Roommate negotiations... ugh...
September 11, 2009 10:45 AM   Subscribe

So, I have a roommate. We were friends before living together, and for the most part we get along fine. We've had some arguments, but we seem to have gotten past them. Now I'm just feeling frustrated by some nit-picky things she does and I want to know if I should address them at all, and how not to be insulting or irritating.

Little things, like washing the dishes but neglecting to ring out the sponge (which breeds mildew and is unsanitary as well as completely disgusting-- I had been wondering why the dishes always smelled funky after she washed them) and then I find I buy replacement sponges once every two weeks. It's getting expensive and irksome, and even though I've asked her to ring them out she still leaves them and lets them rot.

She also has a tendency to stay at her boyfriend's house for days at a time, which wouldn't bother me except that it then falls to me to feed her cat. She doesn't really clean up after the poor thing either, which is simply not something I'm willing to do. Period. If I wanted a pet I would have gotten one, and when we moved in I established clearly that the pet-related messes would not be my problem.

And most recently the most irritating of all is that she eats my food. And I swear I'm not a stingy person, I actually don't mind at all that she shares food with me provided that she replaces any food that she eats the majority-- i.e. sure, make a sandwich or two with my bread, no problem, but if I buy a loaf and 3/4 of it are gone before I eat even one slice, replace it. This is not to say that she never replaces my food, and to that extent I acknowledge that she's trying to make things even, but here's where I sound like a big time female dog...

When it comes to clothing, cleaning supplies, and household stuff I don't care about namebrands. Whatever works will work for me, but when it comes to my food I am incredibly particular. I work hard to afford the brands that I choose because they taste better. She then replaces my expensive brandname food with crappy Kroger generics. I wouldn't buy those because I prefer the better brands and I'm willing to pay more for them. Clearly, she feels differently, so I end up with the short end of the stick-- paying more for the better brands but eating the crappy ones.

I've considered many things, not the least of which is letting it go-- we have only 6 months left on our lease and we know we won't be living together again after that. But is it really fair for me to put up with this for all that time? I feel like it's more and more money out of my pocket. I try to keep my special food that I really care about in one of the veggie crispers, but she still pilfers it from time to time. How can I express my frustration politely (in the form of a note preferably, as talking to her face to face has usually led to arguments in the past) without sounding like I've got a stick up my bum?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1 vote for the trusty grin-and-bear method. It's only 6 months.
posted by glenngulia at 10:49 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd let it go as best you can, but as to a couple of problems...

For the cat, does it eat wet or dry food? If dry, I'd splurge on one of those automatic feeders, so you don't have to worry about feeding it. As to the litter box, I'd put that in your roommate's bedroom if it's been more than a day without scooping/cleaning.

If you're very particular about food, make a log of what you've bought and what you've eaten. If your roommate eats some of your stuff, ask her to reimburse you (with cash, not with food equivalents).
posted by xingcat at 10:54 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you brought up the issue of cleaning at after the cat, and as a result she stayed at home more, and brought her boyfriend along to stay too, would this be more or less annoying than picking up after the cat?

(the cat issue is one I have been through before, I sympathise!)
posted by unlaced at 10:55 AM on September 11, 2009

As in all situations, I think you have to pick your battles. The food issue, that's serious, I'd be ticked off if someone was eating all of my food. I would just tell her that you're on a tight food budget, and as a result, you cannot share your food anymore (ignoring the fact that you never wanted to in the first place). You could keep the food you don't want to share in your room, even. As for the cat, that's a tough one. I like the idea of moving the litter box to her room (although I don't know if that will confuse the cat). The sponge thing, meh, I think you have to just suck that one up. Start microwaving all the sponges regularly? That'll kill the germs.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:58 AM on September 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

You need to let this shit go. If you bring it up she'll no doubt bring up 394839048302 little things you do that annoy the piss out of her.

This stuff just happens when you live with someone.
posted by bondcliff at 10:59 AM on September 11, 2009 [9 favorites]

You need to say something, definitely. All of these little things will gnaw at you, and could make the next six months really miserable for both of you.

