Crazy Cat Lady in the Making?
July 9, 2012 8:06 PM   Subscribe

I can't live with people! Help!

My AC at home is out, so for the past 10 days I have been staying at my boyfriend's apartment. Staying here has made me realize I really don't like living with people. I am an introvert, but do have friends and I'm not shy, but I like having my space. I feel that when I'm living with someone (previous boyfriend and now-ex-husband) that I always have to be "on". I have to talk to them and interact with them. Or I have to be doing something productive (cleaning house etc). Also, everything seems to annoy me because someone else did it. (Example, leaving the dirty dishes in the sink is fine when I do it, but if someone else does it, it drives me nuts.) Is this normal? How do I get over this? Am I doomed to a life of being a crazy lonely cat lady?
posted by jmd97 to Human Relations (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Totally normal! Why, this very minute, I am gnashing my teeth because I am apparently getting a roommate after all this weekend because grad housing made a mistake and told me I wasn't going to and I am going out of my mind because I cannot stand living with other people unless I love that person and am totally categorically OK with their presence, literal or otherwise. However, sometimes you gotta buck up and get over certain things, and this sounds like an opportunity to do it (especially if you don't want to alienate your BF).

Short-term, it sounds like you need to get some space to yourself, pronto. Can you buy a really good fan and head home? Or, if that's not an option, could you level with your boyfriend and let him know that you really need a little time to yourself and see if he can't just let you have the apartment for a few hours so you can unwind? You absolutely do not have to be "on" all the time when you're with someone and if you need permission to turn "off", you have mine, with every blessing I can bestow via the Internet. My guess is that your BF probably needs some alone time too. Just ask for it!

As for the long-haul, I personally know that I will always always always need a room to myself when I get married so that when I need to hibernate, I can, free of distraction and other people being in my space. My ex was profoundly offended by this. He subsequently wasn't a good match. Maybe this is something you'll need to put on the table, too, and I think you should, based on what you've described so far.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:13 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Husband and I each have our own spaces, and we each spend a lot of time in them. We also visit each other in our spaces, or spend time together in sort of more "communal" spaces, but neither of us like to be interacting with someone else all the time (and that includes each other). This is a completely normal thing to do (it is also completely normal to be the couple that spends all their time in the same space, just another normal thing). Right now, you are in his space, very clearly, and that would make (and has made) me very uncomfortable -- when I've moved in with someone it's always to a new place that we can make ours and that way neither person feels all the time like they're in someone else's space, and that's good.
posted by brainmouse at 8:15 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

My husband (and my kid, depending on the day) are the only two people I can stand to live with. And even then, sometimes I just have to get OUTOUTOUT. Or even better, make them leave so I can hang out in a quiet house.

And though we love hanging out together, the spouse and I still frequently retire to our desks and IM each other from 20 feet away.

(This is one of the reasons big cities don't work so well for me: wherever you go, PEOPLE. No room at home, nowhere to be alone, ever. Some days it really made me feel crazy.)

Part of your problem right now is it's not Your Space in any way. It's temporary and you miss your place with your stuff. Being uncomfortable as a guest doesn't mean you have to be Forever Alone. It may mean that if you live with someone again, you need a Do Not Disturb room/office, and a healthy fixation on leaving the house alone now and then.

It's the tradeoff part of being human; if you live completely alone (with or without cats) you get lonely. If you live with anyone, they are going to annoy you and be In Your Way at some point. Everyone has to find their own balance/coping mechanisms.
posted by emjaybee at 8:24 PM on July 9, 2012

I wish I knew. I moved to a completely different city in order to be able to afford to live alone. I love being social, but I need to be alone (or with people I'm totally comfortable being with) for at least some of my time in order to "recharge" I suppose. Otherwise I find myself becoming irritable and completely antisocial.
posted by melissam at 8:28 PM on July 9, 2012

Eventually I have found that if I do click with a person (and that isn't always or usually the case, so I almost always choose to live alone) I stop having to be "on" all the time. And by eventually, I mean anywhere from months to years. Can you be "off" with family? Anyone?
posted by vegartanipla at 8:30 PM on July 9, 2012

I am an introvert, with roommates, and there are a number of things that I find helpful:

1) My room is my space, no one else enters without being invited, and invitations are rare.

2) A warning to my roommates that mornings, when I am least capable of "on", I am liable to be minimally responsive, which is no reflection on how I feel about them.

3) Living with other introverts, who don't think it's weird to have a brief chat and then retreat to your respective spaces and/or who are perfectly fine occupying the same room without interacting.

