1001th question about dealing with a roommate's boyfriend
November 4, 2012 11:38 AM   Subscribe

My roommate and I both moved in to the apartment a few months ago. Her long-term boyfriend lives two hours away -- I knew about this beforehand, and was prepared for frequent visits. But it's exceeded my expectations, and I don't feel very comfortable.

He's here every weekend for 2-3 nights. She's busy, so he lounges around (sweating profusely) on the couch all day. Fine -- I figure I'll chat with him, get to know him a bit, and we'll share the space cordially. I ask him something about himself, and he get shifty, avoids eye contact, answers in monosyllables, and doesn't ask any questions back or continue the conversation. I try that several times, give up, and retreat into my room or go out, even if I'd rather be putzing around in the kitchen or whatever.

I've had several roommates, and I'm used to compromising on stuff like this. But these two seem to believe it's their apartment, not hers and mine. She moved in two months before me (though we were both on the lease and splitting rent). Boyfriend helped her move, and they got a lot of the common area furniture and utilities set up, so I can see how they feel some ownership of the place. Still, I know it sounds silly, but I get annoyed when they start talking -- to me and others -- about their oven breaking or plans to rearrange their living room or why they chose this apartment, without referring to me at all or asking for my input.

His mother visited last weekend and slept on the couch. I wasn't given a heads up, and they didn't introduce me to her when she came. (I did introduce myself briefly when I ran into her.) I would have felt differently if it was my roommate's mother, but I thought this was stretching things. This weekend, they had friends over (again, with no heads up), and midway, when I went to get something from the kitchen and said hi, the friends expressed surprise that there was someone living here other than the roommate+boyfriend -- my existence hadn't even been acknowledged!

Tangent: My roommate has a kitten. She works long hours, and I love cats, so I spend a lot of time with it when I'm home. She's not as particular about hygiene as I am, so I offered to help with scooping -- and as expected, I've ended up doing all the litterbox work. That's fine, though it would be nice if she pitched in. But sometimes, when the boyfriend's here and the kitten comes to my room or follows me around, he'll pointedly pick it up and move it away, or start distracting it with toys. I don't know if he thinks he's doing me a favor by not letting it disturb me or what, but it's hurtful. I know it's her cat, and by extension his, but I spend enough time caring for it that he can't possibly grudge it playing with me.

I've tried reaching out to my roommate: asking her about her day regularly, inviting her (+bf) out for dinner or movies, etc., hoping that if we get to be sort-of friends, things will fall into place. She's polite but not forthcoming.

(To pre-empt the inevitable comment about how I'm jealous of their relationship -- just, no. I have a happy long-term relationship, long-distance at the moment, and I really don't care if someone is partnered up. And I'm not interested in having him pitch in for utilities or what-not.)

I know people have posted on Metafilter with much worse roommate SO stories, and this sounds trivial, but I guess I've had the good fortune to live with respectful people in the past and it's bothering me. I wouldn't want to make him feel unwelcome, but I don't want to feel like an unwelcome guest when he's here either.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total)
Move out.
posted by demiurge at 11:45 AM on November 4, 2012 [62 favorites]

You described an unpleasant situation, but you didn't really ask a concrete question. There isn't a single question mark in your entire post. So I guess the question is "how do I make it stop." I'm sure you realize there are only three possible outcomes: your roommate is forced to change how she acts, you keep feeling like a stranger in your own apartment, or you move out. The second and third is what most people end up settling for, and I know it sucks. But as you mention, you're hardly the first to be in this situation. If you live in an apartment complex (or even if you don't), your lease may specify the maximum length of stay for visitors, usually in nights spent per month. You could try escalating the situation that way, but that will as likely mean more trouble for you.
posted by Nomyte at 11:47 AM on November 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

seconding: move out.
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:53 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yup, move out.
posted by Pudhoho at 11:58 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

As for moving out -- you're talking about how crappy it is to have a bad living situation, and it seems you are not in a mindset of how NICE it is to have a good living situation. By staying here, you're not only getting the bad characteristics of your current detestable roommates (yes your two roommates)... you're missing out on the positive aspects that good roommates can contribute to your life.

