Written by Sophie Milrom
I recently spent an evening consoling a friend in need of venting over an argument with her roommate. What transpired between the two had turned someone who I consider even keeled, hormonally balanced and outright cheery into the love child of Taylor Swift and Ozzy Osborne (circa Ozzy biting off a bat’s head); she felt wronged, unappreciated, bitter and angry.
As I listened to a play-by-play of what went down in her Chelsea one-bedroom apartment (converted into a two-bedroom via bed sheet and forgiving zoning laws), I found myself able to finish her sentences.
“And in five years of living together I swear to you she has not once—” my friend started.
“Bought toilet paper?” I interrupted.
“How did you know,” she asked, dumbfounded.
Having lived in New York City for six years and counting, I’ve watched as countless friendships turned into wars of attrition—a side-effect of sharing overpriced, minuscule living quarters. And when roommate relations digress they often boil down to the lowest common denominator of domestic life: toilet paper.
Yes. We’re talking about otherwise well-adjusted and highly functioning adults fighting over tissues.
In my personal observations, not contributing to your apartment’s supply of toilet paper is the most common—and seemingly loathsome—transgression in the world of roommates. I’m pretty sure “she eats all my food” comes in second.
Perhaps because it’s a reasonable expectation: toilet paper is easy and cheap, and denying that you use it is a lie. (Though if true it’s even more repugnant, whereas “I don’t even like hummus” is plausible. Kind of. Hummus is universally delicious.)
This is where it gets weird; my friends always seem to be the suppliers as opposed to the users. And most of them, if not all, while crying and screaming to me with frustration, have admitted to keeping toilet paper in their rooms to “test” the other roommate. Each felt it was the logical, and even mature, thing to do. An objective third party might find it petty or passive aggressive but I promise those words do not describe these individuals in any other context.
“It’s the principle,” they explain to me of the matter concerning their anger.
Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that when someone says “it’s the principle” to explain why he or she is mad, you’ve basically been exiled to emotional Siberia from which you better not dare return until invited back. No defense will do when the Principle Police has been building a case for months—sometimes years—especially over something as trivial as tissues.
This alarmingly frequent situation seems like a lose-lose race to the bottom. That’s an admittedly condescending view seeing as I live alone, but I’ve heard enough of the same stories to feel like an expert. I’m sure there are probably win-the-battle-but-lose-the-war moments along the way (“Let’s see how long she can go without any paper towels,” or “I can’t believe I’ve gotten away with not buying tissues for an entire year!”) but that really doesn’t seem like something you’d want to hang your hat on.
The whole thing is so absurd that it calls to mind the Seinfeld episode where Elaine finds herself trapped in a bathroom without toilet paper. She asks the woman in the next stall over to share some of her stall’s paper. The woman refuses, saying she “can’t spare a square.” The stingy woman turns out to be Jerry’s girlfriend (and a phone-sex worker with whom Kramer’s been chatting up); hilarity ensues.
But that’s a sitcom—shouldn’t real life be less messy?