What to do about a difficult roommate part II
December 9, 2013 12:38 PM   Subscribe

This happened before. Since then there have been multiple recurrences of shouting/aggressive talking, door-slamming, and general verbal and nonverbal weirdness. My other roommates are open to asking her to find somewhere else to live, but seem to be looking to me. We have a house meeting tonight and I was asked if I want to bring this up. I'm... uncomfortable and also in finals and then leaving for a number of weeks. What should I do, and how should I do it?


Roommate shows anger in stomping, glaring, yelling ways, and gets angry about barely-predictable things. There are five of us in the house total, we're mostly a touchy-feely crowd. The ways Roommate expresses anger happen to be really stressful things for me personally and I'm particularly sensitive to them, but everyone (friends, visitors, roommates) who's around when they happen agrees that they're not okay; this isn't me making mountains out of molehills. They are also not just happening with me, but with at least one of my other roommates.

A few weeks ago, I was ready to move out. Roommate had slammed doors on a friend and I because she was angry, and freaked my friend out. Though I completely love my house otherwise, I was pretty done with that stress and started looking for other places to live. When I talked to my other roommate OtherRoommate, however, he basically said "if anyone's moving out, it's not going to be you," and that he's had his own stressful encounters. OtherRoommate tried to talk to Roommate about these encounters last week, but basically came away only with the understanding that she's extremely angry at him but without any solutions. Conversation with a third roommate indicates that she's also feeling tired of Roommate's stress, but less so than me and OtherRoommate. Our last roommate is almost never home/in town, so we haven't talked about this.

Since the incident a few weeks ago, Roommate and I have been avoiding one another save a few greetings and one time when Roommate tried to involve me in a dispute with OtherRoommate, which I declined to participate in. Though this is far from my ideal, I can live with this level of noninvolvement. This weekend, I was able to have people over without Roommate scolding me or slamming doors, which makes me wonder if Roommate is trying to be responsive to what we've talked about. What sucks is that if Roommate weren't so terse and occasionally unpredictably angry, I think we could be friends.

Now: We have a house meeting scheduled tonight. My two roommates who are also troubled by Roommate have basically said "If you want to broach the conversation of her finding somewhere else to live, we'll support you." I demurred, both because things haven't been as bad recently and because I'm a grad student in finals and don't have a lot of energy to devote to this. I'm also really uncomfortable being the instigator of this conversation: I know it will be hurtful and stressful and I can't wrap my head around how to have it without making all of us feel like shit. The holidays are coming and I'm essentially in finals and then gone for three weeks, so I won't be available for follow-up if any is needed. At the same time, this is a community house that values openness and flexibility, both of which seem to make Roommate unhappy and hence make Roommate make us unhappy.

The options as I see them:
a) Not start the conversation tonight in the house meeting, wait and see how the meeting goes, finish finals, travel, see if it's still necessary after I return.
b) Have the conversation tonight, ask Roommate to leave.
c) Have the conversation tonight, ask Roommate if she's happy and talk about the things that aren't making the rest of us happy.
d) Talk to Roommate one on one, again. I haven't done this yet because we've had multiple versions of this conversation and I don't think it will be productive.
e) Something else?

If a), how can we as a house determine when to ask someone to leave? If b) or c), how can I start this conversation and what should I say?

On my last question a lot of people expressed how much they'd dislike living in a community, co-op, hippieish kind of place like I live with house meetings and check-ins. That's fine, but I should be clear that the house is intentionally that way and that was clear to Roommate when she moved in. We're all on a year lease, but people have left before and gotten subletters without the landlord minding.
posted by c'mon sea legs to Human Relations (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It seems unlikely that, if you are about to leave for a while, your roommates will somehow ensure this person leaves in your absence. I really wonder how you would encourage this person to leave anyway. Do you have any leverage at all?

Perhaps you guys could get a restraining order?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:44 PM on December 9, 2013

I would wait on asking her to leave. (I live in a group house. I have asked people to leave.)

Here is what I would do: have a conversation at the meeting tonight about "I notice that you have not seemed to enjoy living here and that our daily interactions are often negative. How are you feeling about living here?" And see where that goes. Be prepared that it may be awful, or awful but ultimately productive, or it may go nowhere. If you do this, I would stress getting her to talk rather than coming up with solutions or responding in detail to her comments. (I tend to do those things when in stressful conversations, and I have seen myself shut things down by mistake.)

