Go away, green-eyed monster!
June 11, 2012 4:46 PM   Subscribe

Getting jealous of my roommate's relationship in the aftermath of my own breakup. How do I cope with this more constructively?

My roommate, “Jess”, is one of my closest friends. She’s a wonderful person who has been incredibly easy to live with. In the last couple months, she started seriously dating a lovely guy, “Tom”. Jess and Tom are super cute together, and I’m really happy for her.

Now, me: I’m a mid-20s female, and my first long term (3 year) boyfriend and I broke up a few weeks ago. I know it was likely for the best, as there were mental health issues as well as some incompatibilities that wouldn’t have worked out well in the long run. The relationship was slowly getting more depressing and less functional over the last few months. But it’s been really, really hard losing my best friend. I’m trudging along, keeping very busy, getting more comfortable with myself again and reaching out to friends, and I know it will get better, but I still feel like I'm in a grieving stage.

And herein lies my problem – I’m starting to get annoyed with my roommate’s relationship. Tom is over almost every night (probably 4-6 nights per week). Apparently his apartment is a bit dirty, bachelor-esque and our place is more conveniently located. I can relate to this; my ex initially spent a lot of time at my place until he moved, then I tried to split my time between places.

I think it’s mostly me being jealous, since it’s not as if anything they’re doing is actually a problem for me. They spend a lot of time in the living room watching movies, but I don’t often use the common spaces except for the morning or dinner time anyway. They clean up after they cook (and offer me food they’ve prepared), invite me to participate when they play cards, etc. I’m not annoyed about utilities or rent or anything. He’s not messy. The, er, evening noise isn’t great because we have thin walls, but I wear earplugs or sleep with music on (and we’ve actually talked about this; Jess admitted very after-the-fact that she could also hear the ex and I at night, but didn’t bring it up because we weren’t being loud. Just crappy sound isolation!). It just makes me feel more sad and lonely to see them happy together, and sometimes I just want to be at home without having to chat or engage with a couple. I also get a bit on edge when I know he’s there. It’s irrational, but I feel like I can’t relax and get very tense. That, and I feel emotionally immature for feeling like this. I don’t want to grit my teeth every time I hear them giggle, and when I do, I get annoyed at myself.

Jess has told me before that I could let her know if Tom was spending too much time over. Still, I feel hesitant to bring it up, since really my reasoning is, “I want Tom to spend less time here because I’m sad because my relationship failed and your relationship is happy. And I want the apartment to myself even though you’re not really doing anything to annoy me.” Or something like that. It seems unreasonable, especially because she never complained about my ex’s presence in our house when she was single. And, like I said, I think they’re lovely together and am truly happy that they’re happy. But I'm also jealous, sad, and being a bit silly.

So, I need some advice. How can I shift my attitude about this? I legitimately think this will be a non-issue when I get over the breakup, but what can I do to not feel so shitty and anxious in the interim? How can I soothe myself, feel less envious and more happy? Should I bring this up with the roomie at all, or work at it on my own?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The short, mostly crappy because it's probably true answer is: it'll get better with time.

Do you feel the same way about any happy couple you see in public, or is it only Jess and Tom? I'm guessing it's the same for any happy couple. It probably hurts more with a close friend, in whom you can see similarities to yourself.

Get out and get active. Walk, run, bike, swim, or do anything that gets you active. Pour your misery into the activity. You'll probably have to do this for a while to ease the stress seeing other people's happiness.

Then find happiness in being alone. Do things that you enjoy doing alone, possibly things that can only be done alone. Maybe it's as simple as reading a book in a cozy place, or listening to music in your headphones while you go on errands, or go on a jog.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:54 PM on June 11, 2012

It just makes me feel more sad and lonely to see them happy together, and sometimes I just want to be at home without having to chat or engage with a couple.

I'm a natural introvert and even when I wasn't depressed, living with my closest friends and their SOs was difficult because I often got home at night lacking the energy to engage socially. There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling your roommate that sometimes you need to withdraw and recharge, and at those times you'll say "Hey guys!" when you walk in the door, then go into your room and do your own thing. You are not obligated to chat or engage, and I'm guessing that if your roommate knew it was draining for you emotionally right now, she would not be offended in the least.

