#598: “I’m their roommate, not their child.”

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.

Any ideas?


Not Their Kid

Dear Not Their Kid,

I am glad you are moving out soon, and that plan is by far your best plan for having the life you want. The culture of this house is not your culture, and that’s okay, so get out ASAP. In the meantime, you can set some boundaries and get a little privacy back, but you probably can’t do it “without making things tense” or without potentially “making” your housemates/landlords angry. This is because:

  • Things are already tense, because they are tense for you. Your shoulders are up around your ears from the tension of feeling constantly monitored. Setting boundaries with them won’t “make things tense,” it will redistribute tension that is already happening.
  • Who knows how they will react? We can anticipate possible reactions but we can’t control how other people will feel or what they will do. If they get angry, that doesn’t automatically mean that you have fewer rights.You can’t control what they will do, but you can try changing how you respond to them and see if it alters the dynamic.

Insisting on seeing the contents of someone else’s mail, prying into their shopping and every financial transaction, wanting to know all the details of their day, including what food they ate, following them uninvited into their room, etc. are pretty extreme behaviors (and would be even if you were their offspring), so I can see the challenge you have in unpicking what is a normal, routine question from people you live with (“Hey, how was your day?”) and what is not normal (“What’s in the bag?WHAT IS IT REALLY, THO”) and why you feel some trepidation about speaking up. Like, what else are these people capable of? You’ve also go the dynamic where they see themselves as very open, chill people when really they are not at all chill if they are doing this stuff.

When you’re about to deal with a roommate conflict, it’s always a good move to pull out whatever agreement people signed and review it. What’s in there that protects you? Is there something in there that you would like amended or spelled out better, or something that they need to be gently reminded about? Do you feel afraid for your safety? And what is your worst-case scenario plan if it all goes to shit? Arming yourself with a little bit of information can give you more confidence going forward, since I think the most likely scenario here is that you set some boundaries and the landlords act a little miffed for a while and then settle down.

I also think that it’s important to pick your battles, so let’s sort this into battles worth picking and the ones that are not really worth picking. There are some unequal power balances here (your roommates are your landlords, they are parents of children your age and feel and act entitled to certain deference in a way that a peer roommate might not) that make it tricker than some roommate situations, so some of the strategies for carving out what you need are going to be about paying lip service to a form while preserving your autonomy.

For instance, “Hi, nice to see you! How was your day?” is not a weird or inappropriate question coming from someone you live with. If you answered that with “I AM A VERY QUIET AND PRIVATE PERSON, CAN’T YOU SEE THAT?” you would be the weird one. The fastest way to run this particular dungeon is to complete the social circuit with “It was good/busy/slow/tiring/long, thanks. Howabout yours?” Listen for a few minutes and then excuse yourself to visit the bathroom/check your email/make a phone call/collapse with a book, i.e. “Well, I’m going to shut my eyes and put on some headphones for a little while, talk to you later” and then go to your room and shut the door. There’s a lot of good stuff in this recent thread, especially in the comments, about applying more structure in roommate social interactions.

Also, they will always invite you to celebrations, and that’s okay. An invitation is not a command (they may act like it is, but it isn’t), and inviting someone to a thing in itself is not really doing anything wrong. They think it’s the correct and polite thing to do to invite everyone who lives in the house, and the battle of “stop inviting me to your stupid stuff I know I will hate” is probably not worth picking. This is a thing you’d run into with any roommates who want to have a party when you don’t. But you still have choices about how you respond, and the battle of whether you go to the stuff is worth picking. You could say “No thank you!” or “Thanks I prefer not to” without explanation and let them deal with the resulting awkwardness. Your “reason” when asked could be “My reason is that I prefer not to, but thanks!

If that seems too hard or scary, you could decline politely and then go to the movies (a holiday tradition for a reason) or somewhere that is else for a couple of hours. “Thank you but I have other plans!” (You don’t have to already have set plans, or explain what they are to have “other plans” for RSVP purposes, btw). You shouldn’t have to leave the house if you don’t want to, but you are an adult with a car and you can get quiet and solitude in a lot of places, so if you are looking for an option with fairly little friction it will save you from being annoyed that the house is full of loud people and them from worrying that you’re missing the fun (or, uh, “fun”).

If you don’t want to be elsewhere, and you don’t think you can pull off the “No thank you!” and then walk away, then I honestly suggest that you go, eat a plate of food, talk to them for one hour, and then excuse yourself to your room. “Thanks, it was nice to see everyone, I’m gonna go get some quiet and let y’all catch up with family.” If your housemates get up in your business about it, one script is: “Thank you so much for wanting to include me, but my holiday traditions are very quiet, private ones and I’d prefer to be alone now.” “Please excuse me, I have some phone calls to make to far-off friends and family.” “For me, holidays are a very quiet, reflective thing, and while your family is so kind, it’s just not my scene.” Repeat like a broken record until they go away. Lots of people fall into Automatic Holiday Coercion Mode, as if “But it’s Christmas!” is a trump card that justifies any acts of emotional manipulation, and you have to sometimes remind them that not everyone even celebrates Christmas, never mind celebrating it in some magical TV-family sort of way with someone else’s family. I’ve had some solitary, quiet Christmases that rank as among the best of my life because it was so great to have a day completely to myself.

Another battle that’s not really worth picking (thought I see why the interrogation rankles and is part of a pattern of other boundary stuff) is the one of telling them about your work schedule. You don’t owe them this information, but when you live with other people it can be considerate to give people a basic idea of when you’ll be around, and, even better, NOT around. Should they expect you back by mealtime, and plan on including you (if that is a thing that happens in this household)? Will they have the house to themselves for a certain period of time, good for having the TV to oneself or having less furtive sex than usual? Are you staying out all night somewhere and want them to know so they don’t worry? While you would never pry into a roommates’ business, can you see how this would be good stuff to know about people you share space with, right? If you get in the habit of saying “Heading to work, back after 10, have a good day!” without be asked on your way out the door, you can head off some of the interrogation stuff at the pass. Treat it as a kindness you are doing them rather than a toll that you pay. As for the full interrogation about where you will be, who with, etc., that IS a battle worth picking, though a general “I’m heading out for a bit, bye!” if you pass them on your way out the door is again, not a bad idea in basic human interaction terms.

In both of these cases, it’s possible that you can harness momentum in your favor. If you’re dreading an interrogation, do what you can to have shoes on, coat on, keys ready, bag packed, etc. so that when it’s time to leave you can GO. Once you start leaving, never stop moving. Be moving as you say goodbye. Don’t stop moving as they ask you questions. If they want to keep asking you questions, make them physically get up and follow you out of the house to ask them. You’re late, you’re late, for a very important date and you simply can’t stop to talk, sorry!

If they do follow you, you could keep repeating the vague answer with increasing degrees of “Duh, I just said that. Out with friends” in your tone (my older brother as a teenager was the master of this) or use the grownup version of “Heading out for a bit with friends. Do you need me to pick up anything while I’m out?” which may distract them for a second as they consider the toilet paper situation. Or you could try a script that messes with their sense of entitlement to certain information, which is: “Huh. Why do you ask?” 

