Roomate trouble
April 14, 2006 11:44 AM   Subscribe

How do I desensitize myself to my roomate's bad moods/general unhappiness?

I live with a very old friend who is unfortunately, deeply unhappy. She is on Prozac but I do not sense this has really helped her. I have tried to be supportive and feel that I am consistently friendly with her but she, in turn, is regularly unfriendly with me and generally unpleasant to live with. I get short, clipped responses to my attempts at conversation as well passive-aggreessive comments when we do talk. What is upsetting is that she does not treat any of our mutual friends this way, nor does she treat our new, very friendly roomate this way. It is clearly me who is bearing the brunt of her unhappiness.

My rational side recognizes this has nothing to do with me, but being a sensitive soul, I am still rattled by it. I feel anxious at home, especially when she is around, and admit that her erratic moods are beginning to affect the way I interact with her. I am at the point where I recognize I cannot help her and need to help myself instead. I cannot move, nor do I want to. Rather, I want to find a way to "reclaim" the apartment so that I feel comfortable living there. In addition, I would like to stop worrying about whether I have upset her and/or feeling agitated when she is home and chatting away with our other roomate. I am looking for techniques and tips to help me grow a tougher, thicker skin in dealing with her. How can I learn to be less affected by her attitude towards me? Reading material would also be appreciated.
posted by anonymous78 to Human Relations (13 answers total)
It's true that you always hurt the ones you love, and it's true because people assume the ones they love will forgive or forget their transgressions more readily. It sounds like your friend is so comfortable with and certain of your friendship that she thinks it can handle some trampling on. If she can buck up and treat your other roomie civilly, then she must be capable of extending you the same courtesy, but is choosing not to.

Obviously you want to help and support your friend, and I'm sure you don't want to add to her pile of woes - but trysimply telling her what's on your mind and see if she'll try to work with you towards treating you more like the friend you're trying to be.
posted by chudmonkey at 11:56 AM on April 14, 2006

FWIW, in my living arrangements I'm the sullen and distant one, and I know my roomie/long-term friend is getting fed up with it because she told me. So while I can't claim to have turned my attitude around completely after being confronted, I'm much more aware of how I behave around her, and of how I should be treating her as a friend, not as some misery-absorbing fixture of the house.
posted by chudmonkey at 11:59 AM on April 14, 2006

Move out and find a new room mate. There's no reason for you to put up with that behavior.

If that isn't a possibility, tell her to shut up. It isn't up to you to grow a thicker skin. Your room mates behavior is inappropriate. People can be deeply unhappy while still being, at the least, polite or even fun to have around. People who feel entitled to consistently press their emotions onto others aren't friends and shouldn't be humored.
posted by 517 at 12:06 PM on April 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

This is a great question. I've been on both ends of this. You need to sit down and talk about it. It will pass eventually, but not without your really confronting her and making her aware of what she's doing and how it makes you feel.

After the sit-down you need to be vigilant about identifying the bitchy behavior and calling her out on it immediately when it happens, in whatever is the most acceptable way to you. It's not up to you to grow a thicker skin. Just remain polite and go about your day. "Reclaim" the apartment by doing whatever you normally would. It's your apartment too, after all. If she's being frosty, acknowledge her and ask how her day went. If she's being bitchy ask if there's a problem that you need to talk about. If she's still passive aggressive and conflict-avoidant while simultaneously acting snippy, tell her if there's nothing wrong and you haven't done anything to piss her off, then she should cut it the fuck out and quit acting like a brat for no reason. You haven't done anything that deserves being treated this way. Refuse to put up with her crap without commenting on it - you have to be assertive and persistent about this. It will probably take about 20 times before she gets the picture that you're not putting up with it.

Olive branches like sharing food, courtesy, welcoming behaviors, inviting her out to things, etc. help as well to show that you don't have any hard feelings and really do want to make peace. The hard part of this is that if she's really been a bitch to you for a long time she might feel guilty and assume that you're mad and don't want to be friends with her anymore. You have to demonstrate that you're not going to put up with her behavior, but that you still like her and want to be her friend. Actions speak louder than words on that one.

This will be great practice for if you ever have a 2-year-old with a tantrum problem. Good luck.
posted by Marnie at 1:13 PM on April 14, 2006

You can desensitize yourself by just not paying any attention to her and going out of your way to not spend time with her.

But, I'd advise talking to her about it instead. She may be so wrapped up in her own stuff that she doesn't realize just how literally she is taking out her issues on you. Maybe her attitude is the result of some projection/misunderstanding that can be cleared up a bit.

Personal example: I went through a bad patch with my best friend a few years ago. It turned out that we were both making assumptions about the other's words and behavior that were at complete odds with the other's intentions. When realized, ohhhhh, we both said. I had no idea that you were reading it that way, we both said.
posted by desuetude at 1:25 PM on April 14, 2006

What do you want out of this situation specifically? Do you really want to "desensitize" yourself from her rudeness, or do you want to stop her being rude to you?

You say her behaviour makes you feel "anxious" in your own home. And that you "worry" about whether you have "upset her". What do you owe her, exactly, that it ok for her to be rude to you? Sounds to me like she is using your guilt about her mental state to be abusive to you.
posted by tranceformer at 2:12 PM on April 14, 2006

Sounds like she's mad at you for something. You said you have tried to be supportive, which jumped out at me because I know from my own experience we all have our own ways of supporting people and we all want different things from "support." It could be that you're acting like you're walking around eggshells around her, which makes her feel like she's a fragile headcase, or any number of different things. Maybe she hasn't even noticed you're trying to support her, because to her, you just seem weird.