If you want to just have one conversation about this, you're going to need to decide which of these things are the biggest problems. If it were me, it would be the non-replacement of food, and the assumption that you'll clean up after the cat and feed it. At some point when she's home (and these conversations should ALWAYS be face to face) say, "Hey, can I talk to you about a few things that have been bothering me?" Explain clearly and kindly why these things bother you (and it's usually good to take a sort of "It's not you, it's me" tone with these; e.g. "It would be really helpful to me if..."). It's very important to explain why they bother you, and not just say "Could you please not do that?"

You could also say something each time you notice something that bothers you. This is really hard to do without coming off in an unfriendly way.

Whichever route you choose, the most important part is to acknowledge any efforts she makes to change, even if she's still doing some things that are problematic.

Good luck!
posted by ocherdraco at 10:59 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

The cat and the food seem like legit concerns. I'd leave off the sponge thing because it'll make the other two issues seem equally petty/nit-picky. Buy a pack of the thinnest, cheapest sponges you can find and replace them weekly.

How can I express my frustration politely (in the form of a note preferably, as talking to her face to face has usually led to arguments in the past) without sounding like I've got a stick up my bum?

Any note is going to make you sound like a passive-aggressive, nit-picky jerk. There is simply no way to productively hash out roommate issues via notes.

Sit her down and tell her you're frustrated by two things, and that you'd like to find solutions. You don't need to convince her--in fact, don't even bother trying--that you're right and she's wrong. Just emphasize that her cat is her responsibility, and that you no longer wish to share food.

On the food issue, stop trying to find a way to share your food. Don't send any mixed signals. You need to communicate, "We have different preferences when it comes to food brands. It's not fair for me to expect you to buy expensive food if you prefer generic brands, but it's also not fair for you to expect me to eat your generic brand replacement when what I originally purchased was my preferred brand. I believe the best way to keep peace on this issue would be for us to stop trying to share food." If she argues or tries to persuade you, you can say that the two of you have tried that and it simply does not work for you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:00 AM on September 11, 2009 [13 favorites]

For the food thing, she *thinks* she's being a good roommate by replacing things, so with this your input won't seem bitchy. "Hey, I'm always really grateful when you replace what you eat. When you do, can you make sure to buy the same brand? I'm picky that way."

I think the automatic cat-feeder and the litterbox in bedroom suggestions are great for that problem.

As for the sponge, just suck it up. Be glad she does the dishes at all. Every now and then, when you're passing through the kitchen, give the sponge a good wring, just in case. Consider that effort your contribution to the dish-doing on the occasions when she does them.
posted by hermitosis at 11:00 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and when you have that conversation, you need to ask, "Is there anything I can do to be a better roommate for you?" It's a two way street.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:01 AM on September 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

Yeah, address the food issue - I think that's really the thing that's upsetting you. I've been in your position, and it sucks - 6 months is too long to have to suck it up. Drop the sponge issue, it's pretty tiny. The cat issue is potentially explosive, people can become very defensive about their pets, especially when they know that they are not providing proper care. Tread lightly on that one.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:02 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't think you should do this via notes. They tend to come off as passive aggressive, no matter how politely written. It' s impossible to avoid conflict in a roommate situation, and notes just tend to come off as snippy and conflict-avoidant. These things have to be addressed face to face.

Since this situation is temporary, but you still do have a while to go, how about picking just one of these issues? Say, the one about food. Ask to speak to her and let her know that you'd like to have whatever food of yours she eats replaced by the exact same item, because the stuff you buy costs a bit more and it's costing you money. She might get upset, sure, but if she grudgingly changes that bad habit of hers, then it will have been worth going through those unpleasant few minutes.

I'd avoid the one about the sponge. That's just one of those things that is very, very hard to change about someone. Plus, there are other issues you mentioned that seem to be more clear-cut in terms of addressing and enforcing. Because say, with the food, if she continues to replace your pricey stuff with cheap stuff you could either try to find way to store your items somewhere else that's more private, or just tell her that you are not willing to share your food anymore.