Sure, not everyone can find a perfect match. But, lots of people find a great match, and it's entirely worthwhile to have a good living situation instead of a bad one.
posted by kellybird at 12:02 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

This doesn't sound trivial. You agreed to live with one roommate, with occasional visits from a guest; this has essentially turned into having two roommates every weekend, with this third (non-paying) roommate being allowed to bring in their own guest. On top of that, you've now essentially become responsible for the litter box for someone else's animal.

If you're seeking permission to be bothered by this, then I hereby give it to you; I certainly don't think this is a "suck it up and adjust your unrealistic expectations" situation. But that means there's really only one of two ways to change the situation: either you have a successful "come to Jesus" conversation (or series of conversations) with your roommate (possibly with the suggestion of getting your landlord involved), or you move out.

The potential success of going the conversation route will depend on a number of factors, including how well you knew your roommate before you moved in, how specifically you each discussed your expectations beforehand, how old you both are, and the relative value you each place on compromise/empathy for other's point of view/etc. It's possible she's just oblivious to how this is making you feel and will genuinely want to take real steps to improve the situation; it's also just as possible that she really doesn't care and nothing you say is going to mean much to her. Without further information, no one here can really say.

That said, I think Step 1 has to be that you speak up -- to her alone, not with her boyfriend present -- about your expectations and needs. The way she reacts will tell you a lot about what your next steps will be.
posted by scody at 12:03 PM on November 4, 2012 [23 favorites]

Don't waste time trying to figure out solution, just move out.
posted by discopolo at 12:10 PM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

1. Moving out is probably a good idea.
2. I don't think you're being too sensitive - you agreed to live with one person and ended up living with two who seem to have zero respect for your equal possession of the space. Hes there Every weekend? They don't trade off? And his family is staying on your couch, not his?And you get no notice when other guests will be staying over, let alone visiting? Yeah, find roommates who are more considerate. People like this will not change. You'll be doing yourself a massive favor.
posted by OompaLoompa at 12:11 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

His mother visited last weekend and slept on the couch. I wasn't given a heads up

That is absolutely unacceptable roommate behavior, and your good nature is being taken advantage of. I think J. Wilson's advice above is completely wrong, and kind of absurd; you are *not* being overly sensitive. Also, the boyfriend should not be there when she's not there for extended periods of time.

Set a time, have a conversation during the week. With her alone, as scody says. Tell her you are paying half the rent and would like to enjoy your apartment on weekends, without the presence of her boyfriend, and that it would be great if her boyfriend would give you a break. Suggest two weekends a month, maximum. Also, not giving you notice at all when a weekend guest like his mother is coming to stay overnight is ridiculously rude, and you should tell her politely it's unacceptable. It's called "basic respect" and you deserve it. But the first step is to make clear you want it, since you're obviously in a situation with two people who won't give it freely.

There may be recourse with the landlord as well, so keep that in mind for later if the polite approach doesn't work out. And yeah, if it was me, I'd be looking for another place; living in that kind of environment is so unpleasant. Your home should be your place of refuge. That includes the living room and kitchen.
posted by mediareport at 12:12 PM on November 4, 2012 [29 favorites]

To put this in perspective... sigh, I feel like all I do on MF these days is yammer about how awesome my roommates are... let me give an example. I live with 4 people.

Last night my roommates hung out with me, my sister, and her boyfriend, and we had great conversations including such topics as poetry, contortionism, and one roommate's upcoming trip to Rwanda. Then a bit later, someone had the idea to read one-act-plays aloud, and we had a 5 person play in the living room.

Later at night, my other roommates came home from a Halloween party dressed in costume. We ate the pumpkin pie that one of them had baked, and people took out their accordions and ukeleles, and we sang oldies and gospel songs until 2am.