With that said, I've seen the reaction on the Jess side of this equation when a roommate did come out and explicitly say "I am lonely and seeing your happy coupleness is making things worse for me" -- it was well taken but caused some tension that really never dissipated, even when the root feelings did (the Jess and Tom analog relationship outlasted the roommate's feelings, but the couple never felt totally comfortable hanging out in the apartment). Personally I would leave it vague and just say that you need more alone time and you hope they understand.
posted by telegraph at 4:55 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do you get enough time to yourself? Maybe go for more walks / go on some miniature adventures. That's always helped me find my equilibrium.
posted by Chutzler at 4:56 PM on June 11, 2012

And if you really feel shitty, here's a silly story from my past. When I was a kid, I wasn't good at riding my bike. I was practicing by myself one day, on the street in front of my house. The street had a pretty good slope, and I could only brake by back-pedaling.

After a bit of wobbling about on the bike, I finally got my balance. And when I got my balance, I got going faster, because I started out going down hill. Instead of back-pedaling, I froze, and steered into a palm tree. I stopped by crashing. It hurt, but neither I nor the bike were badly damaged. But from that day, I refused to look at bicycles. They were dumb, and people who liked to bicycle were stupid, or something. I would actually turn my head away from bicycles, to avoid looking at them.

But eventually I got over my anger at bikes, and learned to co-exist with them. I still suck at riding bikes, but at least I don't cross the street to get away from them.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:00 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

>How can I shift my attitude about this?

What can you learn from observing Tom and Jess, that will enable you to attract and maintain a more compatible and enjoyable relationship with the next attractive guy you choose for yourself?
posted by darth_tedious at 5:02 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Start a diary or anonymous blog and when they annoy you, write about it. You can use the situation as an opportunity to work through some of your feelings (about the ex, life in general, whatever) and possibly move on faster.
posted by Michele in California at 5:24 PM on June 11, 2012

Living with a couple is really different from living with roommates who aren't in a relationship with each other. In so many ways. Even people who are happily single and not getting over a recent break-up could find this difficult.

And if he's over 4-5 nights a week, you ARE living with a couple, for all intents and purposes.

I don't think it's unreasonable to tell your roommate that her boyfriend is spending too much time at your place, and I don't think you have to give a reason. But if and when you decide on what a reasonable number of nights is (maybe 2 or 3?), you have to accept that when you have a partner again, the same rules will apply to you.
posted by lollusc at 6:13 PM on June 11, 2012

In my 20s my friends and I developed the phrase "pulling a big boyfriend phase" to describe roommates, typically in the first throes of a new relationship who spent considerable together in "your" apartment. It sounds like you and Jess have a good relationship and that she and her boyfriend are respectful or you. I don't think it would be out of line to pull Jess aside and say something like:

"hey, you know I'm going through a rough time and while Tom is awesome and I appreciate that you guys share your food with me and invite me to participate in board games and such, I could really use some more time in the next couple of weeks where I can use the common space without having to socially engage. You're my roommate and you've known me longer so I don't feel as bad and know that you'll understand if I don't want to engage, but when Tom's here, because, while he is here frequently, to me he's still a guest, and he's a nice guy so I don't want to just ignore him, but I'm really not up to being social all the time right now."

It's not ideal because it doesn't solve the problem that seeing them together makes you feel sad but it will at least buy you some breathing space for a week or two as you regain your equilibrium.

I think that you should cut yourself some slack. Your response doesn't seem unreasonable even though they both sound like nice people. Honestly I like my personal space and even if I wasn't going though a breakup or any other type of bad time, I would not enjoy living with a roommate whose boyfriend spent that much time over. I understand that this sort of thing happens when you have roommates and even admit that I once was guilty of doing the same thing myself with my first roommate so I'm not beating up on Jess, just saying that ti can by trying under any circumstances so don't beat up on yourself about it getting to you.
posted by kaybdc at 6:15 PM on June 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

You will feel a lot better if you tell Jess you need a couple more nights off. It's nice that they make a point to include you, but unless you are a super-extrovert who totally thrives on the energy of being surrounded by other people, you need some you-time more than ever right now. Really, ideally, she'd go away and leave you entirely alone occasionally, so you can really truly run around in your raggediest comfy pants and eat mac and cheese out of the pan and watch shitty television. Alone time is important.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:41 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in my mid-20s when I was living with my roomate, and at that time I had never seriously dated anyone or had a relationship (yeah I know late bloomer). Her very serious boyfriend lived out of town with his parents, so he was always at our place on weekends so they could have privacy together.

