housemate woes - quarantine edition
May 20, 2020 11:07 AM   Subscribe

How do I turn my focus away from my housemate who is getting on my last nerve?

Please note that:

I cannot move out, and housemate cannot move out for the foreseeable future. The issues behind that are a whole different Ask. Please no advice to "just move out." That isn't happening anytime soon.

Housemate has no vehicle of their own and never leaves the house for longer than an hour.

I do not have access to a therapist right now.


The issues:

Housemate and I have been getting into it over dishes. Not in the traditional way, that is, when people refuse to do them and argue as the moldering pile grows in the sink. This is about overzealous dishwashing. Thus, little battles for control are occurring over when the dishwasher gets run and whether dishes should be left full of water for hours prior to actually washing them - housemate's argument is that soaking them removes every last bit of debris. I find this last habit extremely annoying, because I get drenched whenever I go to move them, not to mention that if I leave them there for housemate to clean later, the entire counter and sink ends up taken over by soaking dishes, making it impossible to prepare food. So I just started dumping them, washing them, and putting them in the dishwasher. I thought, I was helping, both to keep the counter clean, and to enable housemate to focus on their work, which they have been doing, from home, straight through the pandemic. I have not been working and so am happy to do this chore, both to keep the counter clear and to help housemate. Instead of accepting that, now housemate interrupts their workday to come out, do their dishes, and put them away before I can touch them. They insist that if the dishes are not soaked, food bits remain behind, and according to their standards, I do not get rid of each and every last bit of food. Reader, we are talking very tiny particles here, not great big blotches of dried spaghetti sauce. Nonetheless I try harder to make sure none remain before putting items in the dishwasher. That still isn't good enough. So now we're back to either the dishes get left to soak on the counter again, or they interrupt their workday to wash them before I can get to them. I can live with the latter, but the former, the soaking, is driving me nuts. And here we get to the heart of this issue, which, as should be quite obvious, isn't about dishes at all.

This is where I need a therapist and don't have one, so here I am, asking internet strangers to help me gain a sense of perspective, because I hate being so fixated on this. I am convinced that they think I am stupid, unable to perform a task as simple as washing a dish. This feeling extends to anything I do around housemate - on some level, I believe they think I am very incompetent and unfeeling. My anger isn't about the dishes, it's about housemate thinking I am stupid. I know how irrational this sounds. Normally, I can tell myself that believing that they think I am stupid is a cognitive distortion, that I cannot read their mind, that really they have their own problems and that I am not being kind by being so angry about this. None of that is working now.

TL;DR, I am here looking for advice on how to turn my attention away from this person as long as I am still in quarantine. I want to be able to co-exist more or less peacefully with housemate until I can go back to work. I want to be able to not just control my anger, but not experience it, in regards to this situation, and others like it. I know this is not a simple Ask and there are not any simple answers. But any advice, or book recommendations, would be much appreciated.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris to Human Relations (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is the sort of problem that is very well-served by mindfulness exercises. Have you ever experimented with mindfulness or meditation? The main skill you build in the meditation practices I am familiar with is to dismiss thoughts so you can focus on your breathing. While meditating you work on dismissing ALL thoughts, but the way this translates to your day to day life is it helps you develop the ability to dismiss specifically unhelpful thoughts. Sadly, this is not something you can learn to do in a day, but once you have developed this "muscle" you will have the ability to acknowledge the unhelpful thing and then escort it off the premises of your brain.
posted by zeusianfog at 11:26 AM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Even if the housemate criticizes how you wash dishes, you don't need to feel stupid.

For example, a large number of men are bad at washing dishes, and they are not bothered by it. They freely admit to being bad at it and laugh about their lack of dishwashing skill. They do not go into a shame spiral.

So you could ask yourself why your self-image involves being good at dishes.

Right now your brain goes from "my housemate thinks my dishwashing is subpar" to "my housemate thinks I am stupid and incompetent at simple tasks". That doesn't need to happen.

The average male CEO is probably bad at washing dishes. If someone pointed it out, I don't think he would conclude that person thinks he is stupid and incompetent.
posted by cheesecake at 11:29 AM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Honestly you sound really bored. In your shoes I’d be looking for something life-affirming to do with my time, probably something that involves people other than your housemate.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:31 AM on May 20, 2020 [9 favorites]

I know the heart of the issue isn't about dishes, but can you just use paper plates for the foreseeable future? It won't eliminate the issue with pots and pans, but it will cut down on the control your roommate feels entitled to have over you.