One of the roommates has already introduced me to one potential romantic partner. When I came home from a 1 week work binge, another gave me a hug and said that next time I have such work horrors, there will be a convoy of food brought to me. On my birthday, there was cake and homemade ice cream. We like each other as individuals and as a group. Guests are approved in advance and furniture decisions are made together.

So... things can not only be passable in your living situation, they can be GOOD. All it took for me to find something so good was Craigslist and honesty about what I was looking for. It took less than a month to find. Don't settle for the shit you are experiencing now.
posted by kellybird at 12:12 PM on November 4, 2012 [9 favorites]

Also, I'm not female, but I think I can understand the problem with having your roommate's boyfriend around the apartment. It must be really stressful to have a near-stranger sitting sullenly in your living space. It means you miss out on being by yourself and having that private time to gather your thoughts. And at the same time, you're not in a socializing situation where you're both engaged and entertained. It's like you're constantly in public… in your own apartment. That sounds intensely unpleasant.
posted by Nomyte at 12:12 PM on November 4, 2012 [29 favorites]

I think you should try standing up for yourself before moving out. Moving out is too much like taking the easy way out.

I'd start by addressing the fact that he hangs around all weekend while your roommate is out 'being busy', whatever that is. Tell them you understand they want to spend their weekends together, but if she's too busy he needs to find some activities to keep him occupied outside the house. You should have every right to enjoy the common spaces in your own house.

As a general suggestion, make an effort to put your own touches on the common spaces. Right now it sounds like too much of 'their' space. Find one chair or painting or something that you really like and get it in there.
posted by mannequito at 12:20 PM on November 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

Nthing everyone else who's said: if your objections were to concrete aspects of your living situation (he stays over 40% of the time; she doesn't clean the litter box), then you could maybe work on either getting those things to change, or winning some sort of alternative compensation (she does extra chores to make up for the cat thing, or he pitches in on the utilities, whatever).

Instead, though, it sounds as though you're mostly objecting to your roommates' general outlook and demeanor: they're kind of selfish and unpleasant people who aren't interested in maintaining an especially cordial relationship with you. These are fair objections to have, but it's also worth being realistic about the degree of change you, as a mere acquaintance, can expect to make in these global characteristics. Using the leverage available in your average apartment-sharing situation, you're not going to be able to make them nicer or friendlier or more considerate or less sweaty people. You're not going to be able to magically instill in them a general attitude of friendly respect for you as a person or for your rights to the space. So if that big-picture stuff (vs. merely a cleaner litterbox or sharing rights to the couch) is what you're looking for, this does sound more like a DTMFA than a realistically fixable situation.
posted by Bardolph at 12:29 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

As a temporary solution, have your partner visit every 2-3 weeks; at the very least, the shifty, monosyllabic entity will have a mirror to deal with.
posted by Kruger5 at 12:47 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another vote for feeling like a stranger in your own apartment being total suckage and not something you should learn to live with.

I've been cohabitating for over a decade and had roommates ranging from sucky to amazing. If you can't fix this and have to move out, here's what I learned for next time:

Be as stupidly specific as possible when arranging roommates.

Instead of "we should be friendly" say "if your door is shut the entire time you're home and you never leave your room, we're not compatible." Instead of "I want it to be clean" say "counters should be cleaned on the same day that you cooked, dirty dishes should be cleaned on the same day, etc." Instead of saying "you should be considerate" say "I'd like you to consult with me before having long-term visitors, my noise tolerances is such and such at such and such time."

