We don't want to kick out our reclusive roommate, can we salvage this?
August 7, 2012 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Need advice on dealing with a reclusive flatmate in a social and cooperative living situation. There may also be a cultural misunderstanding happening that I'm not picking up on. (She's Japanese)

For over two years, I've been living with old roommate (OR) who is also an old friend and its been going great. About 8 months ago, new roommate (NR) moved into our 3 bedroom apartment as well, and that's been less successful.

We live in Berlin - OR is German and fluent in Japanese, I'm from the US. NR is the same age as me and OR (late 20s) female recently arrived here from Japan. She speaks fluent English and a bit of German. Me and OR are both guys. When we first met NR as a potential roommate, we thought we had a lot in common with her as far as cultural interests and were excited about finding her, especially OR because NR was a chance for him to exercise his Japanese. We didn't say "don't be a recluse" but we did say that we are very cooperative in running the flat, our doors are frequently open, and that the flatshare should be social and pleasant.

After a positive first few months, NR kind of dropped out. She has:
- Never bought toilet paper, taken out the garbage, etc. She doesn't participate in "flat maintenance" or "flat projects" like acquiring new kitchen paraphernalia, or the occasional painting project or furniture rearrange.
- I don't think she feels that anything is amiss with the above because she also rarely uses the communal space. She keeps non-perishable food in her room, barely uses the fridge, has her own coat and shoe racks in her room.
- If she does use communal spaces it's when no one else is there. By now if I bump into her in the kitchen I feel weird about disturbing her. As an example, I recently went to the kitchen where she was cooking herself lunch. She turned the heat off on her half-cooked noodles and left.
- Our doors require some force to properly close, and they make noise. When she's home we're constantly hearing her door slamming shut - if she leaves her room its only for as long as she needs to and then she's back in, and her door is never left open.
- She will talk to us and seem warm and friendly if formally invited for a beer, but it has to be an explicit invitation.
- She's not a shut-in. She works a fair amount and brings friends home, who are always Japanese and usually don't speak English. This makes me paranoid that she's not interested in me because I don't share her nationality - perhaps unreasonably.
- Me and OR are feeling, frankly, a bit insulted and/or rejected.

So, my questions are:
- Is there a cultural aspect I'm missing here? She is a recent transplant from small-town Japan. She also doesn't have much cohabitation experience.
- If this goes on we will eventually ask her to leave... and feel incredibly guilty about it. Is this situation fixable in any other way?
- Should we "warn her" before asking her to leave? I'm afraid if we do she will force herself out of her room against her will and it will be very awkward.
- I've tried talking to her about these things in general ways. I tend to be blunt and open, and she very politely agrees with everything I say, doesn't state her own opinion, and apologizes unnecessarily. I feel like this is a conversational wall, and I don't know how to get around it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (57 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
She seems like she's shy and/or very introverted. If these are the worst of her traits, you could do much, MUCH worse for a roommate. It's a little weird to consider actually kicking her out, even if it's not ideal.

As an introvert who has lived with many roommates over the years, my suggestion would be to gently encourage her to socialize with you without forcing it. Keep the invites coming and try to avoid guilting her when she declines. House potlucks, communal meals, pub nights, movie nights etc are great for building a sense of community and then interest in communal projects usually increases - but not for everyone. Some people really aren't that interested in socializing too much with roommates and this doesn't mean that they dislike you - they might like to keep their roommate relationship more business-like, or they might not have enough energy to socialize with their real friends as well as you (especially introverts).

The only thing I see her doing "wrong" is not chipping in with things like toilet paper and garbage. That's easy though and a separate issue - you just have a conversation about splitting chores and household supplies. it isn't clear whether you've asked her directly to help with these chores ("talking to her about these things in general ways" is very vague). If she understands that those are partially her responsibility and is refusing to do them, that's a separate issue that needs to be figured out.
posted by randomnity at 8:18 AM on August 7, 2012 [20 favorites]

I think you need to separate out a couple of things -- not doing communal chores like taking out the rubbish or buying toilet paper is one; not socialising with you the way you'd like her to is another. I think you have a leg to stand on with the former, less so with the latter. I have been that reclusive roommate, due to being awkward and shy at times, or far away from home and uncomfortable in a new culture. A "social and pleasant" flatshare can mean different things to different people, I'm afraid.

I suppose you have every right to ask her to leave, but you sound like your reacting to her behaviour in a petty, self-centered way. Why is it so important that she doesn't want to be besties with you guys? Do you have other friends?
posted by catch as catch can at 8:21 AM on August 7, 2012 [25 favorites]

urgh, you're*
posted by catch as catch can at 8:23 AM on August 7, 2012

I suspect part of it is cultural, though I'll leave that up to people who know more about Japanese culture to comment on, and just say that I see things in your post that define a pathway to some level of success.

You say you have blunt, open conversations that lead to her apologizing and agreeing with you instead of arguing with you, but it doesn't change thing. So that is not the pathway to success.

But you also say you can offer specific invitations to her and she's friendly and engaged. So this probably is the pathway to success -- rather than talk to her about what she's doing wrong (and keep in mind that 'wrong' is extremely relative here, and not just culturally relative -- lots of Americans would fall all over themselves to have a roommate they never had to see).

Invite her to share meals with you, to engage with you in the communal spaces of the apartment, etc. "John and I are going to go to the grocery store and grab some supplies and then make dinner. Would you like to join us?" "John and I are going to make some popcorn and watch a movie, would you like to join us?" If you want her to engage with the social life within the apartment, then specifically invite her to do that.

I wouldn't expect the lone female in a house with men to necessarily ever feel comfortable leaving her bedroom door open, by the way. It's not universally true, and it's not an indication that she thinks y'all are going to rape her in sleep, but women tend to be a little more particular about that sort of thing.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:27 AM on August 7, 2012 [17 favorites]

Is this situation fixable in any other way?

I would continue living with her, being quietly thankful that I lived with someone who was so focused on not causing a fuss.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:29 AM on August 7, 2012 [52 favorites]

Let's not pile on the OP. NR's behavior makes him feel awkward and uncomfortable in his own home in (apparently) the same way that pressure to socialize with her roommates feels to NR.