Your summation that your housemate thinks you're stupid is possible but not the only possibility. It's important to accept this - you can't actually control how another person perceives the world. To me, as an outsider, it sounds like your housemate is seeking some measure of control over the uncontrollable world by fixating on the dishes... and your relationship is collateral damage.

So think about their actions as a coping mechanism. They seek to control the dishes because they are trying to exert control in an uncontrollable uncertain world that is scary right now. In ten years they might look back on this time and feel regret, you'll never know. They might experience growth from this. You will certainly experience growth from this.

What you have to work with right now is all tactical: how can you remove the impetus for your roommate to want to exert control over you? You can choose to stop producing as many dishes to clean. You can also choose not to engage with your housemate when they choose to wash dishes compulsively - don't apologize for making them, not rinsing them to their liking, etc. because your behavior is normal. You can't make the world less scary. You can't talk them out of their dish habit.

It takes practice to disengage from someone trying to engage with you in a controlling way. Some folks agree that mindfulness is a habit to pick up to practice this skill. For me, I use a mantra: "Don't pick up the rope." Just because someone wants to play tug of war doesn't mean I have to agree to it. I can choose not to pick up the rope. I can drop the rope at any time, too, if I've started to engage and find myself regretting it. "Drop the rope."
posted by juniperesque at 11:31 AM on May 20, 2020 [18 favorites]


Well first, pretend you are British and get a washing up bowl. Put it in the sink, fill with water, soak dishes in it. When you/housemate wants to move the dishes, just pick up the whole bowl and move it onto the counter or into the sink, thus clearing space but also allowing the dishes to continue soaking.

But to address the real issue, you guys are gonna have to have an honest conversation with each other. Be open, use humor if necessary, and try to be forgiving. Start with "We both know this is a super stressful time. There are things we are both doing that probably annoy the hell out of each other. And while we both know the problem is 95% due to the situation, rather than our personalities, it still feels infuriating in the moment." Then agree on ways you can safely express your irritants to each other, without getting defensive. And then agree to compromise.

But tbh, the thing is, after you have had shared apartments or houses with lots of different people, you realize that there is no such thing as the non-annoying housemate. If you moved out and got someone new, for instance, that person would eventually have some completely new and novel annoying tic that drives you crazy. (Like eating your last banana, the one you were looking forward to when you got home, and leaving the skins on the counter. Not that I'm talking from experience or anything.) The problem is not that this person is not the right housemate for you; the problem is that living with another person is really hard. If you can remember this, it might make it less personal -- less about you, and also about them.

The point is: this isn't about the dishes, but it's also not about this person. Living with other people is annoying, even before you add in the stress of a global pandemic. You can turn your attention away from them, but you have also got to find a way to communicate better with each other.
posted by EllaEm at 11:32 AM on May 20, 2020 [21 favorites]

My husband is a soaker. I feel your pain.

Is it possible your housemate is washing their own dishes not because you do it wrong, but because they don’t think you should have to do their chores? Add in some exasperation on their side at being forced to do it on your time schedule and it could feel like what they’re projecting is “you’re doing it wrong” when really it’s “omg, I don’t want to be doing this right now.”

I mean, regardless, even if they are the sort of person who decides their housemate is too stupid to wash the dishes, that is clearly not true. You aren’t. So their opinion is not worth getting upset about, because it’s wrong.
posted by something something at 11:37 AM on May 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Would it help you to reframe the dishes as a thing your housemate is focused on as something they can control in their own life, and you are mostly an innocent bystander in this? If you cannot convince yourself to live with a sink full of dishes soaking, is there a place to put a dishtub out of the way on the counter since that is literally what that device is for?

You can additionally split up the dishes, if you want to go down that road. Set A is for you, Set B is for them, each of you washes the way you want.

But probably the saner advice is to get the dishtub and let them have this. Everyone's under a lot of stress right now and everyone's got stuff they just need to be a certain way right now. It probably doesn't mean they think you're stupid. It may, but that's on them if they do, there's not really anything you can do about it but return the favor.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:37 AM on May 20, 2020 [9 favorites]

When I have a feeling I don't want to feel, I make it worse, because now I feel something I don't want to feel AND I feel angry or disappointed in myself for feeling it. I wonder if it would help you to just let yourself feel the feelings you're having? If you're like me, the strength of your feelings aren't about the thing that's in front of you; it's just a convenient thing to attach them to.