This is going to make you sound anal, so you should say "I'm sorry to be anal but I've had experiences where we differed on the meaning of 'clean' or 'considerate' so now I want to be specific." This will scare off some people, but I think they'll be exactly the people that you want to scare off. And if it still goes south, at least you'll have clear grounds on which to negotiate or break the roommate-ship.
posted by tempythethird at 1:05 PM on November 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

There is no reason for your roommate to question what she's doing right now, as she's got a pretty sweet deal. In that situation, if I wanted to stay at all, I'd start out asking for the rent to be split three ways, or at least to pay less. The guy is spending the weekends in the common space. You're just getting a lot less use out of the apartment than you are supposed to.

Now it may be that your roommate would be happy to see the back of you and to pay the entire rent herself, but from your question it doesn't sound that way. If you move out, she's going to have to persuade someone else to move in under those conditions and I'll bet no one's going to be willing to do that and pay half the rent.

I wouldn't be aggressive about this, at least not at first. it sounds to me like she just hasn't considered this from your point of view at all, but if she wants a roommate she is going to have to consider some of these things, and you can point that out gently.
posted by BibiRose at 1:36 PM on November 4, 2012

This is NOT trivial. I was in a roommate situation for about 10 months that was a lot like this - not in the particulars of the situation (there was no boyfriend involved), but in the fact that I felt like I was living in someone else's place. It really sucks, don't let anyone with roommate horror stories make you feel otherwise. Yes, you're not having your things stolen. But being uncomfortable in the place that you should call home is very, very draining.

I vote move out. I really like tempythethird's recommendations about how to arrange things with roommates. Many of the things that made me uncomfortable in my last living situation had a lot to do with things that went unsaid when I moved in. How are you going to share the living spaces? What is the protocol for having people over? How are chores going to be handled?

If you're going to try to work things out with her, I would really suggest trying to get really clear expectations about guest visits. But I would do this with an ear to the ground for a better living situation. Be getting your business in order to get out of there, because as soon as you find a place to live with a roommate who really shares the space you will feel so much better.

Maybe in the meantime, the suggestion to try to get rent split three ways would be helpful - it would make it clear to her that he is overstaying his welcome, and if for some reason they go along with it, then it will free up a little more income for you to work on moving out (if money is an obstacle.)
posted by sherber at 1:50 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in this exact predicament this past summer. The best thing to do for your sanity, safety, and well-being is to break your lease and move out within the next month. Even if it costs you a good sum to do it, it is NOT worth it to fight this. I tried, and it was such a miserable, draining experience that I wouldn't wish it on anyone (except maybe the horrible witch I moved away from).

Just move.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:02 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even if it costs you a good sum to do it...

This is ridiculous - many people don't have "good sums of money" to throw at problems, and even if they did, it is an unwise way to solve a problem on first shot.

Give some low/no cost options a try first.
posted by Kruger5 at 2:55 PM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

The notion of his mother coming to stay at your place without getting your permission first is straight up crazy. Crazy!

Whether you should move out or lay down the law, I don't know, but let's at least be clear that what you've described is not how normal people set up a roommate situation. However, the deal with visiting boyfriends does need to be spelled out; two weekends a month is not at all unreasonable.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:09 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, good lord, don't break your lease. That's ridiculously bad advice here, not least because it can have serious repercussions in future housing searches. But if polite talking with your roommate doesn't work over the next few weeks, it's probably not a bad idea to start laying some groundwork with the landlord about your unhappiness with the situation, even to the point of asking if they have another space available and/or know anyone who wants to take over your part of the lease. At the very least, it might make you feel better (and help your bargaining position in case your roommate continues to act like an obnoxious ass) to begin making some kind of plan to be gone when the lease is up.
posted by mediareport at 3:48 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

These people sound like jerks, or, at the very least, awful roommates. You should really consider moving.