OP, her expectations about shared living were apparently very different from yours, although hers are the ones that seem excessively weird - if she's so reclusive that she flees your presence, leaving half cooked food on the stove, when you come into your shared kitchen, then maybe shared housing isn't the right choice for her. Personally I wouldn't want to live with that sort of behavior in a roommate either, even though I am fairly introverted myself. That is just rude.

I'd talk to her, something along the lines of "you seem very uncomfortable sharing space with us, is there something we can do to help?" - although I don't expect it to help, but rather to lay groundwork for making it less unkind when you suggest she move out.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:30 AM on August 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

Seconding randomity about the introversion.

It sounds like she is uncomfortable with the level of interaction that you seem to expect, and I can understand that, as I've been on both sides of this problem. It hurts when you make overtures to a roommate and they are rejected. But she might also be not socializing with you because she needs alone time when she comes home, she doesn't like doing the same communal activities that you do, she is more comfortable alone in her room than out in the flat. For whatever reason.

The chores thing is a real issue, the other stuff is just awkward. It doesn't sound like she's given you probable cause to kick her out. That would be extremely traumatizing for all of you. When does the lease end? That could be a good time to try to make other arrangements, with enough advance notice.
posted by tooloudinhere at 8:30 AM on August 7, 2012

Address the chores separately, as said above. For TP and other expenses you might do a "receipt on the bulletin board" system whereby you stick a receipt for $6 on the bulletin board and the two other roommates plunk down $2 and $2 in a designated nearby place. That way you don't have to find each other and interact.

It could be personality, culture, budget, age...who knows? Think of it as a barely visible 3rd party SUBSIDIZING 1/3 OF THE RENT. No huge kitchen messes, no parties, no cousins sleeping on the couch, no loud sex, no camping out on the couch with a laptop ALL WEEKEND...I could go on.

Invite her for a beer every week or two (once a week on the dot is probably too much) and
posted by skbw at 8:31 AM on August 7, 2012 [10 favorites]

skbw makes a good point. If you can think of it as "you and OR live together, and rent a room to NR" then you can be less invested in her participation, and just be glad you don't have someone making messes and noise in your space.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:33 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

She seems like a normal roommate who likes her privacy, and also exhibits some of the normal roommate problem behaviours, like not buying toilet paper. Ask her to buy toilet paper. Do not ask her to go out on expeditions to buy new wooden spoons.

No cultural differences here, though. Just a normal person who is maintaining boundaries.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:34 AM on August 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

Have you ever lived in a culture dramatically different from your own? It can be pretty stressful and intense, although fluent English is probably a help. It's quite possible that working and living in the US (you sound US-ian, right?) and dealing with a new culture every day is exhausting and she needs to be by herself or with fellow Japanese people to recharge. I found this to be true quite often when I worked in mainland China - and I had awesome Chinese friends, loved my job and was quite happy almost all the time. But I often really, really needed to be by myself or with fellow English-speakers.

If this girl is also introverted, or if there's something else going on about gender and friendship, that probably adds on.

Honestly, maybe this isn't the perfect housemate for you - but eventually she'll move on and you can be more selective next time. I have a long history of group house situations and I really think that you're better off accepting that she's not ideal for you, getting your head around it and letting things go than making a big fuss or kicking her out. Kicking someone out is a nightmare, just a fucking nightmare - especially if the reasons are ambiguous. We asked someone to leave over reasons much more clearcut than the ones you'd give but nowhere near as clearcut as, say, "not paying the rent" or "coming home vomiting drunk every night" and it was horrible. We had to do it, but I would never do it just because someone was reclusive.

Also, it's not really fair on her - there's this quality of self-absorbed-ness about your question, almost as if you brought her in to be your "Japanese friend" and when she just wanted to have a quiet place to live, you got upset. Kicking someone out because they didn't want to be BFFs is not nice. Especially to someone who is new to the US.

Saying "move in here, but only if you want to be our friend" is pretty difficult. The only people I know who have done that are people who run political or artists' houses and do very extensive interviews from members of a community who also share their values and interests. I'd suggest working that kind of angle next time.

Like others on this thread, I do suggest that when you have a new person in your house, a quiet person who pays the rent and is reclusive is probably the best you'll get most of the time - you'll hit the jackpot with a perfect housemate once in a blue moon, or you'll be able to move a compatible friend in, but that's about it.

Like others, I suggest talking to her about toilet paper and chores - can you have a "chore day" that is scheduled once a month/once a week/whenever so that she has it on her radar? This has been the most effective in my experience.

And of course, she might be depressed, not just culture-shocked and stressed. Or you might be creeping her out - that's a possibility, although for mefite harmony I hope it's not true. Could you possibly have given her the impression that you want to talk about Japan or anime or something and that you're really interested because she's Japanese? Does one of you give the impression of having a crush on her? If so, that would cause anyone to withdraw a bit.

Also, she is happy to go out for beer with you when you invite her, but just wants to be casually friendly and not best friends? Now that I think about it, if I were you I would carefully examine my expectations and whether they are reasonable.
posted by Frowner at 8:36 AM on August 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

She may be more aware than you think that this is the dynamic.

I'm a bit reclusive myself. Especially during periods where there has been a lot going on in my life, I have greatly, greatly needed that space to close my door at the end of the day.

It may not be that she is rejecting you.

I would recommend trying one-on-one stuff, if you want to get to know her. Take it very slow.

Why not try bonding over one of those cultural things you mentioned?

Whatever you do, please don't make it about enforced merriment. You're neighbors-- there may be things you don't like about each other. But everyone has something to offer. Get to know her slowly, personally.

