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What's the best way of dealing with a housemate with BPD who is concerned by me spreading cold-sores to her?
October 3, 2009 6:19 AM   Subscribe

What are the chances of getting cold sores about two weeks after a friend of mine had an outbreak of cold sores? And how should I deal with the concerns of my housemate (who has BPD) who thinks I may spread it to her?

Today I went around to a friend of mine's to help her with some housework. My housemate was a little concerned that since my friend had a cold sore about three weeks ago, that I might catch it and bring it back into our household. I tried to assure her that (a) I wouldn't kiss my friend, and (b) that even if I did, the chance of getting a cold sore was slim, since the blister was long gone. Is this correct, though? If I did kiss my friend, and she hasn't had a blister for a couple of weeks, what would be the chance of getting a cold sore? Also, I did eat dinner over there and used her cutlery. What kind of a risk did I run by doing that?

When I returned, she was livid that I went over there in the first place. She didn't trust that I hadn't kissed her, and said that her boyfriend wasn't happy either, saying that it would affect him if she got cold sores.

Now, this is where the question gets a little tricky. My housemate has Borderline Personality Disorder.

In the heat of the moment, I told her the chances for her getting a cold-sore from this were zero percent (probably a mistake to say that), and I told her that I wasn't happy with her boyfriend for saying it was a valid concern, because it wasn't. That was also a big mistake for me to say that. She's in her room now.

I was wondering what would be a good way to approach the situation from here on in, and what would have been a better way for me to have approached the situation from the start?
posted by severin to Health & Fitness (50 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is totally irrational. You are no more likely to pass on the virus to her than you were before your friend had an outbreak. If YOU were the one with the cold sore, it might be a different story, but even then the only way she could catch the virus from you is from skin contact with it, or perhaps by sharing a glass with you.

I recommend sending her a link to the wikipedia page on oral herpes and following up by asking her, "What is this really about?"
posted by hermitosis at 6:36 AM on October 3, 2009


Most people already have the virus that causes cold sores within their bodies, since "the HSV-1 virus that causes cold sores is present in an estimated 80% of the population. Most people are infected by HSV-1 at an early age, usually by the time they are five years old. Once the virus infects an individual, it will remain in that person’s body forever. Though HSV-1 is latent or dormant for much of the time, it is still present in the body."

The more pressing concern for me would be that your roommate sounds like a nightmare.
posted by xingcat at 6:36 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


You ran about zero risk, assuming your friend meets even the most basic hygiene standards in her home. The best approach to this situation with your controlling, paranoid roommate is to move out, since her behavior has you questioning your very reasonable behaviors and responses.
posted by amelioration at 6:37 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


She was "livid that [you] went over there in the first place"? Absolutely none of her business. You are being bullied. The BPD doesn't make it normal or acceptable. I don't think there are many good approaches here that don't involve ending the housemate situation.
posted by kmennie at 6:39 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ignore her, and wait for it to blow over. Rationality or tact will not help if the other person is not receptive.
posted by HFSH at 6:41 AM on October 3, 2009


I was wondering what would be a good way to approach the situation from here on in

...ignore the crazy chick.

Your friend doesn't need to have a coldsore to pass the virus on to you. Theres a 50-80% chance you already have it (depending on age) - and the same goes for your housemate and her boyfriend.

Unless you were sharing cutlery (ie. eating from the same fork) then there's no risk there. Aside from the fact that I assume it was washed first, herpes can't survive very long outside the body.
posted by missmagenta at 6:43 AM on October 3, 2009


At times my housemate is difficult to live with, especially when it comes to matters of health and cleanliness. And I am concerned about the possible severe impact living with her may have on my social life. E.g., if I were to invite my friend around *here*, I would say that would cause much friction...

But it has got me thinking though...how does the chance of infection decrease in the weeks after the blister has healed?
posted by severin at 6:47 AM on October 3, 2009


Hi missmagenta, thanks! You posted this while I was typing up my response...
posted by severin at 6:48 AM on October 3, 2009


Hi, thanks all for your comments...I think I'm going to sleep on this...
posted by severin at 6:55 AM on October 3, 2009


I would put the risk as about the same as you would be able to get it from eating at a restuarant. Does she go to restaurants?
posted by kellyblah at 7:31 AM on October 3, 2009


What's the best way of dealing with a housemate with BPD who is concerned by me spreading cold-sores to her?

Show her the cold hard facts - that's quite possible she has the virus herself already, and if she doesn't, the chances of her getting it from you are even smaller than the chances of you getting it from your friend.