But above all, talk to her. Notes won't go well.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 11:07 AM on September 11, 2009

Tell her to buy her own food (put yours in your room if she doesn't get the message), ask her to put the litter box in her room (do it yourself if she doesn't) and let the rest go. It's six months. No doubt you annoy her too. That's probably why she's at her boyfriend's all the time.

Not to insinuate that you are anything but a lovely person, but people, especially in close quarters, are just like that.
posted by vincele at 11:07 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you want to stay friends, don't write a note. Buy a small fridge and locker for your room and store your favorite foods there. If she asks about it I bet you could probably say something like-" the elves have been getting into my stuff..." Hopefully, she'll get the message. You could follow it with something like "wanna split dinner tonight?" or some sort of friendly gesture...

I'm really sorry about the situation with the cat- I'm not sure if I could stand 6 more months of that. Can you ask her to clean the box more often without a fight over it?
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 11:09 AM on September 11, 2009

"Dear [roommate],

If you want me to pick up some [product] next time I'm at the store, please let me know before I go and I'll be happy to grab some for you. As it is, I tend to only buy enough for myself to avoid wastage. It costs [amount], and I can't really afford to replace it all the time. I know it's expensive, but [the generics] just don't taste the same to me.

Another problem I have is that the dish sponge stinks. I'd really appreciate it if you could wring it out after use. I don't think either of us want to catch something from it, and it smells vile in the kitchen.

Also, I've noticed that [the cat] is going hungry when you stay with [boyfriend]. Did you want me to look for one of those automatic feeders for you? I think they have them at [store] for about [amount].

Thanks, [you]."

I think you deserve to have a stick up your bum over this.
posted by Solomon at 11:10 AM on September 11, 2009

I think it's fair to ask her to replace anything she uses with the exact same thing, and it should go over fine if it's phrased as hermitosis suggests. I would also bring up the cat issue because 6 months is a long time for person to care for someone else's pet. As others have said, I'd let the sponge thing go, because while the other two are really concrete, I think there's wiggle room on the sponge, and it can open the door for her accusing you of overreacting. There's no reason why these have to be contentious discussions though. If you approach this as trying to solve a problem together, rather than taking her to task for being a bad roommate, this should actually go quite well. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 11:17 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone -- food is a big issue and it should be discussed face-to-face. I liked the "sorry, I don't think we can share food any more, I didn't realize how picky about brands I was until now -- thanks so much for replacing as you go but, gosh, I'm picky and on a tight budget."

Can you get one of those sponges that are kind of like netting? Those don't really need to be wrung out and can actually be pretty good. I also liked the idea about just getting a bunch of cheapies.

The pet thing is tough. She had a pet when she moved in. You knew that. But, it's her responsibility to make sure the cat is tended for and if she wants you to do it then she needs to give you a heads up. Tell her that you're totally willing to feed her cat for a few days but that she needs to tell you when she needs that. Tell her that the litter box is a major issue. You guys are just going to have to get straight on this. It's unsanitary and it's really not good for your apartment if that litter box gets unusable. I think if you'd be willing to scoop while she's gone but you need a heads up and that the box needs to be clean before she goes.

And, yeah, be prepared to make some concessions of your own in this conversation. Good luck!
posted by amanda at 11:25 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Notes are just not the way to go for roommate issues, ever. They almost always breed more resentment than they cure. (Obligatory personal anecdote about my jerky response to a passive-aggressive note.)

You need to have a face-to-face roommate meeting about the food and the cat. I'd boil it down thus:

-I appreciate your efforts to replace my food when you eat it, but I must insist that you get identical replacements for what you take. Does that seem fair/reasonable to you?

-What is your plan to take care of your cat when you are away? She needs you to care for her, and we agreed early on that responsibility for her would not fall to me.

