My socially awkward roommate/friend is hampering my social life. I don't know how to kindly set boundaries without really hurting him.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
(Me, female. Roommate, male. Both in 30s.) My friend/roommate of two years has some major social anxiety issues. He is a shy, introverted homebody and I am his only real local friend. He has no local family. Any other social contact is through my friends I have introduced to him, but he is always a hesitant tagalong rather than an initiator or participant.
My friend can be pretty good company. He is comfortable in our apartment and when comfortable he is a smart person with a dry, cutting wit and many interesting observations. We get along very well as roommates and enjoy having the odd dinner/movie night, to the point that I suspect we have settled into a faux-relationship (just the day-to-day stuff, with no sex or deep emotional intimacy). I think he very much likes this. I like my friend and clearly see his good qualities and often tell him so, which has had the unintended and undesirable effect of giving him enough positive interaction that he does not seem to want to seek any outside social connection. Doh!
Back in November my friend's work schedule changed to match mine. This means when my friend is not working, he is in the apartment and I have no solitary time (which is much coveted by both of us because then pants become optional and porn can be watched and whatever else one might wish to do without someone a thin wooden door away). I am an introvert myself and I wouldn't want to spend this much one-on-one time with a SO. I told my friend that we both needed to make sure to get out of the apartment on our own to give the other space, lest one of us fall victim to roommate atrocity. Friend agreed. For a month or so he popped out for a social thing with a coworker once a week, and then it stopped. He got a flat tire in January and did not get it fixed until this week (and this is a temporary repair he needs to make permanent), so he took the bus to and from work. Any other occasional transportation is courtesy of me. This means he has not gotten out on his own, but I can't really bitch at him because he does have money woes.
This is driving me a little batty.
I have made efforts to get out. Most weekdays I go for walks by myself, and I have spent time with friends, sort of sneakily on the side so he doesn't feel excluded. I want my apartment alone time so I can chill out, but even social time without roommate is a big relief.
A good friend of mine who often hangs out with roommate and I invited us to join a social group activity. The activity involves 6-9 people, most of whom I know in passing but are strangers to roommate. We've attended about 4 of these activities, at which roommate seems completely miserable, like a mouse in a viper cage. Last week he sat in a chair off to the side of the group and radiated awkward vibes. The others made attempts to involve him, but he doesn't like their approach and feels insulted. Roommate has told me that at the past couple of events he hasn't had any fun at all. Christ! He hasn't tried, either!
Meanwhile, I am making friends and want to do things with these people, who are funny and nice. Ideally without roommate, who gives every impression of being in a personal hell in their company. I am tired of checking in with roommate, making sure he doesn't feel ignored, and feeling pressure to cut my fun short to take roommate home (because I am the driver, because roommate can't afford to fix his car).
Last weekend I went out to meet a couple of them for a St. Patrick's beer. I told roommate I was going (I had to, to break away from our dinner/movie thing). Couple of days later, roommate is in a serious funk and expresses how hurt he was that he was not invited out with me, how he stayed up until 5am cleaning the kitchen because of it, and how frustrated he is with the social activity. I told him he wasn't excluded, but I did not think he would have a good time. Truth is, I didn't want him to come. I tried to straighten out some of his perceptions of people's interactions with him. Obviously, due to roommate's social anxiety, this is like bailing out the Titanic with a dixie cup.
Last night I brought roommate with me to a little movie/social thing with a couple of the activity participants. I had fun. Roommate sat in a far corner, barely spoke, gave every impression of undergoing torture and counting every minute until he could escape. I cut the evening short to take roommate home.
I am very frustrated. Roommate cannot help having social anxiety, and I am sure it is awful for him, but I am very tired of being the caretaker. Roommate is unhappy when he is included AND unhappy when he thinks he is being excluded. There is no winning.
I am planning on sitting roommate down and having a talk with him, explaining that I am going to do more social things by myself from now on, that I need my friends to be my friends and not "our" friends, and that he needs to go out, get his own friends and fix his transportation.
This "abandonment" from me is going to hurt him deeply. This will make him even less likely to find his own social opportunities, and it will give the apartment a miserable atmosphere. As an added complication, I am going to be moving far away in a few months (roommate has known since January). Roommate will definitely be on his own then, and I don't know what is going to become of him. He could easily end up homeless. This may really send him into a depression at a time when he needs to be thinking about the future.
I genuinely like my roommate/friend, seriously, when it's just the two of us hanging out we get on like gangbusters, but he is a clinger and needs some serious professional help. He definitely has access to free/low cost resources (he went in and filled out forms!), but does not aggressively pursue the matter to actually get the help. He says he doesn't know what will help him.
How should I go about talking to him? What would be the best approach? I'm looking for advice from people with social anxiety, or people who have dealt with others with social anxiety.
I don't think he's in danger of suicide, but he's rattled off some nutty plans like tossing his stuff, packing a rucksack and walking/hitchhiking/being a vagrant a la Chris McCandless.