And then find another housemate. If she's behaving like this over someone else's illness, what else is she going to flare up over?
posted by Solomon at 7:32 AM on October 3, 2009


There is no reasoning with someone who has BPD nor is there any way that I know of to manipulate them into believing something everyone else considers rational. The long term solution is to move out.
posted by MillMan at 7:33 AM on October 3, 2009


Move out or tell her to move out.
posted by spaltavian at 7:38 AM on October 3, 2009


Sometimes living with crazy people distorts your perspective a bit. Let me make a point to remind you: You are not now, nor will you ever be, obligated to indulge the crazy fantasies of a crazy person. That doesn't mean you should be callous or unkind, but you absolutely do not have to and should refuse to subject yourself to another person's irrational fantasies.

"what would have been a better way for me to have approached the situation from the start?"

You say this:
"Housemate mine, you're being crazy and that's your problem, not mine. I don't have to or want to talk to you about this as it does not concern you, and please mind your own business now and in the future."

That is to say, the better way to approach the situation from the start would be to set some fucking boundaries against letting crazy people control your life.
posted by majick at 8:00 AM on October 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I am the BPD housemate in question's boyfriend.

I'm surprised how inhumane these responses are. Obviously, BPD can be very confronting. It's Severin's life, and if he finds the situation unbearable, then it's up to him if he wants to move out. But how is the advice to "ignore her", "set some fucking boundaries", "show her the cold hard facts" going to help?

She evidently feels like Severin isn't respecting her living space and her feelings... ignoring her will just make her feel neglected and more angry. "Fucking boundaries" would also make her feel neglected, and worse still, make her feel bossed around. She's had people her whole life tell her that her concerns are wrong, and telling her what to do. (This appears to be a common cause of BPD.) Likewise, a "cold hard" communication style is not what she needs... she wants to feel cared for and reassured. When she feels this way, she can be very giving and accommodating (in my evidently biased opinion!).

Asking "What is this really about?" is closer to the mark... chances are this is more about her feeling uncomfortable complaining about something else, like she feels like the kitchen is always dirty. Or she's just angry, but doesn't feel like she has legitimate reasons to be angry, so whenever she spots something she can rationalize being angry about, she jumps on it. (i.e. "triggers" set her off, which is a big issue discussed in lots of books on BPD.)

Would any of you really treat people you care about in such a "cold hard" way?
posted by happy2b at 8:37 AM on October 3, 2009


Happy2b - it's not's Severin's responsibility to make her feel "cared for and reassured" and indulge her when she picks fights because she's angry about something unrelated to the issue at hand. Her concern about cold sores is irrational. And if she's using it to pick a fight because she's just generally angry, or angry about something else, then anyone who is not her therapist is completely justified - and not cruel at all - to tell her that she is being ridiculous and to refuse to engage with her.

Also - I flagged your response. I see that you signed up to defend your girlfriend, but you are derailing Severin's question. Wait a week and post a "my BPD girlfriend's room-mate is a dick, what do I do" question.
posted by shrabster at 8:52 AM on October 3, 2009 [12 favorites]


Ditto xingcat. I'd always heard that just about everyone's been exposed to oral herpes by the age of ten, and you probably already have it.

Generally I am very much in favor of being tolerant and understanding to people with mental illnesses, and I give your housemate credit for disclosing that she has BPD, but on the other hand, if that hadn't been mentioned I'd be all "you don't have to deal with that shit." It's not your responsibility to accommodate her beyond basic roommate etiquette, and it's not likely that you're equipped to do so or have much of an interest beyond keeping the peace. Give some serious thought to moving out as soon as you can.

Her boyfriend sounds kind of like a butt too.

(On preview, happy2b, if you are the boyfriend in question, I'm glad you care about this person who needs it and I'm sorry to call you a butt, but what's it to you if your girlfriend's roommate has dinner with a friend who had a cold sore like two weeks previously? Do you give a full medical screening to everyone within six degrees of separation? Also, you probably already have oral herpes, since childhood.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:59 AM on October 3, 2009


Happy2b: I can tell you this as someone who has lived with a BPD housemate (and her boyfriend):

Unless there's something I don't know, this person (Severin) is not your girlfriend's family member, close friend or lover. She's your girlfriend's housemate.

As a housemate, her responsibility is to share a living space and respond to any valid concerns that are clearly expressed.

