My new roommate just declared: no dates can ever spend the night here.
September 14, 2012 6:59 AM   Subscribe

My new roommate just declared to me that there is a rule in our apartment: No dates are allowed to ever sleep over. Can you help me figure out how to have a productive discussion about this with her?

I am a 28 year-old American woman and I just moved into a apartment last week with one female roommate, who was a friend before I moved in, but not a best friend. My new roommate has already been living in this apartment for about a year, so I feel like I'm the newcomer. She is Chinese, from one of the largest cities in China, and 21. We are living in a big Western city where we are both foreigners.

We were hanging out in the kitchen yesterday, talking about our plans for the weekend, and I mentioned that I have a date on Saturday with a new guy I'm excited about. And she said, "Oh! That's really exciting! But, you know, there's a rule in this apartment: no guys are allowed to spend the night. I don't want to be the third wheel. My last roommate had a boyfriend, and it was really awkward." I was so taken aback by this that I agreed with her, and said something cheerful (and not even totally serious because I'm not sure that this thing on Saturday is even a real date) about how this guy seems to have his own place, so if things go well then the not-in-this-apartment rule shouldn't be a problem. But by that point she was just looking at me in total horror, so I changed the subject.

It's been a long time since I've dated and even longer since I've had a roommate. Was it off-base for me to assume that if a date goes well, I could occasionally bring someone home without that being a huge deal? If you know anything about dating in China, can you give me some insight on her background here? That look she gave me made me feel really slutty and awful for even suggesting that I was thinking about sleeping with this guy in the near future. The idea of broaching the topic with her again makes my skin crawl, because I think it's going to feel like talking about how much I want to have sex right here in this apartment.

But I do want to talk to her again, because it made me uncomfortable having a rule handed down like that that without any prior discussion. I would like to actually discuss it and see if we can come to a compromise of some sort. Because the issue of guys staying over, or not, isn't important to me because I want to have loud sex with a different guy every night at 3 am, but because I like the other parts of having someone spend the night in my place: talking quietly late at night about things right before you fall asleep, waking up next to him. I know that those things can all happen at a guy's place, but there's something really nice about having someone I care about in my space too.

So could you give me some advice for how to have a productive discussion about this with her? Would it be inconsiderate to try and get her to change her mind and instead make some rules like: guys can only stay over once a week, must be appropriately covered whenever they leave the room, and if a particular time period is really stressful, either one of us could have a short-term veto on visitors? Also maybe relevant: our bedrooms share one wall that is a bit thin, and our apartment is small: it consists of two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen.

She seems like a really great roommate in all other respects: she's clean, quiet, and friendly, and she doesn't take it personally when I close the door and/or don't feel like chatting. She's also very direct about almost everything, so it's generally pretty easy to discuss problems with her. I'd really rather not move out if it were possible to resolve this. Thanks for your help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (64 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
But, you know, there's a rule in this apartment: no guys are allowed to spend the night.

If you weren't told about this before you moved in, it's not 'a rule.'

However, you "agreed" to it. In fact, she was kind of clever-- she, not wanting overnight guests, said to you that there is a "rule" in the apartment about it, as though it had already happened. And you, going with the flow, didn't push back. See how that worked? She didn't ask for a rule like that. She just said that there was a rule, as though the decision had already been made, and you went along with it.

Simply 'agree' to it for that night, and then follow up with your roommate and tell her that this 'new rule' just 'isn't going to work for me.' Then don't say anything and see how she responds.
posted by deanc at 7:04 AM on September 14, 2012 [33 favorites]

I have a feeling this is the kind of "rule" that will change really quickly once she starts dating someone. Until then, I think you're going about it the right way with trying to compromise with something that can partially satisfy you both.
posted by elizardbits at 7:07 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

She can't just unilaterally declare from on high "THE RULES".

Roommate relationships are like any other, they need agreement to work. So you need to talk to her and get her buy in. Otherwise your roommate relationship is doomed and there will be tension.

I think it's perfectly reasonable to have some sort of compromise. I think if you do your best to quell her fears that this will be a common thing, then you might get farther.
posted by inturnaround at 7:08 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Say, "sorry, that's not going to be possible". At 21, she's a child, and she's negotiating like one. Don't engage with it; you pay rent and can bring anyone home you like.
posted by ellF at 7:11 AM on September 14, 2012 [52 favorites]

I think that potentially when this is more than a hypothetical situation, she might react more positively. That is, when there's a specific guy, he's come over a few nights for dinner/TV and leaves, and seems nice, she could be more flexible. Plus by that point hopefully the 2 of you will have gotten to know each other better and become more comfortable as roommates, and she could be more open to compromise. So I'd maybe wait a while to bring it up until there's a specific guy in the picture.
posted by Asparagus at 7:11 AM on September 14, 2012

guys can only stay over once a week
Shouldn't have to agree to this; don't make it a negotiation. I think the only reasonable 'rule' is that if someone is consuming significant quantities of utility and common area, they're a de facto roommate, and she shouldn't have to accept that.

and if a particular time period is really stressful, either one of us could have a short-term veto on visitors
This is crazy

must be appropriately covered whenever they leave the room
Errr... this should go without saying.
posted by ftm at 7:12 AM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Hey! I need to talk to you about the rule you told me about the other day. That was the very first time I'd ever heard about that rule, and I'm really uncomfortable with how restrictive it is. I recognize that you might be uncomfortable with the presence of a date in the apartment at different times, but calling an all-out ban in guys in the apartment isn't a reasonable request to make of a roommate so late in the game. I would like to propose an alternative solution..."