Example #1:

“Where are you going?”

“Out for a bit with friends. I’ll be back late, so see you tomorrow morning!”

“Where? What friends? What exactly will you be doing?”

“Huh. Why do you ask?”

Example #2:

“Oooh, what’s in your package?”

“Stuff I ordered.”

“What stuff?”

“Huh. Why do you ask?”

Example #3:

“What’s in the bag?”

“Some stuff I got at the store.”

“What stuff? How much did it cost?”

“Huh. Why do you ask?”

Keep your tone as conversational as you can, mirror theirs as much as possible. And, especially at the start, it’s perfectly fine to listen to what they say in response to the question and then say, “Ok, well, that’s private” or “It’s just some stuff I got at the store” or “Thanks for telling me” and then go on with your day without answering their questions if you don’t feel like engaging deeply at the moment. Over time, here’s what this short phrase can potentially do in changing up your interactions:

  • It interrupts the expected flow of this conversation, which, if they stop and think about it, may be enough to make them catch themselves and the absurdity of what they are doing. In a perfect world they catch themselves and then go “Hahaha, sorry, mistook you for one of my kids there for a second. Enjoy your evening!
  • If they don’t catch themselves, and they double down on their inquiries, it opens up the floor to have the bigger conversation that you need to have. If you say “Why do you ask?” and they say “Can’t I be curious?” “Jeez, I’m just asking!”I’m just concerned about you” or “Are you hiding something, you are acting very defensive!” etc., it gives you an opening to say, “With all due respect, it’s very kind how you’ve welcomed me into your home, but we aren’t actually family and some things are private. I don’t want to be rude when you make what seems like a simple request, but what’s in my mail, or the contents of my shopping, or the exact details of my finances and social life are actually more information than I am comfortable sharing with roommates. I’m sure you don’t mean to be intrusive, but these requests actually make me very, very uncomfortable, and I need you to take the hint when I don’t answer a question the first time.

Give yourself permission to have the argument, Letter Writer, and free yourself from the mindset that you owe them parental-style deference. You won’t be saying anything unreasonable, or mean, or unkind. They may have a very sharp, offended reaction at first, and you can’t really prevent that from happening, so just know that it’s coming and that it will also probably pass just as quickly. Get ready for “Why didn’t you say anything before?” (Answer: “It just sort of came to a head today but it has been somewhat ongoing. I like you all so much I didn’t want to make a thing about it, but it’s time to figure out some good boundaries since we are all adults.“) or “Do you really think we’re that intrusive?” (Answer: “Sometimes, yes. It’s like you treat me like one of your kids, which has nice aspects, but sometimes it’s good to remember that I’m not actually your child and was raised in a family with different expectations around privacy.” Give them a little space and time to react. The worst will most likely die down in a few days. You may have to occasionally correct them or reset a boundary, but you should see things change for the better after a few attempts.

Other battles worth picking and scripts for picking them:

  • When they come to your room, “I’m going to shut the door, I’d like to be alone now.”
  • When they won’t drop a subject, “That’s not up for discussion.” “I don’t really discuss money with other people.”
  • When they ask intrusive questions, “I’m not comfortable sharing that. Good night!” “Ha, I wouldn’t even share that with my own parents!” 
  • “I’m very uncomfortable right now, can we change the subject?” Then repeat, “I’m just not comfortable” as many times as you need to until they get it.
  • “I’m not feeling very social right now, so I’m  gonna go to my room and get a little quiet time.” 
  • It’s also probably a big adjustment for you to have someone who isn’t family living with you, I get it! But we’re all adults, and adult relationships work better if there are some rules, and one rule I have is that I don’t discuss certain things that I like to keep private.”
  • “I’ve asked you as nicely as I can to back off. I’m sorry you feel excluded or hurt, but I’m still not going to show you my mail or talk through every purchase with you.”
  • “We talked about this – my room is actually off-limits without an express invitation. Please don’t follow me.” 

You say you’ve been trying to be nice, and you should keep being nice. Nice is keeping up with household chores, saying hello/good morning/goodbye/good night, please and thank you, being a quiet and considerate roommate who does their share of the chores. Nice is rewarding your landlords with kindness if you see them making an effort to respect your privacy after you’ve readjusted some things. Nice is NOT hiding how uncomfortable you feel and putting up with intrusive behavior without protest. These people presumably have to interact with other adult humans who are not their kids, and unless they are also asking their coworkers and the librarian and the dry cleaner incredibly personal questions, they can learn to mentally re-categorize you into someone deserving of the same autonomy. Go slow, give yourself a lot of time and attempts to get the words out, but know that standing up for yourself is a habit that can be learned. It’s self-reinforcing the more you practice it!

I hope you can get a little peace and quiet, and I’m excited for your future in your own space where the holidays can be silent, silent nights.



123 thoughts on “#598: “I’m their roommate, not their child.”

  1. “It will redistribute tension that is already happening”

    This is so well worded. I wish I had realized this so much sooner, like 10 years ago or last night. It’s so easy, especially I think for women, to value someone else’s comfort above your own. (I don’t know LW’s gender, doesn’t matter for the answer but women tend to be taught to take care of people more than men.)

      1. I slightly edited your comment. While socialization & gender are a factor, I think we as a group need to stop speculating about the gender of a LW who has not specified that in their letter.

  2. I think there’s a dynamic that sometimes arises where one party will question a little bit and the other person will get uncomfortable and withdraw MOST of the information they share, so then the first party is like “we know even less! we must nose harder!” and then they start nosing harder and the person responds by being even more closed off, etc. And sometimes that dynamic can be broken just by volunteering little bits of information so that they feel like they’re being kept in the loop. The other cool thing that comes with this, is you get to control exactly what you volunteer, so you get to set the tone of things. So that intriguing friend Tony you’re going to see? Who is that? You’ve never mentioned him! Just becomes Tony from the office who they’re familiar with hearing about or maybe even a little sick of hearing about.

    1. I’ve had that backfire with a family member. If you tell her nothing, she gets nervous and worried that you hate her. If you tell her bits and pieces, she gets nervous and worried and wants more detail. If you give her details, she gets nervous and worried and then you get tons of phone calls and emails with everything from info that’s completely irrelevant to the situation to “have you done this obvious thing?” to constant progress check-ins. I agree that sometimes it works, but there are some types of people who just see that as their foot in the door, time to body-check that door like a hockey player.

    2. Loving the use of “nose” and “nosing” here. It’s perfect. Makes me imagine an anteater poking around in the LW’s shopping bags and mail.

