But I did your dishes..
January 4, 2010 5:18 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop getting in awful moods because of my franky kind-of-irritating housemates?

(and yes, I think I'll find new people to live with next time the leasing/moving cycle churns, but I've got some months left)

So, I graduated college and am leasing an apartment with two people who I knew to varying degrees before moving in, but with whom had never lived with before. They seemed like decent people, and really are most of the time, but over time various nagging things have come to a head, and now little comments are driving me (and, afterwards, them) mad.

It basically started innocently enough, I missed doing my dishes several times, and one housemate emailed me about this, quite a few times, so that I would wake up to snarky emails about how he was 'disappointed with me,' etc. I understood his point and asked him to stop emailing and I would clean up my act, but he refused to let any minor future infractions pass without a morning email, citing the fact that, without them, I would never learn / change my act. Cue comparisons to irritating mothers, etc.

So, it's gotten somewhat better, except that they continue nagging me, but have started to seriously break the rules without expecting me to mind, leaving their own stuff out, borrowing things without notice, etc. Most recently, well, very recently, before the break, I spent a few hours cleaning the house since i was the last one to leave, and took out the trash twice, cleaned up random stuff including much of theirs. However, one trash bag with nonperishable stuff didn't fit, so it stayed in the apartment. The first thing I hear from roommate a upon returning home is to take out that trash bag.

Yes, they could be pissing in my bed or poisoning my drinks, but this still pisses me off, and I'd like to acquire a thicker skin to deal with them and any other moderately annoying but inner-energy decent people I meet in life. So, my question is, when you're in danger of going into one of those 'erg, they suck so much. so much. they are the worst' lines of thought that just make you angry and do no good, what do you tell yourself to steer clear or spiraling down into nasty emails and a ruined afternoon?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Think to yourself, "Wow, they could be pissing in my bed or poisoning my drinks, I'm just going to deal with their lameness until my lease is up, and then I'm going to live by myself."
posted by banannafish at 5:24 PM on January 4, 2010

Every time they email you to complain, imagine them wearing diapers. Seriously though, this roommate stuff is minor - it doesn't effect your life much in the long run at all. Put some perspective on it.
posted by bigmusic at 5:30 PM on January 4, 2010

Start sending them emails regarding their infractions.
posted by smartypantz at 5:35 PM on January 4, 2010

Just clean up after yourself, every time. Don't give them any reason to complain. If they don't live up to their obligations, send them a morning email.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:36 PM on January 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

My sense is that doing this all by email is just exacerbating the situation. It sounds like no-one is actually talking about what's happening, so it just simmers beneath the surface, leaving everyone feeling resentful and thus escalating the tension even more. Have the three of you sat down for a frank chat about what's going on?
posted by prettypretty at 5:40 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, this emailing each other shit is soooooo incredibly passive aggressive. And retaliating with your own emails will just guarantee more petty bickering.

The three of you need to sit down for an extended discussion about a) house rules, and b) dealing with conflict. The latter is the bigger issue -- you need to all be honest but constructive about each of your communication styles. You need to all agree to a system for keeping each other accountable -- a system that takes into account everyone's varying degrees of cleanliness, and everyone's preferred way of being "told off".

Be kind to each other and try hard to make it work.
posted by randomstriker at 5:45 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Send the most entertaining emails to Passive Aggressive Notes. That website never fails to cheer me up, and if you send your roommates' emails and they get uploaded you'll have the gratification of knowing the internet thinks they're crazy.
posted by lilac girl at 5:53 PM on January 4, 2010 [9 favorites]

Make a list of 5-15 minute activities that bring you joy. When you're irritated, do one, or two, or however many it takes to re-center yourself.

Also, were I in your shoes, I would stop responding to emails from your housemates, and next time you are face to face, tell them that you are no longer communicating by email with humans you see on a regular basis. It's your whacky New Year's resolution. And stick to it, with confidence. It'll drive them nuts. People with passive aggressive behaviors tend to loathe when their comfy pathways are rerouted onto direct communication routes.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:59 PM on January 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

You guys need to have a house meeting and write up a list of rules/air grievances. One week later, if there are still issues, schedule house meetings for a month. Continue as needed.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:09 PM on January 4, 2010

Email filter. Pipe all their mail to trash or pipe all their mails to a folder you check no more often than once a week.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:19 PM on January 4, 2010

Do not respond to the emails. If you must, respond with maturity and humor. Acknowledge that you left something out and request, in a polite way, that there is no need for emails in the future, you can talk in person. Don't ever let them see that you are offended or stewing over things.

