I freely admit I'm not good at having aggression directed towards me, so I can't tell what to do. Essentially, cultural differences are making it really hard to get along with my roommate. Please help this co-op living delicate flower (me) coexist happily with my very German roommate! Like everyone, I am a special snowflake. This is long and detailed because I'm processing as I write.
posted by c'mon sea legs to Human Relations (48 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Me: I live in a house full of "I feel" type folks: therapists, teachers, etc. I feel (ha!) most comfortable living in situations where open dialogue and non-violent communication are valued, and I actively sought this out when I decided to move in two months ago. I'm in grad school and work, so am under a good amount of stress.
My house: We share meals on a regular basis, are probably about an 8 or 9 out of 10 on a clean scale: common spaces are very clean, chores are well-established, and our house is lovely.
My roommate: German, older than me (she and the rest of the house are in their early 30s, me in my mid-20s), scientist, moved in about a month ago, so I've been here a month longer. In many ways she is great: we have rewarding intellectual conversations and can joke around in a way I enjoy. I like a lot of things about her when we're not in conflict, and she seeks me out to hang out with in a way she doesn't seem to with other members of the house. She can be very direct, terse, efficient, can feel offended by things I wouldn't think were offensive (eg being called "talented").
The problem: I don't know how to communicate with her about stressful things or problems in the community. In the past week, our interactions:
-We had a house meeting, at which she scowled at everyone, said "there was nothing good this week" when we went around the circle to say one good thing that happened in the past week, loudly expressed frustration with the balance of chores (necessitating special accommodations and a rotation schedule specific to her). She also loudly expressed frustration with the idea of chores (like taking out the garbage) where one person is cleaning up after the house, which I always thought was the point of chores. When after the meeting I asked her if she was okay, she said "don't ask me questions."
-Mid-week, she knocked on my door and we had a perfectly lovely and normal conversation about a girl she's friends with.
-Today I had three friends over to study. It went longer than I had told the house I thought it would (I anticipated 10-12, it went from 11 to 4:30), but since only this roommate was home and she was upstairs, I didn't think to check if that was a problem. If I were to do it over again, I would have asked her if it was okay that we stayed past twelve.
We spent about half our time studying outside, and when I came inside she was sweeping (her chore). I said "thank you for sweeping" and she glared at me; when I asked what was up, she explained that she found it insulting to be thanked for doing a chore. I said I got it and thanks for explaining, and she then loudly and angrily said "will you clean up after yourself?!" I was confused because I hadn't been aware I made a mess, and she (continuing to be close to shouting and with an angry affect) started talking about how the kitchen stovetop was not clean and how she didn't like that. (FWIW, I hadn't used the stove in three days and had cleaned up before). I said something along the lines of "I have a really hard time processing things when people raise their voices and seem to be angry at me. I'm happy to talk about this, but can you lower your voice?" She continued to talk/yell about the cleanliness and I asked again that she lower her voice. She said she didn't see the point of talking about this if she couldn't be angry about it, I said okay, and we ended the conversation.
A few minutes later I was cleaning up the kitchen a little and getting some water when she came in. I didn't feel great about how things ended and said something like "we don't have to do this now, but let's try to think of a way we can talk about cleaning and stressful things in a better way." This led to a tense conversation that became decreasingly tense as it proceeded, as she matched my calm tone more. We were able to clarify that a) she understands I'm not responsible for all the mess in the world and her anger was not directed at me alone, b) that she feels being asked to lower her voice is frustrating and disrespectful, c) that I need to be in a place where voices are not raised at me. I was calm and reasoned the whole time, but after we ended the conversation I had to go take a moment to tear up and take deep breaths in the bathroom before returning to my guests.
I have a stressful job and can handle myself very well around anger in the workplace, at school, whatever, but picked this home specifically because the people in it valued non-violent communication. I get a big flush of adrenaline when I'm being yelled at that really throws me off for a couple hours afterwards and makes it hard for me to focus or do work.
What should I do in this situation? How can I balance her legitimate desire to express her anger with my legitimate desire not to be yelled at? How can I address the cultural differences, if that's what's in play? I come from an activist model that values nonviolent communication and a co-op model of interacting that seems to be really different from hers. How can I happily cohabitate with someone who does not value/participate in nonviolent communication?
I really don't want, or have time for, the adrenaline rush and anxiety that comes from having tension be so vocally and physically expressed at me. If this happens again, and I think it will, what should I do differently, and what can I do to dissipate the physical reaction it provokes in me afterwards? I feel cautious about bringing our communication up again because I don't want to be in that situation again.