Two Against One Roommate Conflict
January 18, 2021 12:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm having some issues with my roommates and I'm stuck here because of Covid and unemployment. I need coping strategies!

I moved into a house with a couple, A and B right before Covid hit. The arrangement was that they were going to buy a second home, and I was going to take over this home and get a roommate. However, Covid changed that and I have been living with A and B. After having lived with a homeowner/landlord + couple before, I really had wanted to AVOID this situation, and yet here I was again.

Things started well as they usually do. But B is self-admittedly OCD and I found that if I ever occasionally left something out like a hat or a magazine, it would reappear in my room. I never left tons of things out and kept 95% of my stuff to myself, so I wasn't making a mess in the common area. So this kind of put me off but I just ignored it. But it set me into the mindset of feeling like I was a guest in my own home.

Then the first conflict happened where I had left some lights on in a couple rooms. We were all hanging out watching TV, and suddenly B came out and suddenly snapped at me about "you have a light on in this room and a light on in this room". And I was kind of hurt and upset because it was such a strong reaction to something that had never been talked about, we were all hanging out and it was so abrupt and off. So I said ok, sorry. But of course, that put me on the defensive and left me feeling again like a guest in the home.

Then A and B came down on me about storage shelves in the garage. They have a LOT of stuff, and over the pandemic, they've been ordering tons of stuff from Amazon and it's been piling up. But suddenly I was told that I had too much stuff and I was asked to bring some objects like my bike and a few other things to my storage unit - this storage unit I was keeping on because I never got to fully move in because of the pandemic. About half of my belongings and half my furniture is still in this storage unit, which is fine, but it is not ideal for me. I never made a stink about having to move my stuff in so I could stop paying $80 per month for a storage unit because Covid had changed their plans about buying a new house, which changed the entire plan for me. But, I get it. Things change, it's a pandemic. But they pulled something out of thin air which was surprising to me about how it was "agreed" that I would only have a certain amount of things stored there, and that the rent was a certain amount because I would keep stuff in a storage unit. I was shocked because....this is the first time I'd heard about that. It had never ever been mentioned. So, again, it makes me defensive because the goal post is suddenly changing and I feel like a guest. And in complete honesty, I only had a few extra belongings in the garage.

The hard part about all this is, that they are hypocritical. They got mad at me because ONE object ended up on "their" shelf in the garage by mistake. However, they constantly put their items on the shelves they designated as mine. They often leave lights on and the heat blasting and go to bed, and I just turn them off when I go to bed. But I don't bring it up because....well how do you bring it up? It's their home.

So things have been deteriorating, and I got snapped at for turning the heat on this morning because my room was 65 degrees and I just wanted to warm it up. A muttered under her breath "it's 85 degrees outside we're not having the heat on". So, I finally was like look, you can't snap at me for this! Can't you approach me about this more nicely? I told her it was cold in my room and I wanted to warm it up. I had just woken up, I don't know how warm it is outside. She told me rudely to open up a window to warm up the house.

This is a person that will go around in a Tshirt and crank the heat whenever they want, before putting on a sweatshirt. I just don't quite comprehend the logic.

Anyway, I tried to de-escalate the situation and we talked about everything for about a half hour, and she said she had been getting really upset because I had been being defensive, and I admitted I had been defensive because I felt like I was being accused and attacked. She seems to think that both herself and B are being reasonable. But as an example, just the other day they had a new learning thermostat put it, and I got blamed for turning the heat up when I had never touched it at all.

So honestly, I just can't agree. I've felt like I'm being held to expectations that keep changing while they don't adhere to the same expectations. So, that leads to resentment.

A can, in general, be very unfiltered and rude and doesn't know she is coming off like that. I had a conversation with another mutual friend, and he is upset with her (understandably so, I witnessed the whole interaction) for being very rude to him, and after he talked with her about it she doesn't think so. Several other mutual friends have had similar issues.

