Roommate trauma, drama, and stress.
November 27, 2006 11:33 PM   Subscribe

Why can't I get along with my roommate? I am going through all kinds of grief trying to figure out this situation and I can't seem to deal with my living situation.

I am having the worst time with my roommate. We have been living in the same house with one other person for about 3 months now and it is driving me insane.

The worst part of the situation is that it all comes down to petty childish things that shouldn't matter. Let me clairify the situation as best and objectively as I can:

One girl roommate living with two guys (one of them is me) I will admit that I am at least somewhat lacking in the cleanliness department, but over the last few months I have made huge strides to be clean for my new roomie and it never seems like its enough for her; its as if things must be ordered in her way and that it isn't enough to just be tidy but that things have to go where she 'says' they go (as in my stuff is always moved around even if it was ok and tidy before). Its extremely frustrating to constantly have my stuff moved around in this passive aggressive kind of way and to constantly receive notes with hidden meanings.

In the most recent incident that i think will provide a decent example of our kinds of disagreements there was an issue with the trash. I honestly create about 5% of the trash, that is not an exaggeration. One day I left and the trash was emptied and I came back late that day and the trash had been filled and was sitting to the side of the trash can, the next day the old trash had been put back into the trash can as if to signify that it should be taken out. I didn't take it out, and now my roommate has put up a trash taking out schedule for us with a snarky note. I mean, its not fair, right?

Sorry for going into such detail, I just think its necessary. I don't know how to talk to her and explain my side of the situation and I hate coming home to this kind of stress. Should I just start being zen and ignore the situation or should I just look to move out? I'd really like to avoid moving, but this is too much for my poor psyche to handle. What should I do? And more so, how can I deal with this living stress that is permeating my life?
posted by tev to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Holy Christ... take your roomie out for a drink and talk about it.

It sounds like you don't know how to communicate with her plus it seems you're over examining every little instances of her trying to tidy up. Maybe she's a passive aggressive bitch and you're screwed but it's at least worth a try to buddy up with her so that she can see that you're a nice a guy and that all you want to do is coexist peacefully.
posted by wfrgms at 11:51 PM on November 27, 2006

A household has things that need to happen in order to keep the household running. Good roommates don't think in terms of percentages; they think in terms of "What can I do to make this household run successfully?"

Not that she may not be being unreasonable; I just would have a huge problem with roommates who left trash sitting there. I don't care if you think you didn't create it. You live here, act like it.

She, of course, should be contributing equal time and energy and resources to keep the household running.

Make a cleaning schedule. Find a compromise about how often everything needs to be done, assign chores, and stick to it. Try to divide things evenly, not according to how much trash or dirt or use each person thinks he creates. Talking about this openly is likely the only way to get rid of snarky notes.
posted by occhiblu at 11:52 PM on November 27, 2006

The single best thing my old roomies and I did was to draw up schedules and simple ground rules. That way everyone knew what they were supposed to do, and it circumvented the possibility of "well, I don't think so-and-so is doing enough for the household." Either they're doing what they agreed to or they aren't.

The second best thing we did was to have regular house meetings—we did it every month. Usually all we did at the meetings was settle the monthly bills, but if someone had a grievance they could bring it up.

It sounds like you're doing neither of those things. Maybe you should. No one likes living in an antagonistic environment, especially perfect strangers; if one develops, it's usually because you're not talking to one another, and thus blowing small annoyances way out of proportion.
posted by chrominance at 12:31 AM on November 28, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice. I know so much of this problem is stemming from a lack of real communication. I wrote my problem roomie a long thoughtful and respectful but frank letter about 2 months ago addressing all of the issues that I had, such as the note writing. I asked her to please communicate with me and nothing really changed. Don't think I haven't been rational up to a point. Now its just degrading into anger and frustration.

I don't think I made it explicitly obvious in my original post, but if anyone has any suggestions on making contact in an already strained situation I would welcome that. I would like nothing more than to have an amicable living situation, and this is what I've communicated many times to her many times before this recent frustrating incident.

Once again, thanks for the advice.
posted by tev at 1:21 AM on November 28, 2006

Putting all of the "who's in the right?" issues aside for a moment, I'd say you just need to communicate.

Let her know that the passive/aggressive stuff needs to stop immediately and that she needs to be blunt and upfront if she wants to make a point.

Let her know that you are trying to do improve your habits for her sake, but that it may take time.

Also let her know what things are not going to happen no matter what, if you feel that strongly about anything.

Ask her what she would like you to work on, then make an honest effort to work on them.

At the same time, ask her to work on her attitude.
posted by farmersckn at 1:26 AM on November 28, 2006

wfrgms had it I think... take her to starbucks or go get a drink somewhere. sit down and actually talk about it, face to face, in a public place where it would be akward to escalate things into a shouting match if you are concerned about that.

what are your options if she does not change/compromise? can you ask/force her to move out? is that how your 3rd roommate feels?

take a deep breath. remember that everybody goes through stuff like this.

its frustrating. its probably equally frustrating for her. also remember that given her upbringing and genes and circumstances, you might not be acting any better if you were her.

just try your best to keep things positive and upbeat, and just lay it out for her.

don't try to assign blame or make accusations, just describe the problem and ask her what can be done to fix it.

if she is reasonable, she will suggest a mutual compromise.

if not, just repeat the same process, but lay out the compromise you need her to make.
posted by farmersckn at 1:31 AM on November 28, 2006

oh yeah, one more idea... ignored behavior will abate. if you never react to her notes, if you never even pick them up, if you never even read them, she will probably stop.
posted by farmersckn at 1:32 AM on November 28, 2006

With three people it's harder than with two people -- no one ever knows exactly who's doing (or not doing) what household chores.

If there is a huge difference in cleanliness standards, and you were at the house first, she may move out.

The reasoning that "I only create 5 percent of the trash" is, well, -- it makes me realize that I am officially an old person. In any event, from an old person, communication is important, but if you take out the trash every other day without fail and without being asked or reminded, and regardless of whether any of the trash came from you, she might warm up.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:39 AM on November 28, 2006

Move out. Life's too short to live with someone whose standards aren't similar to yours. You've tried, she's tried... Living with someone is harder than just being friends. Seems like you're neither.
posted by nadise at 1:41 AM on November 28, 2006

PS In my household (one adult and two teenagers), the trash and the recycling can be a huge and frustrating issue -- I want to tear my hair out when it's overflowing for the 10th time, and I've taken it out for the last 100 times in a row, or when the recycling is mixed up into the trash or the trash into the recycling. I would definitely not describe the trash as a petty issue. I mean, clearly I'm sharing my own (very different, parental) experience, but you might get along better with your roommate if you thought of the trash as a "real" issue. (And if you just can't think of it that way, your standards may be too different to live together happily.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:49 AM on November 28, 2006

I am probably in the position that your tidy roommate is in - I'm the tidy one out of two untidy people. I do virtually all the housework because otherwise it won't be done; if I complain, they say "oh, I was going to do it", but I've left things to see if they'd be done before and they never were. It's hugely irritating to me and makes me feel put upon, but I'm loath to say anything in case they think I'm whining. So passive aggressive stuff like you describe is pretty much my only recourse, petty and childish as it may be. Just an insight as to how your roommate may be feeling.

Before you say anything (and you really need to, or you're going to be in the position that I'm in, which is the mess issue being one of the reasons I am moving out at the weekend) to her, have a good think about how much mess you do make. Untidy people, in my experience, don't seem to notice how much mess they're making - are you washing the dishes you dirty? Do you do your fair share of vaccuming and dusting? Think of all the other things a house needs to keep it clean and tidy, the things you wouldn't normally consider: how much of it do you do? How much of a burden are you actually placing on your roommate? Keep check of how much she actually does and you might be surprised to the degree she is running the household. Even if it does turn out you're pulling your weight - seriously, even if you're not contributing to the trash, if it helps keep the peace, just empty it when it needs doing. If you spot something that could be cleaner, clean it. At least you'd be showing you're trying.
posted by terrynutkins at 2:19 AM on November 28, 2006

Too easy to ignore, forget, or simply not read a letter. TALK. All three of you; you haven't given us any indication that your other roommate is on your side and frankly, I'm not sure you can presume that he is. Even if you do know where he stands, chances are your female roommate doesn't.