I had a friend who always had a new crisis, and what she wanted was to be reassured that everything would work out. But I'm a dolt, and I want help figuring out a solution when I have a problem, so I was always trying to analyze the situation and brainstorm solutions with her. It wasn't what she wanted. Likewise, when I had a problem, I would be annoyed by the way she'd wave her hand in the air and say, "Don't worry, it will be fine!" or "Everybody goes through this," etc.

To sum up, why don't you just wait for a moment she is acting annoyed with you, and shake your head, and ASK, "What have I done wrong? What do you need from me?"

Trust me, it is really hard to stay mad at someone who asks, "How can I be a better friend to you? What do you need?"
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 4:56 PM on April 14, 2006

Move out or tell her to leave. She clearly doesn't think of you as a close friend anymore, for whatever reason, and it's not going to change. Life's too short to put up with people like that.
posted by fshgrl at 7:05 PM on April 14, 2006

I am not a huge fan of this phrase, but: show her this thread.

Barring that, I think you should practice steeling yourself against uncomfortable confrontations.

Go to a restaurant and order food. Insist not to be charged for it because the food is bad. Do this at a national chain where you don't have to feel as much guilt for stiffing a small business owner. It will be good practice. Or you could wait till the next time a telemarketer calls you and grill them about how they can have the nerve to disturb you at home. Try standing in one place on the subway train and not letting anyone move you. Go a concert and elbow your way to the front row. Visit NYC for a week :)

I'm advising you to start being a jerk as practice, but trust me: the only way to get used to being tougher in interpersonal interactions is practice. You DONT want your debut to be your confrontation with your roommate, who you will have an ongoing relationship with. You will falter and sell your interests short. You have to learn to be tough without crying / getting red in the face. NYC is actually the Mecca of this philosophy: people there want to move down the street fast, and if you get in their way, they will nudge you aside. But it's nothing personal. They're not being mean, they're just demanding efficiency. You need to learn this: how to defend your interests without making it a battle of personalities.

But on an even more basic level, you've got to start getting used to being pushier. Hell, hang out on MeFi more often :)

I know several people in long, drawn out, unrewarding relationships with bitchy, undiplomatic "friends." I say: fuck 'em. Friends are people who are decent to you. I'd like to see how this prickly pear would fare out in the general rent market! Don't let her take advantage of you and dig into her current housing situaiton at your expense. Remember: if you want to be a real bitch, you need to own the house. Don't take shit from a co-rentner.

It's obvious that this person has a "public face" which she can put on for new people she doesn't know well. Like many miserable depressed people, she does you the honor of sharing her misery, because she "trusts" you. Unfortunately, for someone like this, "trust" means "hating you as much as they hate themselves." Bad scene. Don't entertain it.
posted by scarabic at 8:46 PM on April 14, 2006

I'm going to assume that you've already talked to her and asked if there is anything specific that she is angry about.

In my early twenties I WAS your roommate. I was living with a very dear, very old friend. I was also going through a pretty serious bout with depression and because he was so close and I was so comfortable around him, I stupidly chose (although it wasn't really a conscious choice) to take my misery out on him. I treated him pretty badly but put up a false front around everyone else.

He suffered through it in silence for much longer than anyone should have to. We had a lot of long meaningful conversations about my depression and how it was affecting our relationship but I was so selfish (a lot of depressives really cannot see anything outside of their own misery) that I would be good for a few days and then go right back to treating him badly. What finally worked was him getting pissed off and refusing to put up with my shit anymore. If I was bitchy to him he would basically say, "I refuse to interact with you when you're like this. Please don't speak to me until you can be respectful. And if you cannot be respectful then you need to find a new place to live." And he was dead serious.

He starting calling me on it every single time and I eventually realized that I was being an incredible bitch. He stopped giving me a pass to be rude because of my condition. It was exactly what I needed and in the long run it was a big help in me getting past my depression.

Stand up for yourself, point out when she is being unreasonable and refuse to interact with her when she is giving you crap. Remind her that this is your apartment too and she is making her uncomfortable. Call her on her behaviour and be brutally honest about how it is affecting you and your relationship. This woman is (I am assuming) an adult and her illness does not give her the right to walk all over you.

You seem like a pretty sensitive person and I doubt that just ignoring the behaviour is goung to change anything. She needs to know that there are consequences for her actions (either she will lose a friend or one of you will have to move out) and you need to be willing to carry through with them if things don't change.
posted by LeeJay at 9:00 PM on April 14, 2006

What scarabic said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by tranceformer at 7:06 PM on April 15, 2006

I agree with LeeJay but want to add - whatever communicating you do with her - make it short and to the point. DO NOT drag it on. Walk away once you've said what you've had to say and go about your business. It won't feel good at the beginning, but you'll later feel a little bit more relieved of the burden, imo.
posted by Jujee at 12:11 PM on April 16, 2006

i think she either likes you not enough, or too much, to live with anymore. i think you should move toward finding a different living situation.
posted by macinchik at 3:57 PM on April 26, 2006

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