Being made to deal with concerns that are NOT valid or NOT anyone's business is not an acceptable thing to have to deal with in one's home -- it's bullying.

Listen to what the thoughtful Mefites here are saying. She has the right to not be bullied. That's not uncaring. It is not her responsibility to spend hours untangling or analyzing what your girlfriend REALLY means when she lashes out at her.

BPD people often have a view of the world where they are the perpetual victim. If, as her boyfriend, you want to be sucked into that, that's fine, but leave her housemate be.
posted by dacoit at 8:59 AM on October 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


She's had people her whole life tell her that her concerns are wrong, and telling her what to do. (This appears to be a common cause of BPD.)

what

No, it isn't, and it isn't Severin's responsibiity to placate his housemate if she's being irrational and making his life difficult over an issue that is completely fabricated.

Severin should share the FACTS with her (outlined nicely above) and walk away, which leaves her to decide if the facts are enough or if she's going to continue to pick at an imaginary wound (see what I did there?)
posted by tristeza at 9:00 AM on October 3, 2009


Er ... he, she ... you know what I mean.
posted by dacoit at 9:03 AM on October 3, 2009


Millman it's not irrational to want to remain disease free, the BPD part is really just a red herring to the question (see how unreasonable she's being?).

happy2b, it is a valid concern, but the reality of HV-1 is that people can be infected but never show signs of infection and, those who are could have an active phase but not show any symptoms (called viral shedding). Knowing someone has a cold sore allows you to take charge of your own health by taking precautions around someone who is infected, but the reality is there is a very high chance you've already been exposed, about 80% of the population already has.
posted by squeak at 9:40 AM on October 3, 2009


I think about the fact that everyone - regardless of their mental health situation - is responsible for taking care of themselves.

While I understand Happy2b's suggested 'what's really going on here' approach, in the end the reason why that won't work is very few people appreciate being told that what they are saying isn't what they are saying. It in fact, on it's own, it doesn't feel compassionate and it becomes infuriating:

Roommate: "I'm angry about you not washing the dishes"
Severin: "No, what's really going on here?"
Roommate: "Really, I'm angry about the dishes"
Severin: "I think this is really about something else...."
Roommate: "Why aren't you listening to me?"

In fact, it sounds like what Happy2b is suggesting won't work, because it isn't a just question, but a process. So, you'd also have to know the right thing to say after that.
Unless that statement is enough to trigger her to delve into self awareness and start talking about the fact that she's angry about something else, you'd have to give a couple of tries to get at that. And if you did, since she's abdicated the 'heavy lifting' and you're 'guiding her through this', your questions to her it might include the: so okay, you're actually angry about X, not Y, so why are you angry about Y? And: Why didn't you feel comfortable discussing Y in the first place? etc., etc.

Even with the right intention towards compassion, few people get that tone and discussion right - right enough to sound compassionate, rather than dismissive or knowitall-ish- consistently, and most of those people who do are trained as therapists. The rest of us usually overshoot the mark. So I think it's best when everyone is responsible for themselves. In that case, it might be the roommate self-deciding that everytime she feels frustration with you, she asks herself "What's really going on here".

Which brings us back to everyone's fine suggestions: Decide on your boundaries, clearly and respectfully state your perspective, and respect her enough to let her do her own inner work, and step up and discuss what her actual concerns are. In short, treat her like an adult, not a child.

Good luck!
posted by anitanita at 10:12 AM on October 3, 2009


If she is aware of her BPD, and knows that it causes issues that might not be rational, maybe you can have a conversation with her about how to handle it in the future. Maybe you can have an agreement that when this type of thing comes up again, request that she talk to her caregiver first, to get a third perspective, and then she can get back to you with her concerns. It would save you trouble and help her get a handle on managing her illness with other people.
posted by Vaike at 10:24 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


she wants to feel cared for and reassured

That great. The OP doesn't want a tantrum-throwing, bullying roommate. It's not his job to care for or reassure her. Your girlfriend isn't a child; she doesn't get to treat her roommate this way because she wants to be "reassured".
posted by spaltavian at 10:27 AM on October 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


If your girlfriend wants someone to care for and reassure her, why isn't she living with a case worker? Or you?

If she wants the people around her to treat her in a certain way, she should be surrounding herself with people prepared to treat her in a certain way. Not relying on other people to do it just because she wants them to. BPD is not an excuse for being a bitch.