By the way, "you must be our friend, or you can not live here" is a very bad leg to start off a friendship on. Way to put some pressure on!!!!
posted by kettleoffish at 8:36 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Look, I agree with everyone who says that people are different, and that you may want to count your blessings about having a keeps-to-themself roomie, but this:

I recently went to the kitchen where she was cooking herself lunch. She turned the heat off on her half-cooked noodles and left.

is strange to the point of offputting. I might address that specifically along with the "chip in for common expenses and participate in chores" issue. Asking her to be pals is taking it too far, but I do think it is fair to ask her not to appear actively put out by your appearance in common areas.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:36 AM on August 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

I wonder if she's not contributing to upkeep because she's doing all her own upkeep and you don't see it. Maybe she has her own TP and takes out her own garbage etc. I mean that's not communal living at all, but is it worth booting out a no-hassles roomie because she wanted a "bachelor flat" experience instead of co-housing? No, it isn't ideal but the alternative?

The "bailing out of the kitchen" thing is kind of strange but maybe she's getting a wierd vibe from YOU about being overly social and trying to engage her and perhaps she feels creeped out. It's really hard to know.

Just imagine the flip side of the coin -- what kind of Ask post would she write, and how would it be answered? "These guys I room with keep trying to bug me and talk to me when I am feeling really tired and really I just want to be alone and It's a nice place and all but honestly I'm feeling a little closed in when they're around and I just want to do my thing. How can I get them to stop hassling me?"

Clearer communication is the answer, along with some re-examined expectations.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:40 AM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

but this:

I recently went to the kitchen where she was cooking herself lunch. She turned the heat off on her half-cooked noodles and left.

is strange to the point of offputting.

IDK, maybe from the roomie's POV, the OP was looming over her creepily while she was just trying to have a quiet meal alone after a super stressful morning.
posted by elizardbits at 8:41 AM on August 7, 2012 [14 favorites]

Did she just leave the noodles there on the stove? That's weird and probably worth a conversation but not in an accusatory way, but if she's skipping meals to avoid you then there has to be something more going on, of course I don't see why its a problem for you, I've never understood why introversion upsets non-introverts so much. How is her weight? Even if you hate your roomies, you finish cooking and then go eat in your room, I'm wondering if maybe she has some food issues and doesn't like to be seen eating/cooking?

If you want to kick her out then do it but as other people have pointed out, you could do a lot worse than a quiet roommate that keeps to herself and doesn't make a mess. Really, the only thing she's doing "wrong" is not buying toilet paper and taking out the garbage (and as mentioned, she might be doing her own share)
posted by missmagenta at 8:45 AM on August 7, 2012

I agree with many of the points already raised. Perhaps you could stress to her (if you haven't already) in a friendly way that the flat is her home as well as yours and she is more than welcome to share communal areas. If she doesn't choose to do that then, well, that's her prerogative. She's paying the rent, right?

For what it's worth, I live in a relatively small flat with four others and I see them roughly once or twice a week, despite the fact that I share a bathroom with two of them. It's just how our place works. Often I will avoid the kitchen area when someone else is cooking, simply because I'm usually tired and grumpy after work and I don't want to have to deal with talking to other people. I've also left the kitchen early when someone else has come in (although not to the point where I'm leaving half-cooked food on the stove). I'm not the only one who does this. It's not a cultural thing, just a personality thing.

People handle communal living differently, and I wouldn't expect a young woman from a small village in a foreign country who has never lived with anyone else before, with two gregarious male flatmates to be a social butterfly right away. You say she's been with you 8 months? That's not really that long in life terms. Give her some time to get used to everything and she may come out of her shell.
posted by fight or flight at 8:49 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

IDK, maybe from the roomie's POV, the OP was looming over her creepily while she was just trying to have a quiet meal alone after a super stressful morning.

That in itself would be a problem. Not quite sure why this thread is looking to blame the questioner, rather than give advice on how to deal with things. If the roommate has this perception, then it needs to be dealt with. I've lived with people who do things like this, and it really is uncomfortable. It feels passive aggressive, even if that is not the intention

I think that issue, in particular, does need to be discussed, along with the communal living issues. If she wants to keep herself to herself generally, that's her issue, but making other people feel uncomfortable by being unwilling to share communal spaces is not fair.
posted by howfar at 8:49 AM on August 7, 2012

Just for an added perspective on the noodles-on-the-stove thing: I'm very introverted and somewhat socially anxious. I spent a year in college in Japan, in a dorm with a shared kitchen on each floor (10-12 rooms). Some days, I would bring a box lunch home from the convenience store, and just wait, listening for the kitchen to empty out, so that I could reheat my box lunch. The stress of doing my education and shopping and daily life in a foreign language was so great that I'd get home and just be entirely out of energy to cope. And cooking/eating are weirdly intimate and it made me very anxious to have other people I didn't know that well around while I was doing it.

I don't have a solution or anything. I do think it's worth having a friendly conversation about, but if it's international living stress plus personality clashes, it may just be that you both need different things from a living situation.
posted by Jeanne at 8:52 AM on August 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

I would not take it too personally. I've been the reclusive roomie before - i had major stress going on in my life and being an introvert i just HAD to be alone for a little while after work for my sanity. I'd say she is probably exhausted from being in a new culture and using a foreign language all day (does she work in Japanese?) so its probably just an issue of personal style.

Is it possible to get a solo flat in Berlin for the amount she's paying? If not, there is your answer. If so, could you subtly point her in that direction?

If you are going to ask her to leave you should definitely warn her, but personally I don't see how you can do that. As an introvert I would get laughed out of town if I tried to kick an extrovert roomie out for being too noisy or expecting too much social contact!
posted by EatMyHat at 8:52 AM on August 7, 2012

[Folks, let's ease up on the namecalling. This is the OPs question, if you identify with the roommate, maybe try to give constructive solutions on how to approach this and don't turn it into a proxy argument? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:53 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, unless your lease says "you have to be friends with us", I think it's a jerk move to kick her out because she's not as friendly as you envisioned. (Also, did OR ever talk to her about practicing his Japanese? Or was this just an expectation? I would be weirded out if I found out on moving in that my roommate wanted me to be his live-in conversation partner).

Another perspective on the food - is your kitchen small? As my partner would attest, I get stressed out and cranky very easily if I'm trying to cook and someone else is futzing around behind me, in the fridge, all up in my space. If possible, I will also flee the scene and come back later rather than say "hey, no offense, but your presence is stressing me out".

Another thing - is she poor or on a fixed income? Do you guys tend to share food? In college, I had to start hoarding my food in my bedroom because my roommates liked to "borrow and repay/replace", which didn't work when I had a strict food budget and couldn't wait a few days to get my food replaced.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:53 AM on August 7, 2012

I'll start by saying I've lived with the sort of person who hides in their room a few times. One was a subletter who I shared a room with and, yes, it was awkward and made me feel a bit paranoid. Another was my old flatmate, and it was a good two years. Sometimes we lived totally separate lives. Sometimes we watched TV together. I don't think we cooked a meal together once. But my friends would make fun of the fact we'd schedule outings together--not in the name of apartment cohesiveness or anything, but because that was the dynamic of our relationship.

I don't know about a specific cultural aspect, but the fact that she has recently arrived in a new country is probably a good part of it. When you arrived in Germany, did you hang out with a lot of Americans? (Do you still hang out with a lot of Americans, for that matter?) Did you feel confident speaking German? If there are a non-trivial number of Japanese people in Berlin, it makes total sense that she'd be hanging out with them.

If she occasionally declines your invitations to do things, you can safely assume she's not going solely out of politeness. So, if you want to be friends with her, keep inviting her to do things. She might be shy, it might be how Japanese people make friends, she might be like me and not able to figure out when I'm friends with someone.

Do you and OR share food? Are you certain she understands that food in the kitchen isn't communal? Or, if it mostly is, that she could have a shelf of food that hers and not yours?

Like others have said, your problem is really that she isn't contributing the general upkeep.
posted by hoyland at 8:54 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

IDK, maybe from the roomie's POV, the OP was looming over her creepily while she was just trying to have a quiet meal alone after a super stressful morning.

As howfar said, totally possible, but even if so, that's something that should be dealt with, not allowed to fester. If something he is doing is making her that uncomfortable, surely he should know about so he can change his behavior?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:54 AM on August 7, 2012

Here's a datapoint for you:

I once dated a Japanese woman who was sharing a house with 4 other Japanese, outside of Japan. They didn't spend that much time together, despite the whole "Japanese are just one big family" thing. In fact, these people barely took the time to speak to each other in the kitchen. My girlfriend at the time kept most of her food in her (tiny) room, and lived her life with scant regard for her fellow housemates, and they did pretty much the same thing too. Disagreements were never voiced publicly; rather, there was a lot of back biting.

From my point of view, this lack of housemateship looked pretty brutal. My tentative conclusion is that Japanese like to have very firm boundaries, perhaps much more than westerners are used to experiencing in shared housing situations.

My advice: get her on board with the chores and expenses, and leave her to herself.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 8:56 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I tend to be blunt and open, and she very politely agrees with everything I say, doesn't state her own opinion, and apologizes unnecessarily.

Blunt and open is not going to work with her. It sounds as if she has an automatic response to "blunt" conversations--she says whatever she thinks will smooth things over, such as apologizing unnecessarily and not arguing with you. But that's not that same as accepting your blunt statements as information she needs or wants to integrate into her life. I'd find this behavior irritating, but I think it's unfair to expect her to make the leap to being blunt like you. I imagine there's a middle ground.

I wonder if email might be a good way to communicate with her. I ordinarily think that's unnecessarily passive aggressive for roommates, but it might be the best way to get your practical needs met. So, for instance, if the toilet paper is running low, you could email both of your roommates and say, "I'm going to buy new toilet paper when I go to the store, can you each pitch in $X? You can leave it on the kitchen counter." Or if the garbage is full and you're irked about taking it out again, you can email both of your roommates and say, "I feel like I'm taking out the trash all the time. Can we devise a chore system to trade off taking out the trash? What if we did XYZ and kept track of it with the calendar posted on our refrigerator?" (You would, of course, explain this strategy ahead of time to OR.)

All that said, I think it's really unfair to say, "Be more social or you're out." It's possible that she decided, after the first couple of months, that she liked living as your roommate but didn't particularly want to be friends with you and OR. It's also possible that she didn't realize how exhausting it would be to be "on" in a new country, speaking a new language every day, and she simply doesn't have the energy to socialize with you and OR. Perhaps OR could speak to her, in Japanese, about how she feels about living there and whether she thinks it's a good fit--he might have learned more about Japanese conversational styles as part of his language training, such that he may be able to get information that your "blunt" approach doesn't.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:57 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you know if she's using her own toilet paper and taking out her own trash, etc.? If she's not, then I don't think you can ask her to do those things. If she is, then you can have a conversation with her about that but I doubt it will solve the other "problems" you percieve with this roommate.

I think your expectations are perhaps too high and you're being overly sensitive. I don't know how weird it is that she ran away from you in the kitchen -- maybe she doesn't like you for whatever reason, or maybe she was having a bad day -- it's probably not sometihng that I would have done but the alternative might have seemed worse for her (awkard silence or forced conversation.)

Some people really just want a room and not a communal housing experience, and that sounds like what she's after. If that makes you uncomfortable and it's important for you to have that kind of experience, then I suppose you can ask her to leave -- what would be the point of "warning" her that you want her to have a personality transplant, essentially? -- but "social and pleasant" IS (at least somewhat) "She will talk to us and seem warm and friendly" and not necessarily what you seem to want.
posted by sm1tten at 8:57 AM on August 7, 2012

I moved to the US from Australia so the cultures are not all that different, but I can tell you after a long day at work I would have killed to sit and talk to some Aussies quietly in my room and not be ZOMG new person from another country, and I am a person who has traveled a bit and likes making new friends. I can't even imagine moving from Japan to a western country with a new language for culture shock.

Give her time, if she's only just moved she's most likely experiencing culture shock, stress from everything being new and homesickness, right now her room is her safe haven where she doesn't have to deal with all the little things that trip you up in a new country. It took me a good six months to feel I had a handle on things and I moved to a small town in the Midwest and it was a country with the same language and culture pretty much the same as my home country. Give her some space, stop treating her like ZOMG token Japanese person and more like a person, I can't explain how tiring it gets, heck I've had someone say to me "Say something Australian." while I was in a doctors waiting room suffering from a migraine and waiting to be seen, it is very hard to be "on" all the time.