And if she doesn't go for it, you need to move out. Seriously. She'll be distressed about one of her boundaries not being respected, and you'll be resentful because there's a restriction on your behavior in place. This can't end well, so don't expend any extra energy trying.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:13 AM on September 14, 2012 [48 favorites]

I would make it part of a larger conversation about accommodating each other as roommates (so, like who gets what shelf in the fridge) so the conversation isn't just "I want to have sex with you nearby!!!". Rather than "boyfriends" the term you are looking for is "guests". If you have a female friend you think would mesh well with roomie have her over and make sure roomie is included in whatever activity you are doing (uh, unless you plan to cuddle your friend...). It sounds like roomie was burned by the previous roomie (who may have done nothing "wrong") and she is projecting on you. Build up her trust, which will take time, and continue to negotiate "rules". You may want to have a script prepared if she springs another "rule" on you, something like : "I hadn't thought about [foo]; can I get back to you with my. Thought tomorrow? Maybe we can discuss it over dinner Friday night? I'd like to make you my famous falafals."
posted by saucysault at 7:14 AM on September 14, 2012

Well, I think this is somsething she should have discussed with you beforehand, and that you shouldn't have agreed to it because now, when you speak with her, she's going to go back to that.

But moving forward, I'm not Chinese but how I have dealt with roommate "rules" that were imposed upon me was that I agree to compromise. In her case, she basically doesn't want a "third roommate"and I can understand that, but it's not fair to her to dicate a rule to you that you didn't agree to before hand OR to assume that you don't know how be respectful of her space.

The word "sex" doesn't even have to come into the conversation. These are "guests."

Now if she has an issue with your lifestyle that might be a totally different kettle of fish.
posted by sm1tten at 7:15 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need to nip this in the bud. You should have said something immediately, but for now... This morning...

'Hey Cindy, last night you mentioned a 'rule'... That's not how rules work. Rules are in the lease - no cats, no painting. Whereas the way that things work in the apartment - buying toilet paper, borrowing food, having guests is something we discuss and decide together. And frankly, we should have talked about some of this before we decided to be roommates.
I've never had a situation, nor have I ever heard of a situation where guests were restricted, so I assumed it was okay.
Can we talk about your reasons for wanting this policy?'
posted by k8t at 7:15 AM on September 14, 2012 [25 favorites]

Pick a quiet moment when you're both in the apartment, and then say something like:

"Hey, the other day, you had mentioned that you preferred that I not have overnight guests. At the time, I was sort of surprised by that, and I didn't really know what to say. But I'd like to talk about it with you so that I can feel comfortable living here and making this apartment my home and so that you can feel comfortable that there isn't going to be a permanent third roommate moving in."

Don't concede that this was ever a "rule." It's not. You never signed onto it (even if you did say something cheerful when it was mentioned, you didn't actually agree to be bound by it), it's not in your lease, and it was sprung on you all of a sudden. It's not a rule, no matter what she calls it. It's her preference, and it's a jumping off point for the discussion you can now have about some guidelines for houseguests.
posted by decathecting at 7:16 AM on September 14, 2012 [9 favorites]

You can be polite and respectful to your roommate without creating "rules." It's unreasonable to bar overnight visitors; it is reasonable to not have them walk around nekkid. These are the sorts of lines people draw as considerate neighbors. I think that's the conversation you need to have.
posted by moammargaret at 7:16 AM on September 14, 2012

Was it off-base for me to assume that if a date goes well, I could occasionally bring someone home without that being a huge deal?

Quite possibly. I've lived in several roommate situations where this would not have been okay. It is not inherently unreasonable to bar overnight visitors.

Here's the thing: your roommate is from a far more traditional culture than yours, and we haven't even touched on the possibility of religious convictions. Coming into this assuming that your is the default and reasonable position is the wrong way to approach this, because she's obviously doing just the same thing. The idea that there is no problem with bringing over members of the opposite sex to spend the night is very, very new, historically speaking, and a lot of cultures, particularly those outside North America or Europe, are still very much not okay with that. There are actually still plenty of people in North America and Europe that have problems with that too, come to mention it. Assuming that yours is the correct perspective and hers is not isn't going to get you anywhere.

If you want to have a conversation about this, by all means, do so, but recognize that you're already down two strikes, as it were. First, she's been here longer than you have, so she--rightly or wrongly--is going to feel entitled to more control over the living situation than you have. You didn't move in together. You moved in to her place. The sense that you're a newcomer isn't inaccurate, and it's something you're going to need to deal with. Second, when she raised the subject, you agreed. Now you're changing your mind, or at least that's what it's going to look like from her perspective. Having already made a concession, you're not in a very good position for trying to win it back.