Even though I was happy single and I wasn't getting over a breakup, sometimes it just felt like *two against one* in the common areas. Like, if I wanted to watch a movie, but they had plans to watch a movie and he drove from his place to be here and watch a movie, and they have a date to watch a movie, the pair beats the singleton. If I wanted to make myself a simple dinner or salad, and they were cooking in the (very small) kitchen together, it felt like I wasn't welcome, or it felt annoying that I would have to be social with them when I just wanted to microwave my veggie burger already.

I just spent a lot of time in my room listening to music (out loud at a reasonable level) so that it would give me privacy and alone time, but also to remind them that *if they can hear me/my music, I can hear them.* I also made fun of them to my closest friend because they played thunderstorm music when they had sexytimes, and I would call my friend and tell her that "ugh it is thunderstorming here again."

I guess I just wanted to say that you aren't alone in feeling this, that you can give yourself permission to cope with it however works for you (spending time in your room, going out to a cafe/bar/library/for a walk, or being a little snarky and making a little fun of them to another friend to vent).

It's not at all unreasonable to ask for another night or two where he/they aren't hanging out together. Could you also maybe ask them for one night a week where they go out on a date and you can plan in advance to have the place to yourself? Or does your roomate work/have an activity regularly where you know she isn't home? That is like therapy to introvert me, regular planned time alone in the apartment!

And TV on the internet is good alone-time-with-the-door-closed activity. Netflix strea
ming is only $8 a month, and you can get it just for this month.
posted by shortyJBot at 7:24 PM on June 11, 2012

4-6 nights a week is really like having a third roommate, I'd say. I think you can ask Jess nicely to cut back a couple days and it shouldn't upset her too much. Questions to think about first though: How long have you and Jess lived together? Were you already dating your boyfriend when you moved in together? Did your boyfriend stay at your place 4-6 nights a week too? The answers to these questions could impact how reasonable your request might sound to Jess.

Also, how much less convenient is Tom's apartment? Does he have roommates? It seems like it would only be fair if Jess spent some of her time over there. Maybe it would inspire Tom to make the apartment more habitable, even. If you are able to talk to Jess about needing more space, maybe then she can talk to Tom about spending some more time at his place. She wouldn't have to say it's because of their couple-ishness; she could just say (truthfully) that you have asked for a bit more space to yourself.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:33 PM on June 11, 2012

Also, one of my best friends was in Jess's situation, and her roommate really wound up making her life miserable. It doesn't sound like you will act like that roommate, but just in case, I'd suggest that if you do talk to Jess, you don't make your rules impossibly strict. My friend's roommate wanted her to say that she would absolutely only be in the house with her boyfriend at X, Y, Z very specific times; that did not go over well for my friend, who wanted to feel at home in her house too.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:42 PM on June 11, 2012

"Hi. I'm going through a tough time right now, I really need some private time and space in our apartment without guests around. I have stuff to process. Do you think we can work something out? Thank you for understanding. I'm sure I'll be back to my old self in no time!"

She's your friend. Just ask for some space and quiet time. No need to explain further.

BTW - Tom needs to clean his place so they can hang out there. 4-6 nights a week is RIDICULOUS.

If she's your fri
posted by jbenben at 9:17 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you're getting some good suggestions that help you to frame this as a 'you need time alone/not socialising with non-roomates' rather than 'you don't want to be around them as a couple'. The former is about you, not them, and so it's less potentially hurtful to hear. It also places something of a time limit on you feeling this way, which seems appropriate and means that neither of you are constrained by some principle about boyfriends staying over that, in isolation, you're not really that committed to.
4-6 nights a week is quite a bit but on the other hand, if this is not especially objectionable for you apart from the way you are feeling post-break up, I wouldn't make a thing of it on those grounds. It's nice to be able to cut each other slack sometimes on roommate things!
This changes of course if you just think that 4-6 nights is too much time to have a boyfriend over in general. But it doesn't sound like you do and as others have noted, you want to keep in mind that these rules have to cut both ways. So don't set it up that way unless you mean it!
posted by jojobobo at 2:43 AM on June 12, 2012

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