As an example, I got into a fight with my best friend last week because I didn't like the way she'd accepted my apology after I said something insensitive. This ... is not the usual between us, and once things had settled down, I realized, "Oh, of course, I'm really upset about what's happening in the world but can't do anything about it, so when something I COULD do something about appeared ... my emotions jumped on it."

This is a super hard time. It makes sense that you're struggling in exactly this way.

I have gotten a LOT of value in dealing with this kind of thing out of using Tara Brach's RAIN technique. You could check out her book Radical Compassion, or listen to some of her talks, which are available as podcasts or videos on her website. This is an active meditation practice that I've found really helpful for turning down my self loathing when I'm feeling things I don't want to feel.

Good luck. This is hard because it's hard, not because you're doing anything wrong.
posted by spindrifter at 11:43 AM on May 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Sounds like your roommate is feeling powerless and is trying to exert control...over dishes. And cleanliness. And home. Irritating, but understandable, given the pandemic.

This isn’t about you, this is about your roommate feeling stressed. Let them feel like they have control over their tiny corner of the world (their dish cabinet), it gives them some relief.

Don’t let this petty thing mess with your own internal sense of peace. Try to feel compassion for your roommate instead of defensiveness, and work on your own projects.

Maybe you need to feel a sense of control over something, too, since you’re also probably feeling powerless right now? (Because we all are). Maybe concentrate on a project that’s just about you and with which you can do whatever you want. Your own little sandbox where you can play.
posted by rue72 at 11:53 AM on May 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

Seconding @cheesecake with an anecdote in case hearing that not doing something as others want it =/= being stupid: Mr. Saltypup is one of the smartest people I know. Lights-out smart with fitting academic credentials. He also leaves food all over the plates when he loads them into the dishwasher. I, a detail-oriented person, find this concerning and annoying. We have talked about it. He is not naturally detail-oriented, so doing chores at the level at which I would do them would take considerably more effort for him than for me.

Does that make him stupid? Absolutely not. He is much, much better at big-picture and abstract thinking than the average person. He is also worse at spatial thinking and tasks that involve attention to detail than is probably average. We're all good at different things--and we're all annoyed by different things. Sounds like your housemate, like me, may be annoyed by nitpicky, silly, small things. Perhaps they're aware that they have this neurosis, and that managing their own neurosis is an important skill in life.

Is your housemate signaling discontent when you do things around them (eye rolls, little sighs, grimaces, tight lips, notable silence, judgmental looks, etc.)? If so, I think the set of recommendations for how not to experience anger would be different. Managing constant (even if low-grade) negativity from an external source requires different tactics from managing your own internal negative self-talk.
posted by saltypup at 12:01 PM on May 20, 2020

Could you try telling yourself different stories about it?
Like, tomorrow whenever you find yourself thinking about it tell yourself that it's not that they find you stupid, it's that they're bewildered that so many other people don't care about tiny specks. (I don't know if that makes you feel better, but it's a different story.)
The next day, tell yourself that they're not judging you at all, they're judging themselves for their own inability to just go with the flow and are worried that you think they're stupid or controlling.
The next day, it's because creating cleanliness helps them feel in control and letting you do the dishes would take that secure feeling away from them.
The next day, it's some arcane ritual they're performing where if the dishes are entirely speck-less a purple cat appears in the night and talks to them. They wish they could tell you about it but they know it would sound insane, so they keep the secret to themselves.

Try really committing to a different story every day for a few days. Eventually you might find yourself less committed to the story you're working with now.

FWIW I'm one of the down-with-all-specks soakers. Partly OCD, partly that it's annoying to notice and scrape off dried specks later. I've never thought roommates were stupid for not being the same way, and I can be stupidly judgmental. What I do feel is some combination of the first three stories above.
posted by trig at 12:08 PM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

My housemate and I are feuding about dish washing too, and it's the same situation where I think her standards are slightly ridiculous and I resent the implication that I'm gross and wrong for not doing it how she does. It sucks and you have my sympathy.

I have chosen to look at this through the lens of "she has a lot of anxiety about dishes for whatever reason, I have my own hangups about different shit and this is just hers." So I try to accommodate her in the spirit of generosity... which feels less like capitulation to an unreasonable demand. Neat little psychological trick there. I recommend it.

