Can't I get it right?
January 3, 2010 4:08 AM   Subscribe

Please help me not make a social mess of my new flat.

I've just moved in to a new flat for the year. My town is a small city, and there aren't a huge amount of flats to find - and it's quite tough to find a flat that isn't either cold and damp and grotty on the one hand, or overly expensive on the other. I wasn't choosing from a lot, and i decided to move into a flat with a bunch of people I didn't know. When I mentioned to a workmate that I would be flatting with strangers, she said 'that's brave of you!' This made me pause and realise I guess that most people do tend to flat with friends, and the reason I'm not is because I just don't have a lot of friends.

Anyway the situation with my new flat is that for the first two weeks I'm staying on the couch because the person whose room I'm taking isn't moving out until mid-Janunary.

The first night I slept on the couch, one of the flatmates, who I hadn't really dealt with much, came home drunk, and was surprised to find me there. He got angry and berated me and threatened to beat me up and throw me out. He seemed to be very touchy about the flat politics, about not being allowed by the other flatmates to make decisions, so I played on that and managed to defuse the situation without violence by assuaging his prickliness. It definitely left a foul taste in my mouth, and it's made me even less comfortable about living on the couch - I mean, I'm working at the moment and it sucks not having somewhere to live - how comfortable can you be, winding down at night and staying on someone's couch? I'm not sure whether my flatmates really considered the logistics of asking me to live on the couch. And then for the situation to instantly (and I think, blamelessly in my regard), to turn slightly ugly, is really unfortunate.

So I decided to throw my sleeping bag on the bed in the room I've been allowed to store all my stuff in. It's not my room, and it's really not ideal and I'm sure if the flatmates realised it they would not be happy. But I'm also sick right now, and it seems like everything is so sloppy that I figured it was worth the risk to do this.

Earlier today the same flatmate who yelled at me when he was drunk was apparently unnerved when he came home again and I was hanging out with friends in the living room. My friends are not intimidating, and we weren't making a mess of the house either... I was perfectly polite to the flatmate, I thought I was really decent after how he treated me the other night.

Later on one of the girls came home, and told me that she thought it was presumptuous that I had friends around. As far as she was concerned, they had done me a favour in accommodating me for these two weeks, and they expected me to act like a guest. None of this had been said openly, so it left me wondering whether I have really poor judgement or whether I should be blaming the messiness or what.

In our conversation I kept my head, but I was didn't exactly agree that I had behaved poorly - there was barely anyone in the flat, over the three days I've stayed here, I've seen my flatmates three times, and it didn't feel like I was out on a limb to hang out with my friends here. I did the response irritating and unsympathetic to the difficulties of my position. Once or twice the girl told me I was 'making things weird,' when I tried to ask about what I was and wasn't expected or allowed to do. I guess there's a range of reactions, and I was closer to the 'fine! if I'm not wanted, I'll just leave!' side of things... I did go out of my way to apologise for misjudging the situation, but I wasn't effusively apologetic, and I didn't make light of the situation, which I feel someone a bit more easy-going than me might have done.

I feel like the situation sucks, and I'm not actively trying to offend these people. I do feel uneasy of their perspective of my position in the flat. And I could imagine them trying a lot harder to make me feel welcomed, and I think some people would try harder. I don't know how I would act in their position, maybe I would just feel self-righteous, maybe I would expect very little of a random stranger flatmate.

It feels so strange to make so much out of a temporary state of affairs, that will only last two weeks.

I guess this is mostly about just letting this out, but I'd also appreciate some commentary. I'm feeling kinda down, I don't feel like this situation is likely to become better. I don't want another difficult flat, I wish I didn't encounter problems in this vein so often. I don't know how to apportion blame between bad luck and bad circumstances on one hand, and my bad thinking and bad actions on the other.

I have the usual response of wanting to give up and try again, but i realise that looking for another place may also be avoiding systemic problems I can do some work on, and may be inviting further disaster by throwing myself into an environment with even shakier foundations.

I do probably over-think things. How well do people tend to get along with stranger flatmates? Is it just the case that people who tend to be bad at getting along with people are the ones who tend to wind up in stranger-constituted flats?
posted by schmichael to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"It feels so strange to make so much out of a temporary state of affairs, that will only last two weeks." Don't count on this, nothing in the next two weeks is going to change the character of the people that live there.

If you don't have a written agreement about the next two weeks, if they, in fact, let you stay there gratis, you ARE a guest, and should act as one. You shouldn't have brought friends there.