I get that life is difficult for her. But it is emphatically not the responsibility of her housemate to put up with this kind of behaviour. If she doesn't understand that, perhaps she should be living somewhere where there are people able to keep a closer eye on her.
posted by Solomon at 10:50 AM on October 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


"worse still, make her feel bossed around"

I'm going to try to avoid being confrontational here, but please, realize: Someone needs to boss this person around and tell them to mind their own business. Mental health problems are a big deal, and certainly benefit from care and consideration of those around the sufferer, but it's absolutely and non-negotiably critical for everyone to reject and oppose being irrationally bullied and harassed merely because of it.

It's not a matter of being cold. It's not a matter of being cruel. It's not a matter of helping someone feel cared-for. It's a matter of, yes, setting some fucking boundaries. On one side of the boundary is the asker of this question. On the other side of the boundary is indulging someone's crazy fantasies and enabling them to use said craziness to manipulate others. In a household where all is right, and nobody is a doormat to that kind of manipulative behavior never the twain shall meet.

Housemates, regardless of mental health status, have no business whatsoever attacking each other over who spent time at what household or over fictitious disease spreading.
posted by majick at 11:20 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Your housemate may need to live on her own.

It's unreasonable to expect you to coddle to paranoid-based demands on your life. For instance, if you had some communicable disease it would reasonable to expect you to take precautions against the infecting your housemate. However, the demand that you not see a friend who had a cold sore weeks ago is silly. Does your housemate eat in restaurants? Then she's almost surely eaten off the fork that has previously been in the mouth of some cold sore sufferer. Restaurants do wash the cutlery, but you do get the occasional dirty fork. Germs are part of life.

She's in her room now. Fine. Really. She's behaving based on irrational fears which is unfortunate, but beyond your control. You cannot control someone else's BPD. Also, don't assume her boyfriend did say that. He may have simply been "Yeah, whatever" and she heard the validation she wanted.

That said, she has a problem and you should be compassionate. Here is what I'd go with, "I'm not comfortable with the demands you place on me which I feel are beyond the bounds of a housemate. I am unwilling to change my personal boundaries. How do you think this should be resolved." She can commit to making more reasonable requests. She can move. You can move.
posted by 26.2 at 11:20 AM on October 3, 2009


As others have said, this shouldn't be an issue, as she probably already has the virus, as most people do. But that kind of response isn't going to help ("You're wrong! Why can't you chill out, because of how wrong you are!"), so maybe something more along the lines of, "I know you're upset, and I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable, but I can't avoid my friends. Let's make sure we're on the same page with what the risks are, what the facts are and go from there. If this is about something else, let's put that on the table. We have to live together, and things shouldn't be this weird or escalate to this level."

Whatever you do, DO NOT make this about her BPD. Because even if it's caused by that, that's not the issue, the issue is your relationship, and how you two can affect it.

That being said, if you are communicating with your housemate's boyfriend via AskMeFi, I think it's time to get yourself the fuck out of Dodge and find a new housemate. That level of passive aggression can rarely be turned around, in my experience.
posted by CharlesV42 at 11:27 AM on October 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


The Boyfriend again!

I'm very pleased with the direction the discussion has turned since my last post. There have been several constructive contributions such as "DO NOT make this about her BPD", "reject and oppose being bullied and harassed" and anitanita's discussion of the difficulties of finding out what the "real" problem is, and others. I hope Severin doesn't think I've derailed anything

I'm actually on good terms with the poster (Severin), and we had a good chat about the situation. I am very happy that he is in her life, and he is very supportive to me when my girlfriend is angry with me. I didn't come online to defend my girlfriend, but rather to try and stimulate more constructive discussion. We all know Severin is going through a difficult time at the moment. The question is not to sort out who is right or wrong (which is what the posts prior to mine were primarily about), but rather what is likely to turn a difficult situation into a happy one. My girlfriend and Severin have been friends for 15 years, and I know the poster cares about her.

I agree "it's not Severin's responsibility to make her feel 'cared for and reassured'"... he doesn't have to do anything. I just think it's a good response to the situation that will improve their relationship. I also think it's good for him to talk about how it makes him feels when she is bullying him. (This works better than setting strict boundaries, because "bossy" behavior turns off her empathetic side.)

Also, just to clear some things up:
* I'm in a long distance relationship and in different timezone.
* My girlfriend made up the bit about me being concerned about getting cold sores. (Or perhaps she misheard me? Skype can muffle things at times!)
posted by happy2b at 2:16 PM on October 3, 2009


Anitanita's discussion deserves some attention. The point that it can be unwise to say (implicitly) "you're not really angry at X" is well taken. So, I'll go into a little more detail into my approach when she's angry.