All of that being said, this is a roommate relationship, and she is going to need to deal with that. You are neither her daughter, nor her tenant, and even if she disapproves of the way you live your life, there isn't actually anything she can do about it. You didn't sign anything when you moved in, and there was no mutual understanding about how these things would go down, so it's not really fair of her to just impose her perspective ex post facto. You're in now, and if she had wanted things to be her way, she should have said so from the start.

Ultimately, I think that's the problem: neither of you thought that the other one would even think about doing things other than the way you each do them, and the fact that you're from very different backgrounds should maybe have been a hint that some of those assumptions needed to be explored. Of course, the fact that that they're assumptions makes that very difficult to do on a practical level, because most of our assumptions are, by definition, taken for granted. Which sucks, but there you go.
posted by valkyryn at 7:28 AM on September 14, 2012 [25 favorites]

Ignore it.

If she raises it with you later, say "You were serious?!"
posted by Segundus at 7:33 AM on September 14, 2012 [21 favorites]

Is there a way for you to get more information from her about why she doesn't want guys staying over? Is it that she is squicked by the sex/guy-wandering-around aspect? Is it a morality thing? Is it quite literally the "third wheel" piece where maybe she feels like she has to stay in her room/be super-quiet when a guy is over? Also, is it correct that your apartment has no common space except the kitchen? That is really small.

Alternatively, you could tell her clearly that you'd like to revisit the rule when you've lived together longer and just let it go for now. (That's probably what I would do.) If you end up really clicking as housemates, you might be willing, later, to accept this frustrating restriction. It's hard to find a good housemate, and staying over at a guy's place might be worth it. Also, it might be that as you build trust and connections, she will be comfortable with more flexibility.

I think I'd probably try to institute some discussions about relationships in general because in order for this to work, she needs to be accepting of the fact that you think differently about sex and relationships than she does. Maybe it will be worth it to you to accept her preferences on guys in the apartment, but it will be just awful if she's going around thinking she can judge you as horribly slutty because you're having sex.

Another thing: does she seem really controlling in general and the guy thing is a subset of that ? Or does she seem willing to negotiate on regular things and sexual stuff is an outlier? I've lived with a super-controlling person and it all ended in tears, but I've also lived happily with people who have a single idiosyncrasy that is maybe a little inconvenient but were otherwise good fits.
posted by Frowner at 7:37 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

It is not inherently unreasonable to bar overnight visitors.

Maybe we have a different understanding of what "inherently" means. My understanding is that basically roommates' lives regarding what goes on in their rooms is their own business unless there is some pre-existing arrangement that is there for a good reason (eg, living in some kind of religious or single-sex co-op that was created specifically to provide a "safe space" for the sensibilities of the residents). Instead, what we have here is the control-freak tendencies of the roommate. And there is something inherently wrong with that.
posted by deanc at 7:38 AM on September 14, 2012 [9 favorites]

If your roommate is uncomfortable with you bringing strangers (to her) home, I would respect her wishes or move out. This isn't about being childish or changing the rules, it's about letting her feel secure in her own home. Sorry.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:39 AM on September 14, 2012 [10 favorites]

I think you will probably not be compatible as roommates. Even if she "allows" you to bring home guests, she is going to judge you harshly and your roomie relationship will deteriorate as a result.

In my last living situation I was living among people who came from a very different cultural background. I had cats. They thought it was disgusting that the cats used a litter box indoors, slept in my bed, etc. I thought they were cruel for leaving their pets outside all winter and never getting them fixed. None of us could have what we wanted without compromising our values and neither can the two of you.
posted by chaiminda at 7:44 AM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think valkyryn's right about the usefulness of respecting your roommate's perspective as equally valid here, and not proceeding as though there was any sort of inherent moral superiority to your position. But it's useful to know that the previous roommate apparently did have regular overnight visitors, so it's not as though she's never encountered the possibility that this is something people do.

With that said, instead of making this a battle over sexual morality, could you try to negotiate this the way you would any other values-neutral lifestyle incompatibility-- you love cooking cabbage, but the smell makes her sick, you have a pet hamster, but she turns out to be allergic, whatever? Don't assume you can convert her, but don't allow her to try to convert you, either; just say, "I didn't realize until the other day that you'd had some difficulties with overnight guests in the past, but it's not really going to be possible for me to never have the option of having a male friend stay over every now and then. When that happens, what can I do to minimize the inconvenience for you?"

At that point, you're assuming the validity of both your roomie's discomfort and your social needs, and the ball's in her court to come up with terms for a satisfactory compromise.
posted by Bardolph at 7:45 AM on September 14, 2012 [10 favorites]

If noise is the main issue for her, get a white noise machine.
posted by brujita at 7:45 AM on September 14, 2012

A unilateral declaration of no dates sleeping over was obviously a poor way to handle things. But some cultural sensitivity on your part will go a long way to making the situation more comfortable for both of you.