B is self-admittedly OCD, and seems to have unreasonable expectations about things. I will find out later but I'm guessing she's upset with me for not taking out the garbage....but she likes to take out the garbage when it's 3/4 full. I tend to try to compress it to save on plastic bag use when there are large objects that can be crushed (like those plastic salad and mixed greens containers), but I do take it out when I truly fill it up.

Anyway. I know I haven't been perfect and I have been a bit defensive, and yes I've left lights on, and I can take out the 3/4 trash if that's what they want. I have honestly tried to be better about everything they've talked to me about. I just don't know how to cope in a situation where there's two against one. I have to try to cope a bit longer because I am on unemployment and finding a new place right now would be a real hardship.

I'm just surprised because they're SO upset...on the scale of roommate annoyances, I really think a lot of this stuff is minor. I'm clean, I'm quiet, I really do try to be considerate but I can't operate at 100% all the time. I mean, the last roommate I had literally left piles of trash and would start new bags of trash next to the container before taking out the trash, and yeah it was annoying but I didn't get into a crying fit over it or snap at her.

Anyway, we are all sitting down to have a talk about it tonight (my suggestion). A has said she likes me as a roommate and wants to work things out. We are all friends and I would like to keep it that way. I apologized for being defensive and deescalated as much as I could and was like hey can I hug you? And we hugged it out.

I would love tips on how to approach this and how to deal with letting them know how I feel about things. It just sucks that there's an unequal power dynamic and I get that. Even after talking about it this morning I'm still frustrated. The best case scenario would be to leave this situation but I can't for at least another couple months. So I'm not sure how to approach the situation. Any tips for not being defensive even if I feel it's petty or unfair?
posted by christiehawk to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: So, they sound like people who really can't tolerate living with another person who doesn't meet their precise behaviour standards -- which is to say, essentially, they can't tolerate living with another person -- but aren't self-aware enough to realize that, and so they keep saying that they "want to make things work."

I had a previous roommate like this, and it messed with my head a lot. My solution was to move out, and that's what I would recommend for you too. In the intervening months, I used the following strategies to cope:
  • Periodically reminding myself, "She's a good person but she's not the right roommate for me, and that's OK."
  • Giving up on making the roommate situation work long-term -- it just wasn't possible, and trying to think of a way to mend things was emotionally frustrating for me.
  • Agreeing to one or a few, well-defined actions to improve the situation. Since I had already decided to leave in several months, I was willing to agree to things that I wouldn't have agreed to as a long-term solution, for the sake of temporarily keeping the peace until I moved out. In my case, this was "I will clean the kitchen once a week, and I will do one house-organization task per week (e.g. organizing the laundry closet)."
  • Rolling my eyes (internally!) at my roommate's craziness and reminding myself that I was going to be out of there soon. It did make me feel like a bit of a doormat but it was better for my sanity than constantly fighting -- and again, the thing that made it work was having a concrete end date. It's a coping strategy, not a long-term solution.
Good luck!
posted by mekily at 12:32 PM on January 18, 2021 [16 favorites]

I think some free mediation would be _perfect_ for this situation. You can frame it to your landlord couple as you making sure that you understand all the boundaries, and the mediator making sure you all remembered to cover all the areas you hadn't considered yet. The mediator might also have perspective on what's usual, and what's technically legally allowed but not livable. The mediator might also read your lease document and weigh in on what it actually says and implies.

The mediator can also hear what one party (you/them) is saying, and expand/codify it for the other party to hear more clearly (them/you).

Between now and your meeting tonight, maybe you can look for a free/cheap mediation service in your area.

If you could move out, that would probably be best. This sounds like they really don't want a roommate.

Also, there are plenty of people moving now; maybe the mediator could recommend resources for them to make that dream come true for them.
posted by amtho at 12:51 PM on January 18, 2021

They don't want a roommate, they want a pet who pays rent. I think your only recourse is to draw out the sequence of events on a flow chart and if still they don't understand how running up on someone aggressively isn't acceptable under any circumstances then the next time they do that you know you can do whatever you want. Ignore them, snap back, whatever feels right at the time.
posted by bleep at 1:06 PM on January 18, 2021 [12 favorites]

Ouch, hard roommates are so terrible because your home should be relaxing and peaceful. And unfortunately, a nature of sharing space with others is that these situations are bound to come up.