When she's angry, it's usually because she feels invalidated. That is, she feels like someone is telling her that her world view is unacceptable. But, because she is unsure of herself, her anger doesn't surface until she feels justified in being angry... when there's a "socially acceptable reason" (in her view) for her to be angry. This makes it difficult, because when she's angry, it's hard to know what she's angry about.

So, when she gets angry with me, I usually first start out "validating" her immediate concern (in this case, cold sores). The point isn't to agree with her, but to signal that you care about how she feels: rather than assert that you can see whoever you want, you could instead offer to keep separate piles of washing up in the kitchen to minimize transmission, buy separate glasses, or whatever. The details don't matter, it's more about making her feel like you are taking her seriously. If on the other hand, I defend myself, assert boundaries, and so on, things tend to spiral out of control. (She rarely becomes abusive before this point.)

After things are resolved on the "trigger" issue (which usually happens in less than 5 minutes), I ask "is there anything else on your mind?" or "is there anything else you are angry about?" At this point, she will often have a better idea of why she's angry -- although other times, she will just have more "trigger" issues to talk about. It's hard for her too!

Once I've found out what she's really angry about, the chances are is she will realize that the trigger issue (cold sores) wasn't the real problem, and that she was really angry about the state of the kitchen. I can get as much herpes as I like, as long as I wash the glasses properly. (Well, that works for Severin, because he doesn't want to kiss her!)

This type of communication requires a lot of patience, and I can understand why many people find it difficult. On the other hand, I don't think this is something that's peculiar to BPD. For instance, I think this is a major theme in John Gray's "Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus" book, which evidently struck a chord with many people.
posted by happy2b at 2:33 PM on October 3, 2009


You are trying to be reasonable with an unreasonable person. You could've come home in a full HAZ-MAT body suit and she would've been pissed about that. Find your Zen and try not to worry about her wackiness.

She'll probably feel bad about being mad at you and try to be oddly intimate in a little while anyway, so don't stress about it.
posted by kathrineg at 3:50 PM on October 3, 2009


A quick comment over breakfast as I pour through the plethora of comments (I'm up to comment six or thereabouts) happy2b is my housemate's girlfriend..

Okay... reading on..
posted by severin at 3:52 PM on October 3, 2009


happy2b: "I don't think this is something that's peculiar to BPD."

Yes, the fact that you have to do certain things or she becomes abusive IS peculiar to BPD and is not normal.

happy2b: "She's had people her whole life tell her that her concerns are wrong, and telling her what to do. (This appears to be a common cause of BPD.)"

No, sorry, the cause of BPD is not known and the theories about it don't consider people "telling [them] what to do" to be a major, discernible factor in the development of the disease. Nor is the OP responsible for the development or worsening of her BPD. Nor are we.

happy2b: "Would any of you really treat people you care about in such a "cold hard" way?"

Well, yes, those of us with loved ones who have BPD have to do a lot of things, and frankly, you don't live with her and even you admit she can be abusive. You are victim-blaming and it's not pretty.
posted by kathrineg at 3:55 PM on October 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


happy2b: "If on the other hand, I defend myself, assert boundaries, and so on, things tend to spiral out of control. (She rarely becomes abusive before this point.)"

This is not a healthy way to interact with someone and OP, you should never take advice that suggests that you are WRONG for defending yourself or maintaining your boundaries, or that you must do so to avoid abuse.
posted by kathrineg at 3:58 PM on October 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Whilst it's true that I've been friends with my now housemate for about 13 years, during these time she's kept almost every grievance she's had about me to herself. It's only been recently (since moving in) she's started to raise her grievances. I'm now struggling to adopt a very different mode of communication with her...not easy given how long she's held in her problems, and the sudden change. There may be some over-correcting effects at play, too.

I've had a few discussions with happy2b about the approaches I should take. The approach of: trigger identification --> validation --> asking if there's anything else bothering her, is an approach I haven't tried yet, and it takes a lot of getting used to...not to mention emotional energy in putting up a thick face to things like the cold-sore incident.

My concern is that when situations like this arise:

* It makes me doubt myself...I tend to rationally analyze what she's saying, then think "am I wrong?" ...I've spent about 2 hours or so googling cold-sores, making an askmefi post, and emailing happy2b. It's an incredible drain on my time, energy and, I hate to say it, self-esteem.