Then see where things are in a few weeks when finals are over, you've traveled and things have shaken out a little bit.

Then, if things are still at "we want you to leave" level, you need to have a really detailed meeting with the other two housemates beforehand. When do you want her to leave? Will you offer her any financial or material compensation (help in moving or finding a new place) in return for kicking her out (which will hurt and inconvenience her substantially)? What reasons are you going to provide? What will you do if she tries to bargain but you don't think she'll follow through? What will you do if it gets really verbally ugly? How are you going to present a united front? Are you willing to bargain?

IME, this is an enormously stressful conversation to have and you need to make sure that your housemates don't put it all on you and that you all know exactly how it's going to go down.
posted by Frowner at 12:46 PM on December 9, 2013 [40 favorites]

(IME, people do leave, by the way. Even shouty people.)
posted by Frowner at 12:47 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your other roommates are kind of talking out of both sides of their mouths here. I would not ask her to leave a shared house unless a majority of residents supported it (publicly, not "it's okay with us if you be the fall guy") and the person with the least emotional investment (so not you) lead the conversation.
posted by saucysault at 1:12 PM on December 9, 2013 [16 favorites]

I would tell her, either at the house meeting or one-on-one based on your comfort, "Your methods of communicating to your housemates are unacceptable. We have attempted to be accommodating. Perhaps this has confused you. If this continues, we will ask you to leave."

It's not a negotiation, there's no chance of being unclear, and by God, a German should understand that bluntness. If she asks questions, answer them forthrightly and laconically. There is an unfortunate tendency to sometimes seek consensus and buy-in over setting clear norms, which can be confusing and off-putting to, well, anyone, but especially someone who is not used to that communication style. At the least, a German should recognize a Diktat.
posted by klangklangston at 1:17 PM on December 9, 2013 [10 favorites]

Agree with saucysault; don't be the fall guy.

You're in a house of touchy-feelies with one person blasting anger everywhere. Having a house meeting coombayah session may be helpful, but how about just stopping her in the moment when she's getting snarky. Just say "enough already!" or "ok you're angry but knock it off! go be angry somewhere else."

If you talk to her during the meeting, then you know the script,"X, while you bring [additional qualities] to the house, your expressions of anger are upsetting and out of line and need to stop. This is warning #1." Since you're an intentional community, you could even take the time to discuss the ground rules of common living, and the warning system when people don't comply (three strikes you're out? voted off the island? etc) so that she is clear that things are not ok, and must stop, and that there is a clear policy ahead of her should she choose to continue stomping around like a child.

I know you say you're a softie type and don't like to do this, but this won't be the first time in life that you'll face people like this, so learn to stand up for yourself now while the stakes are fairly low. Anger isn't a monster. It's just people frustrated because they're not getting what they want, what they think they deserve or aren't being looked at in the same way they see themselves. That's all.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:46 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

My vote is for a).

Plus, e) Do not be "the person" to tell Roommate she needs to move out. It's clear you don't want to do it (which is reason enough), and you have not heard from 2 of your other roommates that they're officially in agreement yet.

Do your best to avoid her and stay above the fray. When the time comes, it should be the whole house present, the 4 of you, together and in full agreement, asking her to leave.

This can wait until January. Good luck on your finals, and safe travels.
posted by hush at 2:04 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I second Frowner's script for the conversation. A good resource for ideas about how to plan for these sorts of conversations is also Captain Awkward.

It also concerns me that your other roommates are in a sense using you to deal with a difficult situation while being conflict-avoidant themselves. I worry that when you bring the issue up at house meeting, everyone else is going to stay silent, rather than supporting you. That conversations are mostly happening individually so far despite this clearly being a whole-house problem adds to my concern in this respect. So I think that bringing the problem up in house meeting is important, but that it will, unfortunately, be difficult to do productively. So Frowner's approach seems to me most likely to be successful. But maybe have a talk with OtherRoommate ahead of time expresding concern about how you'll be supported in bringing up this issue, so that you know you can count on some support going into the house meeting?
posted by eviemath at 2:17 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

One problem with waiting until the next semester (?) is that, depending on the housing situation in your area, it might be much harder for her to find a new place and replacement subletter then.
posted by trig at 2:26 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

As someone who's lived in an intentional community before, I have a lot of thoughts about this.

1. It's crappy to kick someone out around the holidays. The kind and generous way to do this would be to wait until January.