And get a brush for washing your dishes, for crying out loud. They're more effective and don't get nearly as grody.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:26 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Solomon's note is the perfect example of why notes don't work well. All of the things in that note are phrased perfectly nicely, and if said face to face would go over just fine. But when they're left in a note, your roommate can't respond, and will likely feel overwhelmed and upset with all of the observations.

You need to do this face to face so when you say "Grocery Blah" she can say, "oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize you cared about brands so much" and you can say "yeah, I know, I'm weird like that." And then when you say "sponge blah" and suggest nuking it every once in a while she can say "Actually, you know, I'm always the one who replaces the sponge, and I got tired of doing it, so that's why it's stinky," and you can say, "oh, my bad, let me buy some new sponges." (Hypothetically speaking, of course.)

It's really important that this be a conversation and not an ultimatum. I know you say conversations have turned into fights in the past—if you weren't anonymous I'd ask you what was said in those conversations, how you approached them, etc. But given that I can't, what I'll say is this: preparation can really be helpful for this sort of thing. Find a friend (preferably one who doesn't know your roommate, so as not to spread gossip) and say, "Hey, I need to talk to my roommate about some stuff, but I want to make sure it goes well and doesn't turn into an argument. Can I bounce some ideas off you?" Make sure they know that you need to know if anything you say might rub someone the wrong way.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:27 AM on September 11, 2009

From long experience I will tell you that no matter how you approach or phrase it she won't change because she is the kind of person who acts on momentary impulse rather than thoughtfully. It's not like she finishes washing the dishes and then thinks "should I take 3 seconds to wring out the sponge like that bitch keeps complaining about? Ah, fuck her." She just doesn't think about it. All she thinks is "fuck I hate washing the dishes, yay done!" I'll tell you how you deal with this kind of thing in, oh, say a marriage: wring out the damn sponge yourself, it takes three seconds. Also sponges cost less than a dollar, this is not an issue of expense for you, it just pisses you off.

I feel your pain (I was most always on your side of these situations during my roommate years) but it's very unlikely you will get a general resolution and fighting for it will probably harm your friendship. I'd say, wring out the sponge on a regular basis, accept that feeding her cat is your only alternative to letting it starve, harass her gently to clean up specific cat messes on a one to one basis, and either get a big plastic container and room fridge and establish your own essential pantry or accept that she's going to eat your food because she's hungry right then and replace it with crap because she feels like it's all she can afford.
posted by nanojath at 11:30 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

The consensus seems to be to ignore the sponge thing, but consistently stinky dishes might put me over the edge as easily as any of these issues. I use a dish brush to avoid the smelly sponge issue completely. Getting one of those coupled with washable dish rags might be easier that trying to re-train your roommate.
As for the other issues, talk to her. Something along the lines of, "Let's have some roommate time this week where we can check in and see how things are going." And make sure to listen if she has complaints, too.
posted by deadcrow at 11:34 AM on September 11, 2009

Woah I know how that goes. Sometimes I want to strangle my roommates.

One thing that has helps is establishing what foods are common, what foods aren't. In my apartment-hold, milk, butter, lemons, low-brow beer, sundry type items, spices, and sauces are all common resources, replenish when it is low and don't get pissed when it's gone. Bread, vegetables, fruit, are ask first foods. Meat, granola bars, things in packaging, high-brow beer, cooked food, etc. are generally hands off, only eat if invited. We just laid this out one night without much fanfare. Notes and emails of this sort inevitably come off as condescending.

I sometimes get a gut reaction that something isn't fair and start to get pissed. Usually I combat this by saying hey, it's not like they're selling crack out of the place and nothing has been set on fire yet. Roommates are a gamble and an optimize situation is rare.
posted by nowoutside at 11:35 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd just suck it up with the sponge thing. The food thing is big -- others have covered it better than I could. But don't just up and move the cat box; you'll end up with a bigger situation (namely the cat going where the box used to be, or other inappropriate locations that will be harder to clean than just litter.) If you wanted to get all passive aggressive about it, clean the box, but the scooped out bits in a bag, tie it and put the bag in her room. Theoretically, for her to throw out. Not the best solution obviously, but she'll at least get the hint.
posted by cgg at 11:36 AM on September 11, 2009

Two major issues:



I would tell her that you cannot share your food. You can be nice about it, but be firm. You don't have to explain why, it is your food. If she was pennyless and starving it would be different.

