Oh Captain My Captain;
I rent a room in a house with a pretty nice family, and for the most part it’s pretty cool. They’re very friendly and open, their eldest son and I share a lot of interests, and they aren’t really judgmental, though they are very vocal about their political views and beliefs, they know I don’t get involved in that sort of stuff and seem to respect my space as far as that’s concerned.
The problem is respecting space as far as everything else – I do my part around the house, cleaning bathrooms, mopping, vacuuming, doing dishes, laundry, helping care for their 19 year old cat and doing pretty much anything I can to make myself useful. My landlords, a married couple, also have two of their adult children living with them because finances suck for everyone except the elderly rich, which we are not among. Their kids, even though they are adults, are still very close to their parents and depend on them for a lot, and basically come off as young teens in a lot of ways. The main problem seems to stem from the fact that, although I am not one of their kids, because I’m younger than their kids they seem to feel the need to parent me.
Whenever I get anything in the mail, they want to know what it is, who it’s from, if it’s a package they want to hover over me and see what it is, who I ordered it from, how much did it cost, was it made in the USA? They have come in my room without permission several times, always ask me when I will be at work, how many hours I’m getting, what I’m paid, if I go out somewhere that isn’t work related where did I go, did I buy anything there? I can’t bring home so much as a single shopping bag without being interrogated or having it pawed through and my purchases commented on, along with how I dress, where I work, basically everything I do. They do it more to me than they do it to their own children!
I’m a very private person, and I hate discussing money with anyone, particularly when it’s really none of their business, and I really don’t want my every purchase judged and pawed through. I am one of those people that doesn’t want to talk about my day, I don’t want to talk about what happened at work or if I got a raise or if I bought lunch or something. I don’t like talking to people in general, but I try my best to at least be nice. It’s started creeping me out a lot that I can’t walk anywhere near the door with my keys without getting an interrogation on where I’m going, who I’m going with if anyone, what I’m buying, et cetera. If they had to drive me places, yeah, fine, I could understand them needing to know my work schedule or if I needed to go buy stuff or something, but I have my own car and drive myself everywhere so there is no reason they need to know any of this stuff. They also try to include me in their family events, even big holiday stuff like Christmas or Thanksgiving, even when they’re super loud and generally not the kind of thing I’d go within a hundred miles of if I didn’t live here, but when I live in the same house it’s kind of hard to avoid without it being painfully obvious that I’m avoiding it, particularly since I’m not social and generally don’t go anywhere other than work.
They seem to have semi-adopted me as one of their own kids, which is kind of problematic on it’s own, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Do you have a way for me to politely tell them to back off and stop questioning me about everything I do? I intend to move out soon, so I’ll have my privacy again eventually, but until then I’d like to get back at least a bit of privacy while I live here, without making things tense or possibly making them angry. They are a very close-knit, openly affectionate, rather loud kind of family, so I’m not sure they can even understand that no, I don’t really want to take part in all the loud, boisterous family stuff they do because I’m just not that kind of person. I like my quiet and privacy, and I would like to get some of that back.
Not Their Kid
Dear Captain, my Captain,
Lately I have been very grumpy and I would like to stop.
While I am in a very happy place right now mentally, best I’ve been in a long time, I have found that certain things irritate me more than they reasonably should. Prime examples are my flatmate coming home every day and complaining about her drive and an incompetent colleague. I love her and I know she has a right to whine, but it’s become very repetitive.(Someone in front of her was slow, someone behind her was pushy, and her colleague is useless because ‘something to do with Chemistry that I know nothing about’.) She will usually follow me to my room, lean against the doorframe, and just stay there watching me on my computer and complaining about stuff every once and again. And it irritates me.
I also have a friend who likes to talk about food. I have a history of eating disorders in my family and my circle of friends and I find the most random comments triggering – e.g. “wow I ate so much I feel sick ” after dinner, “I should really eat less/ lose weight” (while simultaneously eating a lot), and “my stomach is so full and fat *pat pat*” after food. But these are not really things I can ask her to stop doing, it’s just small comments!
I don’t know if it’s because of stress at uni lately, or because of some other thing, but I hate being so irritated all the time and I never know how to react to them both without being impolite.