Over-Communication is your friend
I have learned to avoid these situations over time by being over-communicative. I try to have meetings with the roomies, 1 to catch up on how people are doing, and 2 to establish and discuss any rules or issues. It's as simple as scheduling a weekly or monthly beer.

When things are established, I like to write them down. Shared spaces should be clear of all clothing and personal items (other than furniture) is a rule, and it's a good time to build in other things. What about laptops? What about cases of DVDs, xboxes, set top boxes, blankets, etc? Dishes should be cleaned before midnight each day. What about when you leave something to "soak"? Who buys the dishwasher detergent?

Writing things down and agreeing on them seems dumb, but it's so important. My last roommate and I agreed I would pay $1000/month for rent, and be staying for 2.5 months. He assumed that I would be paying him in full for the first half month, and was confused when I asked about the pro-rated money at the end. I was SO lucky I could go back to our earlier conversation and straighten it out. We both agreed that it could be interpreted either way, and decided to split the difference.

It's not to late to change the current feeling at home
Buy a 6 pack of beers that they like, and ask them if they'd like to sit down over beers and catch up for an hour one night. Blame yourself for not communicating enough when you weren't clear on rules, but ask them to also respect your feelings about what your expectations were and are in the housing agreement. Agree that times change but ask them what they think would be appropriate for resolutions to everyday issues.

I've found that small gestures like that 6 pack beer meeting, and talking about solving problems TOGETHER instead of me vs you, does a TON of difference in making people like A be more respectful and nice to you. Something that was a rival can become a great roommate by gestures of kindness and coming-togetherness.

General Problem Solving
It might not feel like your roommates are a good fit for you - your "admittedly OCD" housemate picking up your stuff annoys both of you. But I don't think anyone is a perfect roommate with each other - it's just about communication.

What is the space in the garage like? I think your question is very reasonable, especially without communicated guidelines that have been written down. I think taping a space in the garage is appropriate and common. $80 for storage is a lot - ask them if they would be willing to give you more space for a slightly higher rent, or ask what they think is fair given the changing situation.

Right now, B is picking up your hat or clothes or dishes now and then, and is a little affronted. You get annoyed that he's put your stuff in a pile, because you know he is a little affronted. A potential solution, is that you promise to do your best, but if he is picking up REALLY QUICK because something bothers him, here's a "Christiehawk's junk" box, by your door, that you PROMISE to empty every night before bed. That way it's a more established solution to something that causes both of you unneeded stress.

Lights on when you are home? I leave lights on when I'm home all the time - it really costs very little and makes me a lot happier when moving around the house. But, this is something I could imagine changing for the sanity of roommates. Mention your preference and ask what they think would be fair.

Emptying trash at 3/4th full? I, like you, try to fit as much as I can, but also, I, like B, get SUPER ANNOYED IF THE TRASH BIN IS TOO FULL WHEN I GO TO THROW AWAY ANYTHING. I don't think there's a perfect solution here. I'd take ownership, make a rule (ruler taped to the bin), and do your best to follow the rule.

And honestly, including everything you've said, I'd want to kick you out for turning on the heat when it's 85 out as well. TAKE OWNERSHIP. Holy cow! Why did you do that!? This should be one you can admit complete fault to, apologize, and buy a outdoor thermometer for with the probe inside, or a weather clock, or jeez, anything. If it does often get cold inside your room when it's hot outside, a programmable thermostat could potentially help? If I had a roommate do that, I would be confused, surprised, and upset. If they pushed back, I could quickly be angry. I guess I'll type more about this: Most households are either in a heating season, or an air conditioning season, but rarely both. when it's 85 out, that's an air conditioning season. The heat should stay off, and honestly, sometimes there are HVAC things you need to change when it's heat or AC. That's the homeowners perogative to decide when the season shifts over, maybe with feedback from key residents, but it's not something you just do. I'm probably overreacting to this point but I just want you to know that A's feelings and thoughts on this blunder are pretty validated.