Western-style casual dating and pre-marital sex (or at least sex outside of a relationship clearly heading towards marriage) is still relatively uncommon in China as per my understanding. It's changing, and changing fastest in the major cities. But, depending on how traditional her family is, something like a boyfriend sleeping over may indeed have make her incredibly uncomfortable. Which could have explained her horrified look when you mentioned staying over at a potential date's place. Of course she should also try to be understanding that in a Western city there is a very different culture of dating and relationships and, one hopes, try to respect that in a non-judgey way, even if she doesn't agree with it.

In any case, while I hope you can find a mutually satisfactory compromise, it's possible that you may just be fundamentally unsuited to being roommates. That doesn't mean either of your are necessarily wrong, simply potentially incompatible.
posted by 6550 at 7:51 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been the third wheel in the roomie with boyfriend in tiny cramped space situation before. If I'd been the one expecting the new person into a place I'd been living in, I might have decided "no way, no more of tripping over whatsisname passed out on teh floor again on the way to the loo"...

She probably didn't bring it up until the contextual situation (your having a date) arose. Valkryn and Bardolph have something valuable to say in all this.
posted by infini at 7:51 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a Chinese American. Yes, Chinese women (girl, really, at 21, especially if she only came to the US for college) can be extremely naive and sheltered. And it's just not very enjoyable to listen to someone else have sex. And it's probably super awkward for her to talk about it, which was probably why she said no overnight guests, rather than no loud sex or no making out in the common areas. (Either of those could've been insulting to you by implying you are easy. And sex is just not talked about.)

It's also possible she's uncomfortable with a strange man seeing her in the morning, before she's properly dressed. Or if she's only wearing a towel. Or just knowing that she's naked in the bathroom, showering.

Or she is just super conservative. Or her previous roommate was really slutty. Who knows?

Either way, she doesn't get to unilaterally decide on a rule. She doesn't get to make rules to make her comfortable and you uncomfortable in an apartment you are both sharing.

I would definitely encourage you to talk to her.

If not, you can always bring a guy home during the day and have crazy wild sex. If she complains, say it's because he can't spend the night. (That's really passive aggressive though, so I don't really recommend it.)
posted by ethidda at 7:51 AM on September 14, 2012 [11 favorites]

My former, East Asian from a major city, roommate (male) was not at all cool with me bringing girls home. He tried really really hard to be OK with it because he was a sweet guy and wanted to respect our cultural differences but I could tell it was really hard for him. The "look of horror" you describe was seen more than once.

It was like I was staging dog fights or something. Just way outside what he considered normal or OK.

Also talking about it frankly was my MO and that only made things worse. He didn't like talking about sex or girlfriends. The terminology of "guests" or "visitors" worked a lot better for us.

Obviously this isn't 1-to-1 and is a very broad cultural comparison so YMMV but it's worth being willing to see how far apart you guys are and just start from there. You both have a normal, so arguing about what's 'normal' is not going to help.
posted by French Fry at 7:52 AM on September 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

[...] it's about letting her feel secure in her own home.

If the roommate and OP are both paying the same rent to the same place, it's home for both of them. Just because the roommate has been there longer doesn't mean the place is more "hers" (although it probably feels that way).

OP: I agree with Bardolph. It's a difficult line to draw, but you shouldn't feel bad for wanting to feel comfortable in your home.
posted by fight or flight at 7:54 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Roommates pay for equal use of a shared space. They do not get to unilaterally make rules about prohibited behavior -- they may, of course, negotiate those rules based on preference. That's a basic premise of adult cohabitation, and when someone fails to adhere to it, he or she is acting in a way that doesn't fit with the situation and power dynamic. The reasoning behind an attempt to impose her will upon the situation is irrelevant; if she needs to never be around men in her home after 10pm (or whatever) in order to feel safe, or to feel like God isn't angry at her, or whatever else is motivating the "requirement", the responsibility for creating that environment rests on her shoulders, not the OP's. The roommate needs to state her requirements up front.
posted by ellF at 7:56 AM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

FWIW, I hate waking up and having someone I don't know wandering around the house. So I had a rule with my former roommate that we need to have met the guy at least once before him staying over. When I shared a room with a roommate, it was no overnight guests at all, because I feel unsafe sleeping in a room with a stranger in it.

So I don't think rules about overnight guests are unreasonable, but they should be discussed.
posted by ethidda at 8:00 AM on September 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

Just to provide a different viewpoint, two axioms:

1. "It is far easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission."
2. "Rules were made to be broken."
posted by Shepherd at 8:02 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

We usually differentiate boyfriends and male friends in Chinese culture. I do not think that she is hoping that you should not bring any male friends to the apartment, but she probably means that "when you make intimate touch with, or sleep with, or talk some very private topics, with your boyfriends, you should think about a better place." Also, from your boyfriend part, a male showing up between two females is usually awkward: someone would rather not do that. Last suggestion is, let her know you and your boyfriend a little bit more, if both of you are nice persons (I think you really are from what you posted), I do not think there is a reason to reject a "friend" to come in to the apartment.
posted by onkyo at 8:06 AM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would... start thinking about moving now. She's not even giving you clear "rules" (which are so far beyond the pale of what's reasonable to lay on someone after they've moved in it's almost laughable). Beyond that, she's telling you she doesn't ever want you to have a boyfriend. This is suggesting to me that there's a severe lack of understanding about what's reasonable to expect from a person. It sounds to me like she wants a BFF who lives with her, not a roommate. I would start making plans to move out and let her find that perfect roommate rather than trying to change her (or yourself).