Keep offering the friendly invites to come and hang out with you, even if she only accepts every 10th invite you will all slowly get to know each other and that will help. I am in no way trying to blame you, and please keep up all your attempts to be friendly, friendly people are a godsend when you are trying to figure things out, just remember her needing her space is most likely about her and not about you guys and give her time.

Household chores are a different thing though, and I would bring that up at some sort of group meeting situation. Maybe don't do it in an accusing way but a general we need to organise a system to make sure toilet paper gets replaced or whatever way, she just may have not realised she was supposed to do it. Of course if it continues then you'll have to bring it up more directly.
posted by wwax at 8:58 AM on August 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

OP, there are two things I'm picking out of your question. One is that she didn't start out like this; the first few months were about as you expected. If this situation has changed, then presumably something occurred to make her less comfortable with your living arrangement. What might have happened?

The other thing: you state that you worry she's not interested in you. That's an unusual turn of phrase for this situation. Is it possible you (or your other roommate) have somehow given her the idea that you are into her in that way? It might be that she has the idea that one of you wants a girlfriend, and not a roommate, and she's not interested. It doesn't need to be an accurate perception, but is it possible that she has this perception?
posted by Andrhia at 8:59 AM on August 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

It's very uncommon in Japan for people to live with people they don't know in shared arrangements like this. People generally live with their parents or alone in apartments. I can't think of any Japanese people I've known who shared a house.

In places where people rent rooms and share bathrooms, tenants don't speak to each other beyond perfunctory greetings. That might be what she was expecting.

She probably didn't realize you would expect so much socializing. Coupled with the fact that you're guys, it's probably hard for her to figure out exactly what you want from her.
posted by vincele at 9:06 AM on August 7, 2012 [13 favorites]

Andrhia: "OP, there are two things I'm picking out of your question. One is that she didn't start out like this; the first few months were about as you expected. If this situation has changed, then presumably something occurred to make her less comfortable with your living arrangement. What might have happened?"

That is a very good point, and I didn't catch that in my initial read of the question. You need to look more at this aspect of the situation before proceeding, I think.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:06 AM on August 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

wwax's point about homesickness could be part of why she's keeping food and other things in her room rather than in the communal space. They may very well be items she's brought with her from Japan or is buying in specialty Japanese shops in Berlin, which she may want to keep close as reminders of home or because she's worried that it will get mixed up with your food and lost.

Maybe something to keep in mind when considering her POV.
posted by fight or flight at 9:06 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Japanese people are famous for going to other countries and hanging out only with other Japanese people and eating as much Japanese food as they can. Most Japanese people will admit to this.

Especially if she's from rural Japan, she will probably never feel comfortable around you enough to hang out voluntarily. If this is unacceptable to you, just tell her you really wanted someone more sociable. The good part of this aspect of Japanese behavior is that she probably won't make a big fuss about leaving.
posted by zachawry at 9:08 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've had a couple of roommates in my life. I think I exude some pheramone that says, "surrogate mom!" or something. My first roommate was 18 (6 years younger than I was.) She was nice and her cat was nice, but she wanted to be my best friend, wanted me to buy furniture with her, wanted me to cook her breakfast on Sunday morning. I had two jobs and I wanted to sleep. Different priorities.

I eventually moved after about 6 months because although it was a pretty good living situation, I couldn't deal with this chick wanting something from me every blasted minute I was in the apartment.

I had another young roommate and she dreamed up this amazing ideal where we'd rent this great townhouse and we'd be BFFs and I'd cook (sense a theme) lovely meals that we'd eat together in the evening.

Except that she would bring random guys home, involve herself in dramatic romances with them, stay up all hours laughing and giggling and called me a bitch because I wanted to, you know, sleep when it was dark out.

I went home for Thanksgiving and she moved out and stuck me with the Townhouse. Bitch.

The point is that people have ideas about what they think a roommate is going to do or be. Roommates have their own agendas, and feelings and get this, they can change their minds.

It may have sounded to her like a dream situation at first. One roommate who speaks her native language, another in a language she likes to improve. But as the months drag on, you all are too much in her life. She may want to watch Korean soap operas and eat Pocki at night, you want her to drink beer and speak Japanese with you. It's exhausting.

She sounds ideal to me. I'd worry that she remains comfortable, but having a quiet, invisible roommate seems like a slice of heaven.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:10 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't participate in shopping for stuff or rearranging furniture either, as the third wheel roommate. Paying for things, yes, that's reasonable to expect and you should point that out. But being expected to join into activities in which I wasn't invested in the outcome would be tortuous, like a "bonding day" at work where you did fiddly things together for forced interaction. It's not really fair to ask those things of someone who's not going to join in on their own. I would be a little weirded out by the cooking thing, but the best person to ask about that is your roommate. Maybe she is uncomfortable cooking in front of anyone for some reason, maybe she felt hovered over, maybe she was offended because you were standing in the kitchen picking your teeth, maybe she had a horrible day and didn't want to make small talk in the kitchen who knows. If it happens again, find out at some convivial time if she's bothered by other people in the kitchen while she's cooking. Otherwise, it sounds like you may have expectations that are either unclear or just not grounded in many people's idea of a room for rent.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're two "big loud men". You're frightening.

(In addition to all the rest that's been said).

I'm a small Asian woman who moved in with two big loud men! in my final year of college. I'd never lived with men! before. She's moved straight from small town Japan (and maybe even directly from her parent's home).

You're overwhelming!

Give her some time.

Agree on the chores list etc but contextually, it may take her some time to adjust to more peer based cross gender interaction than she may have been brought up to deal with.