But, since that will probably take some time, I think you need to voice your concerns. You never know, she might wise up and lift her game.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:03 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your roommate is one of those people who pushes until you push back. You need to meet with her and be clear about what you expect

Don't break your lease and run off with your tail between your legs. She's behaving badly. Call her out on it.

posted by 26.2 at 4:04 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with others who say that you probably should move out, but it might be worthwhile to renegotiate with your roommate, IF there is something she can do (and you think she is likely to do) that will make the situation better for you. Like, say, "Hey, [Roommate], this is not working out the way I thought it would. I knew [Boyfriend] was going to be around, but I didn't realize he was going to be an additional roommate three or four days a week. Now I feel like I'm renting a room in you and [Boyfriend]'s apartment. If you could [???], I would feel a lot better about the situation."
posted by mskyle at 5:41 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

writes "His mother visited last weekend and slept on the couch. I wasn't given a heads up, and they didn't introduce me to her when she came."

This is completely, totally, beyond the pale. You've got two choices: move out or thrash it out with your roommate. Be warned the second might result in your roommate moving out. If you have it out with your roommate best to do it when the boyfriend isn't there.
posted by Mitheral at 5:50 PM on November 4, 2012

It's not clear what you want.

Do you want boyfriend to avoid the common rooms when roommate isn't around? Do you not mind him in the common rooms, but only 6 nights a month instead of 12? Do you want them to ask you when they invite guests over to stay the weekend (note: normal request)? Do you want the guests to sleep in roommate's room?

You can ask your roommate for these, but you need to do so. And when the boyfriend isn't there, because it's not his apartment.

If they talk about redecorating a room, you can either say "Yes, and I think we should x" or "No, I like the room as it is" or whatever. And if you want to make changes to the joint living space, you should also do so -- depending on what the change is, you can do it without asking. (For instance, bringing in plants that aren't toxic to cats.)

But you need to figure out what it is you want, then ask for it.
posted by jeather at 6:19 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Decide how you would like the current situation to change. Your roommate isn't psychic, though she does seem clueless, but you haven't given her a chance to rectify the situation. Be a grown up and explain how you would like the situation to change.

And if you're going to live there and the boyfriend is going to continue to visit (even if less frequently), you need to claim your space. If he doesn't want to talk, why would you still not putter around the kitchen, what's stopping you? Ignore him and go about doing your own thing instead of holing up in your room feeling put upon. Turn on the TV, listen to music, sing along if you want, read a book and put your feet up on the coffee table. In other words, ignore him and enjoy your apartment as if he isn't there.

Decide what you want - BF to visit less, BF to pay rent if he is going to visit every weekend, advance notice of overnight visitors, roomie to clean the litter box more often - and communicate those desires to your roommate. Have the awkward but necessary conversation.

If you're going to stay, claim your space in every way, decorate with wall art, throw pillows, knick-knacks; set up your ipod speakers so you can listen to music while you cook; hang curtains; buy some plants, a wine rack, and make it your home.

It's very easy to say "Move Out" but that's not always a feasible or quick option.
posted by shoesietart at 8:02 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find the chorus of "just move out" rather glib as well. Before going to the enormous time and expense of jumping ship, try talking to your roommate?

Explain that you are being treated like a stranger, a nonentity, a hanger-on in your own home by both her and her guests and that this is not acceptable. Her boyfriend and friends can visit, but she needs to make it clear to them that this apartment is equally your place as well as hers.

This doesn't typically require Big Serious Speeches. She pretty much just needs to get a nominal ok from you before guests arrive, reference you in the welcome speech as the co-resident, and introduce you in person. As for boyfriend, I'd find the "their place" thing irritating as well, but that's probably not the battle to pick. Don't feel driven to your room to avoid Mr. Couch-Potato, and don't be a pain in the ass to prove a point either, just use your space in your home in a reasonable way.
posted by desuetude at 8:32 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is because they had a 2-month head start on you. In their minds, it is their place and you're the one who's encroached on it.

I agree with shoesietart - make the space more your own.

When people rock up unannounced, talk to your roommate about how it's inappropriate and how you need to be given a heads-up as you are on the lease as well.