That said: Were I you, I would spend the next two weeks determining if these are people you want to live with... You can clean a dirty flat, but you can't change the personalities or habits of other people.
posted by HuronBob at 4:40 AM on January 3, 2010

It doesn't sound like this is a 'gratis' situation. At least taking into account the poster's comment about so many places being "expensive."
posted by koeselitz at 4:49 AM on January 3, 2010

I'll just point out that the flatmates I have been dealing with are staying on from last year, but it isn't their flat - and the paperwork and stuff is pretty sloppy, they don't have leases from the landlord. And it's really not common for people in New Zealand to use written agreements, as far as I know, in situations like this. They were looking for a flatmate, the situation was unusual with the room remaining occupied for the first two weeks - I thought when they said that I could stay on the couch that it was helping everyone - not doing me a favour.

It's 'gratis' insofar as i will am not paying for two weeks when I don't have a room, even though I had suggested that I should contribute something. But I really don't think of myself as a guest - and I can't see why it's wrong to consider this the place that I am living.
posted by schmichael at 5:10 AM on January 3, 2010

I spent years flatting in Australia and New Zealand, almost always with people I didn't know beforehand. In my opinion it works better than sharing with friends, because you don't go in to the arrangement with preconceived ideas about how things are going to work, and have more respect for the people you're sharing with.

Through flatshares I have met people who became my bestest friends, and people that I hope never to see again (and I'm sure they feel the same about me).

From what little you've said here: I suggest you get the hell out right away. The guy coming home surprised that you were there and threatening violence = WTF? Sounds like the other flatmates didn't communicate effectively with him. That's bad news for starters. Whether or not you were presumptuous in having people over I couldn't say, but the fact that the woman who brought it up with you then didn't want to discuss what *would* be reasonable behaviour for the next two weeks is a BIG red flag. What, you're not allowed to discuss what is expected, they'll just tell you when you overstep the boundaries? That makes no sense.

I know how hard it can be to find a flat, but I assure you that you will be happier in a friendly, damp, gloomy, un-sunny house than in a beautiful sunny flat with weirdo flatmates. You need to feel like you're AT HOME and to be able to openly discuss what is and isn't acceptable behaviour. No communication = no good.
posted by different at 5:28 AM on January 3, 2010 [12 favorites]

The guy coming home surprised

Apparently he had been told, but he had forgotten because he was drunk. Apparently he doesn't get drunk very often, but he acts badly when he is. Today when he walked in he did apologise to me.

you're not allowed to discuss what is expected

Maybe I was being touchy and 'weird'. I was kinda offended to find out that I'm not considered a real flatmate yet, and apparently I should have known this.

So far I'm feeling like these people are not really interested in making friends. But then I realise that I really struggle to tell the difference between those who are and those who aren't. Different, can I ask how you make that sort of judgement?
posted by schmichael at 5:45 AM on January 3, 2010

How is being touchy and weird for you to ask what your parameters are? If this is the place where you will be living, and it sure sounds like it if you're to occupy a room when it becomes available, that's a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Given that, I'm not sure where you overstepped any boundaries by having friends over, unless you invited 25 or 50 of them.

If you're not supposed to sleep on the couch until your room is available, where then? In the kitchen, in the hallway? (This is a rhetorical question.)

My gut feeling is that if you haven't put down a deposit on the room, try and find less surprising people to room with. You sound like a perfectly nice person who's just looking for a place to live with predictable and sane people.
posted by SillyShepherd at 6:04 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't project outcomes.

Hey, it's just two weeks, right? You can get through that, and then the relationship dynamic will change. Perhaps spend those two weeks out and about during the evening, coming "home" to your couch only when it is time for sleep. Once the feeling of interloper has gone away and you are securely in your own room, there will likely be fewer unwanted confrontations because you are no longer living in a common area.

Just try to hang in there for this two week period. Take possession of your own room, then if things continue to be awkward and unfriendly by the end of February, it may be time to reconsider your circumstances. From you writing, you seem like you have it together. I suspect it will all work out in the end.
posted by netbros at 6:22 AM on January 3, 2010

I agree with Silly Shepherd about 95%, except with the friends coming over part (though to be honest, I wouldn't think anything of my new roommate bringing a few friends over to show them where he lived, but I consider myself to be easygoing).

I think in this instance, since you didn't really know how "easy-going" your flatmates were, that was not the best decision. Still, you have every damn right in the world to ask about parameters for where you're going to be living.