/this is not being genderist. Just saying how it felt for me.
posted by infini at 9:17 AM on August 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

The running away from the kitchen seems an anomaly compared to her typical behavior, so I wouldn't take it personally. Like Jeanne said above, food can be oddly personal and emotional, and especially so as a foreigner. Maybe she was feeling homesick and she was cooking Dad's special secret noodle recipe, or some kind of comfort food. In a lot of Asian families, eating food together is a huge part of family life (I know when I was an exchange student in high school, Indian home food was the thing I missed the most). So maybe she was in the kitchen that day, cooking her noodles and thinking of Mom and Dad, when you unwittingly came across her at her most vulnerable. She panicked and ran away. It's not your fault (there's no way you would've figured that out in the moment). Now it's really awkward in the kitchen between you guys, both of you feel embarrassed, and neither of you really know what to do.

I think your roommate is a little homesick and a little lost. You guys come from two very different cultures and both of you are, naturally, very confused about each other's behaviors. Give it time, keep extending her invitations to hang out, and slowly get to know each other.
posted by krakus at 9:40 AM on August 7, 2012

It sounds like she is uncomfortable with the level of interaction that you seem to expect, and I can understand that, as I've been on both sides of this problem. It hurts when you make overtures to a roommate and they are rejected. But she might also be not socializing with you because she needs alone time when she comes home, she doesn't like doing the same communal activities that you do, she is more comfortable alone in her room than out in the flat. For whatever reason.

All of these may be true, but they are reason enough in themselves to replace her if the OP and his original roommate want to. You don't really have to feel bad about telling her it's time to move on, as long as you give proper notice and treat her respectfully. This will also free her to find a living situation with people who are more compatible.

You don't have to live with someone who is making you uncomfortable. You are not required to continue this arrangement.

People on MeFi tend to be on the shy-n-nerdy end of the spectrum, and I think they are often a little more sympathetic toward introverts. What everyone is overlooking here is that you and your roommate aren't happy, and this girl is not exhibiting any signs that she's happy with the arrangement either. If your standards for a living situation are higher than what you have currently, you're perfectly entitled to change things so you can try and meet them.
posted by hermitosis at 9:41 AM on August 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

From the OP:
A few clarifications I wanted to make:
re: Potential creeperness - I assure you that this is neither me nor OR. We're both guys of strong feminist-y leanings and there are plenty of women in our social circle. I'm very sensitive to the moods of others so I give NR as wide a berth as possible in common spaces. Its this sensitivity to others that makes this a problem for me - I think I can see her discomfort and that makes me tense and self-conscious. Re: Innuendo that me or OR are "interested like that"... umm, no, no, no. That's terrible! And OR has a girlfriend and NR has a boyfriend who I happen to like a lot.

re: Desire to be BFF - There's space between "house full of strangers, passing like ships in the night" and "surrogate family." We want to be between the two, not at either pole. We tried to explain this before she moved in.

re: Change - Yeah something did change after a few initial months. I don't know what. I'd guess that she got a lot more busy with a new job and with partying with newfound japanese friends who like to party, so she's probably more drained, as suggested.

Finally, there's a lot of perspectives that I overlooked that are suggested in this thread - those along the lines of "overwhelmed and cultureshocked, go slow, be gently inviting but not pushy" I think those are right on, and I think I'll try a different tack and hopefully this can still work. So thanks!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:47 AM on August 7, 2012

Two thoughts: it's possible that she is relatively fluent in English but still not terribly comfortable in it, and so she avoids group expeditions to IKEA or whatever because spending the afternoon speaking English with you two--who are good friends and probably talk relatively quickly and have your own jokes and understanding--is really tiring, because it pushes the limits of her listening comprehension. Everyone I know who has been working hard in another language says that one of the skills that comes the most slowly is being able to speak to a bunch of people ("a bunch" in this case meaning "more than one at a time") at once in your new language. I've certainly found that to be true.

Secondly, with regards to her fleeing the kitchen: is it possible that she thought you weren't going to be around and therefore wasn't wearing a bra? And then you showed up unexpectedly and she was feeling awkward and exposed, so she fled? As a woman, it's a really uncomfortable vulnerable feeling to stand in front of a guy who isn't your boyfriend or an immediate family member without a bra on, even when the guy is decent and doesn't stare at your chest. But bras are also not super comfortable, so many women shed them whenever possible at home and just walk around in their shirts.
posted by colfax at 9:51 AM on August 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

Since you are both guys, there is actually a cultural consideration - it can be unusual for women to room with men in Japan.

FWIW, my knowledge is based on my wife and may be out of date. My wife also comes from a small town in the countryside, but she's no hick :)

When I first met my wife 15 years ago or so, I was working in rural Japan as an English teacher at a satellite office. I lived in company housing with one other roommate, also a guy.

Occasionally a female coworker from head office would come down to work, and she would stay in our house.

This was very confusing to my future wife - she thought that one of us was sleeping with said female co-worker, as that could be the only reason why she was spending the night at our place.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:15 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

[Constructive, realistic helpful answers please.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:16 AM on August 7, 2012

I have been the same exact way as your roommate. I am an American female.
I used to have extreme social anxiety which has decreased - but I still suffer from it.
I'm also pretty introverted.

I lived with a few different roommates (some I knew, some I didn't) and I avoided everyone at all costs. I would wait until everyone left to use the fridge. I would keep most food in my room. I wouldn't use the common area... I usually left notes. I never went with them anywhere socially and certainly didn't buy kitchen stuff on an outing.
When I was younger, I could see myself dropping what I was doing and going to my room.
All of my roommates seemed like great people - and I did not hate them. I did buy toilet paper, though. I took out my own trash (from my room). I did not clean any parts of the house because, well, I never used those areas.

I also think maybe it has something to do with living with two strangers that already knew each other. It probably makes her feel awkward.

Maybe living with two men might be "scary" to her- not sure since I don't know her.

If you decide to get a new roommate, you should probably phrase your ad in way that you want more of a social/sharing pal rather than someone to just split the bills who keeps to themselves. I've seen ads phrased as such and I've personally avoided them because I knew I wasn't what they were looking for.

Your situation could be much much much worse. Be glad.

Here is a kind of related post that may help
posted by KogeLiz at 10:32 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Potential creeperness - I assure you that this is neither me nor OR

She might not be closing her door because you're OMG male. If I was in her situation, I'd be closing my door because I wouldn't want anyone to see me asleep, with my nightgown tangled up to my neck and drooling on my pillow, specially my male roommates!

