How to pass crash course in roommate communication
October 5, 2009 12:18 PM   Subscribe

How can I ask my roomate to discuss her frustrations with me directly, instead of telling everyone but me?

My roommate, “Regina," and I are both females in our late twenties, and I moved in only a few weeks ago. I am not super great at making conversation, but try to be friendly, keep up with housekeeping, and not offend anyone with my living habits. Regina alternates between caring and not.

The situation worsened when Regina had her friends over, when her extremely outgoing friend pestered me to hang out with them. Her friend kept asking me about my family background, and other random “what’s your favorite ___” questions.

With previous roommates, I’ve tried to respect their space so I wouldn’t get on their nerves, only to have their friends loudly say, “Is that the hermit?” So I thought this might be a good way to start off.

Regina didn’t think so, and as soon as they left, got on the phone to discuss how awkward I was, and how she can’t stand me, while we were still in the same room. Apparently, I’m not doing enough housecleaning, either.

I want to make this great apartment location work out, and I am too busy to focus on finding someplace new, so it would be great if we could at least keep it civil for a while.

So my question is, do I have the right to tell her this is not okay, that this made me uncomfortable, and I would like her to stop? I'm unsure about this because it is her home too, so she can say whatever she likes in it, but I think she should tell me if she has a problem. Or must I suck it up and try to not mind?

I also need to let her know I'm tone-deaf when it comes to reading people, so I don't know what I'm doing wrong unless she tells me. As much as I know that is truly the issue for me, that conversation is always uncomfortable, so I'm not looking forward to it. What is a minimally painful way to say I am not-a-people-person, and therefore can not read her mind?

I am dreading having to face Regina & Co., even in passing, again--any other advice for dealing with losing face and moving on?

Thanks!
posted by Keysig to Human Relations (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
So my question is, do I have the right to tell her this is not okay, that this made me uncomfortable, and I would like her to stop? I'm unsure about this because it is her home too, so she can say whatever she likes in it, but I think she should tell me if she has a problem. Or must I suck it up and try to not mind?

It's your home too, and you have every right to have a roommate who will not talk shit about you (while you're in the room, yet!) but can't cowboy up to talk to you face to face.

What you say to her (nice it up if you want): Roomie - I thought we were past being in 7th grade, but apparently you feel you need to tell everyone except me what you think of me and this living situation. What can we fix about this together? If I'm falling down on my chores, apologies and I'll be better about that. But if you just don't like the way I socialize (or choose not to), then please MYOB, since we are roommates and not BFF. Okay? Okay.

Best of luck.
posted by rtha at 12:26 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Hi, I couldn't help but overhear your phone conversation. I thought things were going well so far, and if you feel like I'm not doing my part let me know what else I can do to help. By the way, it's always a little weird meeting your roommate's friends, but they seem pretty interesting, so let me know if I should give you guys space or whether I should hang out when there's a bunch of people over."
posted by downing street memo at 12:26 PM on October 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


Tell her pretty much the way you told us. Sadly, there will be no truly painless way to approach this with her. It's an extremely passive-aggressive action to loudly discuss a roommate on the phone when the roomie is in the room. If it makes you feel better, realize that the way she handled it also puts HER into the category of "not-being-a-people-person." You inform people on how they should treat you; so if you don't bring this up to her and from now on tiptoe around her, that's telling her she can (and she probably will) continue to treat you in the same manner.

Air this problem out now while you are new roommates, and perhaps things will work out fine. Ignore it, and it will snowball. At the very least, she'll know her bratty passive-aggressive tactics won't fly.
posted by Windigo at 12:28 PM on October 5, 2009


You could start by discussing YOUR frustrations with HER directly, instead of telling the everyone but her (read: the internet).

You're going to criticize her, so maybe she won't take it well. All you can do it say it politely and directly.
posted by inturnaround at 12:31 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


The only way to kill a passive-aggressive situation is to air it out. Have a talk with her about how you really want to do your part with the housework and if you guys could discuss what that is you'd appreciate it. Talk to her about how it made you uncomfortable when she was talking about you on the phone in front of you and you would appreciate it if she would tell you about any issues she may have. Tell her that you want open communication with her and you will let her know whenever you have an issue and encourage her to do the same.

And then everytime she does something passive aggressive in the future. Call her on it (by being super nice, but don't let it stay passive).

Good luck, she sounds extremely immature. I think it's going to take extra patience and confronting her bullshit for her to change the way she treats you.
posted by Kimberly at 12:34 PM on October 5, 2009


You could start by discussing YOUR frustrations with HER directly, instead of telling the everyone but her (read: the internet)

inturnaround, are you seriously comparing the two? Apples and hypercubes.

