#595: Q: How do I stop being so grumpy at people who are monopolizing my time and attention? A: Speak up!

Grumpycat saying "no."
This word makes “yes” possible.

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?

Best wishes,

Dear Grumpycat:

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.

It is bad manners to point out someone else’s lapse in manners as such, i.e. “Did you realize it’s rude to linger in someone’s doorway when they are obviously engaged in other activities?” or “Did you realize it’s very bad manners to talk about diets in a way that might be unkind to people with a history of eating disorders?” For the record, I think both behaviors are pretty questionable under many circumstances, and would especially like to see automatic diet talk die out as a thing we do, but I also think that speaking up about these behaviors in this particular way — as a lapse of manners — is far from ideal and also doomed. It’s doomed because:

  • People are raised in different cultures and with different norms, and “manners” are highly context-dependent.
  • Some things are also very PERSON-dependent or mood-dependent. With some friends, sometimes standing in doorways catching up on the day IS okay, if that’s the agreed-upon norm between you. It stops being okay not because: manners but because: you’re not feeling it today.
  • The big one: When you displace a personal request or feeling onto a group or an appeal to vague authority like “manners,” it removes both urgency and agency and displaces the conflict in a way that is counterproductive and needlessly hurtful.

For instance, if you were in the shoes of  last week’s letter about the coworker who invites herself everywhere, saying: Everyone agrees with me that you should stop inviting yourself along places” because you are too scared to say “I prefer to hang out with a smaller group tonight” or (better yet) “Not tonight, thank you for asking!” would maximally hurt the coworker’s feelings and minimally get her to stop inviting herself places. It’s mean and judge-y to imply that the coworker is stupid for not knowing the unwritten rules or oblivious to the fact that “everyone” doesn’t like them. Maybe other people in the group do feel the same way, but assuming you speak for everyone isn’t cool and adds extra, unnecessary, vicious sting to something that’s already fraught. It’s counterproductive because it distracts the other person away from the perfectly reasonable thing you need and onto “who are all these people who agree with you?” and “when exactly did they say that?” It makes setting a boundary seem negotiable in a way that it shouldn’t be negotiable because it’s cloaked in all this extra crappy judgmental stuff and cultural baggage that is disputable. “I’d prefer not to” is about you and your feelings, which aren’t really disputable. “You can’t because everyone thinks so and also Society” is highly disputable. Does that make sense?

We’ve already covered the diet-talk thing extensively in several threads, so I’ll suggest one possible script here and let you dive into the many, many suggestions there. Next time your friend says something unfortunate, try saying “For my own well-being, I’m really trying not to talk about food or bodies with any guilt or negativity. Will you help me with that when we spend time together?” If it’s a good friend, level with her the way you did with us. “There’s a history of eating disorders in my family, and your seemingly innocuous comments hit me in a sensitive place. You had no way of knowing, of course, but if you can pull back on the diet/body talk it will help me a lot.

As for your roommate, here’s the thread on ending one-sided conversations “gracefully”, and below are a few strategies that can work with your roommate. Mix and match them according to your comfort levels.

By far the simplest path open to you is total bluntness. For instance, the next time you run out of patience with her complaining in your doorway, try saying “That sounds like a terrible day. Unfortunately I don’t really have the energy to listen to this now. Can we catch up later?”

I predict that this saying this (or even imagining saying it) will feel really rude and unsettling to you. It is certainly a break in current pattern, and your roommate might certainly have a reaction to a change in how you receive her complaining, but asking her to hold off until another time is rude if and only if you work from a basic assumption that your roommate’s needs matter and yours don’t, i.e. the fallacy that good manners = not having or expressing any needs of your own. If you like your roommate and her needs count with you, you should probably listen to her some of the time. If yours count with her, you should be able to set reasonable limits as to when and how and how much. The trick is getting your needs to count with yourself so that you can more comfortably ask her for what you need and find a balanced way of interacting. Being honest about where your energy levels are is being a good friend, not a rude one.

Other strategies involve changing the routine and the environment where these conversations take place. If you know you’re not in the mood to be vented to, ten minutes before she comes home, shut your door. She may knock on it and want to vent anyway (which, if you don’t have a culture of closed door=do not disturb in your living space, is understandable because that’s her usual routine – more on that later!), but you have choices about what to do, and one of those choices is to say “Now isn’t a good time, can we talk later? I’ll come find you.” This will feel uncomfortable the first time you do it, probably, but with habit it will get easier. If she hangs out and insists on talking now, she is the one being rude, not you for asking her to come back another time.

Another “change the circumstances” strategy is to change the venue for the conversation. When she comes home, come out of your room and greet her in the common spaces. Actively engage with her for a little while, say, 10-20 minutes. Make it a real break for yourself that you build into your day. Get something to drink or a snack, sit down with her, and give her your full attention for that time period. Then when you’re ready, excuse yourself and go back to what you were doing. She’s still getting validation and contact, which she seems to need to switch from work/commute mode to home mode, but it’s less disruptive and more controllable by you. If she follows you or does set up shop in your doorway, you can ask her directly to stop (“It’s good to see you, but that’s all the time I have to talk. I’ll catch up with you later?“) or physically get up and move to a different room, like the boss back in question #11. Sometimes people linger in the doorway because they don’t know how to end the conversation themselves; it’s possible that she feels like once she’s started in it would be rude to walk away from you! The goal is to break up the routine where you feel trapped at your desk and she doesn’t really have your full attention anyway, and if it comes up in a way that you do end up having an explicit conversation about that, here’s a possible script:

“I realized that sometimes I get very anxious when I try to listen to you AND focus on work/study/other stuff I’m doing, so I’m training myself to take a real break when you come home and give you my full attention for a little while. That way you’re not stuck in the doorway with me sneaking glances at the computer. I hope that’s cool?

If someone has a more gracious way to say that, I want to see it in the comments! In the meantime, I will slap my own ass and call myself “Sally” as in “Damn, Sally, that was a very kind way to say ‘pray don’t linger on my threshhold’.

:brief musical interlude:

It’s worth saying that anytime you live with someone, it’s really easy to blur the boundaries between quiet time and social time. So you and your roommate might want to invest some energy in creating more structure in your house and your friendship, with stuff like:

  • “Can we agree that a closed door means ‘do not disturb unless there is blood, flood, or fire?'”
  • “Let’s have a standing weekly roommate date to eat breakfast or dinner together once a week or watch a favorite show so we don’t lose track of each other!”
  • “Sometimes I’m the “lay it on me!” friend, sometimes I am the “I am here to distract you with silly stuff” friend, sometimes I’m the “sorry, can’t talk now!” friend, as I imagine you are, too. Can we make a habit of checking which kind of friend is present today before having deep or venting-style conversations?”

If you are actually seeking out your roommate sometimes for positive interactions, it will ease the transition for both of you as you start setting and enforcing boundaries. Structure is hard to initiate but easy to follow because everyone can relax and know how to be.