If you want to talk to them, I would suggest laying out some options. Like, "You hate the dishes not being soaked. I hate the soaking dishes. Can we compromise on this? Can we get a soaking basin? Can we get some hardcore scrubbing tools that would make you feel ok about skipping the soaking? Do you actually mind getting up and washing them before I get to them?" Some (but not all) of my dish issues (dissues) actually got resolved this way.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:37 PM on May 20, 2020 [6 favorites]

Weirdly (or maybe not-so-weirdly, I'm sure lots of us are feeling this way), Ask A Manager had a closely-related letter today, with a response from a clinical psychologist: I’m running out of patience when we need patience the most. Basically she advocated for treating yourself and the person you're annoyed with with compassion but it's worth a read!

Also years ago I asked a question here about someone who was driving me crazy (it was mostly about a coworker but also I had a roommate who did not have the same standards of kitchen/dish hygiene as me!) and got lots of really good advice: The thing that I hate about you is everything.
posted by mskyle at 12:40 PM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

There's great personal advice in here, and I highly endorse getting a washing up bowl/wash bin/bus bin to have a place for them that sets some constraints so they don't fill the counter and sink.

If that's not workable, you might need to lay out some shared understanding of when you need sink/counter space so they can plan around it. Knowing I need to have them done by 5 is helpful and can help meet expectations.

I'm working from home now too and honestly, I might take a break to help with dishes. I mean I'm posting this now as a break. So it's possible that them stepping away can be a very normal thing in their work expectations.
posted by advicepig at 1:13 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you're going through this.

In a housing situation with many conflicts similar to what you describe, I've had some limited success in avoiding/diminishing my instinctive angry reaction by immediately telling myself "this isn't going to upset me" or "this is ok" several times and by either trying to shift my thoughts to something innocuous and not emotionally intense (recipe I want to try, something I want to buy, some technical-rather-than-people involved work thing) or doing something that requires some level of attention (e.g. Duolingo lesson or something similar) but again is not emotionally fraught.

It doesn't always work but it does sometimes. And I think there is some hope in the possibility that the more I train my brain to not engage in the anger reaction, the less inclined it is to automatically go there. As opposed to reinforcing that reaction every time. So I consider it a work in progress, even if I'm only successful in diverting my thoughts some percentage of the time.
posted by dogwalker3 at 1:19 PM on May 20, 2020

You can’t change your room mate so you need to change your mindset. If it were me, instead of focusing on how you have opposing dishwashing practises, I’d go, ‘My room mate wants to take over dishwashing! Fantastic! One less chore for me to do.’ And leave them to it. Then, if you want to feel like you’re contributing in some other way, go do laundry, or whatever, or just enjoy the free time you have now. But honestly, if they’re happy doing this task, you can then avoid the topic altogether and let the wound heal so to speak. I know this isn’t about dishes, those are just the trigger but avoiding the trigger will definitely help.
posted by Jubey at 3:08 PM on May 20, 2020

You need a common enemy, like the landlord who provides you with a shitty dishwasher. Try a load with no soaking or rinsing: some newer models have a crud sensor that doesn't deal well with pre-washed dishes.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 3:09 PM on May 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Just as an aside. If your dishwasher is leaving bits - it may need to be cleaned. There is usually a trap somewhere that can open - sometimes with a screwdriver - that collects bits of debris. And the drain trap may have things blocking it too. Lots has broken glass! Look up the model number of your dishwasher for a manual. They usually recommend doing this every few months and well, if you’re in a rental there’s a chance it’s never been done. Use gloves. It can be disgusting and have broken glass.

But back to the issue - find common ground so you both get what you need to get dishes to the degree that they seem to need them. This seems like something that they really require and there must be a solution to then clear up space for you as noted above.

And yeah - my husband and I have gotten I yelling marches about dishes before. And my really was about the dishes. Of course it boils down to different styles of cleaning and attention but if the dishes were magically gone we would not have fought about them. But there are thankfully many good solutions for dishes and much worse roommate issues to have.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:46 PM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Your common space is shared and it is reasonable for you to have the kitchen clear and ready to use, especially since the two of you are sheltering in place. In my view, the soaking issue is a rationalization to cover inconsiderate behavior, that is, not leaving the kitchen in clean, functional use for a shared tenant.

Dishes that are not clean and covered with water develop biofilms. It's not a sanitary practice; the CDC, for example has information posted on this if it comes to needing scientific proof.
Dumping standing water with someone else's food debris is disgusting.

