What to say when people ask about roommates
June 8, 2023 10:16 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for an apartment in a new city. My budget is pretty low. People keep suggesting I get roommates, and I don't know what to say to shut that down, especially since I don't need to disclose the real reason to everyone.

I can't have roommates because I have had deeply traumatic roommate events before.

One roommate tried to rape me and stalked me when I moved out.

Another roommate teamed up with the landlady to try to get me evicted because they were uncomfortable with my suicide attempt (a pill overdose). I was subjected to all sorts of bullying and harassment from both of them while I tried to look for a new place while also trying to recover. (I submitted a disability discrimination claim against my landlady--she had a lawyer, I didn't, and she also didn't share required documentation--they found in her favor.)

I've done so much work to try to make my PTSD more manageable, even EMDR. For a long time dealing with any landlord at all would bring on a panic attack. I've worked hard to improve that, but the roommate trauma is deep. I don't need to even risk dealing with the PTSD/anxiety again, let alone any future events that could happen. I do understand the need for exposure therapy, but this is way too much.

However, people (in various contexts) keep suggesting I get roommates to cut costs in my new apartment. I don't feel like I have to share this story with everyone. If I say something like "that's not an option," then they often keep pushing it. Or, worse still, if this is online, more people usually join in with "what do you mean it's not an option? It'll save you money!" Or something similar.

I don't mind offering a white lie if it's something that will shut down the conversation. The only idea I have is to claim allergies. What would you say in my situation?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total)
"I have had some horrible experiences with roommates in the past and I am not willing to share living space at this time."

People push back against "not an option" because it is an option that helps many people. It's ok that you've ruled that option out, but I think giving a simple version of the truth is the best way to shut down people who want to keep suggesting the thing you're not going to do. I'd expect many people to be interested in what kinds of allergies you're talking about if you try to lean on that. But most people are polite enough to not directly ask about details of 'horrible experiences' with others.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:20 AM on June 8 [35 favorites]

“Living with roommates isn’t for me so my number one priority is finding a place I can live on my own even if I have to make other sacrifices.”

People like to tell others how to spend their money and especially what “should” be tolerable to work in a budget. People may also be genuinely trying to help- “oh my cousin’s friend is looking for a place too!”
posted by raccoon409 at 10:23 AM on June 8 [12 favorites]

If you're in your late 20's or 30s at least, you might be able to get away with just rolling your eyes and saying "I've done the roommate thing and I'm sick of it". There's this sort of unspoken assumption that having roommates is something you eventually outgrow, because you're sick of having a roommate you're not actively in a relationship with or something; so if you say it that way people may just assume that you've outgrown having to put up with people who steal all your Pop-Tarts or whatever.

And if they still press and say "why isn't it still an option", just give them a funny look and say "why do you want to know?" Make them tell you why they think they have a vote in the first place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:25 AM on June 8 [15 favorites]

You could start with “Been there, done that.” Maybe people persist in a Green Eggs and Ham sort of way because they have the impression it’s something you’ve never tried. So, making it clear that you have in fact had roommates before and will not entertain the possibility of doing so again—no need to elaborate on why—may help?
posted by staggernation at 10:26 AM on June 8 [13 favorites]

I agree that a vague "horrible experiences" should suffice, but if folks are then just going to offer up their favorite cousin's best friend who'd allegedly be nothing like those other people, then perhaps: "Oh no, I'm a great tenant but a terrible roommate, trust me. I know I'll pay more for it but it'll be worth it." You were of course not at all the problem in the situations you've described, and if it's too much to say elsewise, I understand. Just, I'm thinking that letting people imagine that you're annoyingly fastidious or privately slovenly or some other type of "aggravating roommate" would get them to lay off the idea of pairing you with someone they know as well as expecting you to match someone in the general population.
posted by teremala at 10:31 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]

Came here to also suggest the exact phrase "been there, done that." You may also want to add some emphasis like "been there, done that, would rather chew off my own arm than do it again".
posted by cgg at 10:32 AM on June 8 [12 favorites]

You can also try saying something like, "I am willing to compromise on pretty much anything except having roommates." Plenty of people hate having roommates!
posted by mskyle at 10:33 AM on June 8 [38 favorites]

I agree with the scripts above -- something bland like "I've been there, done that, and I'm really ready to have my own space" that leaves out all the details should be more than adequate. I wouldn't give any practical details or reasons, because then people will try to helpfully "solve" those details. Wanting to live alone is a very normal thing and I'm not sure why people are pushing on you so much about this. Perhaps people perceive that you are opening the door to those conversations by talking about affordability or that it is hard to find a place? (Hence, leading to people being "helpful" by focusing on those details.)
posted by Dip Flash at 10:34 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]

I'm an introvert and coming home to find other people in it would cause me extreme and inescapable misery.
posted by phunniemee at 10:35 AM on June 8 [6 favorites]

I wish I had the ability in my younger days to say things my current self just says without any care. So, if I were telling my younger self what to say, it'd be: "I'm not a person who x-y-or-z's." So: "I'm not a person who wants roommates." Then people can't argue "But, yes, you are someone who wants roommates" because that doesn't make any sense. If they ask "why?" I just say, "It's the way I'm built. Some people are roommate people, some are not."
posted by cocoagirl at 10:36 AM on June 8 [23 favorites]

If I were in your situation, I would say just enough of the horrible truth to shut down further questions. "I was the victim of a crime by a former roommate. I don't like talking about it. Believe me when I tell you that my living alone is not negotiable."
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:39 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]

“Living with roommates isn’t for me so my number one priority is finding a place I can live on my own even if I have to make other sacrifices.”