* I feel as if I live in an emotional minefield. Benign things that I do, often cause her to be irrationally angry with me and, even if I am able to identify them as "trigger" issues, this does a strange thing to my mind. I start becoming very mindful of my every action, watching what I say, and wording my thoughts very, very carefully. This is not a good mind-state to be in, and not good for my general personal development

* I subconsciously become less respectful of her opinions. Quite often she will argue out a case (eg that the cold sore risk was non-trivial and that I shouldn't go to my friends house), and I will investigate it and find out that she was wrong. When this happens regularly, my subconscious opinion of her to be able to construct basic logical arguments diminishes. This means that in general conversations, I subconsciously tend to take her viewpoints less seriously, and this, of course, is terrible for her BPD.

* I feel as if I have to take extra care in all aspects of my life. E.g., if I were to invite a friend over, my instinct reaction is now "would my housemate be okay with this?"

I'm prepared to give happy2b's suggestions a try. Maybe it's possible to be able to deal with these trigger issues and through them, the underlying issues, in a way that doesn't drain my time, emotional energy, esteem and social life too much.
posted by severin at 4:45 PM on October 3, 2009


A concern I have about the identification --> validation --> bigger picture solution to solving these trigger issues is that one has to be very careful about what is being validated. I think that the feelings should be validated (eg, "I can understand how you feel this way"), but I think one runs the risk of validating the viewpoint. E.g., when my housemate raised the cold-sore issue when I returned from my friend's house, she was stoic in her viewpoint saying: "my boyfriend agrees that it's a valid concern". My instinct response was "he was irresponsible for saying that, because it is not a valid concern".

The problem I find with the validation method, is that it must be done with utmost care so not as to validate a paranoid viewpoint. (A point that I will relay to happy2b).
posted by severin at 5:15 PM on October 3, 2009


Okay, so the question is where to go from here. My instinct is to put up boundaries and have zero tolerance for any kind of behaviour that will unreasonably and negatively impact my quality of life. However, I think that although this resonates much more closely with my personality, it may not work in this situation.

Another option is to move out. I've only just moved in, and it would be a huge hassle to move out again, especially considering my financial situation and the amount of other things on my plate right now.

I am prepared to try happy2b's solution at this stage.
posted by severin at 5:29 PM on October 3, 2009


Happy2b, it sounds like you have identified strategies that resonate around addressing conflict with your girlfriend. Personally, I can entirely see how she would appreciate your approach.

But the least generous interpretation of what you are suggesting can be construed not as communicating to her the way women communicate, but communicating with her like she's a child, regardless of gender.

I understand that Severin has the capability to do this: to be accused of something (bringing illness into the household), but to respond by recognizing that her anger on this topic might be a mask for anger on another topic, and simultaneously to self-sooth his own defensiveness, to use validating language, to give her space to identify the actual issue, to address that issue and respond to it, and move forward.

But (admittedly, worst interpretation here) that's how you treat kids. A two year old is angry about not being able to get a ball or ice cream, they don't know to express that, and respond by hitting the table or their little sibling, and the parent steps in to validate the feeling of frustration or anger by verbalizing it, and helps the child move through it.

I can't claim to know the details of the Venus/Mars book, but I think we all - not just women - want to feel listened to and taken seriously. But it doesn't sound like you (Happy2b) are talking about a communication style, but a lack of communication skill on your girlfriend's part. She lacks the ability to self assess what really bothers her. She responds by picking on something else. Reasonable defense/new data on the part of the other person doesn't make her self reflect on the accuracy of her statement, but instead makes her feel invalidated. At some point her language can become abusive.

In short, it's kind of all about her. And I think in situations like this, where Severin is asking about how to handle it, everyone here is saying: you handle it by treating her like she is an adult and model healthy communication behavior - with facts, boundaries of not getting sucked into drama, not being abusive, focusing on the behavior, not the person, etc. In short, he invites her to 'step up' her communication game. The least generous interpretation of what you are describing is an invitation for Severin to step down. To not hold her accountable for her behavior. To not call her out on it. Instead to sort of 'work' around it, rather than address the fact that she's dangling a straw man argument in front him because she's feeling like her boundaries have been crossed on some other point. So neither models healthy communication skills. He just manages her unhealthy communication style. But isn't friendship not just about accepting people for how they are now, but always appreciating and supporting them to grow into the everything they have the potential to be?