As for the cat, I would just feed it and clean up after it. Pretend it is your cat. The cat shouldn't suffer because her owner is a ditz.

If she is messy, tell her it bothers you and ask her to please be considerate of your feelings about this. Don't bring up the sponge. At least she does her dishes. Microwave the sponge or get some bleach and soak it in bleachy water once a day (which is a good idea anyway).

It is only for a short time. If it this was long-term I would suggest a different tact.
posted by fifilaru at 11:39 AM on September 11, 2009

Is this the hill you want to die on?

If past chit chats regarding household issues have ended in arguments, I'd drop the issue entirely. Six months will fly by. You've already decided you'll not be roommates in the future and she stays at the bf's all the time... the ship on your household relationship has sailed.

Here is my reasoning:

A) She stays at her bf's a lot - yay for YOU! Just like not having a roommate!!

B) Sponge issue - stock up at the dollar store. Consider this kitchen item disposable after each use.

C) I love cats. Can't help you there. (I mean, geez! Feed the cat. Make friends with the cat. Be kind and compassionate to this poor creature who has been more or less abandoned by her owner. It is only for 6 months, simply consider the cat-care an investment in your positive karma;)

D) The food thing... let it go. Adjust your behavior on this issue. I know you might have to change your shopping habits for a few months (going to the store more often, buying less at a time) but the peace in your home and your heart (because people often view food issues as petty - sorry) will be worth it. Again - SIX MONTHS.


That is the most obnoxious, passive aggressive bullshit I can think of. If the litter box is smelling and awful, please do leave her a note. It is cruel to make her cat "go" in a smelly box. You would be super justified leaving her a note about this - or several, if she doesn't immediately do the right thing by her cat and you.
posted by jbenben at 11:42 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

The food and the cat are reasonable conversations. The sponge is kind of petty -- and also could probably be solved by getting some kind of draining holder for it so it doesn't sit in the water it's got in it. It won't dry as fast as if she wrung it out, but it'd probably solve your problem.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:45 AM on September 11, 2009

Can you try to think of the cat thing as the price you pay for having the house to yourself so much? I definitely vote against putting the litter tray in her room, by the way - that sounds passive-aggressive to me, and may see these somewhat small things escalate into full-scale war!

In terms of the name brands - just say "hey, that's really cool you remember to replace my food and would you mind getting the same brand next time as I'm a creature of habit and like to have the brands I'm used to." Or what about a kitty where you each put some money if you eat each other's food, plus an agreement not to eat the last of something. Do you think she would put enough money in the kitty so that you can pick your own replacements for things she eats?

With the sponges - you've tried, she's not going to change, so just get a big pack from the discount store and change them often because the dishes smelling bad thing is pretty gross.
posted by hazyjane at 11:51 AM on September 11, 2009

no notes... passive aggressive, no matter how you cut it, no matter how you intend it, no matter how you phrase it....

Deal with her by dealing with yourself.

If you want to talk face to face about it, be prepared to say directly what you are wanting and incur the wrath... stick to the topic, don't stray into confrontation territory, simply state things as fact and w/o inflection (as best as possible)...

But mostly, get over it... complain to your shrink, and chalk it up to experience (you'll need this experience upon which to draw should you ever decide to cohabitate/marry a significant other).
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 11:54 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know that these things are all bugging you quite a bit, but I think the first question to ask yourself is this: do you want to still be friends with your roommate after you are no longer living together?

How you answer that will help you shape how you deal with things over the next six months. I've had friendships ended after having been roommates. I've also been roommates with friends who were perhaps less that stellar roommates but I decided not to take the petty annoyances personally and we are still great friends to this day.