Anyway! I hope my advice helps, feel free to follow up with any clarifying questions!

Good luck!
posted by bbqturtle at 1:10 PM on January 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi and thank you! Just to clarify, it was 8 am. In California it gets to 45 at night and the house is COLD in the morning. It wasn’t 85 degrees out, she was exaggerating. It was around 62 outdoors. It was 65 in my room (I took a thermometer in there to have facts when I talk to them). Which to me is uncomfortable and reason to turn on the heat If you don’t turn on the heat, the house will stay cold well until past noon.
posted by christiehawk at 1:20 PM on January 18, 2021 [9 favorites]

My gut feeling on this is that it's just stressful to live in a small space (I assume it's not really set up for 3 people to live in comfortably), especially during pandemic. There's no easy solution, so minor "problems" are looked for which are more solvable - if illogical. Of course no matter how many minor problems are solved, the larger problems remain, like an unscratchable itch. Therefore one must look for more minor problems to solve, etc. I don't know that people are generally aware of doing this.

I don't know that it's helpful to try to explain this, but it might help you set your expectations. Do what you can to ease the tensions in your space, but know that the situation will likely persist until you move out.

For now, do whatever you can do give them (and yourself!!!) more space, and keep your focus on finding your own space. Be clear and reliable about your plans to move - this might also ease some tension, since you can all be reminded that this is temporary.
posted by bunderful at 1:37 PM on January 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

This isn't a total solution to the problem - which, I think, has been correctly described as them not wanting roommates and you not planning on being roommate to a critical owner/occupier couple - but I wonder if you could re-negotiate your current setup so that you paid less in rent but paid 1/3 of utilities? It seems a good percentage of these conflicts stem around their sensitivity to their perception of your electricity use, so an arrangement like this could lead to everyone paying roughly the same amount but all feeling a shared responsibility for keeping bills low.
posted by exutima at 1:40 PM on January 18, 2021 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me like these are people who foolishly tried to be “nice people” but eventually came to resent having a roommate once reality kicked in. I would be grateful that the pandemic has given you the chance to see if they are cut out to be landlords before taking on the whole property.

I’d be asking:

Do they do the basics right? Is there a rent agreement etc? Most telling, are they big enough to meet you halfway to get past this negative situation? If they can’t that tells you a lot. A lot.

Even if they did move out soon can you really imagine them being fair and reasonable about you renting the property? If not you might want to work on an exit strategy for the house rental
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 2:04 PM on January 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Let me adjust bleep's statement a little... they want a pet ROCK who pays rent. An actual pet would trigger far too many issues.

The only real good advice here is to work toward moving out as soon as possible. Don't tell them you plan on this; it will likely cause escalation. In the meantime, keep your head down and try to comply as much as possible. As I'm sure you already know, these are often the worst kind of rental situations, because you have so little recourse when you're sharing a home with your landlord.
posted by stormyteal at 2:06 PM on January 18, 2021 [14 favorites]

Response by poster: I shouldn’t be thread sitting but stormyteal that made me chuckle because I have a dog and a few times I’ve had to defend him from A yelling at him to get out of the kitchen at random. First it was don’t be in the kitchen while people are sitting and eating, which I thought was reasonable so we trained him to do that. But then she would randomly yell at him to get out of the kitchen if she was just getting a bag of chips or heating something in the microwave. I was like, look you’re confusing my dog.
posted by christiehawk at 2:28 PM on January 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Move out and give them the minimum notice. When they cry about it, give them the finger and turn up the thermostat on the way out.