2. How much communication has happened around this so far? This dynamic has been going on since September, but has there been a specific instance wherein you and your housemates sat her down and told her what kind of behavior is expected of her, or given her any kind of warning at all? It is not terribly "compassionate" to ask someone to move out for such paltry reasons (slamming a door, raising her voice) with no notice that things are escalating in that direction.

3. In my experience living in shared housing not unlike your living situation, it was never a good thing when one housemate developed a vendetta against another housemate and wanted them kicked out despite everyone else being basically cool with the other person. I strongly believe that kicking someone out needs consensus. And not, "Well I dunno do whatever you want I guess," but everyone should be on the same page that this person's behavior is a kick-out-able offense. At least a strong majority. If it's just you and everyone else is like, "If you want to I guess", that's not a great sign.

4. There were a lot of times, when I lived in a collective, where I just had to get over someone I didn't like continuing to exist in my space. If you can't deal with this, I think you should be the one considering a move. Living in a collective is very much a two way street.

5. Are your housemates asking you to "be the fall guy" on this because it's your beef with her? If so, I think that's perfectly fair. You can't unilaterally decide you want someone out, but then not be willing to say so, and expect others to shoulder the burden of kicking the person out.

6. Frankly, if you're too busy with other stuff to kick her out, that should say something about the priority level we're working with here. If this was really such a problem in your life, I think you could probably find the energy to bring it up in a meeting.

6. In my experience, people in collective situations have been basically OK with the idea of getting asked to leave. That said, it is generally a longer process than you seem to want. The only time I've seen someone kicked out and gone within the month is for flagrant violations of strict house rules like illegal drug use in common areas. Not a general surly attitude one house member resents. Even if you do bring it up in this meeting, you should probably look at a February move out date. Because, again, who kicks out a roommate during the Holidays? If this stuff hasn't been addressed in a "we are thinking about asking you to leave" context, I would push that date back even further.
posted by Sara C. at 2:34 PM on December 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

Also, you kind of don't get to have both "I'm too busy for this drama" and "I need to continue whipping up this drama", both at the same time. If you're too busy, stop picking this particular scab and go about your business until you are not too busy to adequately handle the situation.
posted by Sara C. at 2:36 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also (and sorry to triple post), you guys, as a community, should come up with some kind of "termination policy". What are the grounds to kick someone out? How much consensus does there need to be? Should there be a warning process? How much notice should there be? How are these conversations initiated?

This will make situations like this a lot clearer in the future.
posted by Sara C. at 2:40 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

What is the housing timing here? Are you all on a year long lease together? Does one person hold a year long lease and sublease out? What about the market where you live-- will it take months to find a new place? Or could someone move with 2 weeks notice?

Your housemate sounds unhappy with the living arrangement too. She probably would also like out, but doesn't see a way out. If you wanted to leave, how would you do so? How much would it cost? What could your housemates do to make it easier?

Since you were just thinking of leaving yourself, you probably have the answers to these questions. If it is within your means (monetarily or emotionally, depending on what is needed), consider paving her way towards leaving.

For example, offer to allow her out of any months left on the lease, point out housing opportunities she might not know about, end a lease mid-month if it works better with her new housing, etc. Make it easy for her to leave, especially if after the conversation Frowner suggested, she indicates she's unhappy too. Make it clear you won't hate her forever if she decides to go, and ease her way as much as possible.
posted by nat at 2:41 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

You know. one thing that shouldn't happen in adult roomate situations is to try and re-raise them and teach them "good behaviour". It's not your place to do this and it only makes the situation worse. When talking to her, makes sure it's not "corrective" a la "You're shouting too much and leave your stuff around the kitchen", but always assert how her actions affect you (a la "I can't really use kitchen if your stuff is there").

Living together with people whose history and mannerisms we're not acquainted with can be really hard, and while I understand the sentiment, even in an open-hippyish-household, people need time alone and show sides of themselves others usually don't get to see.

In that sense, I think it is good to talk to her, because while you don't understand how she gets angry, you can definitely observe that she does, in fact, get angry, so it must be provoked somehow. Just, again, don't be condescending and "helpful", if you know what I mean.

In any case, leave it be until your finals, and settle if afterwards, unless it's something you really can't get of your mind right now.

And if nothing really works out, yes, moving out is a completely valid option and you shouldn't feel bad. It's literally "just not working out" between you, and this is how it should be put to diffuse the situation.
posted by ahtlast93 at 2:49 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sara C. and Frowner both sing songs of wisdom.