Everyone wants to feel validated. But if she's upset about X and manifests that by picking on Y, Severin shouldn't have to try to suss out the Y or take extra drama about the X, regardless of how much he cares for her - and it sounds like they both really care about each other.
posted by anitanita at 5:32 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


[comment removed - happy2b, you sort of need to ask your own question and not totally monopolize this one.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:58 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


We all know Severin is going through a difficult time at the moment.

NOT THE POINT. Not the point.

Neither should Severin have to treat his roommate the way her boyfriend does.

Severin, I don't think you did anything wrong. And no, you will not have a cold sore outbreak from being at your friend's home.
posted by liketitanic at 10:22 PM on October 3, 2009


Thanks everyone for your comments. Really very appreciated. It's a real tough time for me at the moment, not just in this situation, but in a few other similar situations that have happened since I've moved in. It's good to read so many people sympathizing with what I'm going through, and having the same thoughts, too.
posted by severin at 5:46 AM on October 4, 2009


I grew up with a bipolar mother, which is not exactly BPD but can definitely have you wondering "am I wrong here? am I the one that's crazy?" Someone told me once that "you can't use reason with an irrational person" and that's stuck with me. I appreciate how difficult this situation must be, given that you've known your housemate for many years, but please try to keep your head above water and not get sucked into her irrationality. You don't need TWO irrational people in the household.

I don't have BPD or bipolar, but I do have my own irrational fears, and my husband is good about not validating them. He understands that I *feel* afraid, and reassures me, but he does not pretend that my "reason" for being afraid is valid. He'll say "I understand you're afraid, but here's why it's unreasonable." And then he pretty much stops listening to my irrational babbling - and you know what, it helps me stop doing it.
posted by desjardins at 6:47 AM on October 4, 2009


Unfortunately, BPD gets worse with intimacy--the more intimate you are with someone (moving in with them vs. just being friends) the more it rears its ugly head. So this makes a lot of sense even though you weren't having problems with her before.

Make sure you keep lots of contact from people outside of the situation who are sympathetic to YOU, not to her. It will keep you sane. Stay out of the house as much as you can. Refuse to engage. If it gets bad, store your valuables elsewhere.
posted by kathrineg at 9:45 AM on October 4, 2009


severin , I wouldn't really ask happy2b for advice on how to deal with this. He's not an honest broker and besides, look how he wants to deal with her:

"If on the other hand, I defend myself, assert boundaries, and so on, things tend to spiral out of control. (She rarely becomes abusive before this point.)"

He thinks a perfectly fine way of dealing with this is to shut up and got walked on so you don't get "abused". happy2b might be happy living this way, but you clearly aren't, and you shouldn't get sucked into enabling and validating a crazy person because of their pressure.

My instinct is to put up boundaries and have zero tolerance for any kind of behaviour that will unreasonably and negatively impact my quality of life.

This may not be the easiest way to go about things, but it will at least protect you, and not let your abusive roommate hurt your self-esteem anymore. But you won't be free until one of you moves out.
posted by spaltavian at 10:16 AM on October 4, 2009


Severin, I think the question is what strategies work for you? What do you feel comfortable with? Happy2b has found a strategy that works, and one that it is worth it for him to employ. One that his girlfriend appreciates. That's a good thing. It sounds like you just need to decide what works for you, whether it be that strategy, or you come to some sort of separate peace.

I think it's all negotiable - there are probably things that you do that annoy her - either things around the house, or how you communicate. Can you ask her what she wants? For example, perhaps before hitting her with all the 'facts', she just wants you to repeat her concern to her to shows that you understand it.(just thinking about the being validated). I imagine that's just a good idea in general to determine if you clearly understand the concern.

I suppose if I was in your shoes, I would reflect on if there was some way I have 'shut her down' when she tries to bring the first issue to the table (say the dishes). Therefore the dish thing just festers, and bad feelings mount and by the time it gets to the cold sore issue it's a triple whammy: it's the cold sore issue, and the dish issue, and the fact that I don't listen, because I cut her off, or belittle her concern, or become abusive.

Assuming that isn't the issue, lots of good friends tangle with how they are going to live together when they begin to live together, but I think many times it works out. I once worked in the same small physical space with a very good friend, and while there were some true fun-times to the experience, it quickly became clear that the whole different way we define 'clean office' or 'acceptable work music' entirely got exacerbated by how different our tolerance level was for conflict. I addressed an issue every time in the moment, which made me feel like a nag, and I misconstrued his lack of pointing out my issues as him not having any problems with me - when in reality, it was just that he had a higher tolerance level, and let (a lot of) things slide. It was made worse by the fact that we thought we knew each other pretty well, so our guards weren't up, and we didn't mentally prepare for the fact that we'd still have shit to deal with. But we're still friends, because we rallied, and got over the initial bumpiness by talking, talking, and talking until we got sick of it, but also until we got less sensitive to the topics, and had enough time pass so that new goodwill grew as well.