I want to second racoon409's response. If your budget is low enough that there really aren't many affordable options people will want to push you to consider a roommate, even if you "aren't a roommate person". So if you just say "been there, done that" they feel the need to push back against that. But you are very clear that you know that having a roommate does make sense financially and you still don't want to consider it then they are more likely to back off.
posted by metahawk at 10:43 AM on June 8 [8 favorites]

Oh! I just thought of another thing you can do - bring up the roommate question *yourself* before they have a chance to - "My requirements are rent under $X, nothing south of $STREET, and absolutely no roommates."
posted by mskyle at 10:44 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]

If I were in your situation, I would say just enough of the horrible truth to shut down further questions. "I was the victim of a crime by a former roommate. I don't like talking about it. Believe me when I tell you that my living alone is not negotiable."

I would deploy this as the second-level response, when more non-revealing initial answers have been challenged. That will shut down anyone who is just trying to "help" with budget "non-negotiables" (and, I mean, a person asking for help/advice on budget may need to reexamine those, so, assuming you somehow initiated the conversation/subject, it's not inherently horrible to test them a little). Anyone who pushes past that is not someone to whom you owe courtesy.
posted by praemunire at 10:52 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]

If it were just about money, you could move to a city with a lower cost of living. It's not just about money. Some people pay extra to live in a certain neighborhood. Some people pay extra for air conditioning or a dishwasher. Some people pay extra to have a pet. You're willing to pay extra to not have roommates. Renting an apartment isn't just about minimizing expenses. There's a quality of life aspect as well, and for you, that quality of life tradeoff isn't worth the savings, just as it wouldn't be worth the savings to suggest that a dog owner move into a cheaper apartment that doesn't allow pets.

I don't think you need to explain exactly why it's such a quality of life tradeoff. I haven't had anything close to the experiences you've had, and even so I'd still never live with a roommate again. I only did it a couple of times, and I was miserable both times. Living on my own was just a thing I wanted, and I was willing to skimp on other parts of my budget to make that happen. It's a thing.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:56 AM on June 8

You don't need to tell them even vague details. They are breaking the social contract by being pushy and weird, not you.

"I'm not interested in living with roommates" will shut down reasonable people. The unreasonable people you're dealing with deserve to know your trauma less than a reasonable person would. You can counter "but it'll save you money" with "that's a tradeoff I'm willing to make," and "but whyyyyy" with "hey, why are you so invested in me getting a roommate when I just said I didn't want to?" and, if necessary, "okay, you are being weird right now!"
posted by babelfish at 10:59 AM on June 8 [5 favorites]

"No, I really need my own space."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:01 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]

Nobody has a right to any explanation about this at all. Giving them a reason just opens up (for them) the possibility that they can get you to change your mind. So it's fine to just say, "No, I'm not getting roommates." You can repeat that or you can go to, "It's really weird that you keep bringing up roommates when I told you that's not happening. What's up with that?"

They aren't paying your rent. They don't get a say.
posted by FencingGal at 11:05 AM on June 8 [9 favorites]

Here's my One Weird Trick for getting people off a topic/suggestion without having to have a whole protracted conversation about it: agree with them and move swiftly along. There's something about a "yes, and..." formulation that seems to help people close a processing loop in a way that a "no, I can't..." response doesn't.

So, something like "Yes! For sure! Roommates would make things more affordable! Right now, though, I'm looking for a place on my own. Have you seen anything that would work in this budget range?" might be a lower-friction strategy for redirection.
posted by Hellgirl at 11:08 AM on June 8 [11 favorites]

I have a good reason for needing to live alone and it is not up for discussion.
Roommates are not an option for me at this time and I don't wish to discuss it further.
posted by Glinn at 11:17 AM on June 8

"No, I like to walk around nude."
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:21 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]

"That's not an option at this time. It's not an option at this time. Still not an option. Not an option. Remains not an option. Fucko, I'm setting a boundary here, step off."
posted by Lyn Never at 11:46 AM on June 8

The above "how to" answers are great, I add this ONLY to support you in what you're doing. Two of the "cardinal virtues" are prudence and courage... the former is to choose the wisest and best path, and the latter is to stick by the decision despite opposition. You are right to do what's best for you!
posted by forthright at 12:33 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

This question probably feels hard for you to answer because it touches such a raw nerve for you. The truth is, if you hadn’t had those bad experiences, you would probably shrug off the question easily because it’s actually super common and normal to not want roommates.

