Roommate Problems - Understanding the Dynamic and Getting Along

Dear Veronica,

I’m wondering if you can help me with my relationship with my roommates. I know you’ve given advice for all kinds of relationship like work relationships. Maybe you could help me with this. I’m a woman, I’m 32 and I am sharing an apartment with 2 other women, both are younger than I am. Maybe it’s just me because I’m used to living on my own. If that’s the case I am open to that but please give me some help on how to deal with this all because this is getting pretty intense. I lived on my own for 8 years, until a year ago, when I lost my job. I found another job right away but it’s for about half the pay I was making. I had to make a lot of changes. The one girl I’ll call Patty lived here first, then I came, then the other girl that was here moved out and then came the other girl I live with now, I’ll call her Sara. 

I had a lot of furniture but when I moved in Patty had the place furnished and wasn’t interested in any of my things. I really could only furnish my bedroom. I was annoyed because my stuff was so much nicer than her crappy stuff but OK, what could I do. The thing is in the year I’m here she brings up all the time how all the furniture is hers. If I put my feet up or spill something she gets frantic. She constantly says how we’d have nothing if it wasn’t for her and comments like that. A few weeks ago she bought a new recliner and put it in the living room. I got annoyed and said this isn’t fair. All 3 of our names are on the lease. I wanted to bring furniture into the living room but wasn’t allowed to, how come she gets to put whatever she wants anywhere in the apartment. Patty doesn’t get it and acts like I should just be grateful. The recliner takes up too much space in a small shared living room. A much smarter choice would be an extra sofa or loveseat with more seating and a small table. We all pay the same amount of rent. Patty and I seem to butt heads all the time. Basically all the things we argue about are like this one I explained. Sarah is the youngest and doesn’t seem to care how Patty controls the apartment like this so her and Patty aren’t arguing. I argue with Sarah over completely different things. For one she eats whatever is in the kitchen which isn’t so bad but she never food shops or replaces anything. When I go food shopping I ask her for money now because she eats my food. She gives it to me but complains. I try to show her for example last week I spent $80 on groceries. She gave me $20. She ate half the food though. She’s getting more than a bargain here and she acts like I’m robbing her and that pisses me off. This past month Sarah was late with the rent and I really got upset with her. I pointed out how she has money to go out and buy clothes and whatever, but that’s not fair to us, she has to pay the rent first, then she can do whatever she wants. She’s not just screwing herself if she doesn’t pay the rent she will be harming us all and that’s not fair. She just doesn’t get it. Patty doesn’t step in and say anything about it. I don’t even now why. I think she knows I will say say something so she doesn’t have to. What should I do here? I’ve got one roommate who is so immature she doesn’t even pay her rent on time or know how much food costs and another roommate that thinks the apartment is hers just because she is was here first. I don’t know how much longer I can take this. I can’t afford to live by myself right now. What can I do?

 

Mira

Dear Mira,

One of the tells in your email is that you noted both Patty and Sarah are younger than you are. You didn’t mention if they have less money, more boyfriends, etc. Other than the order by which you moved in, this was really the only comparison point you made between the three of you. That tells me you feel you should be the alpha in this pack. Or at the very least, you should be exempt.

I can see this in your food interaction with Sarah too. Think about this: in other shared spaces like a workplace kitchen, you only keep enough food for that day’s lunch. If you have to leave a bottle of salad dressing or something you write your name on it. You don’t shop for extra food and purposefully leave it there because you know people will take it and you’ll lose out.

This kitchen is a shared space too. You had to adjust from having your own kitchen and being able to food shop weekly without worrying anyone else will  take what’s yours. During that adjustment when you realized Sarah eats your food, you kept your routine and expected Sarah to participate in it your way. Of course she should chip in if she’s going to eat what you buy, but this isn’t about right and wrong or her being immature and a mooch. This is just about trying to figure out a little bit of your alpha nature.

There were other things you could have done when this situation revealed itself. You could have treated the apartment kitchen more like a work or shared space kitchen. You could have adjusted your habit of weekly grocery shopping to buying much less so that there’s less for anyone to mooch, just like in an office kitchen. You could eat out a little more just to avoid being stolen from. You could keep snacks and non-perishables in your bedroom privately where Sarah can’t get them. Instead you chose to keep doing things the way you’re used to doing them and expected Sarah to chip in and do this your way. 

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I just think you’ve revealed that you’re a little set in your ways, that’s all. Both Sarah and Patty have been preventing you from doing things your way: Patty by exercising some controlling behavior and Sarah by resisting yours.

Although this is a home the arrangement is a business one. Sometimes people just magically get along in a living situation. They are either so much alike or so polar opposite that everything just naturally seems to fall into place. But those are the exceptions. Most roommates have to work it, and make some kind of schedule or plan. They have to make agreements on who will clean, who will food shop, how much each will chip in, who is responsible for what piece of shared furniture. Good roommates will avoid conflict as in any other business relationship for the sake of status quo.