I would (and have)go right up and say, "hey..I'm really not so good with people. I know we're all adults and we're all supposed to be able to manage this at this point, but since we are cohabitating, I may need your help throwing up some flags when I'm stepping on toes, but at the same time, I'm going to need you to respect my boundaries, at the very least, keep your phone convos about me quiet and tell your friend to STFU about me when over."
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 12:38 PM on October 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


This situation sucks. No matter how communicative you are, if you just don't like each other, it's not going to get better. Move.
posted by aquafortis at 12:39 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


do I have the right to tell her this is not okay, that this made me uncomfortable, and I would like her to stop?

Sure, you have the right, but you may not want to exercise it. It sounds as if she knew you were in the room while she was badmouthing you on the phone. My read on this is that she wanted you to overhear her. She wanted to make you uncomfortable, probably in retaliation for your having made her uncomfortable by not participating in her little social group. Telling her she has made you uncomfortable is just going to let her know she hit her mark.

... I think she should tell me if she has a problem. Or must I suck it up and try to not mind

No, you can mind. Mind for a whole minute, in fact. Then let it go, because it's not worth minding for longer than that. This is not about you.
posted by jon1270 at 12:51 PM on October 5, 2009


From what you've revealed, she's going to resent you if you try to lecture her. Never put someone on the defensive regardless of where you started off. Just let it go.

You have to befriend her and get involved more with her. She's less likely to be critical of you if she can understand where you're coming from. Start off small. Make dinner together, a new recipe or maybe some simple baked desert like a clafoutis. Go out for dinner. Go for a walk. Go do something fun. And talk. Get to know what she likes and doesn't like. See if you can compromise on some things. You also have to reveal more about yourself.

There is no hard formula to this. The main goal is to find out more about her preferences. Concede what you can, find out if she can concede sometimes. But be her friend.

But sometimes, some people are just defective. Maybe they didn't get that many hugs and they're just really stubborn. Just move. Some people just don't change and they get much worse with age. Maybe they need a lot of attention blah blah. It would be easier to move than to deal with their drama. Not kidding.
posted by fairykarma at 12:53 PM on October 5, 2009


I also need to let her know I'm tone-deaf when it comes to reading people, so I don't know what I'm doing wrong unless she tells me.

This isn't a failure to read people, and I don't think you should phrase it that way when telling Regina, because it makes it sound like it's somehow your fault when it isn't. There just isn't a surefire way to know what's bothering people unless they tell you directly. You can't read minds because no one can read minds.

I'd go with something along the lines of downing street memo's suggestion, perhaps adding "it really upset me to hear that, because I am doing my best to make this living situation work for both of us. How can we make this a comfortable living space for us both?"

(I'd also discourage using the word "civil" since that seems to be human-relations code for "making a concerted effort not to kill each other.")

Whatever you do, Regina's probably not going to stop talking about you behind your back. She'll just stop talking behind your back to your face.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:14 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is the location of the apartment really worth living in a miserable situation alongside an asshole? She's shown you her true colours - believe her, don't try and change her, and find the time to move apartments.
posted by fire&wings at 1:21 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


So my question is, do I have the right to tell her this is not okay

You didn't do this right when she got off the phone? What did you do instead, discuss your dinner plans? Retreat to your room?

While it's important to be discerning when it comes to timing and tact, life is lived in real time and is completely situational. When something happens, address it. When someone does something you don't like, discuss it. If they don't want to discuss it, ask them why. This isn't being pushy or confrontational, as long as you do it respectfully. It's simply the only way you can tap into whatever is happening in the current moment and figure out to do next. It also sets a precedent for future dialogues, and that's very important.
posted by hermitosis at 1:22 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


got on the phone to discuss how awkward I was, and how she can’t stand me, while we were still in the same room.

Frankly, I would start looking for a new place today. All the answers above are fine for dealing with a rational person but the behavior you described- talking about you when you're standing right there- borders on psychotic. You will never change her, and any admissions of things you could do better will only be taken as a sign of weakness. Sorry.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:27 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Looks like you get on each others' nerves, although, personally, I think you would be an ideal roommate and your current roommate is nothing short of obnoxious.

Just approach your roommate and say you've noticed a problem, and that you want to find a solution. Use plenty of "I" statements, and don't use an "you" statements.

Say that it's probably a lot for her to think about, so agree to conclude the discussion the next day - your roommate should come prepared to discuss the problems (and have some solutions).

Then, all you have to do is make sure you know what your boundaries:

I CAN do this for you, I WILL do this for you, but I WON'T do this.

After that, do what you say you are go, definitely don't do what you say you won't do, and ignore her complaining.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:13 PM on October 5, 2009


It's bad enough when things go south when you're trying to maintain friendships in a shared household, let alone when it's in a brand new environment with a total stranger. I'm guessing that if you say something to her, she's going to be right back on the phone again yapping to her friends and making your life - in what is supposed to be your home - very uncomfortable.

