How much sympathy/consideration can I expect from a flatmate
September 18, 2018 3:30 PM   Subscribe

Dear all, after my mum and best friend died this year I am struggling finding space and getting understanding from my flatmate. I wonder what is ok for me to expect and how I can best deal with the situation I am in when I have very little energy.

I am in my mid 30ies and so is my flatmate. We are both female and single living together for just over year. At the time I was looking for a flatmate as I live in a very expensive city in UK where sharing is very common. I am working from home a lot which I stated at the 'interviews' and that I ideally look for someone who works in a regular 9-5 job so we aren't always in each others face.

I found someone and it was ok for a while until she stopped working, changed to pub jobs which isn't really what I was looking for. It doesn't make it easier that she never managed to make any friends in the city so she is home all the time whilst I have quite an active social life plus rehearse a lot at nights, so am not at home in evenings.

This year in February my mum died very sudden and unexpected which had a huge effect on my well being. Last month my ex partner, who was my best friend died from suicide and I had found him when I came back from a trip to my family, who live abroad. At the time he was already dead for over a week and our dog, who we shared had been trapped in the flat.
Whilst I am generally having a great support network and do a lot to try and deal with everything in a healthy way, I do currently struggle a lot. This is by far the worst time in my life and I have been diagnosed with PTSD and am currently seeing a trauma therapist.

My flatmate isn't very empathetic, which I knew. So her comments have been quite hurtful ('I guess you always seen that coming given he was depressed'etc). However I feel there is still something like the ability to rationally process information.
I have asked for some space and to stop AirBnB (we have a boxroom that we sometimes rent out). My friend had also phoned her coming from a place of concern and mentioned several times that I need space and that my friends had to phone the ambulance twice during the past weeks as I had a complete nervous breakdown. I am currently suffering from flashbacks when I found my friend.
My flat mate has now started to see someone who she basically, secretly moved into her room. He is here every night but it seems they are hiding. I am not feeling comfortable with this. I don't know this person and I find it weird that I never even know when he is here. I understand that she is allowed to take someone home she is seeing but I wonder if this is not a moment where I can expect a bit of understanding and not have someone who I don't know staying here all the time.

I would appreciate some thoughts and ideas on how to deal with this best.

posted by eternitypost to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, you can absolutely expect more empathy. You deserve more.
posted by raccoon409 at 3:39 PM on September 18, 2018 [11 favorites]

I'm so sorry about your losses. That would be a lot for anyone to deal with.

It might help if, as a first step, you think about what you want from your roommate? People deal with grief and loss in such different ways. You might want company and distraction, you might want someone to process feelings with, you might want space and to not have to talk about it. You might want her to act normally, or you might want her to act in a way that recognizes the gravity of your losses. Any and all of those are valid ways for someone to express empathy, and unless you've made your needs clear, your roommate doesn't necessarily have a way of knowing which of these ways would be best to support you. And if what you need is for your roommate's date not to be in the apartment all the time/ever, it's helpful to ask for that explicitly from your roommate.

If you get clear with yourself about what you need, you can then ask from that from your roommate, or ask from it from other friends or people in your life.

I know it's not easy to figure out and ask for what you need. Hugs from an internet stranger if you need 'em.
posted by ITheCosmos at 3:46 PM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your losses.

Your flatmate may not have the emotional ability to understand your pain. Some people are just not empathetic. A few years back my mom and dad died the same month, and a colleague I worked closely with for years barely acknowledged that I might have any feelings at all. He was in tears the next month when his dog drowned in his swimming pool, so he wasn't made of stone, but just didn't understand or recognize my need for sympathy.
posted by anadem at 3:56 PM on September 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry for this terrible time you are going through. You deserve respect, empathy and love.

However, you can't expect anything that you haven't explicitly asked for.

What do you need?

It sounds to me like these are your needs:

Not to have your flatmate discuss your partner's death.

To have your flatmate inform you of when her boyfriend will be coming over and for how long.

Possibly, for her boyfriend to come over less often, as it sounds like he is there frequently enough that he is essentially a non-paying tenant.

Those are 100% legitimate and reasonable asks. I encourage you to ask for them asap!

It sounds like you also want:

Your roommate to switch to a 9-to-5 work schedule so that she will not be home at the same time as you often.

Your roommate and her boyfriend not to spend the majority of their time "hiding" in her room when they are there.

Those are... Less fair things to ask for, especially since the two of them being in her room arguably gives you more privacy. (I understand that two people hanging around in a bedroom being unpredictable is not at all like having the space to yourself but from their perspective, they might very well be "leaving you alone" or "staying out of your way").