I doubt their behaviour will change too much - you're probably not going to wind up being BFFs - but it might make you feel better to be more assertive in your own space until your lease is up.
posted by heyjude at 9:05 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

anonymous posted">> But these two seem to believe it's their apartment, not hers and mine. She moved in two months before me (though we were both on the lease and splitting rent). Boyfriend helped her move, and they got a lot of the common area furniture and utilities set up, so I can see how they feel some ownership of the place. Still, I know it sounds silly, but I get annoyed when they start talking -- to me and others -- about their oven breaking or plans to rearrange their living room or why they chose this apartment, without referring to me at all or asking for my input. His mother visited last weekend and slept on the couch. I wasn't given a heads up, and they didn't introduce me to her when she came.

To clarify, confronting her about specific "their their their" comments is probably not the fight to pick. But the attitude and entitlement is a problem. If they want to play house on weekends, that's nice, but they are playing house in an apartment that they share with you. It is not his primary residence, he does not pay rent, you are not a hallucination in "their" living room to be ignored.

It does not matter who moved in first. It does not matter that he helped her arrange the furniture in the first place. My roommate's mother helped set up our apartment and may have even helped pay for some new furniture, yet no-one got confused and claimed the living room as kinda really part of my roommate's family home.

I totally get the in-between status of being more than "just" a guest. When my former roommate stays with stays with me or vice-versa, it's exceptionally mi casa su casa. In fact, there are aspects of the house that really were ours (hers and mine) before they were "ours" (mine and my spouse's.) And I tell you what, she and I wouldn't make plans with friends without acknowledging my spouse, even if he wasn't around.
posted by desuetude at 10:50 AM on November 5, 2012

I would sit down with the roommate, without the SO in the picture and I would calmly say:

"I know I was told that occasionally your SO would be hanging around the house. I assumed it would be when you were here to entertain him and that it would be every other weekend at the most.

I'm finding that having him here every weekend as well as you not being here to entertain him is really a problem for me. There are times when I'd like to take advantage of having our apartment to myself when you're out, but I can't because Brutus is here.

I was also rather shocked that Brutus's mother was a weekend guest here and you didn't even mention it to me. That was really inconsiderate.

I'd like for this to workout with us, I like you and I like the apartment, but I think we need to re-work the arrangment you have with Brutus being here."

I know it's hard, and awkward and if you're conflict adverse it will feel horrible, but sometimes you have to put on your big-girl pants and do stuff that's no fun.

I worked extra jobs so I wouldn't have to have a roommate, so I get how this stuff can ranckle.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:49 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with several others in that the situation you described sounds pretty unpleasant. It does sound like there are a few concrete things in your roommate's behavior that she and the BF could change.

Maybe say something along the lines of "Hey, I noticed the cat box was getting pretty gross recently, I would appreciate it if you could take care of it later today" or if your roommate's BF has been hogging the living room or kitchen all day "Hey dude, I'm gonna take a breather here and use the TV/kitchen/oven/sofa for a few hours." My roommates have people stay frequently, but we have a rule that you have to ask permission first (I just like a heads up) and we keep a joint Google calendar so that there's no surprises.

If things do not change you can say something like "Hey, I'm not happy living here because of X,Y,Z reasons. I'd like to find a way to compromise on X,Y,Z but if we can't do that I'm going to move out"

If you feel like being really passive aggressive you could sign up for Courchsurfer and start making some cool international friends.
posted by forkisbetter at 2:04 PM on November 5, 2012

I often spend nights at my girlfriends place, and I try to avoid occupying the common area's as much as possible, try to avoid bumping into her roommate in the morning, for these exact reasons.
I figure the less she knows I'm there the better. She say's I'm crazy don't worry about it.

Problem is that this guy is planted on the couch all weekend with his feet up like he owns the place. Don't they go out and do anything while he's there for the weekend? Tell them you'd like to watch TV during the weekends.. Perfectly reasonable. Put on some chick flicks or soap operas.
posted by Nicholas Geary at 12:41 AM on January 2, 2013

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