If that raw nerve does get pinged during a conversation, do try to practice whatever brings you comfort - a quick deep breath, a quiet/unspoken “I am safe here” mantra, whatever works.

Good luck!! I hope you find something soon.
posted by samthemander at 12:36 PM on June 8 [13 favorites]

I suggest cutting conversations short when people won't knock it off. When I was twenty or so, I was not good at knocking it off, and when somebody frankly told me that they didn't want to talk to me because I wouldn't leave them alone about [a basically harmless minor vice] it made me stop.

If people are online and start giving you a hard time, leave the thread. In your social life of course you can't always leave, but sometimes a really direct "I don't want to talk about this, let's change the subject" can help. Among friend-friends, an intense "I don't want to talk about it!!!" works. (This brings back another memory where I thought I was asking supportive questions and was really bringing up bad memories...and let me tell you, I did not talk about it after that.)

You will obviously run into a few nosy, pushy people who need to be right, but if you are really direct/walk out on people who are just socially stunted like I was, at least those people will act better and it will lower your stress.
posted by Frowner at 12:57 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

Are the people you are talking to local to your new city? I'm in a Facebook group where people seek and offer rentals in my city and on a regular basis, it gets posts from new/impending arrivals whose stated budgets/requirements are... not even close to realistic for the current (extremely competitive) market. People might be pushing back on the roommate thing because they think you'll be unable to find a solo place in the local rental market at your budget. If this feels likely to be the case for you, I would try acknowledging outright that it's going to be challenging but that it's important to you and you'll make other necessary sacrifices to find a place on your own.

Good luck! I hope you find something
posted by lwb at 1:01 PM on June 8 [3 favorites]

As some of the examples above demonstrate, there are many true responses. For various reasons, humans often have an urge to share the truth that's most important to them and their values. When that normal desire clashes with needs around self-protection, privacy, autonomy, and so on, we tend to feel an inner conflict.

IMO, the version of truth you share is 100% your choice and one that's feels right to you given the particular circumstances in which you're sharing it.
posted by interbeing at 1:03 PM on June 8

"There are multiple reasons a roommate is not a possibility for me and I do not care to elaborate, please trust I am aware of my own needs in this situation"
posted by greta simone at 2:00 PM on June 8

"I've done that in the past, and it was really bad for my mental health."
posted by unknowncommand at 2:51 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

It's possible using the words option, possibility, etc. in your sentence sometimes gives people the impression that it is, in fact, an option or a possibility. That you've considered it, and made a decision, but maybe it can be re-negotiated. Even if the word NOT precedes it. Just something about our weird human brains, we disregard the "not."

I would say it more like:
Roommates are a hard NO for me.
Solo living only.
I'm basically a hermit.

And yes, if people are pushing having a roommate due to budget, say, "I'm willing to do a, b, c. But I will never live with a roommate. Roommates are a hard NO for me."
posted by tinydancer at 3:11 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]

What I might say, true for me:

"The roommate phase of my life is thankfully over", then I would give a rueful laugh.
"There is no bigger luxury for me than to live alone".
"I love living alone".

Generally, I find these 'helpful' conversations get deflected best with a light, if possible a humorous touch. And I try to frame any choice as not something I am doing out of avoidance, but something I am doing of out of personal autonomy and preference (whether that is factually true or not). If someone wants to pressure me with more reasons about why I should have a roommate, I just repeat the same thing again, and again. Whatever. They can engage until the cows come home but I've given them a teflon, non-stick answer with nothing for them to grab onto. Don't veer from the script.

This works in any situation.
posted by nanook at 3:31 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

I’ve used “once I turned 40 I decided [hiring movers] was worth every damn penny.”
posted by bendy at 4:09 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]

'Yeah, I've had a number of very negative experiences with roommates in the past, and I've decided I only want to live alone'

Should suffice & generally prevent further questions.

If they ask 'What do you mean by negative? Can you describe?'

I'd rather not talk about. Just focused on finding a place for myself. Do you have any ideas about that?
posted by cotesdurhone at 5:03 PM on June 8

"Never again."
posted by tomboko at 7:19 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

Considering the nature of your aversion to sharing an apartment with a roommate, a "white lie" might subvert your objectives concerning PTSD. Check this out with your counselor to be sure.

"I don't want (a roommate)" will give them all the necessary information. If they ask why not, you can say, "I don't want to live with a roommate is why." You don't have to point out that it's none of their business because they will either already know that or it won't do any good to try to explain it to them. If they are the sort that must have a final comeback, then let them have their say and thank them for their opinion.

You may find it useful to assume that some people are making misguided attempts to be helpful rather than being thick-headed meddlers. Either way, taking the high ground reduces the wear and tear of having to hold such unpleasant experiences to the light when dealing with strangers.

Good luck.
posted by mule98J at 1:08 PM on June 10

« Older Spyware-free SMS client for Android/Samsung?   |   Which higher ed career path is better? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments