their house that makes them feel cozy -- even if it's ugly as sin. Girls may aim for recreating the cover of Southern Living (we were in New Orleans, after all), and guys may aim for comfort; neither is wrong.

Different definitions of 'clean'

To my male roommates, "cleaning" meant picking up just enough things off the floor to make space for other things.

Team Girl tried, in vain, to rein in the madness. But it wasn't happening.

We'd find plates of old food growing new things. Things that almost seemed to be ambulatory and sentient, perhaps devising a master plan to take over our living room. We'd find fun treasures in the kitchen, the living room, and even the bathroom (did you know some guys like to keep cans of beer in the shower?)

Finally, we settled on having a "family meeting" and developing a chore chart.

"This is a tricky thing to do, but can be very effective if approached with sensitivity and respect," Oldham says.

Renting reality: Don't put one person in charge of everyone else. Set up a time to meet together and work out the small details. And make sure to keep things fair. Everyone should spend about the same amount of time and effort, and get a project they can tolerate doing -- such as vacuuming or dishes -- so they don't feel bogged down.

Everyone's got some drama

Ok, some clichs just aren't true. Women don't always bring the drama, and guys aren't always the levelheaded ones. When you're living together, you're going to argue, no matter what your gender.

We argued over chores. We argued over what to watch on TV. But mostly we argued about company.

Maybe the guys wanted to have other guys over so they could shout at video games together. Maybe the girls wanted to host book club this month. Whatever the thing was, not everybody wanted to do it.

Renting reality: Keep a calendar. Plan ahead so everyone gets to do their thing, and if it really makes you uncomfortable, speak up. Agreeing to let your roomie have four poker nights a week because you don't want to rock the boat will only lead to resentment and then a bigger blowup later. Got it? Good. Now can't we all just get along?