Until then, I would be respectful, and friendly, and say "Hey, roomie, I was thinking about what you said the other day, and I don't intend to bring guys home all the time, but I really feel uncomfortable with the rule you've stated. Any adult would assume that this is an expected use of a room they're renting. From time to time, I may have a friend sleep over. We won't be in your way and will of course respect your space."
posted by pazazygeek at 8:24 AM on September 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

That is so whack. Tell her you have thought about how ridiculous that "rule" is, and ask how you should keep the peace when your bf comes over because you want to keep the peace without... I don't know, staying in a hotel room every time your guy is in your part of town? Or maybe she has already made a list of hotels. Maybe you could ask for that list.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:53 AM on September 14, 2012

Had several friends from China in school, and although I wouldn't say that this necessarily makes me exceedingly qualified to answer your question... I would expect that as your living there continues, you're going to discover several more "rules" that you don't yet know about.
While Americans tend to see a roommate situation as "There's what you prefer and what I prefer, so let's try to agree to a situation that makes everyone happy," The Chinese I have known would see it more like "There are proper standards and expectations for these situations. Why would you challenge them?"

Breaking those rules will most likely not result in a confrontation (or even an acknowledgment, beyond a simple "You are breaking our rule," after the first infraction or so), but it might cause your relationship to sour overall. Attempts to talk it out might seem to be resolved from your perspective (acquiescence to your resistance to her rules), but you might be seen as being rude, uncooperative, or selfish. It's up to you to decide if you want to deal with that dynamic.
posted by Rykey at 9:00 AM on September 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

Do you have a landlord or landlady? Can you ask them if they made that rule?
Because (I suspect they didn't) then you can tell your roomate that you called them to discuss it, and they told you there is no rule.
posted by MonkeySoprano at 9:01 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Like ethidda, my second-to-last roommate and I had a rule that randos didn't sleep over, but it was okay with relationships. We were both pretty private people and my roommate had had her home burgled while she was home a few years before, so she was super-security conscious, especially about strange men, and waking up to a deep voice she didn't know was very frightening for her. It's not unreasonable to be uncomfortable with strangers spending the night. (It's also not unreasonable to be uncomfortable with anyone spending the night ever, or with people staying the night whenever. All are okay!)

But, it needs to be something the two of you discuss and come to a mutual agreement on. What exactly makes her uncomfortable about it? It being a stranger? Having someone essentially move in? Always playing gooseberry? That's where you need to start.

Personally, I would totally NOT be okay with someone bringing home a first date to sleep over in our home. (I would not be okay with them making a new BFF at the first day of pottery class and bringing home that totally platonic friend to sleep over that night!) For me, it's important that I have a chance to assess someone's trustworthiness for myself before I have them sleep in my home. When my roommate started dating this guy, they'd gone on several dates, I'd heard a lot about him, he'd had dinner at our apartment a couple times, I'd met them out for drinks, etc., so when she broached the idea of him sleeping over, I was totally okay with that, because I had gotten to know him and I knew he was a good person and someone I was comfortable with. I also knew they weren't going to sit on the couch in front of the only TV in the apartment making out for six hours while completely ignoring me; it's very possible her last roommate was the sort of person who is disrespectful of others around them when they're in a relationship.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:05 AM on September 14, 2012 [10 favorites]

Monkey Soprano's suggestion of calling the landlord strikes me as a really elegant fix for the awkwardness of your having "agreed" that "there's a rule in this apartment". Report the news cheerfully to your roommate. Once she clears up the misunderstanding, negotiations can begin.
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:15 AM on September 14, 2012

I live with my landlord at the moment, and there's a house rule that guests can stay for three days but after then is too much. If she's objecting on the grounds that you as a couple will take over the place or that he will eat your food and use your hot water, then this is an idea you can broach with her. I've lived with couples before, or with people whose new partners took up residence in the flat, and it can be awkward and feels a bit invasive - but then I'm someone who gets really stressed when there's always someone else around in the flat and I never get the place to myself, so I might be touchy that way.

There's also the possibility that she thinks strangers are potentially dangerous, as Eyebrows McGee says. I do find it really odd that an adult household would have a rule barring someone from inviting over a date, but I'm trying to think of why one would object to this.
posted by mippy at 9:39 AM on September 14, 2012

I like Monkey Soprano's suggestion too, except I think it is a bad idea to bother the landlord about it. Just ask to revisit the issue because you "checked the lease" and there is no mention of a rule. You two also need to discuss the details of your living arrangement in general, because it sounds like you didn't touch base on a lot of basics beforehand. Perhaps you assume that you are sharing space equally, and she thinks you are just renting a room?

I suspect that she's acting rather aggressive here because she knows that the situation she wants is not the norm for roommates in our culture, and she's frustrated and inexperienced with dealing with this problem. But that is her problem, not yours.
posted by susanvance at 9:39 AM on September 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

"I don't want to be the third wheel. My last roommate had a boyfriend, and it was really awkward."

