Freeloader or soft partner?
September 22, 2008 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Should I put up, shut up, or get over the fact that my partner continues to feed our roommate who never cooks for us?

My partner and I have had roommates for the last few years. We have often had university exchange students, partly because we enjoy having different people to stay and partly because then you know they're leaving after five or six months. We have always worked on the understanding we may share the occasional meal but we don't want to share food, that everyone should roughly take turns at buying common household things like toilet paper. We split the rent and bills three ways (it is a three bedroom house).

Our latest roommate is another exchange student (from Northern Europe). In the roommate's first few weeks in the house, I felt that I made an effort - cooking a welcome dinner on the first night, offering drinks and a few other meals. Nearly three months later, I never feel like offering anything, as the roommate has not ever cooked, offered to cook, nor cleaned up after we have cooked and shared a meal. The roommate did cook one meal (for their friends) and shared it with my partner while I was away on business. My partner continues to regularly (1-2 times a week) offer the roommate dinner, and I resent this.

In general, I buy more of our groceries than my partner. While not poor, we are trying to save money, and I see that third portion as being the lunch I could have taken to work the next day.

I feel like I am being made out to be the 'bad guy' when I complain to my partner when they offer dinner to the roommate. However, I feel like I pull more than my fair share in both monetary and effort terms around the house, and shouldn't have to subsidize someone else in either.

I feel like the roommate is taking advantage of us (as I write, the roommate just got up and took their bowl out to the dishwasher, but didn't pick up our dishes right next to it, after my partner cooked dinner). I think the roommate has an attitude that they can get away with not doing things as a result of their nationality - the roommate said, in relation to their work placement, that if it involved doing things they didn't know how to do or didn't want to do, they would 'play the their nationality card'.

I think the roommate will leave in January when they are due to return home.

Should I just put up with this? Is the roommate's interpretation of 'sharing the occasional meal' reasonable? Is there a good way to explain to my partner that I feel that if it isn't reciprocated after three months that it is freeloading?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't think you should try to change your partner's generous nature, and let them cook for the roommate as much as they want. What you're really asking is if it's okay for you to put "MINE" labels on the food you buy so the roommate doesn't eventually get it when your partner cooks it. That's entirely up to you.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 7:43 AM on September 22, 2008

Straight up tell him - in a friendly assertive fashion, that starting tomorrow he is expected to chip in for food - and specify the amount. Be kind, courteous and tell him how much you like having him as a roommate but that this is the new rule and he's expected to abide by it.
posted by watercarrier at 7:45 AM on September 22, 2008

PS- if you feel a tad uncomfortable with my suggestion, you might start out with *with rising food costs.....*
posted by watercarrier at 7:47 AM on September 22, 2008

You should let your partner do what s/he wants, and you should try to make room in your head for the idea that there could be reasonable reasons for doing this. Some people really feel it's just wrong to eat in front of someone without offering them food (I'd put myself in that category). They may be doing their own wrong thing for not reciprocating, but that wouldn't make me feel right about not sharing.

You could discuss with your partner how you personally can avoid subsidizing this person (the "I buy more of our groceries" part) and/or how the two of you can recoup that money as watercarrier suggests or buy large hints like "sooooo, when are you going to cook us dinner?"

A question about how your views on money will play out over the long term: if you two end up deciding to raise a child and s/he stays home with the kid while you continue to work, or if for some other reason you end up contributing more, are you going to expect to have final say on all decisions about how the household's money is spent?
posted by salvia at 8:01 AM on September 22, 2008

or buy by large hints

(Though wouldn't be nice if you could occassionally buy a hint?)
posted by salvia at 8:03 AM on September 22, 2008

Isn't this really more of a partner issue? If your complaints make you feel like a bad guy, maybe set some time aside to talk with your partner about the concerns you've laid out here: budgets, etc. Clearly your partner doesn't care about providing free labor once in a while but if you are picking up the food tab your concerns are valid.

Also, a direct "Hey, how about some help with the dishes" may be in order to the roommate, if you haven't tried that.

