What are adult roommate relationships supposed to look like?
February 11, 2016 4:43 PM   Subscribe

I've lived with roommates since college and now in grad school I have roommates. I'm not sure how to navigate/what to expect of my roommates currently. I often feel sad or upset at home now and I think I had a different expectation of having roommates in grad school. Please help me shift my mindset!

We're all early to mid 20s women in the same program, but I'm in a different concentration. I have two other roommates. We all came in as strangers last year (along with another girl, but that's a whole other story) and we all got along pretty well. Half of us (including me) came straight from college while the others worked in the field for a few years and it seemed like some of us expected our experience to be just like college all over again while the rest expected us to just live together and if we hang out, that's great! I was more in the latter category. After a year, our now ex-roommate moved out and it turns out she LOATHES one of my roommates because of how she treated her. (To be fair, they were both pretty mean to each other in the most passive-aggressive way.) No one really talks anymore and I'm still friendly with the ex-roommate when I see her.

Anyways, now it's just the three of us. I find myself fine hanging out with each roommate one-on-one, but once they are together, I feel invisible at home and really left out. I thought that maybe since grad school roommates might be different and we wouldn't be expected to best friends it would be ok, BUT it is really feeling like I'm not fitting the norm here. I'm best friends with my old college roommates, but in grad school, I sometimes just am too tired to even socialize at home. And I don't really like hanging out with my roommates--this is hard to admit since I feel like I should.

So as I became more and more invisible at home with both of them there, I just decided to embrace it. I stay in my room mostly and I hang out with other friends outside the home. I just cook, clean, pay rent, and sleep at home. Now my roommates call me a recluse, and I just explain that I'm introverted (which is true). I also have had my anxiety levels spike since starting grad school, so I would rather wind down in my room.

Another problem is that I have a constant comparison happening at home and in my head. I'm in a different concentration with different expectations than their programs, so I'm going to be graduating later. However, we're all working on our theses right now. Since I'm graduating later, they like to mention how they'll be finding jobs sooner and how "sad" it is that I won't be done in May. They also like to mention whenever they are invited to parties that I'm not invited to, or when they hang out with someone from my program (not sure why... maybe because I wasn't there at the time?), or when they've just decided to have plans with just the two of them, or when they've received a lot of funding. This does not do well for my confidence or anxiety. I try to be happy for them, but I still feel a bit down and isolated after this. I find myself wanting to retort with "Oh well I had SO much fun at this event that you weren't at" but it feels petty. I've also tried making more of an effort to hang out with them and we have good weeks and not so great weeks where this happens.

I'm in therapy for my anxiety and self-esteem and recently I've noticed that a lot of my recent bad juju feelings have been stemming from home and my roommates. I don't really feel safe (mm...maybe not the right word, but idk, I dread going home some days) and I feel worse about myself and my lack of ability to become besties with my roommates. It sounds like such a stupid issue. And I'm sure it's really dependent on changing my mindset about the whole thing. So, any relevant advice or tips on how to do this would be wonderful!
posted by socky bottoms to Human Relations (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, it's hard to say, since we only have this little post of yours to go by, but it kind of sounds to me like you're living with a couple of bitches. Or at least people with whom you aren't a good match.

To answer your most basic question - roommate relationships *shouldn't* stress you out. All too often they *do*, because it's really close quarters for adults who don't love each other in which to have to live together. But when they work well, they're neutral to positive, not stressors.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:53 PM on February 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

It's hard to find good housemates. Your housemates may not be excluding you on purpose - they may think they're teasing you in a friendly way or making conversation. Who knows? IME of a lifetime of housemates, there are two ways to have a good house:

1. It's totally random and no one really hangs out together much - different goals, different lifestyles. As long as everyone is on the same page about cleaning and noise, this works well.

2. Purpose-built house that you start with friends and maintain carefully. That's my current situation, and all my good house situations have been like that. Even here, we're all introverts and don't socialize too much, but we share some basic values and interaction styles.

What you have is in the middle - too much contact for the professional-style house, too little loyalty and too few commonalities for the friend-style. I'd move in that situation.

Basically "becoming besties" with random housemates is rare. I have had exactly one situation where I really hit it off with someone I didn't know before the house, and that's out of....jeez, seventeen housemates counting everyone I've lived with after college.

One of the most unpleasant living situations I've ever had was when I had a beautiful, adorable, dinky apartment (one of those 200 square feet situations) in a big old converted house. No one knew each other really well and people were super, super nasty to each other in the hallway, left mean notes over nonsense (and looking back after many years of shared housing, I can see that it was over nonsense) and it was just really horrible. It got on my nerves a lot and I was miserable, even though it was a fantastic place and the landlord was a doll.
posted by Frowner at 5:10 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've had a mix of different roommate situations since college, and the good experiences have ranged from good friendships to friendly acquaintance. The bad experiences have included totally horrible psychos, so...at least it sounds like you don't have that?! It sounds like maybe just a bad mix of personalities in that you have a more introverted style and your roommates are closer friends to each other ... and sometimes pretty mean, from what you describe -- but hard to tell if they mean it that way or if there's some context we're missing. I could see someone talking about a new funding grant in a happy excited way just to share with friends, or a sort of shitty "I'm better than you" way -- hard to know without being there. Could be intentional or could be crossed wires.