To me, this doesn't sound like a cultural thing at all.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:51 AM on September 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

It would have been best if this topic had been discussed prior to you moving in. You assumed it was a non issue. She may have been uncomfortable bringing it up.

The concept of "house rules" is not uncommon. Even if there are few rules the exercise of thinking and talking about sticky issues is good and helps all sides learn about each other.

There are real potential security issues in bringing relative strangers into ones home. There are also monetary issues of increased utilities if guests are frequent. Each of us has different concepts of safety, personal vs private space and privacy.

The concept of "you pay your rent so you have the right to do whatever you want" is not a path which will make for good household relations. Sorry, the only time a person can truly do whatever whenever is if they live alone. Anytime you share space there is a need to be aware and respectful.

You both made assumptions. Ideally you can have a conversation and come to a compromise. The more you approach the discussion from an understanding of her pov the better your chances for making progress. Is it cultural, safety oriented, personal space related? Knowing where this stems from will help you come to a mutually workable option. I once had a housemate who had been raped. I felt her peace of mind and healing process trumped my desire to have a man sleep over. Over time her concept of safe relaxed and we were able to live with modified house rules. A large part of the eventual change was that she understood that I took her concerns seriously and that helped her trust my judgement.
posted by cat_link at 10:11 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

None of the "rules" stuff is the issue. What is the issue is she gave you the "slut" look.

Roommate healthy balance took a big hit. I have spent plenty of time in China - personal judgments are prized and held on to strongly. She has presented her first judgment to the "American" living with her. There is little concept of shared morality - only hers counts. Which is why she delivered the "rule" the way she did.

You should evaluate your living options.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:41 AM on September 14, 2012

With there being no common room beyond the kitchen, and sharing a bathroom, this makes sense to me. Two people seems like a tight fit for that place.

Go to Craigslist and you'll see that many landlords and roommates specifically state that the space is small enough they will not rent to couples.

That's not to say that I don't understand the impulse to feel entitled to bring folks home. I've always made sure my apartment has space for guests. But when my boyfriend and I moved in with his roommate, we were very cognizant of the fact that living with a single person is much easier than living with a couple.

This is something where you both need to come to an agreement. And while I (and most future roommates you'd find) would be more sympathetic to your side of the story, that doesn't mean you can discount her opinion. The best option might be to find a better living arrangement, but in the future, I would remember to ask "how do you feel about overnight guests?".
posted by politikitty at 11:10 AM on September 14, 2012

It's unpleasant to hear other people having sex - I guess, I don't really care - but I think it's more unpleasant to live with a controlling, judgmental prude.

I just moved after a month of living in a place, and the new apartment is so much better. Different reasons, but if your stuff is still sort of packed up, it's easier to move now than after you've settled in, have to patch up nail holes in the walls, and hate your roommate's guts.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:17 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does she own the property or something? Was it in the ad or mentioned when you first considered moving in?

If not, this is not a rule. She has no standing to make "house rules" like that.

In my experience, there is a HUGE difference between "occasional overnight houseguest", "boy/girlfriend who sleeps over regularly but no more than once or twice a week", and "de facto roommate".

If we're talking about the first of those three, it's really not for your roommate to decide that, since she sometimes feels bad about the fact that her roommates get laid and she doesn't, therefore it's rule. I hate the smell of canned tuna, but I've never declared a unilateral "no tuna" rule.

If it were me, I would bring over the occasional houseguest. Fuck her and her dumb rules. This is not something she gets to decide about, and she'll get over it when she sees that the guy's not moving in. It's not even worth discussing. She's being an idiot and you're not going to empirically change her mind about it through "discussion".

If it's the second of those situations, yes, that is where a discussion needs to be had. With a normal roommate, I'd say that simply assuring her that the guy's not moving in, maybe clarifying a number of nights per week or nights in a row.

If it's the last, everybody hates that. Don't do that.
posted by Sara C. at 11:41 AM on September 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think you really need to be observant of cultural norms as much as you can, while trying to get what you want.

The real issue seems to be that she doesn't want to feel like a third wheel in her own apartment, which is understandable. If there is some way where you can move the goalposts - have the boyfriend stay the night and leave as early as possible.

However, it's worth trying to figure out how much value there is in having a roommate you are basically compatible with versus damaging this important relationship and perhaps having to find another roommate whom will present a new set of challenges.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:08 PM on September 14, 2012

Living with others means compromising. I would NEVER allow someone to unilaterally make rules regarding OUR shared living space.
I would either ignore her "rule" if she is inaproachable, or if you guys are more close and open with one another try and discuss the topic. You know the best route to take as you know her. Sorry but thinking that this situation is okay on her part is denying a seat at the table for how you feel. Her hangups are her problem. Sensitivity be damned if she handing down "rules" . She is not your mother and you are not 13.
posted by handbanana at 12:22 PM on September 14, 2012

By the way -- everyone has a right to live somewhere that feels safe and comfortable. The people who are shaming your roommate for being a "prude" are out of line. She has a right to her needs, and you have a right to yours. When two people's needs conflict, it's time to move. Period. Her needs are NOT wrong -- her way of expressing those needs and asserting her boundaries was. People are jumping to extreme conclusions right now about this girl, and assuming that she is some kind of freak or weirdo because she would prefer it if there were no overnight guests in her home are taking this way out of scope.