So I guess my question is: do you have any scripts for me to opt out of those kinds of one-sided conversations?
I’m glad you asked, because I DO have scripts.
First, let’s talk about the idea that these events are annoying you “more than they should.” When you are feeling less overall stress from school, you might in fact be able to better put up with the constant doorlurking from your roommate and the constant diet-talk from your friend. But that doesn’t mean something has to be wrong with you, or overwhelming in other parts of your life, for you to want to set and enforce boundaries in your living space and your relationships. Somehow, many of us have inherited the fallacy that listening to someone endlessly, way past our own comfort level, or listening to talk that is actively harmful to us, without interruption or protest, is the only polite thing to do. I suspect a lot of it is socialization (esp. if one is a female-raised person) and another big bunch of it is mistranslation or misunderstanding of Emily Post’s adage that it is bad manners to point out someone else’s bad manners.
Reminder, Chicago people, Story Club South Side is tonight at 7:30 pm. It will be awkward in the best possible ways.
Hi Captain and Crew,
My partner and I have been together about eight years, and living together for most of that time. I think we’ve learnt a lot about working with each other’s boundaries and habits, and it’s generally going well.
I’m easily socially stressed and like a lot of space away from everyone. Currently Partner is working full time and I’m studying part time with a lot of working from home, so I get a lot of time to myself through the day and that works out really well.
Recently Partner has needed to take some time off so he’s been at home more than usual. It’s a temporary situation and it’s basically okay, but does leave me more drained than usual. He’s aware of the issue and makes an effort to leave me in peace, but just having another person in the house has an impact on me. I’m a lot more comfortable than I would have been even a year or two ago but it’s an ongoing process.
The real issue comes when I try to express how I’m doing, intended as something like “Heads up I’m starting to feel a bit stressed out and flakey”. I know they aren’t really feelings he can do anything about and I don’t expect him to. I just think check-ins are important and not doing them causes other problems. But I can’t seem to say something like that without triggering a large guilt response for all the trouble he’s causing me, and that’s even more draining.
It’s difficult to talk about what’s going on with me if it’s always going to result in an emotional outpouring about what it brings up for him. His stuff is important too but I can’t always be dealing with that on top of (instead of?) my own feelings.
I’ve tried to express this to him before — including bringing it up at calmer moments — but so far it hasn’t gone anywhere constructive. I suppose it’s difficult to work through being both a source of stress and a source of comfort, and that the stress part isn’t really his fault. Any scripts or advice for finding better ways to check in and support each other in ways we can both work with?
My brother-in-law is a joker. He’s a very nice man who gets along with everybody, an extrovert. He loves to joke with people, and he usually gives nicknames or uses a personality trait for humor. This is fine most of the time, but the “thing” he chose to use with me hits too close to home and it has become very hurtful. He calls me “lazy ass” (in a loose translation) and makes comments about how I’m disorganized and basically do nothing all day. Just today, he came over to “inspect” my apartment and comment on my mess, talked about how they’re going to use my spare room for the baby (“you don’t need it”) and how I’m going to babysit for them to “pay things over” or something like that. My sister just called to invite me over for coffee, and when I hesitated because I was actually studying, he asked “are you doing anything useful for a change?”.
I’m not really a lazy ass. I don’t work as hard as my sister, but I do work all afternoons and Saturday mornings, and I go to school every weeknight. I’m not an organized person, but I’m trying to do better. I’m not sure if this is because he thinks that I abuse my sister’s and my mother’s help. I don’t pay for cable and wi-fi (my sister lives next door and shares with me), and I don’t pay my apartment’s bills either. I can’t afford these things, but my parents’ house is an incredibly toxic environment and this is the arrangement we made (my mother, my sister and I). I don’t like it – I hate it. When I left their house after a terrible crisis I wanted to support myself, but my mother insisted that I should stay in the family’s apt (it was empty).
The thing is that we (mother and daughters) do have this “system” where we help each other. We call when we are going to the supermarket to check if anybody needs anything, they call me to offer rides when they’re out and they know I’m leaving work, we borrow and lend clothes. My bother-in-law, however, pretty much raised himself.