Since there is a concern with cleanliness due to the virus, one could argue that clean surfaces and good hygiene are especially important now.

I think your anger could stem from recognizing that the explanation stonewalls your feelings. You are trying to resolve the issue by doing the task yourself, then the housemate implies that you are wrong and you are inconveniencing them. Upon thinking about it, you find you are angry, and I can see why you feel that way.

You could consider that it is fair for you to expect that your housemate immediately clean their dishes. All communal spaces should be useable for both parties, especially the bathroom and kitchen. That's part of being a good and responsible housemate. Perhaps feeling that this is fair will help release some negative feelings.

One thing that has been helpful for me in digesting my feelings is to keep asking myself why this event is raising specific emotions. I keep gently not resisting my emotion and searching back through my personal history for a pattern. Once I recognize the pattern, it releases the emotion since I have insight into its context and recognize how I can move forward. Exercise, drawing and taking a shower are all conducive to starting the process. I hope some of this is helpful for you.
posted by effluvia at 4:03 PM on May 20, 2020

housemate's argument is that soaking them removes every last bit of debris.
posted by Splunge at 4:04 PM on May 20, 2020

Lots of good advice here.

I would love to have separate dishes, but housemate has rejected that idea. I keep my own dishes out of sight, but I cannot do that with all of them (pots, pans, etc). I have not suggested a washing bin. I will, when I can be pleasant about it, but have a feeling that this will be rejected as well. The answers I find most helpful here are about how to mentally stop letting this get to me. I would like to know more about how to recognize when they are using their actions to control me, as someone suggested they are, upthread, so I can say, "oh, that's that maneuver" and think of it that way, detachedly, and not in a red-hot, reactionary way. And yes, I am hoping that when I go back to work, all of this will fade back to normal proportions.

posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 4:25 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I mean, it's actually OK if your housemate interrupts their work many times a day to do dishes to their personal satisfaction. More power to them, and less work for you. It's also OK if your housemate DOES think you're stupid, either about dishes or in general. (You also get to think they're anal retentive and obnoxious and self-defeating, turning down free dishwashing.)

Them thinking this, if they do, doesn't make it true. Your dishwashing skills are clearly adequate for sanitation, as evidenced by the fact that you are healthy and well enough to ask this question. Why does it matter what they think of your intelligence? What do you think of your competence?

Don't let things soak and be in your way. Continue offering to wash the things that are in your way, and when they won't let you, focus maybe on doing enjoyably lazy and self indulgent things while they enjoy their dishwashing. (Lie in bed and eat bonbons?) Also maybe work on reminding yourself that your intelligence and competence are not on any referendum or under public debate, and people's private opinions of you are a) about them and b) none of your business. Do you think you're smart? Can that be enough for you?
posted by shadygrove at 4:59 PM on May 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

When I lived with roommates who had insufferable dish habits, I just chose a couple easy-to-clean dishes that I hid, er, placed on a high shelf. Everything I used, I cleaned by hand and immediately returned to the shelf. My roommates could continue their ludicrous dish habits (or lack of habits) and it never impacted me.

This may not work for you, but my point is maybe you can find a creative way to less your roommate's habits' impact on your life.
posted by Tehhund at 5:50 PM on May 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

One of my best friends always criticises me when I wash dishes. My methods are wrong; I (apparently) miss tiny particles; even if you can't see them right now, my approach supposedly means that over time my dishes will accrue stains that hers wouldn't, or food would taste worse off them... Her ways involve multiple different scrubbing tools, and soaking for a certain amount of time, and boiling hot water right out of the kettle (with rubber gloves) and a washing and rinsing cycle, and drying right away instead of leaving to drip dry. Mine is kind of the opposite of that, but even when I follow her rules, she usually ends up throwing half of what she dries back into the sink because I didn't scrub it enough.

It's silly because it shouldn't bug me. I know that she respects me in all other ways, and that she doesn't think I'm stupid, and I shouldn't even care much if she did. But I feel totally incompetent and embarrassed washing dishes around her now. Part of it is that she won't admit that we just have different strategies, but rather she will double down that hers is the way that everyone else on the planet follows (except the gross stupid and dirty people), and that people should have learned her ways as a child and if we didn't then either our childhood was substandard or we weren't paying attention.