What are your house's "termination policies"? What, specifically, would Roommate have agreed to upon moving in?

I would pick up a copy of Getting To Yes and look at this as a straight-up negotiation exercise. What is your ideal outcome? What would be your minimal level of compromise? What do you suppose Roommate's ideal outcome would be? What do you think Roommate's minimal level of compromise would be?

If you are going to effectively kick Roommate out, then how will you do so in a fair, compassionate, and legal way?

Definitely do not kick this person out until January, unless you have a reasonable belief that you are literally in danger.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:50 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Anger and door slamming in a roommate situation is reprehensible and you all need to deal with this, but after the holidays.

It's insane your roommate thinks she has the "right" to raise her voice to anyone in the house, to slam doors, to act moody and intimidating.

On the one hand, it seems your roommate has emotional problems. On the other hand, she is better suited to living alone.

She's an adult, and while it's nice to warn her, I think after the holidays, you should all get together and rip the band-aid:

"Roommate, the anger, door slamming, and arguments strongly indicate you are unhappy living here. This is not a good living situation for you or us. Please make arrangements to find a living situation where you will be happier than you are here."

She hates living with you folks. You'll be doing her a favor. Don't feel badly, this is necessary.
posted by jbenben at 3:00 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like it's possible there were unspoken expectations on both sides. I can understand why Roommate was attracted to the housing offer - she's from another country and culture, and a built-in community can be a way to good times together and fast friends.

I've lived in co-op housing before (although it was a co-op building, we all had our own apartments.) It sounds like yours has an awful lot of rules and chores, and it's hard for me to understand what the benefits of this situation are. Do you have fun together as well?

I agree with everyone who says wait until after the holidays to have the conversation and also to approach it with curiosity and a genuine interest in learning why she's unhappy in the situation. Her answers will give you insight into a road to a compromise. She was probably looking to get something different out of the arrangement, as were you.
posted by Pademelon at 3:04 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To Pademelon's point, those of us who are not Roommate have a lot of fun (that Roommate is welcome to join but almost never does/has since moving in): game days on Shabbat, potlucks, movie watching, low-key parties, and barbeques (not all the time, but we have one of two of the aforementioned a month). I'm not religious, but the house is sort of a center for a hippieish Jewish community that I've loved getting to join and be part of. If I didn't love the community so much, I'd have peaced out a while ago (that's still on the table if this doesn't get resolved).

I appreciate all comments so far and want to note that OtherRoommate does indeed have conflicts with Roommate independent of anything involving me, but is also considering moving to live with his boyfriend sometime in the new year so may have a little less investment. He has specifically been reaching out to me to discuss Roommate's behavior as a problem; this is not driven by me or my needs.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 3:12 PM on December 9, 2013

I think it is totally reasonable that you have a house culture and that you aren't cool with behavior that goes against the grain of that house culture.

So, yes to klangklangston's commentary. If you guys consider this dealbreaker behavior (and I also think it's important to have a consensus -- at least three of you in agreement on this point), then I think it would make sense to say what klangklangston suggests: we have community norms in this house. speaking with your voice raised and slamming doors both violate those norms. if you do those things again we will ask you to move out.

If you have strong consensus, you could also just go straight to kicking her out, but that feels a little abrupt to me.
posted by feets at 4:07 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree that your other roommates, particularly OtherRoommate, are kinda throwing you under the bus here. They get to avoid the unpleasantness of having to directly confront Roommate, and if Roommate doesn't agree to leave right away she will probably refocus all of her nastiness towards you and away from the others. Win/win for them, not so much for you. OtherRoommate's behavior comes across as particularly lousy here, what with him essentially asking you to kick Roommate out on his behalf. His asking you to stay in a house with a person you both find toxic when he is a) unwilling to do anything about the situation himself and b) probably going to move out soon if things continue to be bad with Roommate is very Not Cool.