However, I totally get you on the food thing. I had this same issue with a roommate who ate my premium butter and then replaced it with crappy "spread" that didn't even qualify as "margarine." Gah. Just tell her that you are picky about your food, and please replace it with the exact same brand. I think that you should be able to manage that conversation without it devolving into an argument. If she says she can't remember the brand, does she have a camera on her cellphone? She can just take a picture of the package and then it's easy.

In the same conversation you can offer to feed her cat when she's gone, but you'd appreciate a heads-up. After all, you might decide to go away for a weekend/ have to travel for work/ get swept up in a whirlwind romance of your own- what if you disappeared for a few days? If she is not coming home for the night, she should check-in with you to make sure that you're available to feed the cat and whatever.

Sometimes conversations can feel awkward and difficult- you can acknowledge that, and even mention that it's been hard for you to bring it up because you don't want it to end in an argument, but you will feel better for airing things out a bit.
posted by ambrosia at 12:00 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree that you should talk IN PERSON about the food and the cat. Carefully, as suggested above.

I don't think that the sponge is petty. But the problem is that it is probably impossible for her to change her behaviour. She really doesn't think about it. She will try if your relationship is good and she is considerate; but she won't be perfect and it will still bother you. Try out different cleaning implements, I suggest cheap sponges because you can justify replacing them often - which is probably a good idea anyway!
posted by Gor-ella at 12:00 PM on September 11, 2009

Next time you see her eating your food - "Hey when you eat my food can you please replace it with Good Brand? I don't mind sharing at all, and I really appreciate you replacing it, I'm just very particular with my brands, and only like what I buy, so if you eat something replace it with that same brand."

Next time she goes to her boyfriend's place - "Hey how long are you gonna be gone for? I don't mind feeding kitty for a day, but if it's more than that is there a chance you can take kitty with you, or have your boyfriend stay here so the cat doesn't become my responsibility? I just want to make sure I don't neglect it by accident." Although with this one, I'd gladly feed the cat and be glad to have the place for myself days at a time.

The sponges... this is what I did with my roommate (although he'd a dude, so he doesn't get offended or start arguing)...
Me: "hey come here, smell this"
Him: "oh god, that's gross"
Me: "yep, this happens when we don't clean the sponges and things start living on them. Can you please remember to do that, otherwise we have to get new sponges all the time."
Him: "oh, sorry, alright I'll try to remember"

And the next day a new pack of sponges appeared in our kitchen, which I thanked him for, and he's been a *little* better about it. I think it's a good way of handling the situation - you show them the consequences of leaving the gross sponge without one day flipping out and going "YOU NEVER DO THIS AHHH!"
posted by KateHasQuestions at 12:02 PM on September 11, 2009

Put the sponge in the dishwasher or the laundry and get over it.

Magnet your grocery receipts to the fridge so she can see what brand and how much an item costs. Tape a note to the milk carton that says "Hey Jenny - Help yourself to whatever you need, just chuck some money in the box next to the fridge or replace brand for brand. XOXOX Me."

Feed the cat. Text her "Please come home today to change my litter box. Meow, The Cat" when the box needs changing.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:31 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stick the sponge in a little bowl or tub with some bleach in it whenever you're done doing the dishes. This will freshen it up and zap germs, and hopefully your roommate will notice.

If she doesn't, you can just dunk it quickly in the bleach after she's done and it will fumigate itself nicely without you having to throw it away.
posted by vickyverky at 12:40 PM on September 11, 2009

Sponge cleaning is easy. Squeeze it and then pop the dollar store sponge in the microwave for one minute. Be careful it'll be hot coming out of the microwave.
posted by vincele at 12:48 PM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Since you asked about how to address your frustrations politely, I encourage you to appreciate just how hard it is to engage civilly when she's about a mile past and a month from the internal line that you might have drawn on these issues.

Often people start out these 'okay we need to talk about this' conversations strong, having come up with a plan before. Some version of 'okay, I'm super annoyed, but regardless of what happened before, I am going to remain calm, state my concern civilly, and then you will acknowledge it, maybe apologize, change and we'll all get along fine'.