You have to find out what everyone in the house is expecting re: chores and cleanliness, and then come to a compromise or figure out how to go your separate ways. You can't do this by trading sporadic written correspondence, and you can't do this by stewing in your room and making little paper voodoo dolls of Her. TALK.
posted by chrominance at 2:31 AM on November 28, 2006

The fact that she moves your stuff around when you're not there and pulls little tricks like the thing with the garbage can leads me to believe she could be a bit of a control freak. I wouldn't assume that this is the case, though; I certainly couldn't say for sure based on the evidence in this thread and it appears that you yourself are unsure. I would, as others have suggested, talk to her in as friendly a manner as possible. Likewise with pitching in on the housework and making compromises. But if the problem doesn't improve, I would consider the possibility that she can't be satisfied through reasonable means.
posted by Clay201 at 3:13 AM on November 28, 2006

Indeed. What's with all this letter/note writing? Just talk about it. However, usually when people have different standards of cleanliness, the only solution is for somebody to change or for somebody to leave. My girlfriend and I had vastly different standards of cleanliness before we moved in together. I didn't mind if things were messy, but I always kept the dirt cleaned up. She couldn't handle my messiness. She freaked out several times. Eventually, she got used to it. So, either your roommate will eventually get used to it, or you will change, or one of you will move out.
posted by antifuse at 3:52 AM on November 28, 2006

Move out--- neat-freaks and the less strident cleaners will never get along, despite hours of talks, discussions and notes galore. Years ago, I had a roommate who went nuts, if one simply left one glass in the sink over night. It's just not worth the hassle, or the trouble.
posted by Budge at 4:43 AM on November 28, 2006

and it is driving me insane

She's really gotten under you skin, eh? Don't let her. If she can't talk to you like an adult, ignore her and her notes, and tell her to keep her hands off your stuff. In my experience, passive aggressive people like this will simply continue until you get really, really firm with them. "I hate coming home to this kind of stress, you need to learn the difference between clean and obsessively tidy, and you need to stop moving my stuff around without my permission" is a good start. Ignoring her completely for a couple of weeks is another.

That said, you could use a serious attitude shift yourself. "I mean, its not fair, right?" is a pretty juvenile response to the simple task of taking out the trash in a communal household. You may not believe me, but going out of your way to do more than your "fair" share is the single best way to keep a peaceful household. We're often not the best judges of exactly how much we've been helping out around the house.
posted by mediareport at 6:17 AM on November 28, 2006

Your living styles conflict, the easiest solution would be to move out. In your next move, make sure that your next roommate is as clean as you are.

Whatever you do, don't ignore her. This will only make things worse. Have a house meeting and talk about a cleaning schedule. Stick to the schedule, and don't do a half-assed job. She'll have to compromise a bit on her standards, but you'll also have to put more effort into cleaning.
posted by hooray at 6:35 AM on November 28, 2006

"over the last few months I have made huge strides to be clean for my new roomie and it never seems like its enough for her; its as if things must be ordered in her way and that it isn't enough to just be tidy but that things have to go where she 'says' they go (as in my stuff is always moved around even if it was ok and tidy before). Its extremely frustrating to constantly have my stuff moved around in this passive aggressive kind of way and to constantly receive notes with hidden meanings."

I had a roommate like this. I'll admit to not being the most neat person in the world, but I kept my mess in my bedroom and left common areas clean. Apparently this was not good enough for her - she complained to me, via really nasty emails, that my room was too messy for her liking and that I was a terrible person and that nobody could ever like me because I was such a horrible smelly pig (I am not exaggerating). She moved my stuff in the fridge because it wasn't in the "right" place, she moved my stuff in the bathroom because it wasn't in the "right" place... I could go on. She wouldn't even say hello to me if I said it to her.