I don't think it makes sense for your friend to be calling your flatmate to tell her you need space. That is not clear, and it isn't fair to the flatmate who doesn't know your friend from a hole in the ground. What does "space" mean to you? Does it mean that you are alone in the apartment from 5 to 7 pm on wednesdays and fridays? Work out something specific that you personally can request from your flatmate. Maybe that is something your support network can help you work through/figure out, and determine whether each individual ask seems fair and reasonable.

It also sounds like you might want:
Your flatmate to move out altogether.

It sounds like you aren't very happy having her there and don't feel that she lives up to what you had expected. It also sounds like you don't like her very much. That sucks and it's really unfortunate, but I'm not sure how much you can do about it. I imagine she didn't intend to lose her job, and likely values her space as much as you do. It is her home too, and she is entitled to be there. She also might not know how to cope with the kind of extreme emotional distress (ambulances getting called and so forth) you're experiencing right now. That isn't your fault! It's just also not her fault, nor do most people have that skillset.

Maybe you would be better off if you or her left, but I don't really know how you'd navigate that... I don't know anything about the rules of tenancy where you live. It might be worth considering though.

You definitely deserve kindness. The fact that you aren't getting the type of kindness that you need/want from your flatmate doesn't necessarily mean that she doesn't care or empathise, but it does mean a) that she probably isn't capable of being part of your emotional support network and b) you'll need to ask very explicitly for the things that you want because she isn't a close enough associate to intuit them.

Again, sorry for this difficult time.
posted by windykites at 4:06 PM on September 18, 2018 [34 favorites]

It sounds to me that you have a storm of circumstances that came together: two very traumatic personal tragedies, and a personality conflict with a flatmate who isn’t working out.

The flatmate situation on its own is a little tricky because it’s a business arrangement focused around sharing personal space, which can get awkward if you don’t get along with the other person. Separately from everything else going on, you certainly have the right to discuss rules on how to navigate having guests over, especially overnight, and what is and isn’t reasonable. Yes, your flatmate should be able to have her boyfriend over sometimes, but she should tell you ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.

Of course it is reasonable to ask your flatmate to not discuss your trauma, and to discontinue the AirBnB for a while, but in all honesty, this person doesn’t sound like they have the familiarity with you that you could expect from a friend. And with that in mind, I would not try to expect friend-level responses or consideration from that person. You say you have a good support network and I would try to maximize your interaction with your network and keep your interactions with your flatmate as minimal as possible.

If you have the option to move out, or to get the flatmate to move out, I’d take it. She doesn’t sound like a good match for sharing space even if nothing else had happened. But you stress that you’ve asked this flatmate to “give you space” and you mentioned above that this flatmate is home a lot more frequently than you had originally bargained for when you first agreed to be flatmates.

The bottom line is, can you ask a flatmate to not be home so much and not bring their boyfriend over? No, not really. She pays rent. It’s her living space. She is allowed to use it. It sounds like she’s staying in her private space and keeping her social activity restricted to her own room. That is reasonable and appropriate behavior. The fact that you need alone time and minimal social interaction does not mean you can tell another tenant to leave. YOU can leave and find the type of environment that would help you recover, but you can’t say, “I need space and alone time so you need to get lost.” Not without restructuring your flatmate agreement and having her agree to abide by it. If the situation were reversed, it would not be reasonable of her to make similar demands of you, either.

So, focus on relying on your support network, and try to find living arrangements that will help your mental health as you recover from these traumas, because you deserve a space that contributes to your well-being instead of detracting from it. And if you can find a way to change your living situation to one that is more to your liking, without unnecessarily burdening your flatmate, then you should definitely do that. It’s hard to keep your head focused on business when you have so few resources to dedicate to it, so perhaps if you can deputize one of your friends to act as your proxy, maybe that would help. But at the same time, do understand that your flatmate is basically a bystander living their own life and they’re not trying to do anything AT you, or at least I hope not. It’s hard to have a living situation with someone who harshes your mellow—people want to feel at home in their home. Hopefully you can resolve this separate issue in a way that benefits both of you.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:23 PM on September 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your losses.

Yes, it is reasonable to expect an empathetic response from an empathetic person. Your flatmate is clearly not that person, and is going to be unable to provide this.

The stuff that doesn't have anything to do with that, like having a boyfriend move in, is stuff that you can actually deal with, though I would look to move.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:42 PM on September 18, 2018

You can expect consideration - things like not bringing up your losses, good housemate behaviour like not moving in the new bf etc.

You can’t really tell her how to make a living or expect her to be your friend and support you through this in a meaningful way. You can expect her to act like a decent human being and not make this worse by being inconsiderate.

Don’t get your friend to call her. Talk to her, in person, and request the things you can expect. Explain that you need these things for the living situation to work. If she does not manage to do those things stop sharing with her.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:12 PM on September 18, 2018

How often is the boyfriend there? If he’s basically moved in or lives there 6 days out of 7 then yes your flat mate had crossed a line and this is an issue that would need to be resolved aside from the difficult time you are going through.

