Web Site Reveals the Dark Side of Roomies

Many college freshmen are about to have their first roommate experience. Many of them may experience their new cohabitant's unfortunate inability to communicate directly. A Web site, Passiveaggressivenotes.com, collects all kinds of notes, among them the artifacts from domestic arrangements gone wrong.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Pricey textbooks aren't the only thing college freshmen have to worry about. Over the next few weeks students will move into dorms and meet their very first roommate. And for some that person will quickly become the bane of their existence.

As Chana Joffe-Walt reports, now there's a Web site that shows just how conflict averse some roommates can be.

CHANA JOFFE-WALT: The Web site passiveaggressivenotes.com was born on a first date in New York City. Right away, Kerry Miller's date started complaining about his roommate.

Ms. KERRY MILLER (Passiveaggressivenotes.com): It's something that comes up pretty often in conversation in New York. It's like talking about the weather. You know, you bitch about your roommates.

JOFFE-WALT: But it was a good conversation starter because Kerry, a 25-year-old writer, also had an annoying roommate. He kept leaving her these fake friendly notes with smiley faces that were really complaints about her music, her dishes. The date laughed, he'd written and received his fair share of roommate notes too.

Ms. MILLER: Made an off-hand comment like I should collect some and, you know, put them on the Internet.

JOFFE-WALT: And the date said, yeah, you should.

Ms. MILLER: And I thought, huh...

JOFFE-WALT: So at 2:00 a.m. that night last spring, Kerry took the notes from her roommate and posted them online. By the end of the week, the Web site passiveaggressivenotes.com had been written up in several popular blogs. Dozens of notes started flooding in each week. Like these two, read for you not by the original writers, but by friendly public radio colleagues.

Unidentified Woman: Dear roommate, our old sponge was gross. So I guess that's why no one likes to do the dishes. But now we have a new one. Try it out.

Unidentified Man: Message for the roommates: I know you guys have a habit of eating my food. Please do not be disturbed by the little white box saying typhus vaccination. Just go ahead and do your thing.

JOFFE-WALT: A lot of these notes reveal an interesting contradiction.

JOFFE-WALT: That's Kerry, the Web site founder.

Ms. MILLER: They're trying to put this layer of politeness on top of what is basically just, you know, screw you.

JOFFE-WALT: Like this note posted the other day from a downstairs neighbor to an upstairs neighbor in Manhattan. Kerry's reading it.

Ms. MILLER: Is there any way that we can work together on the noise factor between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. each morning? Do you sleep all day and stay awake all night? Is there a special reason why you have to move items over our heads during those hours? Nothing personal, okay? Thank you, your neighbors.

JOFFE-WALT: One character has shown up several times on passiveaggressivenotes.com: Jesus, as in Jesus doesn't steal Pop Tarts and hot wings. And Kerry says roommates everywhere have trouble when it comes to the dishes, like Nick Racovic(ph), another Web site contributor. He lives in a house with five male college students at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. And they had a dish problem, or rather a dish tower. According to Nick, one roommate would cook these huge meals and not wash any of his dishes.

Mr. NICK RACOVIC (Contributor, Passiveaggressivenotes.com): Everyone else in the house just got sick of it.

JOFFE-WALT: No one actually asked the other roommate to do his dishes. No, they had a better, more subtle plan.

Mr. ORACOVIC: We started taking those dishes and setting them in the front of the other roommate's door to try and give him the hint.

JOFFE-WALT: He must not have gotten the hint, though, because he delivered the dishes back to the sink and so on. Eventually, he did wash them but not without a note.

Mr. ORACOVIC: My esteemed housemates, I have some unfortunate news to report. It appears that our ongoing experiment to see if the dishes would indeed wash themselves has ended and ultimately failed.

JOFFE-WALT: Laurie Berry is director of Residence Life at University of Southern Indiana. She says the art of negotiation is just gone. Every year, college freshmen seem to have poorer social skills than the last batch.

Dr. LAURIE BERRY (Director, Residence Life, University of Southern Indiana): Something as simple as when do you want to do dishes.

JOFFE-WALT: Again with the dishes.

Dr. BERRY: Instead of turning around and talking to you about this, I'll shoot you an IM instead of having an open communication, then it just tends to escalate.

JOFFE-WALT: An IM from across the room. Laurie says the other roommate will IM back and the electronic conversation will get heated. Then it's my roommate is a pig on a Facebook wall post and then a Facebook retaliation with friends chiming in, e-mail threats and on. Kerry thinks this is why people like her blog. Everyone can relate. We've all been victims of these notes, and we've probably all written our fair share too. But Kerry says no more for her. The stories that come to the Web site have changed her.

Ms. MILLER: I mean, this site has pretty much convinced me that indirect forms of communication won't do anything but backfire on you.

JOFFE-WALT: She says the next time the dishes pile up in her sink, Kerry will resist the urge to fire off an angry e-mail and instead knock on her roommate's door and ask him kindly to wash the freaking dishes.

Signed: for NPR News, XXO, smiley face, heart, Chana Joffe-Walt.

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