About the only thing you might be able to control in your current situation is #2, and I can see how that would be hard, since it's your boyfriend and you presumably have a certain degree of wanting to be "on." I was about to ask the same question as vegartanipla: Have you ever learned to be "off" with other people? It can be done. It takes some work on your part, understanding what you really need to be "off" and how to explain it so that someone else gets it, and it takes work on their part (at least, if they're not also introverted, or express introversion differently than you do), but you can get there.

But don't judge your capacity by your current situation. It's an extreme, and you're not doomed to live alone. And there's nothing wrong with living alone if that's what makes you most happy.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:34 PM on July 9, 2012

Keep in mind that right now you're less in a shared space (as in, a space that is intended to be shared with you and makes you feel like an equal partner) and more in your boyfriend's space that also has strangers. It is completely OK to be going a little nuts after 10 days without private space, your schedule all wonky, and trying to adjust to people's idiosyncrasies without any expectation of reciprocity. This is not representative of living with someone as equal partners in a home - you're like a warped version of a guest.

I absolutely hate visiting people for extended periods of time. I find myself getting exhausted after 2 days and at 4, I want to run screaming and never come back. I can visit partners who live alone a little longer, but after 10 days of constantly being in each other's space I'd probably hate them too. However, I do manage to live quite well with roommates, even if we started off as strangers. They're very different circumstances. For example, as an equal roommate you can be like "hey get your dishes out of the sink" and they can remind you to do the same; as a guest, this is awkward.

That said, I make it my policy to never try to be "on" with roommates. I let them know right away that I need private space, I need a lot of private time, and I will likely be very grumpy if that doesn't happen. I don't treat them like guests but more like I did my siblings when we lived together. I'm polite but I also make sure my needs are met because my home is my sanctuary. I'd encourage you to work on being able to be "off" around your boyfriend (though don't expect this to be the same as pure alone time, I find even being "off" around people to sap my batteries).

Other than that, try to take some alone time for yourself every day. Go for a walk or a drive by yourself to run an errand, or to a park. Sit on the porch/balcony/deck if you have one. Tell your boyfriend to let you sleep in a little longer or go to bed a little earlier.
posted by buteo at 9:03 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Am I doomed to a life of being a crazy lonely cat lady?

What is it about living alone that you think equates to being a pitiful crazy lonely cat lady? Think about it - is living alone something you actually don't want, or is it something society has brainwashed you into thinking is a bad thing?

I live alone (yes, with one cat). I LOVE it. I am one of the few people I know who is not on antidepressants or in therapy. I am not the least bit lonely. My partnered and room-mated friends of all ages envy me. So cat lady, maybe, but crazy, lonely, doomed? WTF?

I live on my own terms, with my own stuff, at my own personal comfort level of cleanliness or slovenliness, whichever I feel like. I do what I want when I want with whom I want. I'm livin' the dream. I wish I'd realized when I was younger that this is how I am happiest.

It's not that I cannot live with people, it is that I don't want to. I adore having people over and often do, but it's my house, my space, my rules. Mine!

Wherever did you get the idea that this is a BAD thing? Many people are uncomfortable being alone for the smallest moment - you are not. You are blessed, not doomed.
posted by caryatid at 9:06 PM on July 9, 2012 [7 favorites]

I say I can't live with people, either.... but I don't think that's entirely the case - and it's probably not the case with you, either.

The main thing is space and ground rules. Sharing a bathroom is terrible - I will never even attempt to live with someone again unless I have my own bathroom. Should I ever get married I will probably want my own bedroom and sitting room (or similar).

Having tons of your own room makes it less likely that you're going to come across someone's mess and/or have them using your stuff.

Also, consider that it's probably worse right now because you're a guest and can't speak up. Who would actually say, "pick your towels up off the floor, ARG!" to someone that is graciously letting them stay over? If you're actually sharing a place with someone equally you can say, "hey - after you do the dishes, could you try to empty the drying rack by the following day?"
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 11:04 PM on July 9, 2012

"As for the long-haul, I personally know that I will always always always need a room to myself when I get married so that when I need to hibernate, I can, free of distraction and other people being in my space. My ex was profoundly offended by this. He subsequently wasn't a good match. Maybe this is something you'll need to put on the table, too, and I think you should, based on what you've described so far."