    3. They could realize the error of their ways…. OR they could react amongst themselves with “why is s/he so standoffish now? S/he used to be so friendly but is acting like s/he has something to hide. I mean, what’s with all this “that’s priiiiiiiiiiivate” business? What is so secret s/he can’t let us know…” i live in a small town and that basically defines any situation in which socially undue privacy is sought. (This policy is the lamest, but is so much of a thing)

      So maybe the LW could answer the question “what’s in the bag, how much did it cost, was it on sale” with a deflection ie “just a few essentials, but on the way home I saw that new ice cream place is finally open – we should go sometime….” trail off, chat about ice cream flavors for a bit, then smoke bomb out with an “I’d love to chat, but I’m super wiped. I think i’ll just go upstairs and read or nap or something. later!” I dont think the family actually intends to infringe on your boundaries, I think they’re probably just expecting a certain level of chattiness you’re not in the habit of giving. Ergo, they glom onto the only thing they can, which is an intimate discussion of the immediately visible and present aspects of your life. As time goes on you can cut the small talk down bit by bit until you’ve leveled up to “hey guys, I’m home, today was good but lord do I need a [vague, banal activity] (nap, shower, quick bite, time to unwind, time with my TV show). See ya!”

      And if they start policing by marching in your room with an “I see that you’re reading but I thought you were gonna take a nap” the best response is a casual “Yeah, didn’t feel it/changed my mind. There were just so many people around today I’m so relieved to finally have a minute alone” *pointed stares and silence all around, even if they bring up a new chatty subject*. You Are Tired And Need To Be Alone is on repeat until the thought waves going their way make them uncomfortable enough to leave. My mother used to use going into my room and nosing around casually through my stuff as an excuse to chat or tell me about how the things I was doing with my life could be improved by her suggestions. Getting mad/asking for a door lock made things much worse. The above approach is the best solution I’ve found, and while i may have been The One Who Was Constantly Tired at least I wasn’t The One With Suspicious Business.

      1. I had (have?) “constantly entering my room without permission” family, too – although it was mainly my brother, since everyone else (except my dad) would knock before entering so I at least had warning. My brother would, several times a night, burst into my room and antagonize me until I got up from whatever I was doing and chased him out (and down the hall, and usually into my parents’ room which would be unoccupied at that time of night). This happens for years and despite my pleas for a door lock, my father kept refusing one up until I hit puberty under the argument of “Oh, the lock might stick and there might be a fire and then you’d be stuck in there” – which even at eleven, I recognized was a ridiculous argument – and suddenly when there was now a risk that my brother might see his sister’s boobs when he charged into my room every night, I got a door lock.
        I’d posit that my having chased him out of my room with a stick had anything to do with it, but frankly, I managed to hit my brother with the stick several times and it never motivated my dad to get a door lock for my room. This whole thing was literally just my dad being weird as fuck about what level of privacy I was allowed to have.

        1. Dove, is it possible your father simply associates privacy and sexuality so completely in his mind that, to him, asking for privacy when you were prepubescent = growing up too fast, or wanting to be sexual too early? I know this is a ridiculous concept, but you seem to have already pretty much established that there was a ridiculous concept in there somewhere; it’s just a question of which one. That would explain the hasty change to allowing (encouraging?) door locks when you hit puberty. Then, finally, he felt he could understand what you had to hide. (He was wrong, if that’s what he thought, but it at least gave him something you might’ve been wanting to hide that he could understand, If he felt that, by asking for privacy, you were becoming sexualized too early in some way, I can see him freaking out and refusing, then changing his mind when you reached the age at which he felt it was appropriate.

          Mind you, I agree with absolutely none of this, and I think that if your father did indeed feel this way, he must’ve had some pretty strange notions about both sex, and the myriad reasons why people might like to close their doors. This is just an analysis, not an acceptance, of one lens through which he might be seeing.

  3. Lots of people are in roommate situations due to finances. I’m letting out two rooms myself, and I feel lucky to have found a couple people that are pretty much on my wavelength as far as introversion goes. We disappear into our own rooms, and open doors mean,”yes, you can poke your nose in to chat for a minute” and closed doors mean alone time is needed. We have someone around to vent about that one coworker, but, we don’t tend to ask all that many question of each other. We have someone around to show cute Internet cats to, or talk about video games occasionally. I threw a holiday party(smallish party. I had 8 guests or so show up) last December, and one roommate did not attend at all, and the other left to do her own thing elsewhere halfway through, and that is fine.
    On the other hand I know of people who would think they were slacking in hospitality if they did not show interest in every little thing that their guest or friend was doing, and your landlords may have some variety of this etiquette embedded. These folk will ask you about your day, your shopping, your packages, your details of whatever because they think this is the polite thing to do and it has not occurred to them(or, they cannot see) that other people have different etiquette rules or comfort levels than they do. They don’t think of it as prying, but, as showing interest in you. Your normal and their normal are clashing, and that doesn’t mean that one is right and the other wrong, but, you may not be compatable as roommates.
    The Captain has some lovely scripts to use, and, also, you may be renting someone’s room….but, you are RENTING a room. Money is actually the cheapest currency available to pay for something. It is not actually your job to be completely accommodating …you are renting a room with money and pulling your weight in chores. It is actually OK to assert a need. I’m saying this as a landlord. I want my tenants to be comfortable and if I were interfering with that comfort I would want to know. You aren’t looking for something unreasonable here.
    A former tenant of mine started falling behind in rent and then stopped paying, and when he moved out I discovered how dirty he’d left things in his room that I did not pry into, and a HOLE that had been PUNCHED in my WALL! I hope the fact that it was actually plaster and lathe and not merely drywall surprised him. Grrrr.
    You are merely looking to have some privacy. Please feel free to ask for that(I love the Captain’s scripts!sometimes I have trouble with the words and worry that I am saying things wrong). It is reasonable to ask for this thing that you need.

    1. Funny story, when I’d heard landlords talk about “holes in the walls” in the past I just assumed they meant, like, holes from nails/tacks… until sometime earlier this year, when I heard that [CW violence] my ex-who-I’m-still-vaguely-social-with had 1. stabbed his walls repeatedly with a knife, 2. punched through the wall in at least one place, 3. thrown someone into the wall while roughhousing and made a giant hole. I am so glad that neither I nor any of the rest of my polyfamily live in the same house as he does anymore, jfc.
      Congratulations on your roommate situation! It sounds delightful and very similar to what I had before moving in with my polyfamily. I think I’ll always remember that as one of the best living situations I’ve had.

      1. I used to manage an apartment building and on several occasions found holes punched into walls. My favorite example was the tenant who asked, “Do we have to pay for that?”

    2. My folks had tenants who somehow made a hole in the wall, and at least half the people they told it to had a hole in the wall story themselves. It seems oddly ubiquitous among bad tenants.

      1. I actually put a hole in my rented room wall with my foot in my sleep. It wasn’t a “wall” in the end, it turned out to be a pieced of decorated plywood propped up a few inches away from the actual wall. In a way it’s amazing it wasn’t already full of holes. Regardless, I reported it and paid for the damage. I kind of can’t imagine just… moving out and leaving a hole.

      2. Yeah, I managed to put a 4-inch hole in the wall in the last place I rented. It was an older apartment that was partially renovated/modernized. Some of the walls had been redone in drywall, but apparently not all of them. I tried to hang my heaviest picture on the one wall in my living room that was plaster. The 4″ chunk of plaster fell out, so I ended up hanging a fabric wall hanging with clear tacks there instead. I didn’t know how to repair plaster properly (and the directions I found online conflicted and all seemed to be posted by people trying to sell really spendy products.) So, I notified my landlord of the damage when I moved and acknowledged that the cost of the repair should be taken from my deposit. If it had been drywall, I would have fixed it myself. I thought it would be worse to patch the hole incorrectly.

      3. My current rental property has a hole in the wall from where a shelf fell off. It was there when I moved in and the agent/owner apparently doesn’t care enough to fix it.

      4. It’s ubiquitous among tenants, really, because accidents happen and drywall is pretty easy to break. It doesn’t mean someone is a bad tenant.

      5. How about bad landlords? We have a hole in our wall that developed this winter due to moisture and condensation problems. We live in the frozen North, it was an extra-harsh winter, and a chunk of drywall literally rotted out. We duly reported it as soon as we found out; months later, it still hasn’t been fixed. We just reminded the manager about it again–we’re planning to move out before too much longer, but Lordy, I hope they don’t ding us on the security deposit for their slackness.

  4. I love “Why do you ask?” as a way of deflecting nosy questions. It’s a nice way of calling someone out without straight up saying “Wow, that question was super inappropriate,” which can be nice when you’re dealing with someone you need to get along with for your own good (landlords being a prime example) or when you just don’t want to risk making a scene. Say it in a casual, conversational tone, and it forces the question-asker to face the fact that hey, maybe they don’t actually need to know the nitty-gritty details of your finances, diet, or sex life! Why do you need to know my age, creepy dude at the public library? Have aliens landed in the nonfiction section and demanded to speak to the nearest 23-year-old? Do you suspect I might be your long-lost sister, stolen by fairies as an infant and brainwashed into forgetting her human family? Oh, nope, you’re turning and walking away with a mortified expression. Guess it wasn’t that important after all.

    1. One of the reflexes I learned as an eager A Student was to answer every question posed. I have spent my entire adulthood unlearning that habit, and let me tell you, reflexes are hard to reprogram. Totally worth it, though. Last week, a young man with a clipboard made to stop me on my way home from work: “Hi, my name’s Ian, what’s yours?” My expression said, ‘yeah, buzz all the way off, blondie, I got a train to catch’, but I said nothing. I still feel good about it.

      1. I hear you about reflexes being hard to reprogram. I go to a few board game groups and it’s taken me years to learn that I don’t have to play games with people I don’t want to play games with. I’m there to have fun, after all! Last weekend, some people wanted to play one of my games, and I gave them the box and walked away. They were surprised – they thought I was going to play, though I hadn’t said I would – but I didn’t want to teach half a dozen new players, most of whom I don’t know and one of whom I actively dislike.

      2. I didn’t learn this lesson until I started working in a small city in Turkey. When men start a conversation there, they are interested in only one thing- selling you a carpet that you don’t want, don’t need, and (given that they price very high for foreigners) probably can’t afford. Took me several weeks of desperately attempting to escape carpet shops for my whole day off before I finally figured out that I didn’t even need to ‘see’ strangers when they attempted to start conversations with me on the street, let alone respond.

      3. Yes! It is so hard to unlearn the lesson to never blow anyone off. I finally unlearned this when the economy tanked (the last time) and my local mall allowed kiosks with vendors who can hassle customers, and simultaneously my neighborhood got flooded with door-to-door salespeople. I learned to just smile and say “No thank you!” before they even get started, then shut the door in their face or walk on by. The hardest part was to learn not to feel guilty about it, but I got that part down too.

        1. Oh gods, mall kiosk people can be the WORST. I’ve had ones physically step out in front of me to get my attention, and one who actually grabbed my arm and pulled me over and started doing stuff to my hands (he was selling those nail buffer things, cuticle stuff and that sort of thing) without a single word to me and I very nearly slugged him just out of being startled. Boundaries need to be learned and respected!
          Unlearning things is really hard, but worth it if you can do it, especially when the things you’ve been taught make you a doormat and unable to communicate your needs.

          1. I’m starting to learn it because for some reason the people selling religion on the streets always home in on me. ALWAYS. I see them standing there just watching the crowd go past and look away from them to avoid eye contact and yet without fail they’ll start addressing me with some random lead in question.

          2. It’s also great because you don’t have to avoid eye contact anymore. My style is: Make eye contact, if they say/offer something, say “I’m fine, thanks”, just keep walking and leave your hands just where they are (which is important, when they are trying to hand you something). Advantages: You don’t have to avoid eye contact, you are not mean to them and they get 0% of your time or attention.

          3. If it is obvious they are trying to corner me, I catch their eye, smile, say ‘I cant help but good luck!’ And keep walking of course. They usually accept this as a lost cause and say thanks, then look elsewhere.

      4. I hear that. The other day I was checking out at a store I do not frequent (but they had a deal on something I needwanted) and the cashier, in the middle of the transaction, said, “Oh, can I get your email address?” I made them repeat it because I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly the first time, and then I just said, “No.” And that was it — I checked out and left, no fuss. It was weird; I was all set for awkwardness and what I got was a really strong nonverbal “I wouldn’t give them MY address, either, so we’ll just pretend I didn’t have to ask and get you out of here.”

        I briefly considered giving them my boss’s email address, just to hear him gnash his teeth about Even More Spam. Sometimes, I indulge my mean streak, but not that time. 🙂

        1. Quite a few places around me are asking for phone numbers now, and I always just say “no thanks”. The first couple of times I was so worried they would press or be angry or something, but the worst thing that’s ever happened has been a brief pause. And that could simply be because I threw of their script and they need to re-gather themselves.

          1. From my own experience as a cashier, yeah, probably. I haaaated having to ask for people’s personal info. Most people were polite about it, but nobody was really comfortable with it. ‘No’ just meant ‘okay, one way or another THAT awkwardness is hurdled, now what’s the next task on Cashier Robot’s list?’

            (The hostile ones were actually kind of funny, in retrospect. Like, dude, I don’t care what your number is, give me the Butterball Hotline for all I care, *they make me ask.* Take it out on an increasingly psychotic culture of commodification, not me.)

          2. I got asked for my phone number once by a cashier, and I looked her straight in the eye and said, ‘I’m flattered, but I’m afraid you’re not my type.’

        2. E-mail revenge! I like it.
          A writer I once interviewed got turned down repeatedly in his attempt to find an agent. He kept all the rejection letters — and added the names to chain letters.

      5. In my city we get a LOT of charity workers in the street trying to get monthly donations. When I first moved here I was such a naive country girl I didn’t quite understand what it was all about so politely listened to their lengthy spiel and then had to decline their requests. It was rather embarrassing and I felt really guilty for “leading them on” so to speak. This happened several times before I learned to just say “sorry I don’t have the time”, really you’re saving them the time and disappointment of thinking they’ve got someone only to be turned down at the end! That’s what I liked to think so I didn’t feel guilty. But actually a few years of turning them down is excellent practice for Just Saying No in other contexts, it taught me a lot! And you don’t even have to feel guilty about it, who knew!?