Don't fall into the trap of a victim or an excuse maker: Oh, I did this and I did that and they still nag me! It's never good enough! Pick up after yourself every time no matter what

You can choose not to be offended. The housemate that continues to email you sounds very uptight and babyish. You don't have to be uptight. Clean your stuff up and be cool.
posted by Fairchild at 6:20 PM on January 4, 2010

Don't even open the emails, delete them as soon as you see them. Tell your housemate that all of his future emails will fall on deaf ears because you won't be reading them.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:20 PM on January 4, 2010

Not that emailing rather than talking to you isn't totally immature and lame, but it sounds like you were the problem housemate first. You mention your not washing the dishes as something "innocent," but, frankly, if a roommate had skipped washing their dishes often enough to cause me to have to talk to them about it more than once, I would already be pretty pissed off at them. By requiring more than one reminder to hold up your end of the roommate bargain, you convinced your roommates that you're "the messy guy" who wouldn't clean anything unless they nagged you about it. So it's really no wonder that they've continue to think of you this way.

I think the way you sort of seem to blow off their original legitimate concern with an attitude of 'what I did wasn't that bad' you're setting them up to think you're not going to be very serious about changing. I'm not at all saying that your roommate who sends you email every time some little thing happens isn't handling it in a really jerky way, but maybe it would help smooth things over if you gave a straight-up, no-excuses-making, acknowledgement that you may have not have been the best roommate in the beginning. It sounds like you tried once, but maybe there was something about the apology that came across like you were still treating your actions like they shouldn't have been bothered by them.

It probably sounds like I'm trying to make you take all the blame and let them get away with being jerks, but I'm just trying to say that nothing will disarm annoyance like a sincere apology without trying to bring anything else into it. Maybe try sitting them down at a housemate meeting and say something like, "Hey, I know when we first moved in I was kind of a jerk about not doing the dishes. I feel like in the last few months I've cleaned up my act a lot (and the dishes!), but I gotta admit that when I get new emails every week it's just making me feel like you guys aren't taking the time to notice the changes. Can we try a compromise where we try no emails for a month, and then if you guys still think I'm not pulling my weight at the end of that time we can talk about it?" Might not work, and there might indeed be other roommates out there that you'll get along way better with, but it seems like it's worth a try.
posted by MsMolly at 6:42 PM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Block their e-mail addresses. Housemates shouldn't be e-mailing each other about household business.

Sit down to clear the air--acknowledge your own mistakes, iron out a list of agreed-upon house rules and post it on the fridge. Agree to discuss these things in person, not by e-mail.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:56 PM on January 4, 2010

Nthing that emailing is a poor choice of housemate communication. Make it a point that everyone communicate household issues face to face, or at least via cellphone. You'll note that a quick phone conversation doesn't take any more time than an email, but makes things personal. Email can be cold, impersonal, and yes, passive aggressive.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 7:00 PM on January 4, 2010

It basically started innocently enough, I missed doing my dishes several times

That thing, right there, has destroyed the harmony of more shared households than any other. Users of the shared spaces must - without fail - leave those spaces cleaner than they appeared before use. Every group of otherwise-unrelated people I have ever seen harmoniously sharing a home is made up solely of people who understand and follow this rule because they want to rather than because they're asked to. Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.

but he refused to let any minor future infractions pass without a morning email

It was up to you to make sure there were no future infractions, and you failed. So now you have a pissy housemate. This is just how things work. Happens to everybody.

So, it's gotten somewhat better, except that they continue nagging me

If you want the nagging to stop, you need to internalize the drive to keep your shared spaces clean. Make it something you do for its own sake, and for the sake of your own inner peace - not something you only do to keep your housemates onside.

but have started to seriously break the rules without expecting me to mind, leaving their own stuff out, borrowing things without notice, etc.