I realize I get help more than I give right now, but I don’t know what do to. Should I offer to clean their house once a week? Do their shopping? Ask them to change their wifi password and cut the cable from my side? I *am* planning to help when the baby comes, I’m not heartless. He’s only here a few days every few weeks, as he works in another city, but it’s become something that bothers probably more than it should.
My friends have gotten into the habit of calling me by a nickname, which would be wonderful if they had asked first, but otherwise I’m okay with it. The problem comes when they introduce me to people using that nickname, leading those people to think that it’s my real name and so they use it too. So now I have a dozen people all calling me by a nickname and I can’t help but flinch inwardly when they use it. I want them to call me by my actual name but I don’t know how to tell them that and I don’t know how to broach the subject of not introducing me with it to my friends either. To be quite honest, I’d prefer a few of my friends to stop calling me by it too but I don’t know how to tell them to stop without making them feel bad about it. I’m also worried that bringing it up at all will be disregarded or made fun of because to them it’s just a name and doesn’t have any meaning while to me it means a whole frakking lot. Is there any way to fix this?
There is a way to fix this. There is no way to do it without risking making your friends feel bad.
But right now, YOU feel bad. Because having someone consistently mess up or diminish your name is dehumanizing.
And how your friends feel about misnaming you is firmly under the heading of Their Shit To Deal With On Their Own Time. Embarrassed? Sad you didn’t correct them before? Justified and wanting to argue that what they do is ok? Whatever they feel, it is not your problem, and it will pass soon.
This is important, and it’s important that you give yourself permission to speak up about it!
So, the way to do this is to wait until one of them uses the nickname, and say “Hey, that reminds me. I’d prefer to go by (Actual Name) from now on, thanks.” And when they introduce you to someone new, hold out your hand and say “Actually, my name is (Real Name). (Nickname) is just a nickname that I’ve been trying to get out from under.”
If they ask why, or make a big deal about how you didn’t say anything before, they are derailing. Don’t offer any explanation. Explanation implies that this is up for negotiation. “Whatever, don’t worry about the past, just, in the future, call me (Actual Name) and everything will be cool. Thank you.”
This offers an interesting and useful test for new people that you meet. Cool new people, the kind you want in your life, will immediately switch to your actual name and make a conscious effort to use it. Douche-y new people, the kind you don’t want in your life, will see your name as a vulnerable spot and start poking it by using the nickname.
With your old friends, give it a little bit of time to sink in – habits die hard – but if people consistently misname you, switch to a boundary enforcement strategy of one correction + leaving (or asking other person to leave) conversation if things don’t improve.
#471 and 2 below the jump.
Jolly’s great comment to Monday’s post is going to be very relevant to these seemingly very different questions:
“You also don’t necessarily have to bring some of these things up in one big confrontation about The Whole Pattern Of Her Sucking. You could just make a point of standing up for yourself when she does the trampling behavior in the future. Next time she interrupts you, interrupt her back with a big, assertive, “EXCUSE ME, N, YOU ACCIDENTALLY INTERRUPTED ME WHEN I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF A STORY. ANYWAY, BOYFRIEND AND I…” She physically nudges you out of a circle? Cut her off with a tap on the shoulder and a big, “EXCUSE ME, N, BUT YOU JUST PUSHED ME COMPLETELY OUT OF THE CONVERSATION. I AM MOVING HERE, HOW ABOUT YOU SIT HERE.” Don’t sound angry, just be very direct and assertive. You see what she is doing, everyone else sees what she is doing, good chance she also sees what she is doing, and just thinks she is being sneaky. Or maybe she has no idea. But either way, there is nothing wrong with a strong verbal reminder every time she attempts to trample completely over you, to let her know that she is “accidentally” being completely obnoxious. 50/50 whether she will embarrass herself in a huffy rage, or quietly correct her behavior. Either way, it will probably go some way to keeping her from continuing this kind of garbage.”
Yes. It is hard for more reserved people to get into the habit of speaking up in the moment – we’d mostly prefer to observe quietly, analyze later, and plan our next social interaction as if it’s a military campaign. But learning to speak up in the moment is a great, great habit to develop, and it is above all a habit – developed over time, requires practice, doesn’t have to be perfectly executed to be effective. Let’s dive in.