It was a really sucky situation and looking back, I regret not confronting her earlier. My lease was a year long; this started about four months in, and I didn't confront her about it until I had three months left to go. My feelings on it are that my old roommate had a lot of problems of her own and for some reason was taking it all out on me. When I finally did confront her about it and told her to knock it off, her response was basically, "I'm right, you're wrong, and there's nothing you can say that will make me change my mind or my behavior." She really didn't and I ended up moving out a month early.

If I were you, I'd sit your roommate down and talk to her about her behavior - you need to do this in person, not over email and not a handwritten note. If she is unwilling to go partway with you on this, then I would seriously consider moving out. If she is willing to work with you, though, then hopefully you can come to some agreement.
posted by sutel at 7:24 AM on November 28, 2006

Move out. Life's too short to live with someone whose standards aren't similar to yours. You've tried, she's tried... Living with someone is harder than just being friends. Seems like you're neither.

Agreed. I lived in a three bedroom with plenty of roommates (one long standing and one rotating space), and we all got along fine. Then a control freak moved in. I moved out. Problem solved!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:30 AM on November 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Wait... The bagged trash was sitting beside the bin and then put back in the bin? When you take her for a drink, ask her why she didn't just take it to the curb/dumpster herself. Did she assume that someone would see it sitting there and take it upon themselves to remove it? Do you have an agreement to do exactly this? If not, she's out of line here. Taking it out of the bin like that is doing half the work and clearly indicates someone is working on the task.

Also, see if you can get her to express why she feels she needs to move your belongings. If it is in a common space, she should ask you to move your stuff if it needs moving. One of the basic rules of successfully sharing space is to not mess with your roomie's stuff unless previously agreed upon.

As far as the cleaning, see if you can pick a one or two hour block of time each week in which you all contribute to the cleaning of the common areas. You should all handle your own space, of course. If you like your room messy, then close the door.
posted by onhazier at 8:38 AM on November 28, 2006

Taking it out of the bin like that is doing half the work and clearly indicates someone is working on the task.

Heh, heh, that is funny. You kids! Okay, back to work.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:35 AM on November 28, 2006

Putting it back in the bin may also have been a way to keep it from leaking onto the floor, or to get it out of the way. My kitchen certainly doesn't have enough floor space to easily accommodate both the trash can and a bag of trash sitting out.

In other words, it very well may have been a passive-aggressive attempt to get someone to take it out. It may also have been necessary so that she could clean the kitchen floor, or keep bugs from chewing at the bag, or any number of other reasonable explanations. Assuming that it was meant maliciously without actually speaking to her about it is a problem.
posted by occhiblu at 9:41 AM on November 28, 2006

You might try to organize household chores through all three of you getting together - making it more of a collective decision-making thing rather than a personal confrontation.

Something I reluctantly came to in my work life (it has come up repeatedly in work contexts) is when somebody is communicating something in a passive way (vmail, notes or cursed email) that should be dealt with in person, I go directly to that person and have it out in the nicest way I can manage. This has resulted in a more rapid, complete and calm resolution of issues 100% of the time. The irony of writing a long letter to complain about the use of notes to communicate seems to have escaped you.

My personal experience (mostly forged in a 7-bedroom house in college, bad dishwashing issue flashbacks from your question) is that for any situation where there is a recurrent mess with collective contributions (bathroom, kitchen sink, trash) it is best to simply have a schedule with equal contributions to cleaning: you can never sort the issue of unequal contributions to the mess. Just suck it up, taking out the trash 1/3rd of the time is not worth getting into how little trash you produce. BUT: such schedules should be arranged as a collective decision of all tenants, not something imposed by one person.

The petty stuff - rearranging stuff, snarky notes, is probably not going to change - that's a personality issue. If you can't just ignore it, you could try a hard line (saying quit moving my stuff, and if you have something to tell me, tell me, your notes are going into the trash unread from now on) or you could move out. The former could probably help facilitate the latter.
posted by nanojath at 10:06 AM on November 28, 2006

I nth all the "just find another place" statements. Life's too short to have your home be a place of conflict.