You both need what's best for you. Try for that compromise and treat her needs with respect. If she is firm in her decision, you'll have to go elsewhere. It'll be cheaper in the long run to get up and move.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:37 PM on September 14, 2012 [10 favorites]

By the way -- everyone has a right to live somewhere that feels safe and comfortable. The people who are shaming your roommate for being a "prude" are out of line. She has a right to her needs, and you have a right to yours.

If the only way you can feel comfortable in your apartment is to restrict your roommate's dating life, you should:

Live alone


Make your feelings on the subject clear before someone spends money, time, and effort moving in.

I think the OP should just move, but moving is expensive, and moving sucks. Best of luck to you, anonymous.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:44 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you really need to be observant of cultural norms as much as you can,

The cultural norms, to my mind, should be congruent with the country that the OP is in, not the personal preferences of the roommate, who is also a guest in that country.

This is why expats of the same nationality frequently room together-- so that they can set up a situation where there are shared cultural norms. There's no reason to expect the OP to bend to the roommate's norms (or vice versa).
posted by deanc at 12:54 PM on September 14, 2012

It is perfectly all right to want to live in an apartment where overnight guests are cool. It is perfectly all right to want to live in an apartment where overnight guests are not cool.

It is not at all all right for one housemate to levy unilateral "rules" on another.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:56 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, yeah, I would start with "When we spoke the other day, you were pretty clear that it made you uncomfortable when housemates had overnight guests. From my perspective, it made me pretty uncomfortable to hear that overnight guests were not okay with you. How can we negotiate a solution that works for both of us, where we both feel like our wishes and boundaries are respected?"
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:59 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't even engage with the whole "this is the rule" because she's just simply not allowed to make rules unilaterally as a housemate. Note: this is different if, say, you're renting a room in a condo she owns; in that case, she's the landlord as well as a housemate.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:01 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks everyone for your answers. I really appreciate all of your different points of view. I was in the middle of a very stressful housing situation when I decided to move in with this new roommate, and I was so grateful to get out of the other place that I didn't consider my friend's offer to move in with her as carefully as I should have. She's really not a bad person though, and I would like to deal with her respectfully, because while I would like to feel comfortable here, I know she also has the right to feel comfortable here too.

In terms of other questions people had: no, she does not own the apartment. Yes, there is no common area other than the kitchen, but that's fairly common for the city we're in, and both bedrooms are really big. As in: my room is big enough to have a both a stand-up piano and a couch in it, along with the other normal bedroom furniture. At the moment, I could probably move again in January if I can't resolve this with her, but it's not super viable before then.

Anyway, thanks again for all your help.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:31 PM on September 14, 2012

Accept the spirit of this "rule" for the time being.

I think it would suck to wake up and run into a complete stranger in the hallway or kitchen, or worse, have your roommate's bf around all of the time making you feel like an intrusion in your own home.

It sounds like you get where she is coming from, too.

Go ahead and revisit this when you have a good enough reason to do so. Until then, allow your roommate to enjoy the shared space anxiety-free.

posted by jbenben at 2:19 PM on September 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

At the very least I would ask if there are going to be any other rules sprung upon you. Obviously this hasn't been a hard-and-fast rule for her, since the last housemate got to have people over.
posted by rhizome at 3:03 PM on September 14, 2012

"Oh! That's really exciting! But, you know, there's a rule in this apartment: no guys are allowed to spend the night. I don't want to be the third wheel. My last roommate had a boyfriend, and it was really awkward."

find a time to talk to her specifically about this, like block off an hour. i'd tell her that you don't agree to a blanket "no guys are allowed to spend the night" demand. then, ask her what her problems are with that. for example, based on the quote, ask her what she means by "the third wheel"? i've hung out with some couples who were great company, and others who were unbearable. if she can't think of specific reasons, tell her your own personal rules. like for me: i'll always be with them, anything sexual would be in the bedroom, ... something like that.
posted by cupcake1337 at 3:28 PM on September 14, 2012

Just Nthing that there are different cultural sensitivities and standards at play that many mefites seem determined to ignore or judge. Like any cultural norm, the way around it is gradually, with lots of outs, and with respect. Depending on how "Chinese" your new roomate is, direct confrontation about this may be the absolute worst way of dealing with it.

What ever you decide to do, make it incremental, or easy to ignore, or easy to pretend isn't happening, or easy to make it an 'exception'. Don't make it a confrontation between your values and hers, where she will clearly come off worse.
posted by smoke at 4:40 PM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'd laugh it off, saying something like, "Oh, yeah, I looked at the lease, that rule isn't in there!" Or, "Well, if we only get to break one apartment rule each, that's going to be mine!" I'd be good-natured, and simply not take the rule seriously.
posted by klangklangston at 5:11 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a little surprised you were so surprised by her reaction. She's a girl from China and cultural norms are different there. I don't know which country you guys are in, but I wouldn't expect her expectations to mirror yours or those of the host country.