When I was a child, all the doors were open in my home, so it made me anxious to hear a door slamming or seeing a closed door, because it meant somebody was angry. I didn't understand until I moved out that it didn't necessarily mean that. For you, the sound of her shutting her door closed might be jarring and a sign of rejection, but of itself it only means she wants privacy.
posted by clearlydemon at 11:12 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes it is cultural. Why is she co-habiting? Is she studying or something. Asians (some) consider the roommate situation temprorary and not exactly something they are aspiring for. On the worst side, something that needs to be changed as quickly as possible as sharing a home with strangers is not something they would like. So she probably sees this as a period that she needs to get through not as a bonding with others experience.

You dont have to be best friends with her, that is not why she was looking for a place to live.
posted by pakora1 at 11:26 AM on August 7, 2012

BTW, "Date rape" (ie, getting sexually assaulted by someone you know) and sexual harassment are not uncommon in Japan. I'm not saying it's common, but women do need to take precautions, which is why she may be closing her door.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:34 AM on August 7, 2012

We tried to explain this before she moved in.

I totally agree with hermitosis here, in that (depending on things like leases or other binding legal agreements) you are well within your rights to ask her to move out so that you can find a housemate who better fits your living style, assuming you give her adequate notice. I would suggest that you examine exactly how you communicate this desire to prospective future tenants, and try and find ways to make sure your expectations are fully understood before move-in.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:45 AM on August 7, 2012

I've lived in Japan and have befriended many Japanese people who don't fall into the stereotype of being introverted or shy, which I admit may be the result of me meeting them in their own territory or they are already worldly enough to be comfortable around different people from different cultures. I can only speak from that experience.

I will say that none of us here really know what you and the OR's personalities are, we don't know the day to day interactions nor the moment you both noticed that the NR decided to retreat and interact with people that may make her more comfortable. It's hard to give efficient or truly relevant advice to a matter no one here besides yourself has personal experience with, we can only relate to situations that may be similar but the players may have different insights or solutions due to who they _are_.

The event with the noodles has no real context, we don't know if she was having a bad day or how early or far into her residency this occurred; a lot of things could have led up to her turning the heat off and leaving her uncooked noodles on the stove as soon as you entered the kitchen, we are only aware of your side of this story. Surely she has email, right? Again, I don't know your personality or personally, I can only say that if I entered the kitchen while my roommate was making something and she left as soon as I entered without taking her food or saying a word to me, I would have given her a moment then decide how to best ask her if she was okay or if it was something I did.

That being said, we have to look at the scenario you have written and provide hard/non-nuanced answers. I agree with a separation of expectations, that the chores/expenses from social functions need to be discussed. We don't know what your expectations are from a roommate other than the superficial, such as picking up the material slack in day-to-day expenses or being the one who instigates social functions. Practical solutions like the receipt-board are great, maybe that's the direction to go forward on after you've both figured out what your expectations of being a roommate are in regards to shared-spaces and supplies. As for the deeper, personal stuff, that's up to how well you both choose to communicate with each other.

What I can say, from my own experience that may translate into yours, is that when I had a personal issue with a Japanese friend of mine, I would invite him/her out for drinks (not a bender, just one or two drinks) and ask them open ended questions to get them comfortable about speaking then I ease into questions that show that I am concerned about them as a person. That usually leads to finally getting down to the root of an incident, such as her leaving the kitchen as soon as you entered. Again, this only worked well for me because I invested time into learning about the person and that I genuinely viewed this person as a friend.

If you're looking for a friend, then you have your work cut out for you, if you're looking for a roommate who pitches in on supplies/maintenance, then let her know. Either way, figure out what you both want and proceed from there.
posted by nataaniinez at 12:04 PM on August 7, 2012

I'm a woman who once lived with two men who were already friends, and who were from other countries -- though I'm American and they were both from Asian countries. Perhaps my experience could provide some context?

I had a hard time getting socially comfortable in the house, and never really bonded with them, in part because it was clear from the beginning that they were already reasonably close, and in part because it was clear that I missed some cultural context or subtext that was often part of their social experiences together, even though they always spoke English around me. So I felt like a third wheel a lot. Most of their friends were men, most of my friends were women, and most of our lives seemed to revolve around different interests. I went to a party with them once, and didn't really like the beer, the music, the conversation, etc. After that, I put in even less effort to be pals with these guys.

Also, even though they both seemed like good guys, one had a girlfriend, and neither ever hit on me, being in a smaller-female-with-two-larger-dudes situation *did* make me uncomfortable. This was in college, and several of my friends had recently had run-ins with attempted and/or successful date rape, and I was on high alert. It weirded me out to see these male roommates who I didn't know well enough to trust when they walked around in their boxers. I never felt comfortable leaving my bedroom in my pajamas, even at night, so I'd get dressed just to go to the bathroom.

I definitely closed my bedroom door whenever I wasn't going through it. My bedroom was the only place that was MINE in the entire world. Every other room I entered was communal, in the house, at school, at work, etc. How could I not treat my room like a sanctuary? Why on earth would I leave it open to the gaze of all who passed?

For a while, I didn't mind the shared kitchen supplies situation, though I was annoyed when I made a pizza and the entire thing tasted like soap because one of them had not thoroughly rinsed the mixing bowl I used for the dough. Then one of them made a really messy meat dish on one of my pans -- I'd been a vegetarian for about 8 years at that point, and was pretty disgusted by the new permanent stains on my cooking gear. After that, and I decided I was done sharing kitchen resources with these guys, so moved my stuff into my room.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:07 PM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

The suggestions about getting to know NR personally are good here.

I would add try this in absolute good faith.

Before attempting to get friendlier with NR (or, RR, perhaps)-- make a promise to yourselves that you are not just doing it to make the living situation more gregarious and fun.

Commit to accepting your roommate and the situation just as it is. I think sometimes people can sense the contrived nature of shared living situations, and are put off. Socializing can feel like paying the rent.

If you are more accepting of your roommate's habits, that might open the door to a real friendship. Us introverts LOVE meeting people who are willing to move at our speed. Often, introverted people might be shy but also wary of having lots of social involvement. Because that can lead to expectations.