Just kidding, but that’s what they deserve and the real solution here is to not live with their psycho asses anymore.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:28 PM on January 18, 2021 [15 favorites]

I think it's past time to find a new living situation if that's at all possible. I'd have less of a problem living with a respectful stranger than so-called friends who act like this toward me. You're a renter. You're not a long-term guest or a petulant child. With them completely suspending their house search, this is not what you agreed to and it's likely that this overall COVID situation will last another year. This is a major bait and switch and they've not been reasonable in their expectations of what having a housemate is like. If you're not able to move at all at this point, I think your only choice is to put up with it, try to follow all of their absurd rules and tolerate the double standards, and have the friendship erode and probably get permanently damaged. And, maybe get a space heater for your room.
posted by quince at 2:31 PM on January 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

This is probably a bad idea, but:

Right now they feel like they are stuck with you. After all, if they have these problems, why don't THEY bring the beers and have a nice meeting? They need an attitude adjustment. They need to know this is your home, legally, and they should feel you are stuck with having them around and they should be the ones begging for mercy from someone who can't be evicted due to covid. Move your whole storage locker in and stop wasting money on it. Keep what you want in the living room. Add a lock to your door. Get a space heater. Use half the space -- you're paying for half the bedrooms. Or tell them they can pay you a big amount to get you out. Legally this is your house too and they need to start acting like it!
posted by flimflam at 2:49 PM on January 18, 2021 [17 favorites]

They're yelling at an innocent dog? Heck no. That's not good.
posted by amtho at 3:04 PM on January 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Like others have said, these people sound incapable of having a roommate, and the only viable long-term solution is to move out. But since you're stuck with them for a few months:

1. Since they at least claim they are willing to listen to you, take one recent event in which they snapped at you for breaking a rule you had no way of knowing (like the trash), and explain how awful and unwelcome it made you feel in your own home (because yes, even if they own it, it's your home too if you're paying rent).

2. Then transition to making it clear you are happy to do what needs doing to make the next few months as copacetic as possible, but ask them to please spell out whatever household rules or needs they have, and get it in writing. Let them know that your #1 rule is: no one gets to be mean or impatient with someone for doing something that's not mentioned on the rule list.

3. Stand up for yourself in terms of storage, they should be taking $80 off your rent as this isn't the rental you signed up for.

This won't stop the problem (which again, is why you should move out once you can), but at least this might encourage them to consider your point of view, and it establishes a shared set of expectations.
posted by coffeecat at 3:21 PM on January 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

As others have said, the problem here is that they don't want to have a roommate -- every time they say "why did you turn on the heat?" or "why did you leave a hat on the couch?" or "why did you leave a light on in an empty room?" it may be helpful to tell yourself that what they're actually saying is, "I'm tired of having an extra person in my house and every time you remind me that you exist it makes me angry." Which is DEEPLY SHITTY, but also, fundamentally not actually ABOUT you and also not a problem that you can solve by stressing yourself out as you try to adhere to their ever-shifting standards.

So your best options are probably:

1) move out as quickly as possible and FREE YOURSELF from this shitty situation.


2) sit down with them to write out a list of house rules, including things like which shelves are yours, what you should do with their belongings when they're left on your shelves, what the policy is with the thermostat, when the trash should be emptied, whether you're allowed to leave a magazine on the coffee table, like literally EVERYTHING. Adhere to the rules, designate a buddy to vent to about all the ways A and B are being jerks, and otherwise ignore them as much as possible until you're able to move.

Regardless, I'm so sorry you're stuck in this situation!! It sounds very stressful and I hope you're free of it soon!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:31 PM on January 18, 2021 [15 favorites]

You have a lot of good answers already, but I just want to address one thing: when you say B is "is self-admittedly OCD", do you (or they) mean that they have a diagnosed disorder or are you using it as a (common but problematic) shorthand for "they're very into being neat and tidy at all times"?

If it's the former, then of course it's not your place to manage how they handle their disorder, but I would personally find it a little more reasonable if they need to keep to a certain routine or structure in order to cope with larger stresses in their life (pandemic, work, etc).

If it's the latter then it does sound as though they're being pretty over the top about small things, as other mefites have pointed out.
posted by fight or flight at 6:58 AM on January 19, 2021

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