          1. Yep, chuggers. A good tactic is ‘sorry I dont have an income’ or ‘sorry I already give to charity and dont have any spare money’ or whatever applies but makes clear I cant help.

            There was one chugger (for Macmillan) who didnt respect the sign on my door saying callers by appointment only, didnt care when I said ‘Im disabled and in pain, I was resting, is it urgent? I cant stand up for long’ and when I said I had no income told me I didnt have to pay now, just in six weeks. Ugh. I complained and Macmillan were very sorry and did follow it up.

            The point is, these people are on commission. It is in their interest to get sign ups. Ignore that it is a charity and think of them as any other cold caller, despatch them quickly unless youre really interested… And then donate to charity directly so there is no chugger taking a cut of it.

            But to come back on topic, I know saying no is hard and think the Captain’s scripts are good.

    2. I practiced saying, “That’s private,” in answer to a nosy coworker until it came naturally. “Why do you ask?” is probably less abrupt and I should add it to my repertoire. I once got exasperated at a person in my work parking lot questioning me from an open car window as I walked, “Are you from [business A]?” “no.” “Are you from [business B]?” “no.” “Then where do you work?” “WHY DO YOU CARE?!?” I still laugh thinking about it, since that’s pretty much the most childish petulant version of, “why do you ask?” The person in the car claimed to be the owner of the building, which didn’t really explain why she was asking, but I did at that point bluntly name my company name. I still don’t know if this person made it up that she was the owner or what.

  5. I don’t know the situation and people, but would humor work as a first step?
    “Where are you going?”
    “Sailing around the world”
    “What’s in the bag?”
    “Live tapdancing lobsters”

    Just a small assertion of power that “I can choose not to answer your question.” But done in a joking way, since there was a previous thread how sometimes jerks use ‘it’s just a joke’ as a get-out-of-jail-free card, but it might be worth using that card? It might also be a way to test the waters because if they react really, really badly to a joke you can both pretend you didn’t try to establish boundaries and count the days until you move

    1. I was thinking the classic “I would tell you, but I’d have to kill you” complete with James Bond sneer. Or “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

    2. “Live tapdacing lobsters” would be a great swear for someone who eschews ordinary profanity./stray observation

      1. Someone recently suggested “Pardon me, there is a lemur on your baby” for a good non-sequitur response.

      2. I’m a fan. I might try that one out the next time I’m around Elderly Relatives.

    3. …huh. I just realized I do that an awful lot without really thinking about it. Like, my first instinct with any question about me is to deflect with humor rather than answer honestly. Maybe I should work on that a little.

  6. In my mothers house when any of my other family is there or I’m up for a visit there is a whiteboard of everyone’s schedule for the week. It’s just people’s names, days of week, and people put times they will be out (or in for some cases) each day. My parents are in their 70s, my siblings and I are in our 30s & 40s, nephews/nieces kindergarten-20s. We update it as schedules change. I thought it was crazy when my mom started it but it’s actually quite helpful and much less intrusive than always checking in.

    A friend of mine who owns a house & has roommates does something similar with a whiteboard. I think up to 6 people live in the house ages 20s-30s.

    My point – yes it’s normal when living with people for them to know coming/going time in my limited experience.

    This post makes me realize I need to have a conversation with a housemate. We don’t usually have housemates. We didn’t set up any written rules. Everything is fluid. I’m thinking this might not be good long-term. We see ourselves as “honorary parents”. Yep I bet you can see my concerns after reading this post – am I treating her too much like a kid & not enough like the adult she is? Have we made sure boundaries are available to her?

    1. Isn’t it great how the Captain’s letters can make you realize a thing that is happening in your own life?

      If you’re realizing this now at (what sounds like) the beginning of your housemate-relationship, that’s awesome! I think it wouldn’t hurt at all to set up some expectations/boundaries, especially right now when it doesn’t seem like there are any rumblings of discontent. I find it’s always easier to set rules up front, rather than have to set them in the middle of something you might not even have realized would be a conflict. Once that time comes, it can often feel awkward and uncomfortable

      I say this as someone who has been through….5? housemates over the last 8 years. Every time I meet a new roommate, before he or she moves in, I sit down with them at a cafe and talk about ALL the expectations I can think of. This includes:

      1) Who is in charge of which bills.
      2) When money is due to the roommate who pays the bills.
      3) Each person’s level of cleanliness and what kind of cleaning situation we’ll be setting up.
      4) Parking arrangements.
      5) Social rules/expectations, such as how often a significant other may come over/if they are allowed to spend the night, what to do when friends are visiting, etc.
      6) Expectations surrounding pets (in my case, the pets are mine, and I don’t expect my roommates to care for them at all, though it’s nice if they want to let the dog out every once in a while).
      7) Each person’s schedule (this can be general [“I like to be in bed 10ish”] or specific [“I have class from 6:00 – 8:00 Mondays and Wednesdays”]).
      8) Each person’s self-identified interaction-style: introvert or extrovert?
      9) Preferred noise levels.
      10) Any odd peccadilloes either person might have. For example, I DETEST WITH THE POWER OF 5,000 PULSING QUASARS when the sponge is not squeezed out after doing the dishes. My current roommate hates it when ceiling fans are left on if no one is home. I find talking about these before living with each other made it more of an “LOL humans have weird quirks” rather then “WTF wench, why you givin’ me the hairy eyeball every time I finish the dishes? (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ “.
      11) Grounds for termination of the lease, and what steps will be taken if that should happen.

      Around my second or third roommate, I happened upon this really nifty (and free!) roommate agreement on LawDepot.com: http://www.lawdepot.com/contracts/roommate-agreement/. It asked a bunch of questions that I hadn’t thought to ask of potential roommates, and gives you something to print out once you’ve hashed out all the details. I have never actually needed to refer back to this agreement with any roommate, but just the fact that we both have a copy has been a boon.

      Also, hi all! This is my first comment, but I’ve been reading for a while. Excited to dip my toe in the commenting-waters.

      1. Beginning of 3rd week. She’s here for a few months while job hunting.

        Great list. Some of that we covered orally and some we know because we’ve known each other for years. This is not the first time she’s stayed with us just the first extended stay. She’s had experience being a housemate before. My husband had housemate experience. I know I’m a bad one (my way or the highway LOL) so I think we worked out some of the big stuff before she moved in. My husband told me I have to be well behaved this time no “my way all the time”. Putting it in writing never occurred to me as she’s a friend and has been “one of my kids” for years. I think that’s why this post hit home. I’m afraid I’m treating her like “kid” instead of adult”.

        Congrats on 1st comment. It’s a great one. 😀

    2. I think it varies depending on the people involved. When I’ve had roommates, we never let each other know when we were coming or going unless we were going away for the weekend. Or maybe if there was a specific request (I will be home late, could you possibly feed my cat?). Normally we were each home when we were home; if we happened to be in the common rooms at the same time we might chat, if not, not.

      We really didn’t coordinate at all.