If you lower the expectations, paradoxically, she may be grateful enough that she starts seeking you out to do things.
posted by kettleoffish at 1:13 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

This was me, age 22, moving to NYC and living with my two new roommates. Social anxiety, introverted personality, and depression were my reasons. Every social interaction with my roommates drained energy I needed for the things I cared about more. I liked my roommates fine and would hang with them occasionally, but I needed the house to be my place to decompress. Add that to the panicky feeling I got around people and that led to me trying to completely isolate myself. Being in a big, new city was overwhelming and anxiety-making, too.

I am not like this anymore, largely from being forced to live in a warehouse space I shared with others and simply becoming a more confident adult. But, at the time, what would have worked to draw me out was what others above are saying: gently invite her to group events, to watch a movie in the common area, to have some dinner you made, etc. Best you not knock on her door to do this, as it will feel like an invasion of her space.

And I hate to say it because I totally sympathize with her, but if this continues to make you uncomfortable, you are definitely allowed to replace her as a roommate.
posted by Lieber Frau at 1:14 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ps: don't know if this is true for her, but at the time, instant messages or g-chat were the best ways to communicate for me. I could be direct about my needs but not experience the panic an in-person conversation would induce.
posted by Lieber Frau at 1:17 PM on August 7, 2012

I'd say she sounds like a pretty good roommate. Keep asking her in a low key way to socialize. Write out a plan for everyone contributing to the maintenance kitty for toilet paper and cleaning supplies, and organize a rota for taking out the garbage, etc. Just make sure that she's not stuck 1/3 of the time taking out the garbage for two messy guys when she doesn't generate hardly any of it.

Keep asking her to socialize in a low key way. Give her time to adjust. Allow her her privacy. Fix the DAMN DOORS! The slamming would drive me nuts. Use WD-40 to oil hinges and latches, and plane down the doors if they won't shut properly.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:49 PM on August 7, 2012

What everyone is overlooking here is that you and your roommate aren't happy, and this girl is not exhibiting any signs that she's happy with the arrangement either.

If you do decide to go this direction, please make sure that this is not part of your reasoning. Or rather, she might be unhappy... but there's no sign of this in the question.

If feeling neglected by your roommate is painful to you... well, asking your roommate to move out will be a MASSIVE blow to her self esteem, any way you cut it.

It is a free country, but asking her to move out will definitely be a hurtful experience.

Sure, we've all felt.. wow, I wish the people around me were more pleasing and charismatic to me!...

But I just feel like it's kind of a mean thing to do to someone, to have them out on the street. It sounds like you don't even really KNOW each other....
posted by kettleoffish at 2:57 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

So I'm going to offer some thoughts based on stereotypes and personal experience. I have rented a room in a house and while the owner was an amazing and open person, I did not feel comfortable enough to make myself at home with another person's belongings and furniture. I brought in a few kitchen staples and if ever found myself using his things, washed them promptly and put them away. If I had guests, we would hang out in my room and not sit in the living room to hang out.

It wasn't that I felt unwelcome it was more that I felt it would be obtrusive to put my personal comfort before my housemate's. It always felt like it was his home and while I paid rent and was sincerely welcomed, I felt like a guest. So my behavior was to be as unobtrusive as possible. I didn't feel like a shut in and quite enjoyed my living arrangement. I've since moved but if ever found myself in need of a room for rent, I'd want to live there again!

You know when someone invites you into their house and tells you to make yourself at home? Well, in my culture, a host should always be generous but a guest should never impose upon the hospitality. I've had friends from different cultural backgrounds that when told to be comfortable, will put their feet on the coffee table and help themselves to stuff in the fridge. This kind of behavior (outside from relatives or very close friends) would shock me, my parents and possibly all my ancestors!

I suspect she might be trying to preserve a sancrosanct respect for your enjoyment of the home by sticking to her room and causing you both the least amount of inconvenience. If you enter the kitchen and she leaves, it could be her way of not preventing you from free use of the kitchen.

I really get the sense ahe is trying her best not to impose on you guys. Even buying toilet paper or the act of taking out the trash might be motivated by this same reluctance to act in any way assertive.
posted by loquat at 3:11 PM on August 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

in addition to what a lot of other people have sggested: invite her to social things if you want to get to know her better, even if she didn't respond in a positive way before. in normal life, a non-response, after a while would be considered not interested, but for her this may be just being polite to decline. i mean, if she says something like "stop texting me" obviously, stop. but if you frame it as a non-sexual socializing thing (maybe a mutual female friend could do the invite? it could be in the day time?) that would give you the best opportunity to get to know her better and become more comfortable.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:09 PM on August 7, 2012

I felt compelled to comment on this article because your reclusive roommate sounds just like myself. While there is probably an added cultural aspect at work there, she sounds like born-and-raised Canadian me, who is just a serious introvert.

I do have a good circle of friends and spend time with them, but I am hopelessly awkward around people I don't know well, including my roommates. I don't dislike them but we don't have much in common, so I'm stuck making awkward small talk.

I almost always leave my door closed, because I like my space private and not feeling like my roommates will be judging me for my mess. I spend most of my time hanging out in my room rather than common spaces so I can be alone.

I try to cook my dinner at times when other people aren't around, because then I'm not competing for space in the kitchen and I don't have to interact with people when I don't feel like it. To be honest I can't put my finger on precisely why, but I feel really awkward cooking with other people around.

I haven't taken part in any house projects unless I'm asked to. Because I'm living in a shared space, including with the owner of the house, I try not to feel like I'm imposing on anybody's space. I just try to stay out of everyone's business.

I don't think there's anything wrong with her or that you have a big misunderstanding, I suspect this is just her personality. Do you really want to kick her out for not being more social? She's still paying rent and not making a mess, presumably, which is better than most roommates. If you'd like her to buy more toilet paper or take out the garbage, I suggest specifically telling her to do so.
posted by vanitas at 1:38 PM on August 8, 2012

« Older Hybrid mechanic in NYC?   |   Bumper Bully? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.