In short, just because this feels like a situation you don't need doesn't mean it's a death blow. It doesn't mean that you can't live together, happily. It could just mean you need to keep talking about what bothers you and slowly hash it out. The friendship you had before is the lubricant that makes it worthwhile to go back to the table, have a meal, and both hear and share your different perspectives. The "Yeah, right now she's annoying the shit out of me, but remember that time we had that great time at last year's halloween party? And who could forget those three months she listened to me complain about my ex?" -putting-things-in-perspective strategy will go a long way right now.

Still sending you goodluck!
posted by anitanita at 11:15 AM on October 4, 2009


Yeah, I will pour through the comments in the next few days. Thanks for all the suggestions. It's now quite a few days' after the event and it's still a significant issue. I'm trying to finish a major deadline, and can't seem to process the suggestions right now.

I don't know what to do. Today, yesterday and a few day's before, my housemate told me that my trying to state the risk was zero, was indicative of "absolutist" type beliefs, in that I tend to think in absolutes. That I'm not open to new ideas, am not intelligent, and that I just go along with the mob, without having any orginal thoughts of my own. I think these comments were brutal, and it's not fun living with someone who regularly says those things.

Her comment about me just going along with the mob came in response to me trying to point out that many other people share my view that the chance of getting oral herpes from a cold sore which has long since healed was negligible. She said that instead of going to a professional medical source, I just went with the mob.

My gut feeling is that she's being paranoid...although happy2b seems to agree with her that her concerns about contracting herpes are rational...I talked to him for a while over this one, but we didn't reach any kind of agreement. At any rate, I tried to find a source which definitively says that the chance of contracting herpes diminishes when the cold-sore has disappeared, but I couldn't find one. I thought perhaps I should actually get a few medical opinions...but, I dunno...it's my world view that if someone has a hypothesis that is different from commonly accepted viewpoint, the onus should be on that person to do the investigating.

One other thing is that, in these discussions, I told my housemate that I thought I may have had a cold-sore as a kid, and this kicked off another round of argument. There was talk of her getting her own cutlery and so forth to which I said that if it came to having separate cutlery, I'd move out. Anyway, I called my parents and they said that they couldn't recall me having a cold-sore as a kid, but couldn't recall because cold-sores are so minor, anyway!

Anyway, this is just venting...I'm feeling rather scattered at the moment, about this, and a number of problems like this...and I'm not in a position to think clearly about a solution. I'll check this thread again after I've handed in my assignment (Friday), and hopefully I'll have a much clearer head.
posted by severin at 10:27 PM on October 7, 2009


oh, severin, I feel for you, and I hope you can trust that I have your best interests at heart when I say : You are not going to win this argument, with her, ever. Stop having it. Refuse to talk about the cold sore issue. It's done, it's over, you've already been to your friend's house, you can't undo that, and if roommate was going to be "exposed" to your "germs" then it's already happened.

I know it must be hard to live in this situation, but from an outside perspective, this is sheer insanity, and you're starting to slip into it yourself by even discussing this absurd issue with your parents. Please don't spend another minute of mental energy on this nonsense. It can do nothing but bring suffering to you.
posted by desjardins at 7:47 AM on October 8, 2009


Hi everyone.

I don't think anyone is reading this post anymore, but for anyone randomly checking back, I did eventually move out.

I want to thank everyone for their posts here. It was a truly awful time for me. The cold-sores thing was just the tip of the iceburg. My ex-housemate also accused me of sexual harassment and domestic violence, over very benign things. She threatened to call the cops on a number of occasions, then used threats of legal action to negotiate a better deal for herself re me moving out.

Reading these posts (and listening to my friends) provided a strong counterpoint to many of the things that my ex-housemate did, and especially to happy2b's staunch defense of her behaviour.

Thankyou all.
posted by severin at 11:30 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


severin - I'm really happy to hear that you are out of an awful situation. You did the best you could in a bad circumstance. Forget about her and happy2b.
posted by 26.2 at 10:51 AM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Glad you're out severin! Good luck to you.
posted by spaltavian at 8:04 PM on December 14, 2009


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