Roommate Problems - Understanding the Dynamic and Getting Along
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?
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.