My gut feeling is also that you should try to find a different place to live, if possible. As someone else said, I'd rather live in the crappiest place and be happy, than live in a nice place with jerks.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 6:32 AM on January 3, 2010

It sounds as if you're inclined to back away from conflict, question the validity of your own perspective, and apologize even when you're not sure what you're apologizing for. While I agree with others that it sounds as if these are flatmates best avoided, your hesitance to stand up for yourself is probably making it worse than it needs to be.
posted by jon1270 at 6:40 AM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Maybe there's been a bit of miscommunication on both sides, maybe you've contributed to the situation, but it also definitely sounds like your flatmates are not being very generous in giving you the benefit of the doubt, and that's not something I'd expect to change in a hurry. There's nothing crappier than not feeling comfortable in your own home. Do you really want to be anxious about going home in case someone, for example, berates you for not rinsing the dishes well enough?

I would take this all as a sign that either you and your flatmates just aren't going to click, or that they basically suck. (Either way, don't take it personally - it happens a lot.) Take the hint and find somewhere else to live. If you're not going to have to sign a lease, I guess you could give it some time, but I'd start looking again now if I were you. I don't think living with strangers is particularly brave, but I do think it's wise to trust your instincts about whether your flatmates will prove good company.

If you really want to try and work it out, netbros' advice is good.

In any case, weirdo sharehousing experiences abound. It may be cold comfort, but one day this will make a good story. Have you read He Died With A Felafel In His Hand? You may find it englightening (and hilarious).
posted by Emilyisnow at 7:04 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Flatshares are the best way for people to make new friends really. Do you want to be friends with them? These two conflicts are not deal breakers if you feel like sticking it out and trying to make friends. It might be a valuable experience.

Conversely, if you feel like choosing a new apartment, these two conflicts definitely grant you that leeway. If they get annoyed by your leaving, you can just tell them you felt two conflicts so quickly indicated that you probably weren't a good fit.

p.s. I'd avoid this subtle question of whether they are really doing you a favor, that depends entirely upon the market, i.e. whether they could find another flatmate.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:08 AM on January 3, 2010

Walk away as fast as possible. Find the least offensive of the crappy places and rent it alone, and use it as a place to plan your move to a better town.

Drunks and drama queens are a source of endless misery, you'd do well to avoid them at all costs.

Tell Drunky McWantstofight that he can kiss MY ass, too.
posted by chronkite at 7:11 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

If it's at all possible to get out now, I'd get out now. Roommate situations are delicate and squirrelly and this one is off to a bad start, and not likely to get any better any time soon.

I would suggest that in future roommate situations, regardless of whether they're weird like this one or more normal (ie, you have your own room) that you take a little more time to acclimatize yourself to the normal activity of the house before you start inviting friends over. If you never see any of the roommates and they never have any friends over, that's not necessarily a sign that you can have friends over without disturbing anyone -- it's just as likely a sign that the unspoken (or spoken before your arrival but not made clear to you) agreement is that flatmates don't really entertain at home. If it's a small place with a lot of bedrooms and not a lot of public space, that can often be the accepted state of affairs because public space is precious and shared and friends fill it up fast.

If you can't figure this out on your own, ask, but try to be a little circumspect about it. It's unlikely the house has an explicit 'no friends rule', so if you ask directly, you're likely to be told 'Well, no, there's no rule against having friends over', but if you ask more obliquely in the vein of 'So what's the usual? Do we ever hang out in the living room as a group? Have friends over? Throw parties?' you may get a more general rundown of what the usual behaviour is.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:15 AM on January 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Speaking from experience, I can say that people in shared accommodations have concerns about this.  And they're valid.  I bet the first time that anyone has shared space with friends they find a number of preconceptions about how responsible their friends are to be wrong.  Sometimes surprisingly so.  And if you can't predict friends, strangers are even more unpredictable.

Thus from their perspective another temporary person = another variable in the mix; more unknowns.  Regardless of how much they do or do not know a person there will be questions in their minds: are you going to be a drain on the food budget; how will this person behave; will there be more risk of damage to the flat; will the landlord find out; could there be noise complaints; will there be more chores to do etc.  Having this new person bring over friends so soon just multiplies all of those concerns.

When my friends and I bunked together we had an informal two-night limit on guests staying over, and this was in a large house.  So yeah, I can easily see two weeks being beyond the comfort limit of some of the renters.  Who wants uncertainty for that long?

