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October 22, 2012 8:59 PM   Subscribe

Miss Manners filter: What to do when I feel like my friend/roommate is trying to drive a small wedge in my relationship. I can't decide what the "I'm afraid that won't be possible" is for this situation. Small wall o' text inside.

Boyfriend, roommate/friend ("D"), and myself all live together. My roommate makes snarky comments (as she is wont to do about just about any subject, though this is atypical in that it is directed at me instead of say, a dumb movie or whatever) at times about things like my boyfriend going out without me (something BF and I think is healthy/normal), especially if he is out later than I would like, or Boyfriend being in a sour mood, etc. My boyfriend and I are not fighting, but have both been under stress for different reasons - big life-change type stuff - and so things haven't been as smooth as usual, but it doesn't have anything to do with each other, just general stress. It feels like she is trying to get information out of me, like she wants in on what's going on in my relationship more than I would like to discuss, or that she's trying to get me to say I'm not happy with him/whatever he's doing or something. Frankly, there isn't really anything going on - it's just normal relationship stuff/people bein' people. Part of me thinks D's inviting conversation about it -- her snarky comment standing in for "Is everything OK?" (It is.).. but I don't want to give too much of a benefit of the doubt, y'know? Right now my tactic is just giving her a "Whaddayamean?" kind of look/response, and just kind of shrugging it off/ignoring it, but it is irritating. I would like to avoid confronting her about it directly (I know, I know..) because I don't know what her intentions are, and this has only been going on a few weeks. However, I come to you, O' Hive Mind, because playing dumb isn't really working.

Background that may or may not be (but is probably) relevant:
Most important to note IMO is that D has never been in a relationship of any kind - no dates, no LTR, nothin'. Also important to note that D and boyfriend get along very well. They know each other through me but are good friends and we often all three hang out as a group. I have lived with D for 1.5-2 years, save for summers (we are in college; she goes home). My boyfriend and I decided we wanted to live together around February of this year and asked D to come with for a variety of reasons. We found a place together - nobody moved into anybody's apartment, we all moved - and moved in May. D has been living here since mid-Sept. as she left for the summer. More details as needed.
posted by jorlyfish to Human Relations (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The next time she asks, "Is everything okay?", look her dead in the eye and say, "D, when you ask that, it makes me feel like you're trying to insinuate there is or that there should be something wrong in my relationship with my boyfriend. There isn't, and if there were, it's not your business. Stop asking."

My guess is she's jealous.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:03 PM on October 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Without more details, it sounds like she's just unused to being around the "normal relationship stuff" and is just checking in to see if her read on it is correct. Rooming with two people in a relationship can be hard; you don't fit into their groove, so to speak. She might not mean anything by it. A blanket statement that you'll let her know if things are not fine might help.
posted by RainyJay at 9:06 PM on October 22, 2012 [13 favorites]

I think you should give her more benefit of the doubt. I find it super awkward being around a friend-couple when they're acting weird with each other for a couple of hours at a bar. If I was living with them and it had been going on for a few weeks I wouldn't be asking if everything was ok, I'd be hiding in my room and looking up new apartments. Tell her everything is ok (would it kill you to give a reassuring response, seriously?), that you know you're both pretty grumpy at the moment but it's nothing, you're sorry if it's annoying her, please stop asking/commenting.

This is one of the reasons people say not to live with a couple.
posted by jacalata at 9:31 PM on October 22, 2012 [30 favorites]

Best answer: Most important to note IMO is that D has never been in a relationship of any kind - no dates, no LTR, nothin'.

She's in a tough position, and she's not dealing with it well. That's not to excuse her -- she's definitely being a jerk -- but yeah.

I would like to avoid confronting her about it directly

You didn't really expect to get away with this, did you? Of course you didn't. But I'll try to help. One time, when boyfriend isn't around and she makes one of these comments, say something like "listen D, it makes me kind of uncomfortable when you talk about my relationship like that. If something's bothering you I'm happy to talk about it, but sometimes you make offhanded comments that bother me". If she gets upset assure her that it's not the end of the world, but don't apologize for bringing it up.

Then drop it for a while. Like, for a few weeks. Give her time to process the situation. She might slip up a bit but give her a chance to realize on her own. This is not the time for ding training.

If she doesn't figure her shit out then you'll have to change tactics. But I find in situations like this the "mention it once then chill" approach is often a lot more effective than a more involved tactic that's more likely to cause hard feelings. YMMV.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:37 PM on October 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

nthing that it's probably awkwardness from living with a couple together with jealousy. Is it possible that the comments are her trying to bond/team up with you again? Do you and still hang out just the two of you? If you always retreat to your own room whenever boyfriend leaves, she might feel lonely and like a third wheel. And so she might be using what seems like you and your boyfriend fighting as an excuse to try and make it less jorlyfish and boyfriend versus D.

I would tell her explicitly to knock that stuff off, but I think you should also have a totally separate conversation about your living situation and how she feels about the level of couple-ness you guys are expressing. You know her best of course, but expect her to understate this part. It can be hard to admit/explain that all the little couple-y things you guys do (and that are the reason you moved in together in a sense) are annoying/isolating/painful and to ask you to take it down a notch. I lived with a couple once for a few months, and while it was different in that it was unexpected and short-term (studying abroad and roommate's boyfriend moved in), even stuff like, she walks into the kitchen and you guys are smooching and then jump apart can be really isolating. But it's not like she can tell you guys you can't kiss in the kitchen, y'know? And yea if that's going to be her reaction, she probably shouldn't have agreed to this arrangement, but sometimes people don't anticipate their reactions.

tl;dr: Her reaction is immature and she needs to cut it out, but I think you need to be proactive about addressing the sorts of behaviors that might be making her so snarky towards your relationship in the first place.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 10:07 PM on October 22, 2012

Best answer: I dunno, it sounds like you're making a ton of elaborate and complex assumptions and second-guessing about her perspective and motivation and whether this is just what she's like in general or whether she's trying to say something about your relationship specifically and what's going on and whether you should feel defensive or not and...oof.

Seriously, just ask her what she's asking. You're not sure you understand her question, you're asking her to clarify. This isn't a confrontational thing about your relationship, it's just a communication check-up.
posted by desuetude at 10:18 PM on October 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

She could be genuinely concerned - what if she is trying to look out for herself? If your relationship tanks she might end up with an untenable living situation.

I suggest you stop trying to read her mind and just tell her that you can appreciate her concern but you don't care to speak with her about your relationship and that you would like it if she didn't make any more comments about it. Let her know if you wanted to talk about it you would bring it up.
posted by grizzly at 11:40 PM on October 22, 2012

My perspective as a person who doesn't prioritize romantic relationships in her life is that sometimes it can be a little frustrating to be in close quarters with a couple when they are quarreling or seem generally tense. It can feel like you are getting the crappy parts (snapping at each other, complaining about the other person) with none of the fun parts. If I were your roommate, and your boyfriend was coming home irritable on a regular basis before going out with his friends while you indicated that he was staying out too late for your liking, I would be MASSIVELY UNCOMFORTABLE and a little bit annoyed. It would just feel like too much information about your emotions and your way of relating to each other with not enough space to get away from the two of you.

She could be genuinely concerned - what if she is trying to look out for herself? If your relationship tanks she might end up with an untenable living situation.

I would worry about this, too. She might be worrying about the rent, whose friend she would end up being, any number of things. Prodding at your relationship might be her way of figuring out how stable her living arrangement is.

My roommate makes snarky comments (as she is wont to do about just about any subject, though this is atypical in that it is directed at me instead of say, a dumb movie or whatever)

Is it possible that this is just how she communicates, and that she thinks you two are commiserating about your boyfriend together? If you don't want her to make snarky comments about something, and snarky comments are just how she rolls, you might need to say to her directly, "You know, between school and work and the parakeet getting asthma, Boyfriend is just pretty stressed the past couple of months. Let's not joke about him going out."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:50 AM on October 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure where folks are getting jealousy from? I'm reading it more as you guys being really obvious there's something up (like, how would she know about your boyfriend going out without you later than you would like, or Boyfriend being in a sour mood, etc.) without you telling her or talking about it or you guys talking about it in front of her? To me, that's y'all creating a really awkward situation because you're having a personal conversation in front of someone you not only aren't with romantically but who you also clearly don't like knowing and commenting on your business. Awkward times for everyone!
posted by spunweb at 12:54 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Let me make sure I have this straight - she's got a grand total of 6 weeks second-hand experience of how live-in relationships work. Give her a break. She probably genuinely has no idea if you are having a full-on fight or just one of those hiccups that normal healthy couples have. Especially if she's friends with your partner too. She's watching two of her friends have fights. Why wouldn't she be worried?

She's asking because she has no idea what's going on. Are they fighting? Are they not? Does she need to break out the chick flicks and a bottle of wine for you for this one or will it blow over? Is this normal?

If her only experience of romantic relationships are through pop culture, than this sort of normal behaviour is going to seem fucking fraught and fragile.

I would like to avoid confronting her about it directly
It's not going to kill you to say, "Nah, this is actually kind of normal for us, not a big deal, it happens to basically all couples who've been together for any sort of time. You don't need to worry so much!" the next time she asks.
posted by Jilder at 1:10 AM on October 23, 2012 [11 favorites]

In my circle of friends, we would go with "WHAT'S UP, YA NOSY UNDERMINER?" But then we're a little more comfortable with confrontation, it sounds like. But I find it easier to be confrontational with humor, and I also find it more practical to shut this kind of bullshit down. To do a little (friendly!) pointing and laughing when the roomie gets this way will get her the heck off your back.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:40 AM on October 23, 2012

It's nice that you're telling us that there's nothing wrong and it's just external stress issues, but it sounds to me like something's wrong, and you're not even telling your roommate any of this. Why not? Because you don't know her intentions? How would that make a difference? Just tell her that your relationship is fine and you guys are dealing with external stress lately, and ask her why she is asking -- and if it really bothers you, add that you'd appreciate if she wouldn't.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:08 AM on October 23, 2012

I don't understand why you're offended by her snarkiness about this when you say she's typically a snarky person. Sounds to me like the fighting has got you on edge and you're the one overreacting here. That said, someone making irritating comments about something you're sensitive about is- well, irritating.

I don't know what "confrontation" is to you, personally, but I'm willing to bet that if, next time she makes a comment that bugs you, you respond with: "I don't really want to talk about this", or "hey, that's not funny!" Or "it's a normal rough patch. Boyfriend and I are both really stressed right now, but he's trying hard and so am I. Sorry if this is awkward for you. But could you try not to joke about it? It stresses me out", her response will be "oh, sorry", and it won't be some big scary confrontation.

And she'll probably make an effort to stop, and then she'll forget and do it again because a) it's a habit and b) it's hard to remember to not do habitual things just because they irritate someone else, even if you have the best of intentions, because you don't personally have a problem with your own behaviour. The upshot of this is that you'll have to remind her a few times, and that's normal, not a sign of malicousness on her part.
posted by windykites at 6:38 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't think of anything more stressful than living in a rental situation with a couple: what if things go bad and they break up and I have to leave (or find a new 3rd roommate)? what if things go really WELL and they want the place (or another place) to themselves and I have to leave? Occam's Razor says that she's not some jealous sad harpy single lady trying to wedge you apart, but someone a little freaked out that her own living situation feels roped to the ebbs and flow of a relationship she's getting a behind the scenes look at (i.e. the normal irritations and fighting she may not have experienced before). DO NOT insinuate she is jealous or trying to undermine your relationship, when you talk to her.
posted by availablelight at 6:49 AM on October 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

It sounds like she's in a stressful situation. She doesn't know what all this snippy stress between you and your boyfriend is about, so she's trying to find out. It's probably not the best way, but it sounds like her way.

I would not go with the assumption she is jealous. It's possible, but it's also possible she's thinking how glad she is not to have this additional stress in her life of dating.
posted by winna at 7:40 AM on October 23, 2012

Response by poster: I don't know if this was misleading somehow, because we're not fighting - in front of her or otherwise. There's no reason for her to think that we're breaking up, because yes, that would be stressful/scary for her in terms of having to be around us, being concerned about the living situation and lease and such. More accurately, he and I are both somewhat stressed in a general sense, and she has likely picked up on that.

Regardless, thanks for the perspective everyone.
posted by jorlyfish at 7:46 AM on October 23, 2012

Is there any chance that she knows something you don't (or thinks she does) and she's trying to hint at it? Like, maybe she saw your bf out with another woman without you and assumed (either correctly or incorrectly) that he's having an affair and doesn't know how to tell you about it or doesn't want to in case she's wrong.
posted by missmagenta at 7:50 AM on October 23, 2012

Response by poster: Missmagenta - nothing would lead me to believe that, no.
posted by jorlyfish at 8:37 AM on October 23, 2012

Even if you are not fighting, living with people you start to pick up the signs stuff is wrong, if all she is picking up is that things are stressed but isn't knowing why she might be just trying to find out what is going on so she knows if she has to start finding her own place or what have you.

Maybe just a passing comment about how stressed life is at the moment and you and your partner can't wait for it to get back to normal might reassure her, you don't have to go into details. If she hasn't had a lot of relationship experience she is probably doubly unsure as to what is going on.
posted by wwax at 8:38 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would give her the benefit of the doubt. Most people say nothing is wrong, even if things are very, very wrong. If you're both stressed, you're both acting weird, and she probably picked up on that. Telling her that you're not fighting and everything's ok (without saying that you're both stressed out or otherwise acknowledging that she's not imagining things) is just going to make her more suspicious/anxious.

You said she has no relationship experience. (And even if she does, this still applies, since different people have different relationship styles.) Some couples are clingier than others. She has no way to know that this is a "people being people" problem, and not a "oh my god everything is falling apart."

(She may also be trying to learn what is or is not okay in a relationship, being confused, and trying to get more information on if you--a seemingly sane couple, where she likes both people--treat this situation as normal.)

After all, she seems to like both of you very much as friends. And you live together. If there were a problem, not only is she going to have to find a new housing situation in a hurry, but probably also lose a significant part of her social network. It's valid for her to be anxious.

I would acknowledge that you are both stressed, but that your relationship is still solid. Reassure her that her part of the world is ok, and then firmly say you don't really want to talk about it.
posted by ethidda at 9:31 AM on October 23, 2012

Is it possible that she's just curious as to whether she should start looking for a new living situation? That seems like a pretty reasonable concern given the above information.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 5:39 PM on October 23, 2012

> I don't know if this was misleading somehow, because we're not fighting - in front of her or otherwise.

It sounds like she's not sure what to make of the way you and your boyfriend act around each other in the face of stress. I've had friends think that my SO and are "fighting" when we totally, totally were not, because they had no way of knowing that, for example, he knew that my not-so-happy face had nothing to do with him and that I was totally grateful for his willingness to hold off and give me a little space to wade through my cranky on my own.

Different people mean different things by "fighting" in the context of a relationship, too. I know people who consider one terse reply to be "fighting," and people who don't think a disagreement is "fighting" unless both are screaming and yelling in full-on confrontation.
posted by desuetude at 7:32 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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