As you go, remember to be gentle with others and yourself, and give your friend and roommate a little time to adjust. One big problem with stewing silently for months is that your friends can go months without knowing there even is a problem, so by the time you do talk about it it comes out much harsher than you intended. If something was never an issue before, but it’s suddenly at “GODDAMN IT SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP” levels, your friends will be very understandably offended and taken aback. Say your thing matter-of-factly, like you expect to be listened to and believed, and give it a few tries and chances to readjust. In all likelihood they will adjust and it won’t be nearly as big a deal as you are probably worried it will be.

Remember also that your friend and roommate may have weird or awkward feelings about the new order of things, and that’s okay, and that’s not all on you to predict or manage. We all get uncomfortable with change, or the idea we’ve been secretly fucking it up without realizing it. Your diet-talking friend may have to deal with her own complex feelings about body image stuff and the diet industry and the shaming we do to ourselves and others around that in a way she did not before you spoke up. She might have to wonder to herself, “Is this okay to say?” before speaking to you. Not only is that okay, that’s what you want to happen, because that is your best hope for her actually changing the behavior. Your roommate may have to question “Does Grumpycat want to be bothered right now?” before interrupting you or be a little at loose ends with her own feelings after you’ve ended a conversation, and that is okay.

Finally, I can’t lie: There ARE actually people who buy into the idea that expressing any needs of your own IS bad manners and people who would openly chide you or guilt you for setting limits on how you like to be treated, etc. These are called “selfish people” or sometimes “irritating martyrs who use their own refusal to set limits in their lives as a weapon against others” and the good news, if there is good news to be found here, is that if someone deploys guilt-bombs at you for setting reasonable boundaries it actually sets you free to stop giving a single fuck about their feelings. A friend who insists on talking about stuff that she knows makes your skin crawl is not being a friend. A roommate who insists on lingering in your doorway even after being asked gently to leave is your soon-to-be ex-roommate. I don’t think you’ll run into problems like this in the situations you outlined, but the more you can think of setting boundaries as an exercise in helping people relate very positively to you, the more it will stop feeling rude or weird to set them.




98 thoughts on “#595: Q: How do I stop being so grumpy at people who are monopolizing my time and attention? A: Speak up!

  1. “…“irritating martyrs who use their own refusal to set limits in their lives as a weapon against others””

    stop talking about my mom that way, Captain, jeeeeez.

      1. We should have a club with a secret handshake.

        It wouldn’t really be so secret, though. It would be a cringe, then a facepalm, and then you say “Mommmmmmmmmm” in a long-suffering tone.

  2. Hi Cap, I loved your script about getting rid of the door-lingerer, and think it is both truthful and kind. However, I am a little disappointed in your final paragraph, only because you had a perfect opportunity to again use the “BEHOLD THE FIELD IN WHICH I GROW MY FUCKS” image, and you missed it. Tsk tsk.

    1. :hangs head:

      Good to know that the field of our hearts is still pleasingly barren.

  3. Loving this response. For what it’s worth, my way of handling unwanted roommate interruptions is the following:

    1. Listen politely for a few minutes, if I can. Make appropriate noises of sympathy/empathy/engagement as needed. Continue doing whatever else I was doing. Make it clear that I am listening, but I am also engaging with something else simultaneously, so my focus is being split. Your mileage may vary on this–usually, even if I’m doing something else, I’m still willing to talk as long as it doesn’t take me away from the other thing I’m doing, and I live with people who are socially savvy enough to take the hint that I’m not up for deep conversation. You sound like more of a step 2 type of person, LW, and that’s a totally okay kind of a person to be.

    2. Once a story or conversation gets too in-depth for me to listen and still continue my activity, I inevitably get distracted and fail to respond for a moment. This is a good time to say, “oh, sorry, I’m distracted right now; tell me about it later?” Saying it this way (“I’m doing a thing so I can’t pay attention right now”) puts the focus on the thing that you are doing, rather than the thing that they are doing, so it’s a little less likely to provoke a defensive reaction, in my experience.

    For what it’s worth, you don’t sound grumpy to me! You’re just not up for socializing in ways that make you uncomfortable.

    1. This is exactly how I deal with people at work who want to chat and chat after I have answered their actual question! (I work at a public library) and the thing that inevitably distracts me is another person with an actual question. And we watch out for each other, so if a convenient second patron doesn’t present themselves in a reasonably timely fashion, another staff member will. The soft rule is five minutes.

      It makes people genuinely happy to have someone listen to them for a few minutes, and it’s no great burden to me (and actually less uncomfortable for me than fully participating in a Conversation, especially as I’m not really supposed to disagree/debate/engage, so there’s plausibile deniability there – “oh, sorry, Obamacare what? I was looking up this invoice…”).

      It doesn’t help them learn the “I really could not care less whether or not I’m talking to you right now” social cues, but hey, that’s not my job; being polite and approachable is.

  4. Listening to someone whine on a regular basis sounds to me like a job, not a friendship. I’d be curious to know if this is a one-sided thing or reciprocal: does LR get to stand in the door and whine on a regular basis too?

    When I notice that my interactions with someone have turned into me listening to them whine, and it isn’t a reciprocal deal, then the next time they start, I ask in a nice tone of voice (tone is very important), “What are you looking for from me?” If they say, “I just need someone to listen,” then I look at the clock, I say, “You’ve got X minutes of my full, undivided attention,” and then I give it to them. Or I tell them when they can have my full, undivided attention, and I give them X minutes then. When it’s X minutes, I call time.

    Sometimes people get into habits. I find it helpful to articulate what is going on, and to give my friends the best I’ve got. Conversely, if I need someone to listen, I will say, “Look, I need to whine for 10 minutes, and I need a witness.” That’s a reasonable thing to ask of a friend – and it lets them opt out if they are truly not up for it.

    1. Yes, it does get very debilitating after a while, especially when said ‘friend’ dominates the discussion, or doesn’t even ask how you’ve been.

      I had a friend very similar to the one described by the LW , except his issues were obviously, clearly, inarguably more important to discuss than abosolutely anyone elses. Unless,of course, he was talking about his opinion of your problems, in which case his opinion was always more important than your problem.

      *ahem* But anyway, like many people, he would latch onto people that would tolerate listening to him, and would target those people, even inventing problems out of whole cloth. Effectively, the supply of people to whine to created the supply of problems to whine about.

      For a trained therapist like myself, and another friend at the time, it’s hard to switch out of your professional problem solving/active listening mindset you use for clients and into the social peer interaction mindset whenever you encounter a person with a problem or ‘problem’. Listening to people talk about their problems not only feels like work, it actually IS work – work that you are doing automatically and without prior agreement.

      Your point about looking out for reciprocity really strikes home, as do your points about apportioning time.

      Just noticed that you are a Rabbi. Funnily enough, that is one of the professions that came to mind when I thought about seperating ‘work brain’ from ‘just being me brain’. People really do treat you differently when they think they can get professional level advice for free 😦

      1. Yep. I imagine that therapists are like clergy, in that respect. Maintaining appropriate boundaries around time off is an important skill for any helping professional, but really it’s a life skill for everyone.

      2. “his issues were obviously, clearly, inarguably more important to discuss than abosolutely anyone elses”

        What about when someone’s issues ARE more important than mine? For example, I have a couple of friends with severe depression, and I know life isn’t the Oppression Olympics, but it seems really petty and insensitive to complain about, like, Being Cranky or That One Terrible Horrible Person At Work when a friend is dealing with major mental health stuff.

        On the other hand, a lot of the way I do friendship with my close friends is by having feelings at them, and vice versa – I try to keep it about balanced, depending on how much energy people seem to have – and if I feel like it’s inappropriate to do that, I end up feeling less close to someone.

        And then on the other other hand, I am someone’s _friend_, not their mental health professional – I’m not trained as one, and they have someone who is, plus, I don’t want to be treating my friend as if they are their depression; that’s also shitty. I try to, idk, sort of half-filter and calibrate what’s okay by what kind of day they seem to be having, but sometimes that’s hard to tell from online. But I don’t know if I’m doing one of any of several shitty things here, or if there’s a better way to do this or not.

        Do folks have thoughts on this? Either as “here’s how I try not to be a jerk” or as “I have depression and here are things my friends have done that sucked / didn’t suck” (re: casual-friend-ing, not re: support mode). There’s got to be stuff on this in the archives, right? Do any threads stand out?

        1. Someone else’s issues can be bigger than yours, but you can also a) want to talk about your own issues sometimes and b) tap out when you need a break from listening without necessarily being a jerk. Friendships run on reciprocity.

        2. I have depression, and when I have bouts, sometimes those things help me feel more normal, when my friends interact with me as though things were normal. It depends mostly, for me, on whether that friend knows that I’m doe reseed and whether I feel like I need to fake “being okay”– if the latter, then interaction can be exhausting regardless of to subs content, but if the former, then normality is good for me. I’d suggest just asking your friend how they feel about it, because it’s possible they’ll surprise you.

          1. I’m the same way! If the thing the friend wants to complain about is small and potentially fixable, even better. If I’m not completely out of copes, it helps me feel useful to help someone else rather than mope about why my brain won’t work today.

        3. It’s possible that someone else will have an issue that is more important than any of mine. (In fact, I can think of a specific person in my life who has such an issue, right now.) But that doesn’t mean that all their issues are more important than any of mine. We might agree that your illness is more important than any of my issues, this month. That doesn’t mean that every aspect of it, including being behind on laundry or the annoying receptionist at the clinic, is more important than my issues.

          I think time is also a factor: at some point, not only are your friends going to be bored with hearing about your symptoms, you may be tired of talking about them. When you’re ready, even eager, for a distraction, that might be a movie or new music, but it might also be a friend talking about being unable to find the ingredients for her favorite cake, or annoyance with the local transit system, or whether to quit her job.

    2. I think this is a great tactic, and similar to one I use myself.

      I am a gregarious introvert who has lived in many, many shared housing situations with extroverted friends, and the main tactic I always used was the one the Captain mentions of changing the venue. You effectively have to Pavlovianly train your chatty housemates that if you are in a public area (living room, kitchen) you are available to talk, and if you are in your bedroom you are Doing Something Else. If one of my extrovert friends came to talk to me in my bedroom, I would be visibly Doing Something Else and say something like “hey, really sorry but I’m right in the middle of X – give me ten minutes and I’ll meet you in the living room to catch up”. This technique always worked BRILLIANTLY (if I do say so myself 😉 because it gave the impression that I really cared about what they were saying (which I mostly did!) and was taking them seriously, while also giving them a chance to say “don’t worry, it’s not that important, we can catch up later over dinner”. I found that over time, behaviours changed – because I often made myself available to friends in the public areas, the sanctity of the closed bedroom door became respected much more.

      I had a colleague once who was based in a different location, who would often call me and just talk for five or ten minutes straight about things I didn’t know about, didn’t need to know about and didn’t particularly want to know about. It wasn’t until another colleague referred to her as an ‘External Processor’ that things clicked for me – she wasn’t expecting anything much from me by way of a response, but she could only process things by talking about them – so when she called I could (and sometimes did) just put the phone down on the table, do something else and wait for her to finish. The ‘External Processor’ idea has been really helpful for me ever since in dealing with people like that, as it reminds me that for some (many?) people, it’s just a personality trait – they’re not expecting any great level of engagement from me.

      1. when I was small my grandmother (who was an alcoholic) used to call my mom and just *talk* and *talk*. I remember my mom cleaning lint off the carpet, everything, and sometimes just putting down the phone and walking away for a bit to do something and then coming back to pick it up. As a small kid this was apparently memorable but didn’t hit any particular buttons at the time. As an adult, oh my god, it makes my heart break for my mom.

      2. I think there’s definitely a place for operant conditioning in this scenario, it’s just not the primary tactic I’d choose – I like to assume that people are grownups and can be addressed directly about stuff.

        However, it is also important to reward the behavior you want to encourage and to NOT reward (which is different from punish) behavior you want to extinguish. The question is, what is roomie getting out of the hanging-in-the-doorway deal? If it’s contact, then provide contact, but make it high quality contact BEFORE the door-blocking gets started. By the same token, once I get into my room to do something else, I’d refuse to multitask – actually, I’m terrible at that, so I’d say, “I am terrible at multitasking, and I really need to attend to this. Can we talk in X minutes, and I promise you will have my full attention.” The half-attentive response may be aggravating the problem.

        But the first thing I want to do is to be direct and honest. Here’s what I am willing to give, and I will give it 100%. Here is the limit. Does that work for you? No? Then let’s negotiate and find a limit that truly works for both of us.

  5. If the LW finds that the roomie gets shirty with the boundary push back, there might be a passive way to help break the cycle. Now, I’m not suggesting the LW can’t be in her own home, but if the LW happens to want to get in some fresh air of an afternoon, it might be opportune to do so around the time roomie arrives home. That might break her habit of post-work decompression venting, as well as being a nice fresh-air habit. It’s not a substitute for enforcement of PERFECTLY REASONABLE boundaries, but it might be another arrow in the quiver.

    1. It might also be something for the roomie to consider, depending on where their house/flat is – if she’s feeling grumpy and venty after a long and irritating day followed by an aggravating drive home, maybe she could walk around the block or whatever helps to release some of the tension before she brings it into the house and releases it through venting.

      (I say this because it works for me: my city becomes Tourist Central in the summer months and I work in the town centre, which means dealing with Piles and Piles of People Who Don’t Quite Know Where They’re Going on my journey home, plus occasional Surprise!Opera at the bus stops. Before I managed to find some coping strategies I would arrive home a seething ball of stress and rage, which was no fun for anyone who had to interact with me.)

      1. Bleh, same. Nowadays I deliberately get off the train at the far end of the track, then take the scenic, and less touristy, way home. That helps reduce the amount of people-generated stress I inevitably have by day’s end.

    2. This was almost exactly my method with my college roomie. She was student teaching and was understandably under some stress, but the daily whirlwind of venting that would blow through our apartment at 4:30 each day got really stale, really fast. One day, I (only a little on purpose) happened to be napping as she got home, and by the time I emerged 45 minutes later she and I were able to have a nice chat about our days, rather than me listening to a laundry list of bad. That time without conversation as soon as she got home gave her a chance to learn to self-soothe (nothing like a post-commute cuppa and some junk TV!), so we could connect in a more relaxed way a short time later.

  6. I’m all for being explicit about boundaries with roommates, even if it feels rude or awkward at first. My partner has gone to Autreat (a retreat for Autistic folks) several times and told me about one of the social norms: everyone has badges in three colors (green, yellow, red). If someone is wearing their green badge, they are happy to talk to anybody. If they are wearing their yellow badge, they’re happy to talk with people they already know but are not up for meeting new people. If they’re wearing a red badge, don’t talk to them. My senior year of college, my roomies and I borrowed and modified this system, and hung a piece of string with three paint chips from each of our bedroom doorknobs. If the green one was in front, roomies were welcome to drop by and talk. If the yellow one was in front, roomies with a quick question could knock, but it was explicitly not social time. The red chip meant “leave me alone unless the house is on fire.”

    At first, this seemed like it might be unnecessary or awkward, but it was actually the BEST THING. I could always ensure having me time or study time, and I never found myself standing in a roomie’s doorway wondering if they secretly wanted me to go away.

    1. It makes me really happy that you’ve adapted that from autreat. I’ve never had the chance to go to it but I’ve often thought lot of the “coming into my room” posts on here could be solved with a variant of the card system. With the card system red isn’t so much “don’t speak to me” but “don’t speak with me unless I initiate it,” but that distinction is kind of lost once you bring doors into the equation. Green can also sometimes more be “I’d be happy to talk to new people but I might not be able to initiate it so it would be great if other people would.”

      I also sort of wish the cards were part of mainstream society but I’ll have to wait on that one because of people’s huge aversion towards communicating their needs and feelings to each other.

      1. Allistic here, but I would love love love those tags. They would make me *so much* more relaxed in public. I would like to be able to wander around and smile at people but not have to interact. If only.

    2. Wow, this is a GREAT idea. As a person with severe social anxiety, I could really use that one in a lot of everyday social situations, to be honest. Kudos to whoever thought it up.

    3. This reminds me of what Mary Robinette Kowal does with her husband, which I’ve also wanted to share on here. She has a tri-fold sign that she can turn to show what she’s doing. The three sides have similar meanings to the red, yellow, and green cards that you talk about, although they say things specific to her: “writing” means DO NOT DISTURB and “goofing off” means it’s totally fine to talk to her. I probably heard about this from her blog? but anyway, the point was that sometimes writing and goofing off look the same, so she made a sign to say what she was doing. I think she makes tri-fold signs or something similar for everyone at the writing retreats she leads too. If I have to live with a roommate again I’m totally planning to make something like this.

  7. Your time has value, Grumpycat. As in, an actual dollar value that you can at least estimate. You COULD be working, and making X/hour (at a second job, or starting your own business in knitted hats, or whatever), but instead you are at home doing something else. So your time doing Not Work has a value, to you, of AT LEAST X/hour – if you valued it at less than X, you’d be working for X instead. From an economic perspective, choosing to not work for an income of X is identical to actually paying out X in real money for the privilege of having some time not working.

    This model has drawbacks (it breaks down in the face of poverty and unemployment for instance) but I still find it helpful to remember that someone who is taking my time is taking something from me that I paid literal money to have. It’s easier to set boundaries on things that have value, as opposed to things that have no value. If your flatmate was taking money off your dresser, it would be super-easy to set a boundary on that (you don’t do that, you ask and if I can spare the money then I’ll give it to you). Time works the same way, because time is, in a not-very-abstract way, money.

    Maybe this will help you – maybe not. It always helped me.

  8. I may have one better suggestion… Since you KNOW in advance that these people will do and say these things. Say nothing. Instead, make a list of the phrases or actions that you predict they will do. Each time they say or do that thing, you get to check it off your list. It’s a game but one that helps immensely in dealing with toxic people and you can feel like you won your own bet.

    1. Your way totally works if you despise the person and don’t care about any good parts of the relationship.

    2. I think both you and Sardoli below are assuming that these people are a lot worse than they actually are, while the Captain and most of the rest of the commentariat are seeing friends with many good points and this one irritating habit. The point is, I don’t think the LW’s friends have shown themselves toxic. If they ignore the perfectly reasonable boundary setting that the Captain suggests, then maybe it is time to start playing games (and I play that one with some of my relations, who have earned it, so I’m not condemning you for using it in your life), but until then I don’t think it’s a “better” suggestion for the LW in their particular situation. Also, that is a game I play only with people I can’t really avoid—with a friend and a roommate, if they are toxic, it is much more constructive to african violet and move out, respectively, than to go into deep survival mode like that.

    3. Whoa, whoa, whoa, if you ever seriously consider this, it’s time to cut your losses and end the friendship. This is demeaning. And dehumanizing – you’re reducing an actual person and their problems to a game of bingo. If I thought someone regarded me in this fashion, my hurt would be endless and completely justified.

  9. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just tell annoying, intrusive, manipulative, or otherwise pain-in-the-asse people, “Go to Captain Awkward dot com, spend two weeks reading all the archives, and then we can talk”?

    1. I have actually linked toxic-but-redeemable people to this site before.

      They always come back and tell me it’s “weird.”

        1. Sorry, I didn’t mean to give anyone a sad. 😦 Just… yeah. Change isn’t that easy. (It would be awesome if it was.)

      1. Methinks they neither understood Captain Awkward nor why you sent them here in the first place. *has a sad too*

      2. Hahahahah. I’m not surprised. It surely must feel weird to read this blogge and start to realize, “Hey, I’m exactly the kind of fucken asshole all these people are discussing how to just barely tolerate.”

        1. But these sorts of people almost NEVER have the emotional depth to even realize what they are doing. So…

  10. I make a mental list of all the annoying things I expect them to do then check it off my list as they come up. I feel like I’ve won a bet with myself when it’s over.

    1. So you’d rather spend a lifetime feeling disdain towards your fellow humans and using them as tokens in some game of your own devising than actually setting a polite boundary? That seems like unnecessary hard work to me.

      1. While I wouldn’t do this in a situation like the one the LW is having with their roommate, I don’t think Sardoli’s tactic is terrible for dealing with, say, an unavoidable annoying classmate or co-worker whose behavior isn’t something that you have the power to set boundaries about. I found myself doing this in the first year of grad school, privately, in my notes, with a member of my cohort who would incessantly talk about her prior jobs, travel experiences, and other advanced degrees, when they were always thoroughly unrelated to the topic at hand.

  11. A housemate constantly standing in my door venting would drive me crazy, but then I’m pretty big on alone time. LW, the magic secret of Captain Awkward that has most changed my life is accepting that some problems can’t be solved without being a bit blunt/abrupt/upsetting someone. Obviously we shouldn’t set out to hurt people, but sometimes it’s an unavoidable consequence of enforcing our own reasonable boundaries.

    It’s OK for you to say “Hey I’ve really got to focus on this thing now” when you reach your limit of listening to venting. Interrupt the flow, change the subject. When she gets rolling listen briefly, make sympathetic noises and then start talking about dinner plans. She’s telling the exact same angry story over and over and that gets old and draining no matter how much you otherwise like her.

    I get the need to vent. I really do. I used to do it to a boyfriend, endlessly. I would come home from work and complain complain complain. And actually I don’t think it was very healthy for me. Instead of letting go or coming up with solutions to problems I was just focusing for ages on how pissed off I was. Your housemate probably needs some better ways of coping with stress – occasional venting is OK but endless repetitive negativity helps no one.

    I’m not saying you should say all that to her, or that you think it’s “for her own good” that she stop doing the thing that annoys you. Because that would be manipulative and disfunctional of itself. But it’s OK to refuse to participate in it.

    1. Yeah, I would caution against even thinking about this in terms of “I’m doing a favor for my roommate!” . . . because maybe you’re not. She gets to be the expert of what she needs, and sometimes what people need is to cycle through something one hundred or two hundred or one thousand times before they’ve gone around corner and detail of the thing that upsets them until they are either numb to it or unafraid to make a change. They don’t have the right to make anyone listen, but the coping mechanism itself is not something you get to dictate.

      I don’t know how important your relationship with this person is, but even a whiff of being patronized will sour a friendship like bird shit in the milk. Any hint of “I am smarter than you and I know better than you how to deal with your situation” will. . . not make her like you. Don’t go that way. Please don’t go that way.

      What you get to decide is: I don’t want to listen, and I’m not going to.

      1. “I don’t know how important your relationship with this person is, but even a whiff of being patronized will sour a friendship like bird shit in the milk. Any hint of “I am smarter than you and I know better than you how to deal with your situation” will. . . not make her like you. Don’t go that way. Please don’t go that way.”

        Oh yes.

      2. “She gets to be the expert of what she needs”

        Exactly. Plus the flip side of that, of course, is that you are the expert of what YOU need. And it might just be that what you need right now is some space, or to exit certain situations that are stressing you out, or to avoid certain kinds of conversations.

        Understanding your own needs is good!

      3. I suspect the most appropriate audience for going over something one thousand times is a professional therapist…

        But yes, it won’t help to approach this from a “this is for her own good” perspective. I was thinking about my own experiences of being the venter rather than the ventee and got side tracked. I spent a lot of time as a fountain of negativity and I’m happier now for doing it less. :-/

        1. I was thinking more a journal . . . not saying that my personal journal bears any resemblance to Jack Torrance’s manuscript but. . . it kinda does.

          I guess I have a variety of experiences with being the font of negativity — sometimes I just needed to snap out of it (take a walk! take a bike ride! eat a cookie! take a nap!) but sometimes it was coming from a place of deep misery. In the latter case it had to go SOMEWHERE because it was eating me alive. It was not something I could switch off or distract myself from. I have also been the person who complains about something less serious (what shall I do after my degree is over!) because I can’t bring myself to say the more serious thing out loud (I am afraid I am unlovable.) I don’t think we know enough about roommate from this letter to know where the negativity is coming from.

          I mean, my best guess is that roommate needs a combination of snap-out-of-it activities, journaling, scheduled friend time, new friends, therapy person for a couple sessions, a couple life changes, and some new activities, but those are all choices the LW cannot control and maybe can’t even influence.

          I think that it’s good for the LW to know that it is ENOUGH that this behavior bothers them to set a boundary. It does not have to pass a threshold of “perfectly acceptable from all possible angles for all possible parties” for the LW to be allowed to say “nope, done NOW.” Personally speaking, I’d probably have a lot smaller misery reservoir if I defaulted to respecting my own well-being instead of laboriously working out the Optimum Choice for All Parties Concerned.

  12. Something I do with my husband, and I only recommend if you feel you can speak honestly with the other person, is cut him off when he stops venting and starts cycling. I also only recommend if you can tell the difference between your conversational partner getting frustrations off their chest and just ranting incessantly and mentally cycling in on the frustrations. My husband currently hates his job (for good reason), so I think it good to let him rant for a bit when he gets home. But when he starts just repeating himself, I will (firmly but politely) note that and say that unless he objects, I am going to change the topic. Once or twice he’s followed up with a “let me tell you one more thing” but will accept my new topic immediately afterward. Sometimes he’ll get back on the topic later, and I’ll have to steer the conversation again.

    The difference being that my husband and I have an understanding about the situation that, LW, you and your roomie obviously don’t have. Nor is that at all weird, being roommates and not married for several years. But if the problem is the repetitiveness of it, and not the complaining itself, noting that to your roommate might be helpful both of you reaching an understanding about your boundaries. Leaning on your door while you try to ignore her is irritating as hell, though, no need to excuse your irritation there. CA’s advice is good, as always, and I wish you luck in sorting it out.

  13. LW, I want to give a personal recommendation for the Captain’s suggestion of taking 10-20 minutes to actually sit with your roommate and give her your full attention. This worked SUPER well for me when I was a freshman and had a chatty roommate who wanted to tell me all about her life at butt o’clock in the morning. When I finally said to her, “Hey roomie, I’m not really a morning person, but I’d love to schedule coffee for X time,” it both took the pressure off me in the mornings (because, hey, she knows Now Is Not the Time) and gave me more positive feelings toward her (because, hey, she can respect my boundaries if I articulate them! awesome! +10 trust points for her).

    This also has the benefit that it creates a space for positive interaction. It’s hard to tell from your letter what your relationship with your housemate is like outside of her standing in your doorway; is that the entirety of your interaction? If so, no wonder you feel strained! A friendship where one person dumps on the other isn’t very rewarding. If you have time to sit with your housemate and interact in other ways, you (step 1) might have the space to talk about things that make you happy, and (step 2) therefore you might feel better about spending time with her, and (step 3) therefore you may have a little more give in your relationship to listen if she needs to vent.

    tl;dr: Creating positive interactions can go a loooong way toward making negative interactions more deal-with-able, IMHO.

    Good luck, LW!

    1. I can’t remember where I saw this statistic – was it here? did it come from a study or some random book? unclear! – but I’ve often kept in mind this ratio: in order to perceive a relationship with another person as positive and balanced, you actually need a balance that looks something like 5 positive interactions for any 2 negative ones. It’s really, really easy for that to become unbalanced – it’s not just that you have to make positive and negative interactions even, the good has to significantly outweigh the bad for it to feel good psychologically.

      Thus LW, these comments and advice about seeking positive interaction time with the roomie are right on – even if you normally love them, if these after-work whingefests are becoming even marginally dominant in your headspace relating to this relationship, it’s going to have larger consequences for the relationship.

      I’ll have to add the source when I can, writing from my phone makes it a bit tricky to look up.

      1. Ehh and now I’m thinking it’s a bit less well founded than my brain had remembered – googling for “5 positive interactions” brings up a pop psychologist who uses this as an explanation for which couples will divorce, and Wikipedia lists it as the “critical positivity ratio” and the study the numbers came from has been pretty thoroughly debunked as being based on bad science.

        From my own experience it can still function as a good guideline, though, even if it’s not the One True Ratio separating good relationships from bad. Apologies for presenting it that way at first!

        Probably these comments can just be summed up by saying MOAR GOOD, LESS BAD. The other commenters here have this one in the bag =).

        1. I know the “at least 5 positive to 1 negative”-ratio from John Gottman’s “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”.
          I set great store in that book because for me, it helped put me in the mindset of “Yes, I can do relationships” when I thought that witnessing divorce and a less-than-stellar remarriage with my (step-)parents had made me doomed to repeat their story.
          So I am somewhat disappointed to hear his studies have been debunked – is there any link you can point me to on this?

      2. Oh I think you are talking about Maureen Gaffney’s book Flourishing… she talks about this kind of ratio. I wish I could remember and explain it properly. It’s really interesting, and kind of opened my eyes that people who fight a lot could be happy together – fights might be ‘outweighed’ by the corresponding padgen (or passion as other people call it!) it’s about the ratio that matters rather than the discrete amount. She looks at different ratios for work groups, marriages, families, friendship, personal development (it’s awhile since I read it) and it is properly researched and that.

  14. Oh LW, I feel you so hard here! I have a friend who was at one stage also a complainy housemate. I could never bring myself to confront her directly, but sometimes when she went into “whinge about boring insignificant things” mode, I would just reply to everything she said with an occasional neutral “huh” and “hm”. Not being rude, but not really participating either. Sometimes that worked in triggering her “I’m ranting about nothing and I should stop” reflex.

  15. All the best, LW! As usual, the Captain’s suggestions are spot on, and I wish I’d had them when trying to deal with my lodger (who is now an ex-lodger).

    Lodger couldn’t do hints. He would talk and talk and talk, and I would listen for as long as I felt was reasonable (he used to go round in circles over the same thing, so even if I’d had the patience of St Francis I would not have felt obliged to listen to the whole trolleyload), and then I’d find some polite way to end the conversation such as “OK, well, I just have to go and do X now”. And even if doing X meant I had to get up and physically move to a different room, he would still keep talking. I’d even say things like, “Look, if I have to go somewhere else to do X, that means I can’t listen to you any more and you need to stop trying to talk to me.” He’d appear to understand that at the time, but next time it happened we’d be right back to square one.

    I’m afraid I just got blunter and blunter, until in the end I reached the point where I would say, “All right. I have had enough of this subject now. Please stop talking to me about it and go away. I have other things to do.” That is not something I have ever in my life had to do to anyone else, and I hope you never end up having to do it. Sometimes, though, the other person doesn’t give you any other choice, and it is helpful to remember this. You’re not being rude if you’ve tried all the polite ways first and they’ve been misunderstood or ignored.

  16. The door trick, in my experience – that is, the experience of a fellow Grumpasaurus – is an invaluable aid in housemate boundary setting. I have a pretty low level of social energy, and most of my housemates have a higher level of social energy, but the door code and the sitting code (eg, if I’m *sitting* in a common area, as opposed to merely passing through to get more tea/reach the bathroom/put on washing, then I’m ok to talk, but if not, ‘hi’ is the maximum safe interaction) makes day-to-day interactions more bearable for all involved. I don’t worry so much that I’m going to snap at someone for asking what I’ve been up to (I don’t know why I loathe that question, I just do), and they don’t have to try and read me constantly.
    The Captain’s suggestion of joining the friend-housemate for a quick whinge/beverage session in a common area when they get home is a good one too. My friend-housemate and I do this too, and it’s been a lifesaver. It’s easier to draw a boundary when you’ve had enough because you’ve got somewhere to retreat to, unlike when someone’s standing in your door and you effectively have to kick them out to end the conversation.
    Being a Grumpasaurus is ok, it doesn’t mean you have to hand in your friend badge, or that you have to feel bad for asking people to help you maintain a boundary. Your feelings are still legitimate.

    1. oh, yeah, I don’t love “what have you been up to?” I know it’s my own insecurities, but I hear it as “I notice you didn’t go out this weekend, what productive work did you achieve to justify that waste of time?”

      1. this is a good note, cause yeah usually the asker doesn’t mean that. I’ll be sure to switch over to some version of “how are you” instead. That’s easy to answer slow or fast depending on the answerer’s mood and doesn’t add any unmeant values stuff

  17. “Can we make a habit of checking which kind of friend is present today before having deep or venting-style conversations?” As someone who is known as the listener of the group I cannot tell you how much this pleases me. LW, it seems like this should go well for you but like they say it is bound to feel awkward at first. Just remember you’ll feel awkward for far less time than you’ve felt annoyed/uncomfortable by this situation. And while I hope the last paragraph isn’t relevant to you, I was in a situation where I didn’t want to speak up about little things because deep down I knew it would shatter the illusion that the living situation was working, and sure enough speaking up was either point blank ignored or met with false promises and the situation fell apart. But it’s true that asking for these small, reasonable things removed years of doubt that I was too, ‘sensitive’, and revealed pretty clearly that the other person was rude/selfish, and saved me for a bad situation. I’m very hopeful that in your case it will help your confidence and show you that your roommate’s pretty decent. (Also I don’t know how you feel about music while you study but putting earphones in once you’ve spent time with her could help send the message that communal time is over.) Finally, even with all these measures in place it can still be wearing to listen to the same problems over and over, the mentioned threads should help re-steer the conversation.

  18. I find door closing and getting up and moving to a common area really helpful in the roommate situation. Also, if you’re in your room at your computer you could listen for whatever amount of time you can deal with and then say “sorry, I need to get back to …” Probably easiest if “…” is work or an important email but you can switch it to “I really want to get this email sent to my brother, I’ve been putting it off” or even just “I’m in the middle of something, see you in a bit.” These are kind of hinty though. The captain’s script is probably better because it’s clear and direct.

    I’m a bit of a ranter, though I do usually try to keep my rant time as concise as possible and check with the other person whether they’re ok to listen right then, and I respond totally positively to “k gotta get back to ___ now, I’ll have time to see you ____” I’ll be like “cool I’m gonna go make lemonade, want any? bye :D”

  19. LW, learning to speak up and set boundaries is a long process. This seems like a great first step 🙂

    Hells to the yeah on the Capt’s suggestion to fully engage then retreat. I live with my partner and when he comes home I 99% of the time stop what I’m doing and go touch/talk to him. Why? Because loving attention from me helps him keep ticking, and giving to him helps me feel loved. After that I feel free to hang out with him or keep doing my own thing. Why? Because I like having my own projects and goals that get completed on my schedule, and he’s an adult who can take care of his own feelings. LW, the more I hang out with people who are good for me the more I realize that any good relationship is full of small comings and goings, physically and metaphorically. Don’t be scared to structure those to your benefit.

  20. LW, you absolutely get to set all of the boundaries the Captain mentioned and everyone else too. You also mention that you are a little bit surprised about your reaction to the folks who are annoying you these days. You probably do have a fair amount of stress right now, and maybe reducing that a little will help too. For me, practicing some self care makes it much easier and much less emotionally fraught when I do enforce my boundaries.

    For me, getting a little bit of physical exercise, really trying to get a good night’s sleep, or going for a walk can all be a way to help prevent every muscle in my back, neck, and shoulders from tensing up the instant someone who is currently annoying me opens their mouth. Then I find that, when I ask for what I need, I don’t sound tense about it, and the other person isn’t hearing “Could we please interact in this way going forward?” while reading from my body language and tone “BECAUSE I CAN’T STAND YOU RIGHT NOW.” I’m much more likely to send the signal “because I really want to be there for you and this is a great way for me to do just that.”

    I guess I’m saying enforce your boundaries and take care of yourself–both will help with your stress.

  21. Loving all the suggestions. It can also help to model ‘good behaviour’. Sometimes I will semi-deliberately do the venting-leaning-on-the-door thing (or equivalent), and then catch myself and say, ‘Oh! So sorry – I’m rambling on at you in your private space. I’ll go and make myself a coffee and if you feel like having a chat, come and find me later.’ That can enhance the other efforts to establish public space for talking and private space for leaving the f*** alone.

    Also, if I notice someone is brimming with nervous energy and pouring it all into their conversation, I might say, ‘Just going to the corner shop to get some milk. Fancy coming along?’ Then they can either walk some of it off and calm down a bit, or I get to escape the vibes by leaving them to it.

  22. I just love this conversation about manners/household expectations being context/background contingent because I’ve had a ton of experience in my own household — which is my first time living with other people without an explicit set of rules established by a third party and living with friends. I also had misunderstandings with doors — I was closing mine due to noise and temperature issues, never realizing that it was sending such a strong “do not disturb” mandate. It took a couple of conversations to clear that up. And I’ve observed dozens of instances where different members of my household (myself included — I’m not trying to throw my roommates under the bus) held assumptions about something being “bad” household behavior that others never considered. (Some examples: wearing shoes indoors, leaving dishes in common areas, using another person’s bathroom, having guests who others had never met.)

    So basically I love the Captain’s suggestions about the explicit communication of norms/expectations, and specifically I love the Captain’s point that saying that something is bad manners is counterproductive/hurtful. One of the reasons I appreciate my best friend so much as a roommate is that she is direct in communicating “I need to be alone now” in a way that makes me feel comfortable that when I am around her, she is comfortable with that.

  23. “The trick is getting your needs to count with yourself…”

    This is the root of about 75% of my problems in life. *sigh*

  24. There’s a game of sorts that we sometimes do in my family, that I think might be useful if you can think of a good way to introduce it. It’s the “When I Rule the Universe” game — instead of complaining about something that’s really bugging you, you come up with a ridiculous rule that you will enforce when you become Supreme Ruler of Everything. My sister used to tend bar during the heyday of “Sex and the City,” and women would come in and order dirty martinis, sister would ask if they were sure, they’d say yes, then get the drink, taste it, make a “Yuck!” face, and ask if they could exchange it. (Seriously.) So, fair warning, if my sister ever rules the world, anyone ordering a drink made trendy by a movie or TV show will have to present a signed affidavit that they either have had one before and know what they’re getting, or have not had one before and will not complain (and will tip the bartender an extra dollar) if they don’t like it. If I ever rule the world, people who drive below the speed limit in the passing lane will not be allowed to use the interstate.

    Could you introduce some version of this game with your roommate? The element of coming up with a new rule is kind of fun, and helps me break the negativity cycle. (A friend of my sister’s also used to combat road rage by barking at the car/person who had annoyed her. With the windows up, so they couldn’t hear. It is almost impossible to stay angry while barking at a total stranger.)

    1. I have a friend who did that a lot when I was ranty (and drowning a bit) and for me at least, it was deeply helpful. I felt heard and also stopped dwelling on the bad. We also did a lot of imaginary escapism-plotting ridiculous revenges (nothing that is very possible, a lot that was silly) and escapes from the office by swinging ropes to sail to a desert island.

    2. I wrote a whole personal essay for a highschool class once about how people who would like to eat in restaurants should have to work in one for one month first, lol. Anyway this sounds fun and a good way to turn stress into a funnier conversation.

  25. If it’s helpful at all I’m often the roommate that’s probably yammering on when my dear loves just want some downtime. Honestly when they are direct (not rude) it’s very helpful. I’m extremely extroverted so would gladly spend all day chatting it up. One roommate just lets me know. “Hey I need some ‘me-time’ right now” and that’s my cue to go call someone or make dinner. We also have a codeword for when she needs some alone time with the boyfriend around the kitchen table 😉 I’m also trying to get better about reading situations “Oh I see you’re watching TV! Can I join or do you need some down time.” I recognize this works well for us because I know we generally care about each other. Good for her because she gets alone time when needed and good for me because I don’t just come upon her closed door day after day wondering what’s up and if we’re still friends and if she’ll want to speak to me ever again, etc.

    I also had one roommate where we had a time restriction on talking about work stuff. We both had stressful jobs where we were supporting people all day long and we could sort of build on each other’s rage/frustrations. Eventually we decided “no work talk after 9pm”. It was helpful to have a boundary and support each other in it.

    So as the sometimes oblivious (but really trying) extrovert I would say directness is really helpful especially when I know it comes from a caring place.

  26. I was just thinking, Grumpycat, that maybe you’re extra annoyed at these things right now not because of extra stress, but actually because of the happiness..? Depending on what makes up your happiness, could it be the case that earlier you were in a place where these behaviours seemed like a thing to “politely” let happen, but now that you’re happy and maybe more self-assured (?), they are coming through as bothers more clearly? Like, you are now in a position to stand up for yourself, and you notice these things as places to start?