I suspect you guys are going to be mismatched as roommates. But you know, talk to her and find out.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:52 PM on September 14, 2012

Arrange a time to have a meeting. Talk about expenses, who cleans the bathroom, who takes out the trash, etc. Tell her that you share the space, and if you bring someone home, you'll be considerate (noise, bathroom privacy, etc.) but that you're both adults, and you expect to behave like an adult.
posted by theora55 at 9:11 PM on September 14, 2012

there's a rule in this apartment

From the perspective of cultural norms, in North America, I'd consider this completely absurd.

From the perspective of random personal dealbreakers when negotiating with someone over shared living space, it's like any other. Negotiate as far as you can, and if you can't come to an agreement, one of you has to move out.
posted by ead at 11:23 PM on September 14, 2012

Wow, AskMe. By the sounds of it, it wouldn't have mattered if she'd asked, suggested, pleaded, made it a lease condition, whatever - you'd have already made up your collective minds you were going to do it, and written her off as naive, unreasonable and even culturally backward. That she just came right out and said it makes her bossy, or even "kind of clever", whatever that means. Presumably if she was American she'd be 'assertive'.

And OP, good on you for wanting to have a productive, mature discussion about it. I hope you won't be going for any of the mind games here. It's not worth the risk when it comes to other people's homes and personal space. She could have all sorts of reasons for not wanting a guy in the house - reasons she may well not feel comfortable discussing with a relative stranger; reasons she may well cover up with a glib 'yeah, it's awkward'.

As you note, she was there first. She's been there for a year. You are the newcomer. If you can't live with this, then you should leave, because there can't be a compromise - every second full moon is still "hey, there's a guy I don't know in the house where I have to live too."

By all means, you're entitled to get shitty about it. "You know, it'd would've been nice to know this before I moved in, because it's a bit of a dealbreaker." See if she's serious. If she is, then walk. But try not to be too hard on her. Like I said above, you can't know what's really in her head. Maybe she is just being unreasonable. But it's better to be nice to a crazy person than risk not showing compassion to a person with real issues.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:12 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

The cultural norms, to my mind, should be congruent with the country that the OP is in, not the personal preferences of the roommate, who is also a guest in that country.

Forgive me, but I thought celebrating diversity was the big thing these days. It's more than going to that new shawarma food truck or taking yoga lessons.

I would also like to see an end to this idea that expatriates are "guests". I imagine that the roommate and OP are in Country X for a reason. Maybe work, maybe school. In either event, they are likely there doing something productive and not being a net burden on Country X. Kind of like how the OP, as the newcomer to the apartment, is not a "guest".

How do you believe that immigrants and expatriates should behave in their own homes? I am truly curious to know. The very idea of a Chinatown seems unthinkable in your world.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:11 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you'll do best here by figuring out what she's really worried about.

I bet she just doesn't want to find dudes in the shared space; and doesn't want them unaccompanied in the house, for safety and comfort reasons. I can totally see this point of view. I would hate to have to put on a bra just to go to the kitchen because my roommate's date might be up getting a snack in the night, etc. Or stealing stuff. Whatever.

Obviously she should have raised this with you before you moved in; but since she didn't, and here you are, I think you'll do better to ask her about it - and let her talk - before you say "well that won't work for me." Maybe you'll find that what she needs -- assurance that your overnight guests won't leave your bedroom without you and wander around, say; or that they won't stay more than one night in a row; or that you won't stop hanging out with her as soon as you get a boyfriend -- is something that you can give.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:35 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
I'm still living with the same roommate 1.5 years later. About 6 months ago, I started dating a guy pretty seriously. She gave me a
new version of her rule: no men are allowed to spend the night in the apartment while she is there. I decided to be respectful (the wall between our rooms is really rather thin) and luckily my boyfriend's roommates are regularly out of town, so I've been spending a lot of
time at his place. This means that my roommate and I have remained on good terms.

In the meantime, she developed a crush on a guy at her university (who is from the Western city we are living in), and she has been asking me for dating advice. I'm no expert, but I've been trying to be helpful and kind. Last weekend, she asked me if it would be okay if she invited him and another female friend over for dinner, and I said that would be totally fine (I try and be encouraging any time she wants to have visitors over because it happens so rarely).

I went out with friends that night and I came home pretty late on purpose. The next morning I woke up because I heard a male voice in her room. I sprang out of bed and got dressed because I didn't want her to be able to sneak him out. Sure enough, as I was in the kitchen making tea, her door opened and she came out slightly sheepishly with a boy in tow. He left and she was so happy that I just celebrated with her. Last night I was also out sort of late, and when I got back I saw a pair of boy-sized shoes in our hallway. They were having breakfast in the kitchen when I got up, and she asked me to join them, which I did. She seems really happy and he seems like a good guy.

I am trying so hard to be good, but I think I might explode with the effort of not saying, "But you said, 'No men are allowed to spend the night in this apartment!'" That wouldn't accomplish anything except create bad feeling, so I am going to be an adult and not mention it. But I had to tell someone!
posted by taz (staff) at 5:07 AM on February 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

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