You could speak with Patty about your unhappiness. Let her know this isn’t working out and why.  Tell her she’s got Sarah who seems to be rent-challenged, and she has you whom I assume pays rent on time. If she loses you she’s going to have to worry about paying the bills. She can move the recliner into her room and help you get a smarter roommate-friendly piece of furniture for the space She can work with you on some things until there’s mutual agreement and fairness. Tell her she can do this, or you can both seek out a different arrangement.  

Is it possible for you to find another apartment? Maybe you could pick the roommates this time. This was your first roommate situation after being on your own so long. You’ll know better going forward how to assess the potential roommates. 

Those of you not living with a life partner and not living with family, which of these best fits you:

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Comments 9 comments

Daphne 5 years ago

Shall I send you an email Veronica? I would like some flatmate advice, mine's a bit different than this.

Cheers


Veronica profile image

Veronica 5 years ago from NY Author

Sure, Daphne. Lay it on me.


Lindsey79 profile image

Lindsey79 5 years ago from CA

I definitely think you should find a different living situation. It sounds like you guys just think too differently about things and haven't attempted to talk about expectations at all. There's really not a right or wrong way to do things, just different ways. But many people get locked into the idea that their way is the right way or the fair way.

Having been in tons of roommate situations myself, I've learned that I look for roommates with values that most closely align with mine and want similar living situations. When I wrote my roommate ad (after quite a few trial and error experiences over the years), I put TONS of info in it -- from cleaning expectations (I found a biweekly cleaning service to be the way to go so there is no one upset about chore wheels or whatnot), to overnight guests, to furniture. So people knew right off the bat what they were walking into -- and most people self-selected.

If they weren't into how I lived, then they generally didn't respond to my ad. I found this to be the biggest thing -- like Veronica said -- making all the expectations as clear from the get-go as possible. Negotiate in the beginning before people move-in than afterwards. Then there were people that responded with "yes, this is exactly the type of house/living situation I want too!" For the past couple of years, roommate situations have been great as a result.

One little caveat -- how desperate you are for rent plays into this. When you're more desperate, you can't afford to be as picky. But when you can afford more wiggle room there, you probably can find people that are already on the exact same page as you.


Veronica profile image

Veronica 5 years ago from NY Author

Great input Lindsey, thanks. Lots o' good ideas there.


Earth Angel profile image

Earth Angel 5 years ago

More GREAT advice Veronica!

I hope your sage perspective helps Mira find peace, either in her current living situation, or a new one.

This economy has forced many into living arrangements that are not their first choice.

What is our first choice, however is how we respond to the situation we find ourselves in. We can either, 1) take it personally and suffer the consequences, or 2) become aware of the life lesson and make appropriate adjustments.

I feel for Mira because I know how difficult it would be for me to live with roommates. The world/workplace seems to be so full of immature and irresponsible people that I count on my quiet home as a refuge from the craziness.

It doesn't sound like any of the women living together are "bad people" just unaware of how their actions affect each other.

For about six months one time I had a roommate. She would retreat into her room after working a graveyard shift, light candles and drink Jack Daniels until she fell asleep. Once I became aware of this, I tried to talk with her about the dangers of letting wax and flame melt all over her wooden nightstands -- to no avail. A few days later she caught our place on fire.

My roommate wasn't a bad person (although in the heat of the moment I thought she was) she just "couldn't see at that time in her life" how her choices might have a negative impact on others.

Becoming "aware" and "awake" (a life long spiritual practice) and looking at the situation "as it is" not how "we wish it were" would go a long way toward the end of unnecessary suffering.

I finally had to "get it" that my roommate wasn't going to change; even after the small fire she didn't "get it" there was a problem. We parted ways.

More importantly, I have learned that what I find immature and irresponsible (asleep/unaware) in others, is somehow a gentle cosmic warning bell for me to look at myself - and own up to where I may be acting immature, irresponsible and unaware in my own life.

I send warm blessings to Mira that she may find a place of comfort and security.

I send double-warm blessings to you Veronica for the kind, loving and direct advice you share with so many.

Blessings always, EarthAngel

P.S. My former roommate did catch her next apartment on fire; lots of damage and loss of momentos/photos/furnishings/clothing to four apartments but no loss of life.

If we don't learn the lesson, it comes back larger and louder next time!


Veronica profile image

Veronica 5 years ago from NY Author

Earth Angel

Thank you for your eloquent comment. Wow, what a lesson with your former roommate. Amazing how the cosmos speaks to us. And repeats itself. And how the echo of it is meant for all that can hear it. We're exactly where we're supposed to be.

Namaste


Veronica profile image

Veronica 5 years ago from NY Author


susannah42 profile image

susannah42 5 years ago from Florida

I have had roommates and have never had a problem, however living by myself or with my husband and kids is a more favorable situation.


mojefballa profile image

mojefballa 5 years ago from Nigeria

Wonderful advice,thanks for sharing.

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