    3. Yep, my old place (one house, four twenty-something roommates LET THE CARNAGE BEGIN) had one of those when I moved in. The roommates always kept it updated, so I did to. I never did learn why they started it in the first place…

  7. Is there a tenant’s union where the LW lives? They might have some specific legal advice about where she’s living. Advice is free, and it could help protect him/her when the move happens.

    Also, I’d suggest getting a PO box long before the move and transferring mail. One less avenue for the housemates/landlords to snoop.

    1. ETA: I’ve lived in many, many shared housing situations and not one of them was I obligated to tell anyone about where I was, or my schedule. the housemates/landlords are overstepping their bounds.

  8. Dear LW,

    Maybe this trick will help you out, possibly not. Who knows?

    I used to live in a dorm with some very judgy girls, and I employed this tactic numerous times to keep them from nosing around my things.

    Here goes:

    Step 1. Get a large bookbag or purse. Make sure its roomy. Carry it ALL THE TIME whenever you go ANYWHERE. This bag is now your Everything bag. It is glued to your body.

    Step 2. Keep innocuous things in the bag for a little while. Work uniform, snacks, a sweater, phone. If your landlords look through it, they’ll see its just a typical bag.

    Step 3. Once everyone gets used to seeing you with your Everything bag, you can use it to transport things, such as shopping bags or purchases, and no one will be the wiser. This might even work with small packages, provided your landlords didn’t see said package on the stoop.

    I used this tactic to keep the mean girls on my dorm floor from eyeing and loudly discussing any clothing purchases I made during college. It works pretty well.

    Maybe it will work for you. Happy apartment/room hunting, LW! I hope you find your piece and quiet!

    1. Incidentally I was reading an article yesterday about pockets in the 16th-18th centuries and how since people often shared furniture, storage space, etc, they were often the only place to keep personal items. So you’d have a little bag tucked under the top layer of your dress with your little snuff box and a pencil and all three hankerchefs that you own and a pair of scissors, etc. (Which really sucks if someone steals it!)

  9. I’m renting for the first time — my roommate/landlord let me know when she would be there for a while, I didn’t realize I was being rude by not reciprocating. Shoot. Anyone have suggestions for how to rebuild that?

    1. If it hasn’t been a problem, then don’t worry that it’s a problem, but maybe start now and see if it’s appreciated? Keep it simple.

  10. I have a standard follow-up to the concern-trolling answer to “Why do you ask?” It’s a little bit of a laugh, followed by, “I’m fine, thanks,” or “I think I’ll be fine, thanks.” It is multi-purpose:

    [Person:] What did you buy? How much was it?
    You: Why do you ask?
    [Person:] You shouldn’t be spending too much on [items]!
    You: *laugh* I’m think I’m fine, thanks.

    [Person:] Where are you going?
    You: Why do you ask?
    [Person:] I just want to know you’ll be safe!
    You: *laugh* I think I’ll be fine, thanks.

    [Person:] But we don’t want you to be ALONE on Thanksgiving!
    You: *laugh* I’m fine, thanks.

    [Person:] How many hours are you working this week?
    You: Why do you ask?
    [Person:] We just want to know you’re making enough money!
    You: *laugh* I’m fine, thanks.

    I like it because it states the relevant information (YOU ARE FINE WITHOUT ANY INTERFERENCE), maintains a semblance of politeness, does a decent job of shutting down a conversation (also an excellent cue for you to leave! And “Thanks” is very final; like, I’ve heard and assimilated what you had to say! All done!), and it implies that it’s not only unnecessary for them to be asking whatever, it’s actually kind of silly. It can also be repeated as necessary (“But NO ONE wants to be alone on THANKSGIVING!” “I’m fine, thanks!”), with increasing levels of irritability (“But are you SURE you’re going to be all right?” “I’m FINE, thanks!”). It can help if you sound a little surprised, too, like: “[That’s really weird that you asked me that! But] I’m fine, thanks!”

    It can even be used sort of nonsensically, in which case the “This question is not actually something I think is appropriate” subtext comes across more loudly, I think:

    [Person:] What’s in the bag?
    You: Why do you ask?
    [Person:] I just want to know what you bought!
    You: *laugh* I’m fine, thanks.

    That’s not really an answer to the question, but it definitely communicates, “I don’t want to tell you,” without requiring you to have to actually say, “I don’t want to tell you,” if that is hard for you (as it really, really is for me). I definitely have a way easier time sounding confident and final when making a positive statement (I REALLY AM fine!) than when refusing someone something they want.

    1. I love this. And maybe if all the I’m FINEs don’t work, you can pointedly answer that you just bought a self-help book about dealing with nosy parkers!

    2. I love it. Another good option – “oh, it’s not that interesting.” If you get pushback on that you can say “no really, it wouldn’t be interesting to hear and it would be boring for me to tell it.”

      1. See, now that sort of answer confuses me. Sometimes that may be code for “push off – I don’t want to answer that” but sometimes it’s code for “I don’t want to bore you so please reassure me that you’re really interested.” (Kinda like how in some places you need to offer coffee or water or whatever several times while the other person refuses several times, just to be polite.)

    3. I love this and use it often myself! Also good for pushy people on the street who are offering me wares for sale or new religions.

    4. This is my favorite.

      Fifty-something-year old man at the red light wants to remind me (twenty-something year old woman on a bike) that it’s Very Important to make sure my brakes work? I’m fine, THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONCERN.

      Basically I really enjoy saying “thank you” in the iciest tone possible to inappropriate questions, because setting boundaries where I’ve been socialized to prioritize other people’s comfort is a thing that makes me feel I am reclaiming power.

    5. I used this one recently for an unwanted interaction with a stranger expressing concern about something I was doing. It was effective at quickly and politely ending the interaction and I plan on using it again.

      1. I am going to remember that the next time I meet a street proselytizer. “Have you heard the good news?” “I’m fine, thanks.” “It’ll change your life!” “Nah, I’m good.”

        1. I like responding with “Sure have!” while NOT STOPPING. They rarely know what to do with that one, for some reason. (I mean, these folks are usually Christian, right? So don’t they know that at least some of the people they are going to be preaching at are already Christian? Why would an affirmative response be so startling? I mean, I’m not, but they don’t know that.)

          1. One of the truly great family stories is about the time the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my great-grandmother’s door and asked her if she was interested in the Bible. Great-Grandma, who was by all accounts a pretty wacky lady, invited them in for tea and proceeded to spend the next two hours telling them all about the British Israel Society. Be careful what you wish for.

          2. Spoken:
            “Yes, thanks!”

            Thought (pick one or more):
            … the test came back negative!
            … I got a raise!
            … gays are getting the right to vote in more and more places!
            … eggs are on sale at the A&P!
            … I have better things to do than stand on street corners harassing people!
            … Weird Al’s new album is out!
            … etc.