All of my comment above is dealing with the situation in general, regardless of your actions - it applies to anyone in that spot. As for the systemic problems you were concerned about:  The one thing I think you need to work on is communicating your needs before you act.  This needed to be dealt with as you would an extended sleepover at, say, your cousin's house; would you have just invited some other friends over without asking?  I believe your cousin (and aunt and uncle) would expect you to ask them about this first.  Always err on the side of caution when you're the guest.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:38 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your living situation has gotten off to a bad start that doesn't bode well for the future. Basically, your new roommates sound like jerks who wanted you to move in before the room was ready so they'd have someone lined up, and then complained about it when you actually did. I'd start looking for another place as soon as possible- even if it's colder or more expensive or whatnot, it sure beats living with a group of people when there already seems to be a lot of tension. I don't think this situation reflects poorly on you at all so don't blame yourself for it- the drunk guy who freaked out on you is obviously an asshole, and it's not fair of everyone else to say "hey, move in early" and then bitch about it. As a general rule, the fewer flatmates the better- crowded flats shared by 4 or more people tend to have more stress in general, so I'd look for something with just one or two other people if possible. Good luck.
posted by emd3737 at 7:40 AM on January 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

They don't seem to actually treat you much like a guest. For example: If there are house rules, a guest would be told so.
Also, no matter whether DrunkDude is or isn't drunk often, and whether he apologizes or not, this is just a very wrong start. I would be living in a hotel already, and if I'd have to loan the money.

One would think that you would have a point making them aware of your wish to be treated as a human being, at the very least: no social booby traps around the place and no stupid difficult discussions, and no bloody couch living for 2 weeks without anybody being a little nice about it. If, to you, mentioning your right to be treated decently somehow doesn't seem possible with these people, under these circumstances, no matter why: run, fast. It's only gonna get worse.
posted by Namlit at 7:49 AM on January 3, 2010


I could tell you were in New Zealand even before I checked your profile. Maybe it was the use of the terms "damp" and "grotty," but I like to think it was because of the bizarre group dynamic you described.

Yes. Go find other flatmates. These people are awful. It isn't all on you.


After the couch incident, I probably would not have brought friends over. That seems a little passive aggressive on your part. Ditto on putting your shit in the room you'll soon be living in. That's weird of you, too, and you should expect more flack as that transgression is discovered. Why didn't you just ask if it was OK to do that?

In closing, you are making a bad situation worse. It may be OK once you get into your room. Be prepared to move if it doesn't get better.

And keep yourself to yourself until you are in that room!

Don't poke the dogs. Don't poke the dogs.
posted by jbenben at 7:51 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

BTW - emd3737 has it!

They wanted you to move in so they would be covered.
posted by jbenben at 7:57 AM on January 3, 2010

Ditto on putting your shit in the room you'll soon be living in. That's weird of you, too, and you should expect more flack as that transgression is discovered. Why didn't you just ask if it was OK to do that?

Reread the question. This is most definitely not what the poster did.

However: this doesn't seem like a good fit. They seem extra prickly, you seem passive aggressive. I mean, why not ask if you can sleep in the storage room if you think they might be mad? Diffuse or avoid the situation before it even happens. Instead you say you're sick and it was 'worth the risk' of making them unhappy. Not a good dynamic, none of you seem to be behaving like thoughtful, communicative people here.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:49 AM on January 3, 2010

I have lived with plenty of strangers.

These people are jerks. You are a nice person. Move out immediately. It will only get worse.

You should move out and find nice strangers to live with. How do you know if they are actually nice people? Just trust your instincts. But make sure that is a criteria when you are searching. Basically, you want flatmates who are considerate. These people are emphatically not.
posted by molecicco at 12:56 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fuck them. Get out.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:02 PM on January 3, 2010

I'd be inclined to escape too but in case you are stuck there while looking for another place maybe make a peace offering of dinner for all flatmates (your treat from a takeout so you don't make a mess of the kitchen); over dinner and a few drinks you can have a relaxed convo about expectations/house rules and maybe give yourself a chance to see the power dynamics and whether the situation is salvageable.

But yeah, they are acting like jerks at the moment.
posted by saucysault at 4:08 PM on January 3, 2010

Drunk guy coming home and threatening to beat you up? Not ok under any circumstances. I would absolutely find a new place to live.
posted by whitelily at 4:54 PM on January 3, 2010

"He got angry and berated me and threatened to beat me up and throw me out."

WHOA! Is this the guy who is moving out in 2 weeks? If not, you should absolutely not stay there. That is completely unacceptable. Do not live with this man, period.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:40 AM on January 4, 2010

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