In any case, it sounds like your roomies will be moving out in May when they graduate, so I would just tough it out until then since moving is a pain and it's not that many months. Although they sound like not-great roommates, they also don't sound like actively terrible roommates who are going to put you in danger or steal your stuff or something. Being introverted at home and nope-ing out of conversations that aren't going well, plus trying to be more actively social outside the house, will probably get you through the next few months ok.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:26 PM on February 11, 2016

Response by poster: Ah, just to not paint myself in a completely positive light--I'm sure my hanging out in my room and stonewalling behavior isn't really helping. But I feel more upset interacting with them than I do not. I'm hoping to move, but our lease won't end until August. So we all are together until then. I think I just need coping or self-improvement strategies of some sort.
posted by socky bottoms at 5:49 PM on February 11, 2016

I've lived in a couple situations where it was three people and the two people who were not me got along fabulously. It's nobody's fault - it's just a thing that can happen, and yeah, going off to your room helps feed this dynamic (again, nobody's fault).

It sucks. I got out of both of those situations as soon as I could. But - just remind yourself that you don't even like these people, so the fact that you don't get along with them is not evidence of some massive personal failing on your part. Sometimes people just don't click. It happens.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:05 PM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I honestly think it'd be easier to find a subletter for your room than it would be to make this work. Finding someone would be stressful, but not more stressful (and probably painful) than staying on as a perpetual 5th wheel in a house full of mean girls, when you have work to do. I don't know, I mean how much of your time is going to thinking about this? How bad does it feel? I bet you could find one other person to live with who's up for being a friendly stranger (and has a similar mess/cleanliness preference).
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:09 PM on February 11, 2016

Yeah, do what you can to make a move. These aren't the roomate relationships you'd choose if you had the power. Guess what? You do have the power. It's not you. You're fine. You have friends, school, a life. You should be seeking roommates who, similarly, are not the enmeshed type. There are plenty of people like that.
posted by Miko at 7:23 PM on February 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Your roommates sound exasperating.

I think that the expectation for adult roommate relationships is that you're a good roommate first and a friend second if at all. For me, good roommate friendships involve being able to have comfortable friendly conversations and adult discussions about maintaining the house. At best you get along well enough to do things like occasionally share meals, go out, have joint get togethers, etc. The only times I've been close friends with my roommates was when we were friends before moving in.

If you have the means, find a subletter and move elsewhere. If you want to stick it out you have my permission to politely ignore them for the next six months.
posted by fox problems at 7:40 PM on February 11, 2016

Response by poster: Yeah, I wish I could move or sublease! But my landlord and lease doesn't allow subletting. It's good to hear permission to politely ignore and that I'm not an odd duck for this situation. In the grand scheme I should be happy that it isn't worse!
posted by socky bottoms at 8:48 PM on February 11, 2016

It sounds like you are expecting too much emotional intimacy with people whose only relation to you is that you share an apartment lease. This post actually reads similar to a "how do I interact with my coworkers at my first job" question. The roommate relationship is not quite a friendship. It's obviously a little bit intimate, since you share a living space, and you see each other a lot and exchange little conversations here and there. But that's not quite a friendship. It's a bit like a coworker relationship -- you can't expect your coworkers to all be your best friends, you just need to coexist, to maintain the peace, so to speak. Likewise with roommates. You live together, you want to get along, but you're not necessarily going to be best buds. If you do develop a closer friendship, hey, great, but it's a bit unrealistic to expect this to develop just because you're roommates.

I successfully lived with roommates for years as an adult, and I wasn't even a student. The key is to have adequate private space and use it effectively. So when you want to just eat a sandwich and watch TV, you use the kitchen and then slink back to your room to do it. Some days you just don't want to talk to the roommates at all, and there is usually an understanding that this happens. I think being able to politely ignore each other is a necessary precursor to a happy roommate arrangement.
posted by deathpanels at 9:26 PM on February 11, 2016

And I don't really like hanging out with my roommates--this is hard to admit since I feel like I should.

Lord no. It means you have good judgment if you don't like hanging out with them. If you said you DID like hanging out with them, then I'd be concerned.

It's quite possible you had unrealistic expectations of a close relationship with your roommates, but honestly these women sound terrible. They sound very mean and immature--not just the kind of people you don't want as friends, but the kind of people you don't want as roommates. Hopefully you can just hang in there until they move out. I think your strategy of spending as little time as possible in their company is a good idea; try to surround yourself with friends who like you and are supportive, instead. Grad school is stressful enough!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:32 PM on February 11, 2016

my landlord and lease doesn't allow subletting

This doesn't have to be the end of the road. First, have you talked with your landlord about how you might get out of your lease? Sometimes they are lenient or willing to bargain. Second, have you talked to your other roommates about that possibility? Maybe they actually have another close friend they'd like to get into the house, and would be willing to do the swap-eroo. Or they might even be willing to chip in more rent each and use your room as a guest room or something. Don't assume you have no moves here until you start looking into it. Leases are just an agreement - they're not written in stone and they can be changed if both parties are willing.
posted by Miko at 7:16 AM on February 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Listen to Miko. I've left leases before by finding my own replacement and getting the landlord to just "replace" me on the lease with the other new person. No subletting, no extension or shortening of the lease time, just a swap. Landlords are sometimes open to this because it's very little work for them if you find the person.

There's also just breaking the lease or subletting illegally. I'm not advising you do to that necessarily, but sometimes the cost is worth it, especially when it comes to your mental health. Like, if it's $500 for you to break the lease? Maybe it's worth it. Hopefully you have some flexibility in your budget for something like that because these roommates sound like a terrible fit for you.
posted by purple_bird at 11:08 AM on February 12, 2016

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