That said, if you're going to deal with this a while or want to work on it I'd approach her and calmly say "Listen, I want to have a happy and pleasant home here and I'm willing to work on making that happen but I don't want to communicate by note. Let's talk later, okay?" Then end the conversation. You need to demonstrate to this person who's reluctant to converse about problems with you that you can speak about things calmly and pleasantly without it becoming an argument.

You're in this cycle where you communicate by note and letter and you're going to have to be the first one to knock it off. I mean, I had to laugh when I saw this:

I wrote my problem roomie a long thoughtful and respectful but frank letter about 2 months ago addressing all of the issues that I had, such as the note writing.

"Hi, I don't like it when you dump orders and snark on me in little notes. Here's a long written list of all the things that bug me."

See the irony? You don't like the written communication, first thing to do is stop being part of it.
posted by phearlez at 10:23 AM on November 28, 2006

I had a similar situation when I was roommates with my brother. I am the tidy one and he is the messy one.

We had lots of the drama already stated in the replies above.

The best solution (imo, the only one) was one of us moving out.

Luckily, he got a job in another state and I'm living in my tidy, lysol'd paradise.
posted by spec80 at 12:48 PM on November 28, 2006

I honestly forget to do a lot of trash-taking-out and dish cleaning at work in my relatively tiny office, and largely don't "see" that trash needs to be taken out or that dishes need washing and whatnot, but every single other person there (9 employees, I'm the only guy) thinks I have some sort of grudge or am being passively snooty about not taking it out, even though I've explained it a dozen times that is absolutely not the case. They're all "but you don't do that at home, do you?" and explaining that was so would leave them in even greater disbelief (I take the trash out to the curb about every 2-3 months, as I don't generate but barely one full bag in a few weeks time and the can holds several large bags). Dishes can totally sit in the sink but there is a quantity of zero emotion connected to dishes in the sink, and pretty much all of them are tremendously germ-o-phobes. I have no problem with being reminded, but they often get hussied up about having to remind me.

Everyone is supposed to take out the trash each shift (24hr staffed, I'm on 3rd shift) but I usually object to taking it out because it's often a waste of bags to bag up each shift's worth when one shift may not even generate half a bag from 2 cans. Even still, some stickler on 1st or 2nd shift, each time 3rd forgets, will bag it up for us and leave it lying on the floor in plain view for when we get in, with "third shift" clearly written on the outsides as if she's making some kind of big issue. I guess some people are just incessantly grumpy about the littlest things.

I largely just ignore the whiners and just go how it goes. If someone throws away something inefficiently according to my preference, I just change it myself without little regard for correction, no need to be all whiny about something (like how my roommate would often bag up his room's trash and put it inside the larger bag in the kitchen -- needlessly taking up space in the larger bag for non-bagged trash). I'd say just ignore the cleaning styles and do it your way however you want, because she has just as much need to change to your ways as she does to you.
posted by vanoakenfold at 8:43 PM on November 28, 2006

I'm sorry, I missed the part where you explained why you have to move out, rather than throwing out the one making trouble? Does she get a free pass for being a 'she' or something?

Moving your stuff is simply out of bounds. Being neurotic and forcing it on to roomies is also out of bounds, IMO. Clue the little girl in to how things work in the real world.

If she wants to live in a sterile environment, let her go find one.
posted by Goofyy at 2:52 AM on November 29, 2006

Welcome to passive aggressiveness and power struggles, aka humanity. If she doesn't respond well to the "take her out for a drink and talk to her like you're both adults" strategy, one of you will have to go or you'll both have to live with it. If you choose to live with it, here's two tips to make it easier.

It takes some time for some people to come around to the fact that other people aren't like them, and no one can make them come to that realization sooner. This is exactly what MDMA would be used for, if it were legal to do so. In the meantime, do more than your share, without being asked and without complaining or comparing. She'll get over it on her own time, the only decision you have to make is if you're good enough friends to put up with her crap until she does, which brings me to my next point. Is she cute?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:29 PM on November 29, 2006

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