Alternately, when you serve dinner you can fill your bowl, your partner's bowl, and a take-out bowl that goes in the fridge for lunch the next day. Or, you can buy/prepare less food at each meal so you only have two servings.
posted by mikepop at 8:03 AM on September 22, 2008

This is kind of a non-problem in several ways:

1. It sounds like your partner is very generous.

2. Your roommate may not even realize that he should reciprocate. Sometimes people are clueless. That doesn't mean he/she is purposefully taking advantage of you.

3. You should feel proud that you and your partner are in a position where you can provide a friendly meal to a roommate a few times a week. Not everyone can do that.

4. If the worse thing this roommate takes from you is a free meal, consider yourself lucky.
posted by wfrgms at 8:04 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

The moment you start to resent a person, you become his slave. He controls your dreams, absorbs your digestion, robs you of your peace of mind and goodwill, and takes away the pleasure of your work. You cannot take a vacation without his going along. He destroys your freedom of mind and hounds you wherever you go. There is no way to escape the person you resent. He is with you when you are awake. He invades your privacy when you sleep. He is close beside you when you drive your car and when you are on the job. You can never have efficiency or happiness. He influences even the tone of your voice. He requires you to take medicine for indigestion, headaches, and loss of energy. He even steals your last moment of consciousness before you go to sleep. So, if you want to be a slave, go ahead and harbor your resentment.

Is it apparent that this resentment has led you to unhappiness and futility? Have you indeed, squandered away many hours reliving this seeming injustice? Are you angry? Do you realize that your life is frozen in time if you continue to harbor such feelings? Do you realize the power over your life that you have given this hate, anger, and resentment?

Is it worth it? Ask yourself, what was my part in this situation and how am I at fault as well? Where am I perhaps also wrong?

The first thing you will see that becomes apparent is that this world and its people are often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong is as far as most of us ever get. The usual outcome is that you will figure out that people will likely continue to wrong you, that you will continue to be on the short end of the stick, and you will therefore continue to stay pissed. Sometimes it turns to remorse and then you will even be more sore at yourself. And the more you fight and try to have your own way, the worse matters get.

Hopefully, eventually it will become plain to you that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. The wrong doing of others, fancied or real, has the power to actually ruin your well-being.

People who wrong you are perhaps a mixed up mess with their own very serious problems. Though you do not like their symptoms and the way they distribute them to you, try to understand their imperfections, and if at all possible forgive them for being that way. Realize that they, like yourself are far, far from perfect and likely to remain so. When you can forgive them for being just one more bozo on that bus of life, you can begin more healthy communication that may lead to mutual resolution.
posted by netbros at 8:05 AM on September 22, 2008 [64 favorites]

What's the financial status the roommate? Are they struggling to make ends meet, or are do they have money and just choose to not spend it on food?

If it was me, knowing they'll be gone relatively soon, I'd just suck it up. For most things, it doesn't cost very much at all to cook an extra portion. Or, don't leave nice things for them to eat.

Example: you're having grilled chicken breasts for dinner. Cook three. One for the two of you, and a third for lunch tomorrow. But also cook up plenty of extra green beans and rice as sides. After dinner, pack your lunch and label it. The roommate can eat the extra beans and rice. Costs you what, 30 cents?
posted by gjc at 8:08 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you spoken to your partner about this? Have you spoken to the roommate about this?

If not, you need to. "Complaining" doesn't count. Explain how you feel about it. Ask the other party how they feel about it. Establish what it is that both parties really want from the situation. Work out how both parties can get what they want.

So for example...

You: Partner, I feel that Roommate is not pulling their weight, you are being taken advantage of by cooking all the time and doing extra washing up, and we both are spending more than we would like on groceries.
Partner: Sure, but I enjoy feeling hospitable and I would feel rude now to stop cooking for Roommate. I don't mind doing extra cooking and dishes at all, and besides, have you tried Roommate's cooking? It's revolting.
You: So is there a way we can spend less on groceries and still have you feel hospitable?
Partner: Maybe we could have a word with Roommate about contributing towards the grocery bill.

posted by emilyw at 8:09 AM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

How about, the next time your partner cooks dinner, saying that you'd love them to make you some their nationality deliciousness?

I wouldn't ask them to chip in for groceries - for me it kind of cheapens the whole generosity, and it would be better to just not offer - but another strategy might be to set up the cleaning up as part of the offer. "You hungry? Ok, I'll make us all some food, if you'll wash up!" Who knows, they might even realise the whole picture from this.

Most important is talking to your partner. I used to share with a couple, one of whom did this a lot, and while I reckoned some people took advantage, the rest of us did our damnedest to reciprocate and loved her for the generosity. If your partner's ok with it, at least get the roomate to clean up.
posted by carbide at 9:02 AM on September 22, 2008

I feel like the roommate is taking advantage of us (as I write, the roommate just got up and took their bowl out to the dishwasher, but didn't pick up our dishes right next to it, after my partner cooked dinner). I think the roommate has an attitude that they can get away with not doing things as a result of their nationality - the roommate said, in relation to their work placement, that if it involved doing things they didn't know how to do or didn't want to do, they would 'play the their nationality card'.

I think you're talking yourself into an awful lot of seething resentment that could probably be resolved by just asking for some participation. "Hey, Foreign roommate, can I get some help with the dishes over here? Generous Roommate cooked -- the least we can do is clean up, right?!"

Tell Generous Roommate that you don't want to be all cranky -- since Generous Roommate doesn't mind the sharing, perhaps Generous Roommate could ask Foreign Roommate why she never cooks. Perhaps Foreign Roommate feels that using your stuff is an imposition. Perhaps Foreign Roommate doesn't really like to cook at all. Who knows?
posted by desuetude at 9:38 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you've two separate issues.

The first one, the biggest one, is getting on the same page as your partner. You say you've been made to feel like the bad guy when you complain to your partner. The two of you need to sit down and talk this out and figure out a compromise position.

The second thing is the roommate issue. Nowhere do I see that you've made your expectations about guest behavior clear to the roomie - they may not realize that you're expecting them to help with cleanup and reciprocate cooking. What if they can't cook?

You could talk with your partner and agree on your mutual expectations. "Hey, can you help with cleanup?" is a simple direct request that you can follow up on. Or before dinner, "If Partner cooks for us, will you help clean up?" If the roomie doesn't know what you want, because you haven't told them, no wonder they're oblivious --- and you're seething.
posted by canine epigram at 9:49 AM on September 22, 2008

Just goes to show that there are jerks of every nationality. There's really not much to be done except have a talk with your partner and then your roommate. If your partner isn't on board, then you may want to drop it, unless it's really burning you up. Personally I'd settle for cleaning up afterwards. People who don't usually cook are probably not the ones you'd want to make meals for you. And don't buy the "Well in my country we do X" bullshit. Being a good guest/housemate is pretty universal.
posted by electroboy at 9:49 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Set down the rules of the household so things are clear and no hard feelings felt. If he's a guest - he's exempt from paying unless he offers. If he's a roommate and he already is paying some of the costs including rent - then paying for his food shouldn't be that much of a stretch.
posted by watercarrier at 10:04 AM on September 22, 2008

Am I the only one annoyed by the lack of gender pronouns in this question?

Anyways, first of all, gifts are given without any expectation of getting anything in return, so it's disingenuous to use that against your roommate. If you don't feel like he's pulling his weight, then, yeah, you should just talk to him about your expectations (in a friendly, non-confrontational way, obviously).

But I have a feeling that there's something else about your roommate that bothers you, otherwise this would be a problem solved with a 30 second conversation (this comes from experience).
posted by mpls2 at 10:07 AM on September 22, 2008

Doing something for someone with the unstated desire that they reciprocate is natural and normal. Doing something for someone with the unstated expectation that they reciprocate is foolish.

That said, how much does that extra portion really cost you on a monthly basis, and is that amount of money really worth getting upset over? Is it worth "resenting" your partner over? Are you sure there's not something else in play here?

Someone who was jealous of the interaction/camaraderie between their partner and their roommate might make similar complaints as the ones you've raised, for example.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:19 AM on September 22, 2008

The moment you start to resent a person, you become his slave.

This is true. And look how you are already controlled - look at the amount of time you spent writing a post about this tiny little issue. Look at how you are angry at your partner, feel taken advantage of, you even bring their nationality into the issue.

All of this over a few dinners.

Which it really isn't about - it's about trying to control what your partner is doing. It's about feeling dissed because your partner doesn't agree with you and continues to feed the roomate after you voiced your dissent. I feel very sorry for your housemate.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:33 AM on September 22, 2008

netbros advice upthread should be posted to every AskMe involving human beings ever. Well done sir.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:36 AM on September 22, 2008

source for some of netbros' comment
posted by olya at 11:09 AM on September 22, 2008 [4 favorites]

Seconding watercarrier's forthright comment.

I don't agree that resenting is in itself bad because it's an indicator that something isn't working and effort needs to be make for there to be constructive change, if possible. Premature forgiveness, without trying to work things out, letting something go which has caused one repeated discomfort over time, without attempting to work it out mutually seems unhealthy to me.

Confrontation is not comfortable but that doesn't mean it cannot be productive.

It's not just Northern Europeans who can take advantage. I don't think that kind of selfish behavior is a national trait but more of a character trait.

I suggest speaking your mind simply and directly to both your wife and the housemate.
posted by nickyskye at 12:23 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is so easy, if you want it to be. Get a lunchbox or some lunch-specific food containers. Label, "Mr. Anon's Lunch". Ask your partner to make sure you have leftovers for your lunch before offering the excess to the housemate. Tell your partner that you're trying to save $, and want to take lunch as often as you're able. Then, divert and distract -- what are you saving for? Daydream together a little about why you're eating leftovers for lunch, this greater good. You'll leave the conversation with partner feeling like they're helping you, and feeling positive about your financial goals together.
posted by cior at 3:05 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

As pointed out by olya above, I should mention the first paragraph of my previous comment is from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as The Big Book. My apologies for neglecting the attribution.

Recognizing and discarding resentments is huge in 12 step programs. It was for me in my early years of recovery from alcoholism. In the thousands of AA meetings I attended in the first few years of my recovery, the group therapy that was available to me was irreplaceable.
posted by netbros at 6:41 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

This issue about washing up after eating, I would like offer something about myself. I am the last person who will dare to do anything in someone else's kitchen. It's silly, I know. But it is due to deep programming from my mother, near as I can tell. I can not describe how uncomfortable I am with doing more than carrying things to or from the table, in another's kitchen. eg., Recently visited in-laws, first time in over 3 years (I never left South Africa while living there). In the morning, I forgot where the spoons were, for coffee. I looked, but felt I was invading someone's privacy, just from opening drawers, even though I knew it was perfectly fine.

It has nothing to do with any issues I have over washing dishes or cooking, I'm happy enough to do either, in my own place. I don't like others helping me in my kitchen, either, generally speaking (no, not even my partner does much there). My mother-in-law is incredibly skilled at cooking, yet it is difficult for me (but I manage!) to have her prepare something when they visit us. Sometimes, I would rather pay for taking us all out, than to have to deal with my kitchen being invaded. (oddly enough, I especially hate others doing the washing up).

Just long-winded way to say, there may be more to this than any deliberate freeloading going on.
posted by Goofyy at 12:20 PM on September 23, 2008

Having been in a fairly identical situation earlier this year, (except I'm the designated cook - and there is no dishwasher so I actually had to wash a dish by hand in order to serve that jerk a meal on it!) - I would say that the following proved really simple and effective for me.

"Um, you know what, I have really come to resent feeding that asshole..."
This gives your partner a chance to give their opinion on the topic. Maybe the reply will placate you? Or even better - be exactly what you were hoping to hear! If not it gives you the chance to say "I like being generous too. But I feel like we're being taken advantage of. Do you wanna invite someone else over or just give it away to someone?" (ie. We had this for dinner last night, we saved you some because we thought you might like it....)

Because sure - a gift is a gift. But nobody enjoys having to give presents to some jerk... that they'd much rather just punch in the face. So, in summary - find out why she hasn't been bothered by it, let her know it irks you and then if necessary you can go from there.

(I cook things that have the most delicious lingering smells and have gotten in the habit of giving leftovers, I would normally just throw out, to their dog. I guess you would have thought not having to cook, wash or be treated rudely like a lowly slave any longer would be enough, but as it turns out when I've been thoroughly offended I'm a petty, spiteful bitch.) Tell her (the straight out truth) asap, don't let that resentment build...!!
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 3:31 PM on September 23, 2008

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