    I’m kind of a grumpy person for real (or maybe not), but usually my grumpiness is how I react to feeling put upon, stuck or limited in unjust ways. It’s something I can notice to realise that hey, something is going on that I am not ok with. Sometimes I love my grumpiness and can go around in my flat being cozily grumpy for a while, reclaiming my own comfort and needs through admiration of an inner signal system that works! If I just listen to it! (Yeah, it sometimes takes a while for me to get what is going on, but I get there. And much faster and clearer these days. Hooray!)

    Anyway. I just wanted to say that it could be the good stuff giving opportunities, rather than bad stuff causing low threshold.

    1. This is a great insight. And sometimes holding onto our own mental health involves cushioning ourselves a little bit from others’ stress and strife.

    2. This is absolutely a thing for me, too. I’m in a much better brain place than I have been in a while, but I find it easier to trigger annoyance around stuff that used to bug me but was tolerable. I agree, it’s something about feeling like I’ve got myself together and wanting everything else to catch up. On the other hand, the grumps are no longer my permanent state, so it’s not the worst trade-off.

  27. I liked the digression on speaking for yourself vs. evoking others or abstract manners — evoking others sounds like it should make you feel stronger, because they’ll bolster your opinion and have your back, but I’ve found speaking for myself feels amazing because for once I’m acknowledging that when it comes to me, my time, my space, my boundaries, what I want for myself matters. I also have a great deal anxiety around not knowing unwritten, universal rules, and panic when people appeal to them, so it’s helpful to set those aside.

    And like the good Captain says, it’s inarguable. So long as you aren’t ascribing motives, i.e. ‘you’re disrespecting me when you talk at my door like that,’ no one can tell you’re wrong for not liking the circumstances and wanting to change them.

  28. Dear LW

    It may help with the room mate to announce that you’re going to your room (rather than upping and going without the announcement)

    Something like

    “I’m going to my room for a bit. Let’s talk about this when I’m done”

    The food stuff, oh just grr. I don’t know what to say.

  29. As a reformed inveterate door lingerer, I can attest that the longing looks my victims cast at their computers did not register one whit. However, as soon as I was (usually politely) asked to leave, I got it. I would always apologize and leave quickly, and certainly feel somewhat embarrassed. “Somewhat embarrassed” is a pretty standard state of mind for someone who has some blindness to social cues, so it really wasn’t that big of a deal. After 55 years I can say that I see many more clues to social interaction now; it’s taken a lifetime, though.

    Let me take this opportunity to sincerely apologize to all of my door-lurk victims: Thanks for your patience. Sorry.

    1. Not all conversations that happen in a doorway involve “victims” or, as another commenter put it, “yammering.”

      The beauty of using words and having human interactions in a consensual manner is that people can say when they want the discussion to stop, and no one has to be hurt, offended, or put upon. Your example illustrates that perfectly!

      1. Naaah, I was a yammerer. I was emotionally troubled and couldn’t control my mouth (I’m better now.)

        It’s very kind of you to give me the benefit of the doubt, however. Thanks for that.

  30. I just wanted to reiterate Captain’s last paragraph about selfish people. Once they demonstrate that they don’t care about respecting your boundaries, all bets are off. I had a door-lingering coworker who came into my office once and shook my desk chair while I was sitting in it. I whipped around and told him NEVER do that again. He laughed, “apologized,” and left. A few weeks later, he did it again. I jumped out of my chair and forced him out of my office, which I think scared him a little. And then I completely stopped talking to him about anything non-work; I limited my work interactions to those that were purely necessary. I stopped answering his chats and would just get up and leave if he came to my office. I was very cold with him, and I have to say, it felt so good inside. I was raised to be polite and not enforce my boundaries, and I’ve only become practiced at it in my later years. Coworker clearly demonstrated he wasn’t going to respect my boundaries, so he got cut off – he doesn’t deserve my caring about his feelings. Ten years ago, I would have been anxious throughout the day and had a stomach full of knots; now I feel fierce and in control.

    Coworker eventually left me alone, but he whined to some other coworkers about it and didn’t understand why I didn’t want to talk to him anymore.

  31. I’m not sure how relevant this will be for your situation with the roommate, but:
    I am a care-taker type person. I have had problems in the past with listening to others talk about their problems endlessly because if I care about that person, their problems make me sad for them. I am happy to give advice/listen/be a venting buddy, but I have to draw a line somewhere for my own mental health.
    The line is this- My friends and loved ones can complain/vent about problems in their lives to me! This is good! But if they are having a problem that could be resolved with action on their part, (i.e. ‘I am dating a person I don’t actually like’) my ear has a 3 month lifespan. After three months, if no action has been taken, I have a script of “I am really sorry this is happening to you. It hurts me to hear that you are hurting this way, but I can’t be the person you talk to about this anymore for my own well-being.” My good friends are all aware of this rule, because boundaries only work if you make them visible.
    Surprisingly, awesome people will be like “oh man, sure, sorry!” and in my own experience, it is sometimes the catalyst that makes them go “wait I have been talking about this for three whole months without doing anything about it?!” which causes them to actually take action.

  32. A strategy that may be useful (if LW can get her roomie to agree to it) is what my BFF and I call the speed rant. One of us will say, “Speed rant?” and the other says “OK” or “Uh, busy, later?” or “You’ve got ten minutes, go!” Then (if it’s OK) the ranter just… vomits it all out in one big blrrrghauhhh. “My mother called and she and then this guy at work and then the husband and the kid both and the cat horked up and I spilt my damned drink down that brand new blouse!”

    Then a pause.

    If there’s relevant advice, rant-receiver offers it in the pause. Otherwise, rant-receiver says something like, “I’m so sorry, sweetie.” Sometimes, if it’s really bad, there’s the offer of iced chocolate drinks.

    Then ranter takes a deep breath and says, “Thank you. So, how the hell are YOU?”

    It’s a time-limited venting, with permission beforehand and a clear end and, importantly, gives the rant receiver both gratitude (for receiving the rant) and a chance to be heard herself.

  33. This is semi off-topic, but I did not realize that food comments not directly related to diet-talk could still be triggering. I’m not into having the whole “I’m so fat!” conversation or assigning moral values to food, but I definitely have commented on how full I am after meals before (usually because I ate a lot of something delicious, or it took a little bit of extra time for my body’s “You are full!” signals to kick in).

    Long story short, thank you, LW! I will try to be more conscious of that kind of talk in the future.

  34. My spouse and I get a lot of mileage out of “I need to rant for X minutes, are you up for it?” or “Would you forgive a thirty second rant?” We have an emotionally disturbed child and both of us sometimes need to let off steam, but it’s important not to make one person’s problems a little better by making the other person’s problems worse.

    “Rant” in here also makes it clear that you aren’t asking for problem-solving. Recently we’ve needed to be very clear about the difference. It’s exhausting for someone with a problem-solving orientation (me, particularly) to be problem-solving when all the other person wanted was an audience, and it can actually worsen the situation if the other person feels their rant’s being redirected into “Here’s what you ought to do then.”

Comments are closed.