Nthing Frowner's script for a conversation at your upcoming house meeting. Hopefully, Roommate has also had some thoughts about her leaving and will take the opportunity once she knows she has the option. If she isn't interested in moving and your roommates remain this ambivalent/conflict-averse towards her behavior you will be pretty much stuck with her indefinitely.
posted by fox problems at 4:41 PM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

e) tell her to start looking for an apartment as soon as you get back and are not in finals. You have to tell her to leave and stop trying to deal with what you absolutely shouldn't have to. I feel very bad for you.
posted by Blitz at 4:57 PM on December 9, 2013

Have you tried just being direct? Like, instead of "blah blah blah perhaps there might be some nice way that we can resolve this sort of thing where you don't do the thing that maybe I would like it if you did because if I like nice things and you like nice things then we both like the same thing so really, you want the same thing as me so let's create a new gentle system of door-closing that blah blah" when she slams the door, just say "hey, don't slam the door". Or "don't slam the door, please". Like, right away. Short direct sentences. I think you might get better results.
posted by windykites at 8:03 PM on December 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

(When i say "you", I mean "the people in your house", not just you personally).
posted by windykites at 8:04 PM on December 9, 2013

My two roommates who are also troubled by Roommate have basically said "If you want to broach the conversation of her finding somewhere else to live, we'll support you."

....ehhh. From experience, there's a non-zero chance the discussion will wind up with your roommates saying some variation on "Oh, gosh, y'know, neither of us really have a problem with you, but c'mon sea legs does, and, well, I dunno, I guess seniority, and [insert passive-aggressive back-stabbing mumbling]…" (20+ years later, am I still annoyed about that conversation? Yes I am. Harrumph.)

As has been suggested, unless all (or a deciding majority) of the other housemates agree that Roommate must go, and unless the one who feels the least personally involved is willing to say so during the house meeting informing her so, there are good reasons not to be the one to speak up, and instead to find some way of making things work.
posted by Lexica at 8:58 PM on December 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

Bite the bullet and chuck her out. People who persist in shouting at you deserve neither respect nor support, and you will be so much happier without that in your life.
posted by flabdablet at 9:42 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yikes! Definitely don't be the person to tell her that she needs to leave- I have a strong suspicion that your roommates won't back you up, and then you'll be left looking like and feeling like a jerk, and even more stressed out than you are now. Note that in no way do I think you are a jerk, but you're set up to be the fall guy here.
Personally, I would take this as a sign to move on- get through your finals, then start looking for a new living situation. In my experience, drama increases exponentially with number of housemates, and the older I get, the less patience I have for drama.

Short answer: option A
posted by emd3737 at 2:10 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Bear in mind that the actual process of chucking her out will be horrible. She won't take it well, she'll lose her shit and yell and scream and carry on like a pork chop, she'll storm out of the house meeting and slam doors and then there will be an awkward silence and you'll feel as if everybody else is looking at you funny and you'll be all wtf did I just do and maybe she's not so bad and omg I'm a total traitor to the NVC cause.

And then at some point she'll be GONE and you will still be in your lovely NVC house with all your lovely and considerate NVC housemates and at odd times you'll find yourself feeling quietly and privately proud of having been the one who actually got it together to stop all of you being treated like doormats.

Chuck the cow out.
posted by flabdablet at 9:57 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's important to note the cultural differences here, as you were advised on your last post about the same roommate.

You were told that Germans have a more direct and confrontational style. In turn, I think it's important to note that Germans have a saying about Americans - "They open the door, but they don't let you in."

Germans tend to believe in being brusquely honest rather than placating. Thus, the way "Roommate shows anger in stomping, glaring, yelling ways, and gets angry about barely-predictable things" may well be what she is doing to be honest and clear with you. She wants you to know her feelings. What are you doing about them? Quite possibly, pretending that nothing is wrong.

When I was in Germany, the two anecdotes that most often got repeated is that Americans will say, "Come over anytime!" and then Germans will take them up on it, and the Americans will be upset. Or Americans would ask Germans if they wanted to do things, and instead of giving facesaving excuses, they'd say "I do not want to do that."

This is really jarring, but this isn't really egregious behavior. You guys are telling her you want to share your feelings, and you want her to share hers - but it seems like you don't really mean it. You want her to share only her positive feelings, which she may not have much of. If you're "touchy feely", then what is the problem with the negative emotions?
posted by corb at 9:58 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't see stomping and door-slamming as direct communication, though it is certainly confrontational. Most (all, in fact, to the best of my memory) of the Germans I know express themselves without that sort of passive-aggressiveness. I am in favor of direct communication, and believe that is a part of the sort of non-violent communication that it sounds like c'mon sea legs' house is trying to establish. One can communicate directly but respectfully, however, without raised voices.
posted by eviemath at 10:31 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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