The Roommate Agreement

As well as being one of the most entertaining and popular sitcoms on television, Big Bang Theory also offers an amusing insight about records management in the form of Sheldon and Leonard’s “Roommate Agreement”.  The Roommate Agreement is alluded to frequently over the course of the series, typically when Leonard does something that Sheldon feels infringes on his rights as a roommate (e.g. priority couch seating, overnight visitors, scheduled bathroom use, etc.)  Not only is it entertaining to witness Sheldon’s neurotic behavior in action, but the roommate agreement provides a clever solution for anyone who has ever found him/herself sharing an apartment.

I’m sure everyone who has ever had a roommate can testify that, at times, the sharing of your living space can often be irritating, and sometimes lead to unpleasant confrontation.  We all have personal preferences and expectations when it comes to the domestic sphere, and when those preferences and expectations clash, conflict naturally ensues.  The idea of a roommate agreement—in theory—is genius, really, since such a document establishes the parties’ expectations from the outset.  In practice, at least as seen in Big Bang Theory, such a record only emphasizes the tension and breeds more conflict, usually to hilarious effect (probably not as funny for Leonard as it is for the casual observer).

In a recent episode entitled “The Boyfriend Complexity”, the issue of the roommate agreement comes up yet again.  Under the impression that Leonard and Penny are once again a couple, Sheldon presents proposed changes to the agreement for Leonard to sign.  The changes are written to address Penny’s “annoying personal habits” (of which Sheldon has naturally compiled a lengthy list—I’m assuming it is attached to the agreement as an appendix).  Sheldon makes it clear that Penny has no say in the agreement or the discussion of her personal habits, since Leonard is the signatory and thus “bears responsibility for all [her] infractions and must pay all fines”.  Leonard, upon inquiring about the fines, is told that if Penny is to resume spending nights in the apartment he’ll have to set up an escrow account (apparently the possibility that Penny might correct her annoying personal habits is not a thought that occurs to Sheldon).  Leonard signs, even though he and Penny aren’t actually back together.  Sometimes the path of least resistance is the best approach in a compromise.

The agreement essentially reduces the roommate experience to the level of transactions.  This is quite literally apparent in the example above—Penny annoys Sheldon, Leonard must pay a fine.  No doubt Sheldon has dollar amounts associated with each infraction as it appears in the appended list of “annoying personal habits”, in direct relation to the degree that Sheldon finds them annoying.  It seems ridiculous when you hear it, but I can personally think of a few situations in my experience when the existence of such an agreement would have made my life a lot easier; I can certainly recall occasions when I’d wished I could collect fines for the irritating habits of a roommate.  And while it might still seem absurd, consider this: isn’t it just another example of the sort of contracts we enter into every day with our landlords, insurance providers, health providers, phone and internet service providers, utility companies, employers, employees and unions, educational institutions, and governments?

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    • Ali
    • November 28th, 2010

    Interesting idea! Too bad this couldn’t also apply to pets, eh? 😉

      • Eric
      • November 29th, 2010

      As in ‘companion species’? Isn’t the benefit of having pets that you get the companionship minus the hassle of human agency? There’s just something inherently irritating about humanity that doesn’t transfer to non-humans.

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