This sounds to me like a consciousness-raising exercise. It's irritating to live with people who fail to clean up after themselves and treat other people's stuff (or spaces) as their own, isn't it?

People whose primary relationship is that of housemates all need to think of themselves as guests in the home of those housemates, and act accordingly. Because a shared home is not your home - it's your shared home; and until you're paying the lion's share of your costs of accommodation, a guest is truly what you are.
posted by flabdablet at 7:03 PM on January 4, 2010 [23 favorites]

As for practical steps to take right now: quietly killfile all those emails, and start behaving like an exemplary housemate.
posted by flabdablet at 7:06 PM on January 4, 2010

Make a list of how much money you save buy having roommates. Then when they piss you off, get online and go window shopping (or leave the house). I never end up buying anything but it is nice to think of all the money - makes it worthwhile for the annoyance.
posted by quodlibet at 7:29 PM on January 4, 2010

What flabdablet said. Keep the common areas clean and then don't worry about it.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:25 PM on January 4, 2010

I'd say that the best way to avoid this is to have one night a week be "roommate night" and each of you three take turns cooking dinner for the other two. During that dinner, discuss any house issues that any of you have. If it gets ugly and preachy, obviously this won't work.

However, I've found that the easiest path to crushing other people's urges to belittle you is to smother them with kindness and understanding. Listening to another person vent, with obvious respect, and an affirmation to do better should be enough. But: Also ask them to allow you the same courtesy and respond in kind.

If they can't, nobody is better than anybody else. But having a "roomie night" to eat and talk issues has worked for me in the past, at least in college.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:33 PM on January 4, 2010

Are the expectations documented? Review the expectations, decide if really can meet them. If you can, then get your act together, and do what you agreed to do. If you aren't going to be able to, then you need an exit strategy, which would be dumb, because cleaning is not that hard.

Daily or hourly emails are horrible. Hour-by-hour assessment of behavior is for people on the psych ward. Ask your housemates to meet weekly, and if there are grievances or compliments, save them for the meeting. Make the meeting pleasant, not just a bitch session.

Consequences. Forget to wash the dishes? - you owe everybody a bottle of wine, movie pass, $10, something big enough to hurt, but not absurd or ruinous.

Rewards work better than punishment. That's why those star charts for kids work. Figure out a reward system, the least of which is to say Thank You to whoever does dishes, takes out trash, cleans the fridge. Maybe if you don't do the dishes within 12 hours, whoever does them earns the above mentioned bottle of wine, movie pass, $10.

Trade off chores you hate. I hate vacuuming. a lot. So with one roommate, I cleaned the bathroom, she vacuumed. Cooperation makes life work better.
posted by theora55 at 9:36 PM on January 4, 2010

I'd actually counsel against dealing with this particular situation in a house meeting. The very fact of this AskMe post shows that feathers are still ruffled, and entitlement is still bruised; those ingredients make for a house meeting that's fighty in either a frosty or fiery mode.

First clean up. Next, lose the entitlement. Next, rent series two and have a chill-out night. Problem solved.
posted by flabdablet at 9:54 PM on January 4, 2010

Basically, since you live together, you're going to need to address this issue. It's making life difficult for both of you all. I don't know what the state of your communication issues is at this point, but it's breaking down. And this e-mailing is just retaliation on your roommate's part and passive agressive behavior. You need to find the time where both of you can gather your thoughts and discuss in a cordial and non-acrimonious manner what "issues" are on the table. At this point, you can try to write a response in an email saying this will be the last mode of communication via email and that x date, at y time would be good to talk. Just suddenly blocking their emails may just seem like you're retaliating back and adding to the fire. Tell them that you cleaned the apartment and get credit on your part. Then write out what you both agree to change. Also talk about how if this situation does not improve, how you both may need to move out or find new roommates. Look into your lease agreement. Deal with this sooner or later, because sooner or later, it'll be about the bills etc.
posted by proficiency101 at 3:22 AM on January 5, 2010

Acquire a thicker skin. The washing up, cleaning, taking the garbage out - has to be done. So what if it's you that does in one time extra this week. Life is heaps simpler in share houses if you justy clean your shit up. Sheesh, it's not like you've accidentally allowed some alcoholic mad woman to live with you for free.
posted by mattoxic at 5:36 AM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

The way I deal with people who irritate me like this is to take a deep breath and remember that no matter how hard it is to deal with them, it's even harder to be them and spend this much energy on being bitter and petty.