    6. I think this is extra-great for shutting down situations like LW’s where the intrusive questioning is (apparently) well-intentioned, because “*laugh* I’m fine, thanks” gives the other person an easy way to follow the lead and drop the subject with minimal weirdness. Since it’s not criticism, it might avoid them getting defensive or escalating, and since it’s a really boring answer, it doesn’t reward/reinforce the prying questions. Clear, low-key, and decisive: perfect for setting boundaries and training well-meaning, polite people to respect them.

    7. I especially love this because there is almost always a follow up.

      I also sometimes use, “Not really my thing,” (especially with respect to gatherings and celebrations) and, when I really just want to shut the person down, “Oh, you know.” 99% of the time they’ll nod knowingly as if I didn’t just give the vaguest answer ever. The other 1% have just wheedled their way into always getting the vaguest answers ever.

    8. I use that with chuggers and marketers all the time when they try and stop me in the street to persuade me to give them money. *smile* “I’m fine, thanks,”. They’re not actually trying to do you a favour, so it’s kind of an inappropriate response, but by the time they’ve figured that out and regrouped you’re already past them and it’s too late.

  11. “They do it more to me than they do it to their own children!”

    Because with their own children they have been through the pushback and boundary-challenging that all kids do as they grow up. They haven’t with you because you’re treating them as the equals that they are and not authority figures. They’re taking advantage (though perhaps unwittingly) of your reluctance to rebel because of course you shouldn’t HAVE to rebel.

  12. The Captain really hit on something good with the holiday portion of the advice. They might be being pushy about inviting you because of a misguided sense of ‘poor LW, here with us on [holiday] instead of with family!’ Use The Captain’s script about having to go catch up with family/friends, set a schedule for it, tell them beforehand ‘Oh, love to, but I promised I’d call/Skype/meet my [relative/friend] at [time].’ Lie if you have/want to. Unless they can hear you through the walls they’ll never know. This might get you out of a lot of the pushy behavior because it fulfills a script that they seem to expect and they’ll get warm fuzzies from seeing you ‘taken care of’

    And if they’re STILL pushy, promising to show up for coffee and pie at the end of the meal might get you the least amount of time with them. Danger lies that way though, while they should be full and sleepy and sluggish at that point in the night, they might also be drunk and loud and annoying. You know them better than we do.

  13. About the schedule interrogations, my roommates and I set up a calendar in the kitchen with our general schedules on it (work, school, volunteering) that way we’d have an idea of who would likely be home for dinner, etc. With super nosy roommates this might backfire (ie where are you going nowwwwww that’s not on the schedule!) but it saved us a lot of repetitive Q&A. Maybe you could try it for a week or two and see if it alleviates some of the questioning? This could also help you for holidays where you can invent plans and put them up ahead of time so you can easily turn down invitations.

    I think Captain is spot on with the advice, so I didn’t have anything to add besides this idea. Hope things improve for you, LW, and you can move out soon!

    1. The problem with proactively letting them know holiday plans, unless you block out the whole day(s), is if they plan something around your schedule and then start favor-sharking you into attending. It’s a good idea for the day-to-day sort of thing though; my 7-person grad school house had a blackboard in the kitchen for similar scheduling purposes 🙂

      1. For holidays specifically, the LW could also try, “Oh, I’m going to be off doing my own thing. I wouldn’t dream of intruding on your family time.”

  14. My housemates and I ask each other questions like this ALL THE TIME – we’re all friends, and we were all raised to think that sort of treatment is polite. If we don’t want to talk about something, we just give a non-answer (ex. “Where are you going?” “Out”), and then the asking party backs off. Is this rude of us? I’m horrified to think that I may have been nagging my housemates this whole time in a valiant attempt to be polite D:

    1. I think the difference here is that you’re all friends, it’s all reciprocal behavior, and most importantly of all, you back off when met with a vague/evasive answer. The LW seems to be talking about when they can’t get away without completely detailed answers and their back – off signals are being ignored.

      If you’re still worried, bring it up with your roommates! Just gently remind them that they can totally tell you to buzz off if you’re being too nosy. But you sound like you’re good on that front!

  15. This is a really good post. I live with my mum, and my brother will be visiting soon and he tries to pry into my finances etc (I think he does it to try to bond with me, but I’m not sure why he thinks giving me unsolicited financial advice that’s unrelated to my goals and makes me uncomfortable is ‘bonding’). So “Huh, why do you ask?” is going into my back pocket for that one.

    1. Ha! Okay, the “unsolicited financial advice” line reminds me so much of my Dad. He was an awkward socializer and I think he was often at a loss for what to talk about. But he loved finances and he knew a bunch about them! So he would often “visit” by instructing me in the finer points of finance. He didn’t actually pry, though, he just gave general advice. And it didn’t make me uncomfortable since once I understood what he was doing I kind of half-eared the advice and just enjoyed listening to him talk (while he enjoyed having someone listen).
      This isn’t terribly related to your comment, I just enjoyed the vivid memory triggered by that line, so thanks!

  16. One strategy that I use when dealing with nosy fucks who want to know what’s in my mail (coworkers or parents, depending on how Chrome decided to autofills the shipping form without me noticing), is to just say that the package I received is full of pornography and illegal drugs. Usually, by the time people have laughed off the joke and start to to pointedly ask you a second time what is in your private mail (especially when you don’t open it in front of them), they have realized that they are really digging themselves down into “inappropriate prying” territory, and they drop it instead.

    If they actually manage to get through and ask a second time, they are honestly dense as hell and it’s fine to hit maximum levels of bluntness with however you communicate “what’s in my mail is really not any of your business.”

    1. Maybe this is also useful for cutting off “they won’t tell me what’s in their package/where they’re going/what they bought, I bet something SUPER SKETCHY is going on” at the pass.

  17. I think a certain amount of schedule sharing with roommates is reasonable mostly for meal planning ( if food is shared) or just general safety.
    I had a roommate in residence (we shared a 10×15′ room) and if I didn’t see her for about 24 hours I would leave her a little note that basically said “hey, haven’t seen you for a bit, if you come through could you leave me a note.” I didn’t care where she was or who she was with but wanted to make sure there was no reason for me to raise an alarm about a missing roommate.

    I think that sort of communication between roommates is reasonable so no one calls the police when their roommate goes on vacation without telling them.

    The LW’s roommates/landlords are going way beyond what is reasonable though. Mail privacy is protected by law for a reason and the only finances the LW’s landlords should care about are the rent payments LW makes to them.

    1. Aw, roommate flashback. I had a roommate in a large shared house who would go off and housesit for weeks without telling anyone. There were so many people in the house and our schedules were so varied that it would be a few days before everyone noticed Jane hadn’t been around, and then we would wonder whether we should call the police.

      It also meant she was terrible at paying her portion of the bills on time, but that got sorted out when my then-boyfriend/roommate ran into her at a bar and she wrote out 6 months of post-dated checks, to be cashed one a month when the bills were due.

  18. Depending on how involved they are, a pushback I hear commonly in landlord/tenant relationships when the tenant is the one setting a boundary is “but it’s my house!”

    I”d love to see smarter people than me write a script for that, since I can never think of one to pass on to people that isn’t super confrontational. But be prepared to hear about who owns the house.