In the moment however, particularly if there's any deviation from the other person the 'you will acknowledge it, maybe apologize and change....' part of the plan, the person who initiated the conversation sometimes goes ballistic. And there are a couple of common ways this happens: Perhaps because the person they are speaking to (in this case your roommate) won't acknowledge the issues and instead denies what you are saying is true. Or perhaps they acknowledge it, but don't apologize, instead suggesting that it isn't a 'serious' issue and you need to 'get over it'. Or they do apologize but don't change, or they say they will change, but then revert back. Any of those possibilities can throw folks - folks trying to manage and engage politely in the face of frustration - off their game.

I think it just helps to just internally appreciate that. Because those 'mile past and month late' conversations are just charged. So acknowledge - perhaps even verbally - that this is a charged issue for you. Regardless of how frustrated you are, try to stay on message. For example, there's been some great suggestions about what to say to open the conversation. Just know that if she responds by pointing out her 6 frustrations with you - and you think 4 are super petty, don't get sucked into a verbal food fight. (That's the 'oh yeah, well if you're going to go there, what you do with the sponge is just NASTY! And......' habit) .

Instead, stay on point, and address each issue individually, regardless of how angry you feel, or perhaps your tone might get. For example, you can say, "I can see that those are issues for you, and I am happy to talk about them. Right now, can we first finish coming up with a solution for the food and cat issue? then we can discuss X and Y". In the end, if you just find yourself turning from mild mannered benjamin banner into the hulk ("Hulk... MAD!"), no matter how you try, just shut it down. THey " okay, I realize I'm really frustrated about this right now, and can't discuss clearly. Can I get back to you in 24 hours or so, to discuss further?" Repeat as many times as necessary. It's hard to 'get it all out and get over it' in one go, when there are multiple issues that have festered over time.

Good luck - these conversations rarely feel comfortable, particularly when in the back of one's mind is the thought 'Why can we just solve this by you stopping the self absorbed behavior?"
posted by anitanita at 1:34 PM on September 11, 2009

Some completely passive things:

Buy a few of you own dishes and hide them if the mildew starts to drive you nuts...urgh.

No clue about the cat issue, poor thing.

Buy a minifridge, put it in your room with your food.
posted by kathrineg at 2:04 PM on September 11, 2009

You need to let this shit go. If you bring it up she'll no doubt bring up 394839048302 little things you do that annoy the piss out of her.

Given the OP's concerns, I can almost guarantee she's a conscientious roommate.

Eating your roommate's food and giving her catshit to clean up in return are pretty much out of bounds. It's called being used.

You need to choose your battles, though, and the sponge situation seems to be lower on the list.

Just tell your roommate not to eat your food. Say you're on a budget. Or identify the foods she eats the most, and buy them together - get her to pitch in. You'll probably find yourself buying the goddamn stuff for both of you, but at least getting her to pay for certain foods will be a symbolic victory.

As for the cat, your roommate probably thinks of the animal as being "shared" between the two of you.

Perhaps set up a shared feeding and catbox schedule. You do it one week,she does it another. That way, when she leaves the house for an extended period, point out that it's her turn.

If she still wants to fuck off, just change cleaning days with her. If she still ignores the schedule, bug her for some sort of concession, like a Starbucks card or something.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:42 PM on September 11, 2009

Oh god, don't do anything without talking to her first. Don't leave a note. Don't put the litterbox in her bedroom. You cannot make these things seem not passive-aggressive, no matter what your intent is, because as means of communicating, they are fundamentally passive-aggressive in nature. Just don't.

Invite her to hang out with you one evening, a roommate bonding night or whatever. Make a nice dinner together. Maybe watch some TV. You'll feel less defensive - and so will she - if you can discuss this in the context of doing something low-key and enjoyable, rather than in the context of sitting down JUST to discuss the issues themselves. Don't spring it on her without warning - let her know that you have some stuff you think you guys should talk about - but don't act like it's a Big Fucking Deal. She'll be more accepting of your point of view, and you of hers, this way.