And then I let it go because becoming that bitter and petty isn't going to improve my own life one bit.

Also, I would advise thanking them for the emails. Being defensive is a pretty typical human response to being confronted/called-out, especially in a passive aggressive way, but usually the person who is lodging the complaint just wants to be heard. A simple "Oh thanks for reminding me!' - not any kind of drippy sappy overly sentimental hooey - just a really polite reply saying "Oh yeah, I did forget that. Thanks for the reminder." or "Thanks for letting me know about this." - in my experience, this helps ease the tension, for the confronter to feel like they're being heard.

Also also, acknowledging that you've failed is difficult to do, and you've done it here with us - doing it with your roommates "Yeah, I know I screwed up" will go a long way towards earning some respect.

I don't think new roommates are actually the answer here. I think the answer is, as much as you may not want to hear it, you need to change your attitudes about living with people and accept that you yourself may be adding to conflict when YOU break house rules and that these conflicts aren't solved the moment you do extra dishes. Do your part to acknowledge the full extent of the role you played in this and try to learn from it that you need to be better about doing your part in household chores and when you absolutely can't get them done, you have to find a positive way to communicate this to retain the respect of your housemates (i.e. "I really can't get the dishes done tonight, but I can do them first thing tomorrow. Is that going to be ok with you?")
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:06 AM on January 5, 2010

Block their e-mail addresses. Housemates shouldn't be e-mailing each other about household business.

I strongly disagree with this. I'm the head of my household (Owner, with 3 roommates who pay me rent), and we *rely* on email to get by. All of us work 9-5, sometimes longer, and the ability to send an email to the house list saying "I need to run laundry tonight, can I ask for dibs on the washer" or "Food shopping total for the weekend was X, cost per person is X/4" is vital to getting along. Without the emails, someone would always not be present, be busy, be late from work, etc. and email ensures that communication does happen. (That, and blocking ALL email from someone does things like block emails you WANT to read, and potentially kill your friendship.)

I am not saying that in-person communication is bad, but blocking all email is worse.
posted by GJSchaller at 8:09 AM on January 5, 2010

Other than passive aggressiveness, the only reason I can think that they are e-mailing you is that they have all the stuff you did/didn't do on file. It may be too paranoid/troublesome for you, but maybe you should reply all to all the e-mails from now on and list point by point your counter argument to their complaints.
posted by spec80 at 9:17 AM on January 5, 2010

I'm the head of my household (Owner, with 3 roommates who pay me rent), and we *rely* on email to get by.

That's cool for you, but it doesn't seem like this is how the OP's house runs.

My logic is: if your roommate e-mails you daily to nitpick about the way you've done your chores, seeing those e-mails is just going to raise your blood pressure and make you more defensive, not more likely to be sympathetic to your housemates' legitimate concerns (not doing your dishes is a big deal). For me, when I'm on the receiving end of unpleasant or annoying e-mails, even if I delete them without reading, I still know what was in there. It's a lot easier for me to have hard conversations if I don't have the baggage of "I know you sent me six nasty e-mails about this."

The OP is extremely annoyed with his roommates' harassing e-mails--and they are harassing--but needs to be able to view his own role in the situation (neglecting some important household responsibilities) with a cool head in order to address and resolve the situation. Perhaps a more reasonable, though less succinct wording to my advice would be: have e-mails from the offending roommates automatically sent to their own folder and don't check it in the morning; only check that folder when you are feeling calm and gracious and are able to simply delete annoying e-mails rather than take them personally. My main point was that he should make it clear to his roommates that 1) he is willing to engage on the issue of household chores, and 2) that the household interpersonal conflicts regarding chores cannot be hashed out over e-mail--no one should be sending daily e-mail updates on the anyone else's shortcomings.

Some roommates can successfully use e-mail for practical communication. In other cases, e-mail turns into an escalating factor in petty disputes. It sounds like this situation falls squarely into the latter category.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:20 AM on January 5, 2010

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