I’m so sorry that this is happening at a time when you just don’t have the capacity to deal with any of this kind of crap. But this guy might be the opportunity to break out of a living relationship with someone you are incompatible with.

If the world were a just place yes you should not have to deal with this right now. There’s something in thinking that even if a stranger on the internet thinks you need a break then what’s wrong with her. But to be fair to her she’s not doing any of this on purpose to hurt you so holding on to that injustice isn’t going to serve you in the long term.

posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 11:40 PM on September 18, 2018

Thank you all so much for the supportive word, empathy and suggestions.
I do really appreciate all of your input.
Here are the things I have asked her to do:

1. Stop AirBnB for a while and don't accept requests before asking me. I feel given we are both living here it's not an unreasonable ask.

2. This guy hanging out is someone she started seeing 4 weeks ago, which makes it harder for me as up until yesterday I hadn't even seen him. She would have left the house and leave him here without me knowing. I feel being aware that someone is in the house who I never met when she is away is also a normal request even under less difficult circumstances.

Non of 1 or 2 she did even after I asked. That is why my friend called her (she does have met her) as I don't have the energy to argue.

3. You are all right in asking: what does 'space' mean and that she lives here with the same rights. Obviously her job situation has changed. However I feel I set some rules when I looked for a flatmate which I clearly specified.
I have lived in this flat for a long time also by myself and with other people and now having the dog I shared with my Ex who passed away would make it very difficult to find somewhere.
I feel I will have to approach the topic about going separate ways.

4. In terms of her Boyriend/lover I was thinking is a reasonable request to say 2 out of 7? Then she can stay 2 days at his and really if you need to spend more than 4 days out of 7 together it might make sense to move together. I think he is married with kids so staying at his is probably not an option, however as she doesn't need to make my situation to her problem now, neither do I need to accommodate a family father moving in. I am not meaning to sound harsh here but I feel being understanding and considerate has to be both ways.
posted by eternitypost at 12:52 AM on September 19, 2018

Your situation sounds very, very hard and I really feel for you. Her situation might be hard, too? She used to work a stable job but now relies on bar work. But she feels unwelcome in her own flat because her flatmate had made it clear she wanted the place to herself during the weekdays. Does she have money worries? Does she need the income from Airbnb to buy food/pay bills? She hasn't been able to make friends and is probably very lonely in her new city. She has now fallen for a married man and is probably headed towards heartbreak. Perhaps neither of you is in an emotional place right now to be able to offer a whole lot of support to the other? Added to that it sounds like you're not friends, and she sounds like she could be socially awkward rather than a bad person - if she knew how to be a friend she'd probably have friends of her own by now.

I also wonder if you're projecting a lot of the bad feelings you understandably have right now onto her. This is a very common psychological response that people have to trauma. You may be angry with your mother and your best friend for dying - you have nowhere to place those feelings of anger so you are projecting them onto your housemate because she is there and your mother and best friend are not.

I guess the best way to approach it would be to sit her down and talk to her with empathy and understanding for her situation too, being very clear about your needs but asking what you can do to help her, too.

It sounds like you're frustrated she hasn't been able to guess what your needs are but many people just aren't capable of doing that. She is probably "hiding" with her boyfriend in order to give you space, for example? You will need to talk to her. You can hope for empathy but you can't expect her to figure out on her own what to say and do.

And then can you go away somewhere on holiday with just you and your dog? Like to a cabin someplace where you can go on lots of walks in nature? It sounds like you need to take some time alone to recharge, but you can't really do that in the same flat as your housemate and that isn't your fault or hers, its just a fact.
posted by hazyjane at 1:17 AM on September 19, 2018

Who's name is in the lease?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:30 AM on September 19, 2018

Thanks everyone.

As for the lease: We are both on it as I asked the landlady to put her on when she moved in so it's fair.

Yes, she is also in a difficult position. Not being able to make friends and dating someone married is not an easy position to be in. I asked her to speak this week so we can find an arrangement that works for both of us. It's true that 'hiding' with someone might be her idea of offering space. I suppose it is all a very unfortunate numbering of events. I'd feel different if she was dating someone for a while, whom I'd knew and therefore wasn't just a stranger in our home.

I am going away at the end of the month to a nice cabin in countryside with my best friends, which will hopefully give me some breathing space and the feeling of connection.

It would be difficult for me to move somewhere else as I took the dog, who was mainly staying with my ex-partner on permanently and finding a place to rent in a very expensive city with a very stressed housing market is very difficult. I wouldn't have gotten a dog usually but I can't just give him away, that would break my heart.

I am sorry that I am not commenting on everything you all said. This is simply due to me having very low energy but I am reading everything and am very grateful for the input and understanding.
posted by eternitypost at 6:13 AM on September 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

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