-- This is what I was going to come in and say. When I lived with my first long-term boyfriend, I had my own "bedroom" and then later a study. This was in a 2 bedroom, small house. When I moved with The Current Mr LyzzyBee, I was assigned a room for me and my stuff. Now, in our mutually owned house, I pretty well have the top floor - office and gym/paperback room. In living situations with friends, I have been lucky enough to have people who leave me alone. On a weekend away with a friend we paid extra to have a room each, said goodnight after dinner at 7.30 and sat reading in our rooms, next to each other, texting sporadically!

I just make it clear when I make a new friend or boyfriend that if we are together for more than a few hours, I will need some Own Time. Then I am clear to signal when I want it. Happy LyzzyBee, happy friend or Mr LB.

Also seconding the question as to why it's sad'n'bad to live alone. Did that for 5 years: loved it. Far better to be able to survive on your own resources than need peoplepeoplepeople the whole time!
posted by LyzzyBee at 11:25 PM on July 9, 2012

It's very normal for an introvert and I know a lot of extroverts who must have their own downtime and space too or they go a bit stir crazy.

I think we socially overemphasis the need to be around other people all the time when most people need time out to themselves. And lots of long-term couples have spaces or places that are their own, rather than shared spaces so that it makes dealing with the shared spaces (and different habits) easier. I think it's very natural.

But an introvert, we just need a little bit more time to ourselves because I think we get just a little bit more irritated and stressed if we don't.
posted by heyjude at 12:17 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to be an alone, alone person. Now, I live with someone who I love, and I find that this is changing a little. He sometimes comes home and needs to hibernate, and it took us awhile to get into a rhythm for that which works for us. Our compromise was this:

- I am categorically not okay with 'can I have the whole night to myself to sit here and look at my baseball cards and not talk at all.' I am okay with him having some of the night. I am okay with him having *most* of the night. But all isn't fair because it twigs some issues *I* have, so he has to compromise with me on this.

- The compromise is that I get a proper hug/kiss and a few minutes where he asks about my day before he goes off to do his thing, and that he comes to bed when I do and gives me a little reconnecting time. Between the hug/kiss and bedtime, he can do as he pleases with or without me and I will leave him alone.

- If he truly, truly is unfit for human company, he doesn't come home. Often, an hour or two of brooding by himself downtown or on a drive, and he's feeling much better and is capable of coming home and giving me some minimum human contact as described above.

It's not that I can't be alone either, or that I am codependent or anything. It's just that I do feel like I need to reconnect him every day, even if it's only a small way. So the compromise we worked out was that alone time is fine, as long as it's bookended by a few minutes of meeting my needs first, and that he comes to bed with me at a semi-reasonable time when he's had it.

Fwiw, we did have a few accidental fights about this (him not asking for the time in a way that explained what he wanted and acknowledged my needs in this, and me misinterpreting, feeling like his need for alone time was a reflection on me and freaking out about it) before we had a conversation, during a calm time where we both felt relaxed, and working out the above compromise. Now, we are at a point where we both know what to say to each other to get these sorts of needs met without upsetting the other person.

My point is that if you talk to him and work out a solution, you may find that it mitigates the need to feel 'on' with him. You can give him a few minutes of being 'on' and then retreat for a bit.
posted by JoannaC at 4:40 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Most people need some private space that others recognize as belonging to them alone, and that isn't messed with or entered without permission. There's a lot of psych analysis to it but it's something we can take as part of the human condition. Even in the most collegial environments, like a boot camp where twenty guys share a room, there's still a trunk or a locker that is personal and private. No, of course one can't climb into a locker or a trunk, but it is an anchor for one's individuality. And that's what you need to make at your BF's place: a private space. Carve off a little area in the room, call it a nook, just a little space, move some shelves around, rotate a desk so you sit in a corner and the desk blocks the rest of the room, get some plants or a room divider or hang up a sheet or something, just a space that is absolutely yours and reasonably divided from a larger space. And use it as a retreat. Get him to understand that when you're in your nook you're not really in the larger room and don't want to be engaged in conversation or interrupted trivially. This is a space you do not need to be "on" in, and he should be able to respect your need for peace when you're there. Don't hide there all the time of course, but make sure that the understanding is that when you need to recharge you don't want to be interrupted -- imagine it is a private room with a door, and when you're in there the door is shut.

I'd be wary of spending too much time in retreat, but you do need one, and this is a way to make one that should work until you get your own space back.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:33 AM on July 10, 2012

In what kind of situation did you grow up in? Did you have siblings?
posted by discopolo at 8:11 AM on July 10, 2012

Am I doomed to a life of being a crazy lonely cat lady?
I know of at least one passionately married couple who consider NOT LIVING TOGETHER the secret of their success.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:52 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

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