All the other advice here is really good - schedule the cat feeding, be honest, frame your food tastes like you've framed them here, something of a personal quirk that you realize is unusual but that you need to have respected. You can be firm without being rude or coming across as totally unreasonable, and it's worth the effort to make since in roommate situations, it's rare that one person will be a PERFECT roommate and the other one won't be. There's probably some stuff you do that she's not keen on, either. Be prepared and willing to discuss that as well.

Six months doesn't seem like a long time, but it can if you're in a miserable living situation. It's worth dealing with this.
posted by ellehumour at 5:19 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

it's only 6 months, let it go. if you CAN'T let it go, don't leave a note for chirssakes. that's passive aggressive and lame. be mature and talk to her face to face. and pick your issues. it sounds like the food is your biggest one, so go with that.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:31 PM on September 11, 2009

I say the following hoping to offer a perspective shift, as someone who has lived with many roommates:

Keep in mind that what she's doing is not intrinsically wrong. I know that sounds ridiculous, because to most people, leaving her cat to your care for days and eating your food is irritating and rude. But on the other hand, there are people who are not you who really wouldn't care, or would even appreciate her for the very reasons you find her annoying: she's not nitpicky about the sponge, she leaves for days and lets you hang out with her cat, and she's got a more communal attitude toward food. It's really just an issue of preferred living styles, which is easy to forget, especially when you're the less "easygoing" one. I myself sometimes leave dishes in the sink, and I have lived with someone of the "if you have time to eat, you have time to clean" school of thought, and they found my behavior appalling. Meanwhile, in the bathroom, they would regularly let it mellow if it was yellow, whereas the idea of urine percolating in the toilet all day completely grossed me out. Who was right? We both were.

I once dated a guy who was in a frat, and I watched as a dude SPAT ONTO THE BATHROOM FLOOR of the frat house after spraying himself in the face with pepper spray (Long story. Well, actually not that long), and then just WALKED AWAY, and nobody even blinked! And, okay, I've grown more accustomed to the idea of not flushing after peeing. But I once sat in horror as my ex proudly recounted the time that he produced a shit of such colossal size and satisfaction that he left it in the toilet all day to be admired by his frat brothers. And they admired it! They thought it was cool!!!!!

That said: dealing with these things does not have to be that big a deal. You can say: "Dude, stop replacing my food with crappy generics!" and then have a good laugh about it. People tend to become very apprehensive about bringing these things up with their roommates - I think because they're worried that if it goes badly, you still have to face them every single day. But I truly believe that 90% of roommate difficulties arise from *not* talking about these things, and instead just stewing all day long. It's awful to suspect that a roommate is secretly seething over something that they won't bring up to you, because (they justify) your crime is so terribly OBVIOUS that they shouldn't HAVE to. When really, they are just avoiding a minor confrontation. And then one day you come home and find - to use an above example - a bag of cat shit on your bed. Why in the world would that seem like a better course of action than just straightforwardly bugging her to come home and clean the damn cat box? If you must, at least warn her beforehand!

Anyway, I sympathize with the stress of living with a roommate, and the added stress of living with a roommate who's a friend. But just because she's a friend doesn't mean you're obligated to tiptoe around what's bugging you. In fact, quite the opposite - the closer you are, the more upfront you can be, because she knows you like her despite these trivialities. (What would you do if she was your sister? You'd tell her to buy her own fucking food. Because you can say those things to your sister, or at least my sister).
posted by granted at 10:26 PM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Give up on the sponge issue. I'm amazed at how many people have really specific protocols about dishcloth vs. sponge, and the use and care of it. Sponges can go in the laundry, whihc resolves the ickiness issue.

Assume the best about the roomie. Assume that roomie is simply unaware of the food issues. When you address the issue, have the most positive attitude possible. Friends are worth more than food so leave the most room for a pleasant outcome.
posted by theora55 at 11:40 AM on September 12, 2009

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