There won't be any keeping it civil with Regina if she's as much of a Grade A bitch as you're making her out to be. Trust me, no matter what you do, you won't be able to please her. But that's no reason to let her walk all over you.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:35 PM on October 5, 2009


She's in her late twenties and she acts like this? I agree with the other comments that say that you should not be blaming yourself for any shortcomings or bad people skills in this situation -- it is a no-win situation and it's completely her fault. She had a bunch of friends over (did she ask you first if this was cool?) who harassed you into having an awkward conversation with them, and then she talked shit about you in front of you. She is acting like a 9th grade bully, and it's not cool.

This is the kind of thing my sister (who is a year and a half older than me) did with her friends when she was 13 and I was 11. We got past that by the time she turned 15. Why? Because it's how preteens act!

So, I agree with others who suggest moving, because she is a C U Next Tuesday and if she's made it past 25 being one, she's not going to stop anytime soon just because someone she doesn't like points out the errors of her ways.

However, if you cannot move right away, I do think you need to confront her. Do so nicely and calmly. It is of the utmost importance NOT to get emotional while you are talking to her (or anywhere you can see her). She is a bully and she will feed off your emotions like a vampire feeding off a blood bank. Keep your cool, do not get angry, do not get upset.

I really liked downing street memo's suggested intro:

"Hi, I couldn't help but overhear your phone conversation..."

But I would continue it along the following lines:

"... and I was surprised to hear that you are so upset with having me as a roommate. I would rather that we don't step on each others' toes while we're living together, so if you do not think I'm pulling my weight with housekeeping, please let me know. With regards to your having groups of friends over, I'm sorry if you felt that I was intruding on your get together. I think we are both unhappy with how that get together went over -- it seems like you think I was acting weird around your friends, and I thought it was kind of weird how your friends kept asking me personal questions. Maybe we can come to some kind of agreement about how to handle get togethers without ruffling each others' feathers?"

I think it's important to not really back down here, because it's pretty rude to have people over in a shared apartment without clearing it with your roommates and welcoming them to hang out with you (unless it is a specific event that would make no sense for you to join in, like a study group for a class you're not in). It sounds like she probably didn't do either.
posted by tastybrains at 2:53 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, Regina. You know the other day when you got straight on the phone after your friend left to spread the word about how useless your new roomie is? That was bullshit, and if you do that again, I'm out of here. And your friend can stick her favorite color straight up her arse, too. Now fuck off out of here. I don't expect I'll be able to be polite to you for a day or three.
posted by flabdablet at 4:12 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


By the way: the trick is not to have a policy discussion. You're dealing with a teenage-grade emotional manipulator, not a rational reasonable human being, and you're just going to have to continue to object vociferously to every specific piece of junior high school bullshit until she either gets a clue or leaves.

It's always a shock to encounter a genuine arsehole in real life. It takes a while before you can convince yourself that no, this person is not a fictional stereotype, this person really is just an arsehole. You have my sympathy.
posted by flabdablet at 4:20 PM on October 5, 2009


Whatever you do, you need to stand up for yourself. Show her where your boundaries are, take care of yourself. At this point, your presence in her life only serves to give her something to stomp on - so she can feel superior or whatever f-up ego rush she's getting by talking shit in front of you...

If you could angry about it, that would be great. I really like what flabdablet wrote.

If you can't get angry, I suggest any of the other more gentle reprimands, and then ignore her, as you look for a new place.

Roommates should be on their best behavior at least for the first few months. This person wants to make you feel bad, and you barely know each other. Can you imagine what she would be capable of after you've gotten close and she knows even more about you? After you've gotten to be "friends" and you've confessed a few secrets, etc?

Stand up for yourself and get out.
posted by Locochona at 4:36 PM on October 5, 2009


If you could angry about it, that would be great. I really like what flabdablet wrote.

If you can deliver that broadside with conviction but no anger, it will work even better.

People who treat other people the way Regina just treated you are shit on your shoe.
posted by flabdablet at 4:48 PM on October 5, 2009


Thanks for the suggestions. And yeah, I asked the Internet what is polite because I don't know what that is given the situation, and couldn't come up with an immediate response when she retreated to her room to continue the conversation.

flabdablet: That was bullshit, and if you do that again, I'm out of here.

If she can't be reasoned with, I think this will sit nearest and dearest to her rent-desiring heart until I can move out ASAP, and will work in some of the other fun data points.

OK, feeling foolish for wasting time agonizing about this all weekend. Thanks for providing perspective!
posted by Keysig at 7:24 PM on October 5, 2009


You don't have to explain yourself to us, inturnaround was out of line.

It's ok to play it safe with your roommate all weekend, just realize that since you're going to be changing your story (apologizing to stating how you feel) you're going to have to explain things in a little more detail.
posted by RawrGulMuffins at 11:24 PM on October 5, 2009


« Older Is it possible to get cologne ...   |  The rest of this afternoon and... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.