Dear Captain Awkward
I recently discovered your blog and.I wonder if you could give me any thoughts about how to deal with my current situation.
About a year ago, my partner became mildly friendly with an English exchange student he was at university with. Although they weren’t great friends, he invited her to stay at our house for a few weeks so she wasn’t homeless when she had to move out of college for the Summer. After that, she moved back to England and we also moved to a different city. He and she have now both graduated and are working in the same industry. Last week, she called to let him know that she was moving permanently to the city we now live in, and asked if she could stay at our place for a bit until she found a job and a place. Without consulting me, he agreed. She is arriving in 2 weeks.
While I wasn’t happy about him agreeing to this request without asking my opinion (we’ve discussed it and he apologised), I have to admit that if he had asked me I would have said yes. This girl is only 22, hasn’t got much money, and is moving across the world to a city where she doesn’t know anyone else, so I do feel that it’s the right thing to do to help her out.
The trouble is, I don’t like this girl. She isn’t a horrible person, but I find her really annoying. Last time she stayed with us she didn’t lift a finger to help out and seemed to expect dinner cooked for her every night. Hints fell on deaf ears. She has never lived outside of her parents’ place other than in college and she just doesn’t have roommate skills. I also found her a difficult person to have in my personal space. A few times I got home from work after a massive day, and really just wanted to pour myself a glass of wine and watch TV. Instead, I’d end up listening to her talk for hours (literally) about things like how unfair her thesis mark was, or how incredibly drunk she got on the weekend. One more thing: I got a very strong vibe that she had a crush on me. This didn’t bother me in itself, but I do think it could have been part of the reason she wanted to hang out so much.
To make matters worse, my partner works away from home a lot and for most of the time she is staying with us he won’t be around. And I have been having a few emotional issues that mean I really need my space at the moment.
Can you suggest any strategies to deal with this situation? I don’t want her to feel unwelcome or like she has to tiptoe around – after all, we said she could stay. But I also don’t want to do the full-on martyr complex act that I did when she last stayed with us (i.e. acting really friendly, doing everything for her, listening to her stories, all the while getting more and more resentful and complaining about her to other people). And how do I make sure this situation doesn’t go on too long? The thought of having her in my home for months makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry.
You are very, very kind to let this girl stay with you. And you are right that you have to renegotiate the terms of her stay so that you don’t have to bury her corpse in the back yard. Since you’ve already said yes, and she’s arriving so soon, unfortunately you are stuck with her.
My suggestion is that since your partner got you into this, and he will be around less during her stay, that you get him to be the one to lay down some ground rules before she eats your bread and salt. Have him email her an agreement and/or take her out for a drink on her own when she first arrives. For instance:
- Put an agreement about length of stay, chores, ground rules, meals in writing. “Hopefully you’ll find a place in no time, but if you haven’t by (date) we’ll need you to move into (hostel) – I’m sure you understand. In the meantime, we’d appreciate your help with dishes, laundry, etc. and can you pick a night of the week that you cook dinner?”
- Explain to her that (you) will be working hard during her stay, and needs her alone time.
- I am not a lawyer, but DON’T make any agreement that has her paying rent – that makes her a tenant and conveys certain rights – whereas guests can just be kicked out. (Can I get a quick lawyer-check on this one?)
You also need to agree with your parnter about what happens if (date) is reached and she still hasn’t found a place. Will you really kick her out? You need to have a united front. Also, when your partner IS at home, you guys definitely need to go on date nights and spend some time together without her, but he also has to do some work to get her out of the house and out of your hair when he’s around. “Hello (houseguest), (partner) is taking you to (tourist attraction)! Won’t that be nice!”
Now, once she’s there and blabbing in your ear, you need to find it in yourself to say “That all sounds really interesting, but it’s been a long day and I’d really like some quiet time to (finish my book/watch tv/plot your death). Talk to you later?”
Later can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it means never.
I feel like we could develop a Good Houseguest Manifesto between us. If possible, A Good Houseguest:
- Stays for a defined and agreed-on length of time.
- Cleans up after herself without being asked and can generally handle her own business.
- Is really, really good at amusing herself and knows to say, sincerely, “Don’t think about me at all today – just do your thing” when necessary.
- Makes an effort to slip into the rhythms of the house rather than making the house cater to her, Charlotte Bartlett-style. One of the things I loved about my former roommates, Z. and R., is that we all understood that MORNING TIME IS QUIET TIME. But now and again we’d get a really chatty houseguest and all be giving each other the side-eye, like, “How can she not know? Can’t she see we’re READING?”
Other things you can try:
- Stock up on movie passes and event listings. Send her out to do fun things in the city. Frequently.
- Put a stack of good, recent books in the room she’ll be staying (A nice thing to do even for non-annoying houseguests).
- Also stock up on phrases like: “Huh.” “Hmmm.” “Interesting.” “Wow.” You’ll need them.
- However, she’s proven that she can’t take hints, so if the polite monosyllable is getting you nowhere, CUT HER OFF.
- If you need to ask her to do something or to stop doing something, do it as directly as possible in the moment. “
WHY do you NEVER do the dishes? You have no roommate skills AT ALL!” becomes “Could you please do the dishes tonight? Thank you.”
- Move the TV/computer into a room with a door that shuts and make it as comfy as possible. It’s going to be your fortress, where you will be “working” or “unwinding” or “solitary activity of your choice.”
- Set aside a designated time each day to interact with her (dinner?) and do your best to be pleasant and friendly, but then after that time is over you can definitely retire to do something else.
- Actually help her out! With job listings, apartment listings, recommendations, etc.
- Do stuff with your friends and get out of the house yourself! Have dinner alone in a good restaurant with a glass of wine and a book, and use some of those movie passes on yourself.
Finally, while this is awkward, once she’s been at your house for a bit, it is okay to say “How is your job/apartment search going? What is your plan?” And as the deadline approaches, it is also totally ok to keep asking “What is your plan?” Emphasis on “your.” Do not ask “What are WE going to do about (plan)?” Same thing when talking about her plans for a given day or evening. “What’s your plan for today?”