Anyway, I totally feel your pain. Although I love this person, I couldn't live with her, and this is one of the big reasons. In the moment, though, the only way I can mentally deal with it is humour. I make fun of her in my head. Her dishwashing is HILARIOUS! Her rules are so rigid! Ha ha ha! I like to imagine her being stuck camping with only cold water and how much that would annoy her (she refuses to go camping). Or imagining her in a less modern situation where hauling fresh water for the number of wash/rinse cycles she needs to do, and boiling it over a fire would take half the day, and how she would spend all her time doing dishes while I would be free to live my life. I find this amusing too. I imagine her as a character in a sitcom where her dishwashing is a running joke.

It's all quite amusing when you reframe it that way. Ha ha ha ha sob
posted by lollusc at 6:10 PM on May 20, 2020 [11 favorites]

You are probably correctly reading that your housemate is impatient and cranky and not impressed with you. They are. You are pretty much the same way with them right now, thinking of their pettiness over invisible food specks and their over reaction to you moving a few inconvenient dishes as being a sign that their thinking is faulty.

Both of you are going around under this dark cloud and are trying to smile pleasantly while failing to hide the little bit of the edge in your voices. This means you are both doing really great! There has been no screaming, no dish throwing, and no helpless collapsing onto the kitchen floor to cry great big heaving ugly sobs. Pretty good for two unrelated housemates after nearly two months in confinement!

From here on presume that your housemate is going to be curt, moody and grim no matter how careful, kind or accommodating you are. Presume that you are coming across to them the same way even if you have been pitching your voice to be friendly and reasonable. Presume that the base reason for your both being curt, moody and grim has nothing to do with the sink and the dishes, but outside reasons like job insecurity, lack of exercise, adaptions to new social norms and living in a society that has become appallingly hostile and tribal.

Your house mate thinks you are stupid. They also think the colour of the living room curtains that they picked themself are stupid, and the hangnail on their left thumb is stupid. Everything has been too frustrating lately for them to have any tolerance left.

If you are up to it, find an activity you can do with your house mate that will be cathartic for both of you. I am thinking invite them to watch their favourite dumb comedy movie with you that will have then laughing until they hiccup and you laughing from your belly, until you hear them hiccup and that sets you off into explosive snorts.

Find some strenuous exercise you can do, preferably something that feels really satisfying and necessary, like loading 4200 lbs of potatoes into the back of pick up truck and then unloading it at the local food bank.

If you can find something way above and beyond that you can do for your house mate, on the scale of paying for the gas and driving them three hours to the next state to wave at their sister from outside the house for another hour, with stops only on the way there and back to pee in the shrubbery. Do something big enough to be a real commitment on your part. When we invest in other people we feel closer and more forgiving towards them.

Work on communication. Tell them that you intend to make a lasagna tomorrow afternoon and won't need the sink clear before that. Tell them that you'll be having toast and marmalade tomorrow, so their dishes will be fine in the sink until breakfast, so they don't need to worry about getting them out of the sink until then, but you'd like to see them out by the time you need to wash the bacon pan.

Just like you are suspecting that they are disgusted by you, they may feel that you think they are dirty, inconvenient and selfish for letting the egg yolk soak. It is likely that they are rushing into the kitchen to intercept you when you try to do their dishes to prove that they are NOT leaving the dishes for you to wash, and NOT the kind of grubby person who leaves dishes until other people are forced to wash them, but in fact are nice, clean and responsible and they are only soaking because they are a good, admirable, clean person who knows that is the best way to get the egg yolk off a fork and really, really, really the dishes do need an extra bit of care. Excessive demonstrations of cleanliness cover an anxiety about dirt, and while sometimes the person getting excited about something yellow on the tines is just a germ-o-phobe, sometimes it's a defense against shame. Think of their rushing into the kitchen to re-wash their dishes as a semi-controlled anxiety attack on their part. They show clear signs of finding your behaviour so threatening it is making them irrational.

If you need water to cook with so they can soak their dishes, get yourself a nice big water storage jug with a spigot and fill it. That way you can fill your pot with water and make macaroni and still allow them to leave the sink full of murky grey water. Consider going to them and saying, "Hey, we both have a few dishes to wash right now. Wanna do them together? If you wash, I'll dry."
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:14 AM on May 21, 2020 [5 favorites]

Negotiate with housemate a fixed schedule for "soaking hours" (overnight?) after which the dishes must be done and the counters and sink left clear for your use.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:18 PM on May 21, 2020

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