    1. “Yep, it is your house! And it’s my private mail/bag from Walgreen’s/evening plans, so, still not your beeswax.”

    2. How about, “yep, it’s your house, and I’m your tenant, not your houseguest or your dependent.”

      1. not that houseguests and dependents don’t need privacy… maybe that line needs tweaking.

    3. “Yes, it is, and I’m very grateful you’re allowing me to rent this room so I can have a little private space of my own.” [heel turn, door close]

    4. I’ve even heard that line used by someone who was in the habit of wandering into the basement suite (sometimes WITHOUT KNOCKING), and couldn’t fathom why his tenant, my 20-year-old female friend, was making such a fuss.
      In her case, the line was clear: she pointed to the provincial residential tenancy act, which clearly stated that, barring emergencies, landlords must give 24 hours’ notice before entering rental property, end of story. (She still moved out as soon as she could. She was understandably concerned about putting her own safety into the hands of someone too clueless to realize that, if nothing else, sometimes people are naked in their own homes.)
      Even if you share common space with the landlord, most jurisdictions still give you fairly stringent rights over the area that you’re renting, such as your bedroom, and they can’t just go waltzing in even if they live in the rest of the house. So that’s one trump card to use if that’s the specific nature of the boundary-crossing. It is, however, pretty confrontational if you’re not interested in a substantial cooling of the relationship. Less confrontationally, you can sort of smile/laugh, and say, “What, don’t you trust me? I promise I’m not running a meth lab/smuggling live scorpions/equally ridiculous proposition.”
      Their response is likely to be something along the lines of “Well, I’m just CURIOUS/I just want to know/I’m just interested…”, to which you can reply, “Okay, but it’s totally boring. I’d really rather you didn’t waste your time looking over my mail and looking over my shopping, it’s really very mundane.” If that doesn’t work, confrontation might be your only recourse.

    5. This is an excellent opportunity for a Firefly quote, adjusted as necessary: “Then when I’m behind on my rent you can come in without asking”—with as much of a smile, ha-ha-only-serious, as needed to feel at least kinda polite. Although people who are behind on their rent still have rights, so if you are or are likely to be behind, modify accordingly.

      I also wonder if the “But you’re renting from us, we have a right to know a bit about your finances” will get pulled out when the LW calls them on prying into how much things cost etc—at which point, adding something about “well I haven’t had trouble with rent yet”/whatever reassuring thing is true, to the “Why do you ask” script may help.


      1. Why can’t she just move in with someone else? I feel like this answer descends into pathology for no reason. It’s not a good fit. Move on. Sometimes part of being an adult is exiting a situation without trying to make other people the bad guy. 90% of the people I meet would be a bad fit as a roommate for me. Doesn’t make them terrible people – which was the implication of the answer.

        1. In answer to your questions, the Letter Writer is saving up to live somewhere else, and the first sentence of the response is “Yes, do that.” But in the meantime, are they supposed to throw open their shopping bags for inspection, give an accounting of all money spent and food eaten, and account for all movements? The LW is an adult, and these are roommates, not parents. It doesn’t have to be pathology to be really fucking annoying, and saying “Hey, back off, that’s not actually your business” doesn’t make the LW a bad person or the landlords terrible people.

          Not every single person has a security deposit, rent for a new place, money to furnish that new place, money to pay out the rents for a remainder of the current lease, etc. ready to go, so “just move out” is a reductive answer.

    2. In case you are being serious: in many places, rooms in a house are a lot cheaper than apartments—like, I paid $600 for a room in a house, in a town where 1br apartments went for $1200 at the very least. Even ignoring money, in a fair number of places including my suburban hometown, there simply aren’t any apartment buildings. Besides which, all the group housing arrangements I’ve lived in have been much more accommodating of privacy than this; I shared a triple apartment once and saw one of my housemates on the order of once a month, and the other maybe weekly. That was on the extreme end, but it’s reasonable to expect a lot more privacy than LW is getting.

      In short, your question sounds out of touch and really judgmental.

    3. There is a very significant difference between “I don’t like talking to people at all ever” and “my roommates/landlords are constantly up in my business”.

      1. Yeah, my best houseshare ever was with someone who didn’t feel the need to talk to me for a large percentage of the time. We both kept our own quite different schedules, usually met up at lunch but often read while we ate, and then at dinner we’d generally cook together and chat and catch up. It was so nice having someone in the same space who was companionable but who didn’t want to interact all the time (and I say this as someone who is a real Chatty Cathy – I still like a significant amount of alone time!).

    4. Because have you SEEN the price of housing?!? Where I live you’d be super lucky to secure self-contained housing (such as a studio flat) for less than 1000 pounds a month; whereas you might get a room in a share for 400 with only a bit of looking around. Sure, if I share a house with people I expect to talk to them… but I don’t expect them to barge into my private space with no notice – I might be doing anything!

      1. Seriously, I live on $250/week. For $250/week you can rent a shed. Like, literally, I have seen partly-renovated sheds being rented for that much.

  19. I used CA principles on my mother who, I belatedly realised, reeeeaaaally should NOT be just walking into my room unannounced when I stay at my parents’ house. “I need you to knock before you come into my room.” “Oh. But…” “Okay, but I still need you to knock.” A little awkward in the moment, but it worked brilliantly.

  20. Order some preposterous sex toys. When they ask what’s in the package, show them & describe in detail.

  21. A line that I like to use to – essentially – put up my version of normal and make them do something about it if they don’t like it is “It doesn’t seem very professional to…”, escalating to “It’s not really very professional to…” if needs be. This is the line I use with letting agents and landlords when they want to breach contract in one of the little ways that landlords and letting agents like to breach contract (especially in the form of webookedaviewingforlatertodayokaythanksbye!). “It doesn’t seem very professional to arrange viewings without notice.” It lets you get the first shot at defining normal.

    Given your situation, a variant on that saying “It doesn’t seem very appropriate to…” might do the trick.

    Also, reinforce that you’re their tenant (as opposed to their kid, or even just their roommate). When they’re getting invasive, that’s a lot trickier to frame as normal for a landlord than from a rommate.

    Script supercombo:

    “What’s in your package?”
    “Why do you ask?”
    “Well, I feel like we should know.”
    “Really? It doesn’t seem very appropriate to be looking through a tenant’s mail.”

    1. OH, “not appropriate” is great for situations like this. It hints at an incredibly vague appeal to authority, like, it’s not so much that you are saying that they are rude, it’s just that the God of Appropriateness would disapprove and we don’t want that, do we?

  22. Immediate response:

    From my own experience, it seems to me that there are actually two issues here: “Not *A* kid” and “Not *their* kid.” *reads*

    Ick. Letter writer, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. The Captain’s advice here is good, I think…

  23. A coworker just mentioned she was leaving early today (a good thing to share in an office setting). I responded with “OK, thanks for letting me know” and she launched into an explanation about how she had an appointment, even though an explanation was not requested or necessary.

    And that made me think back to this question because of how programmed we are towards justifying and explaining even the simplest “none of your beeswax” reactions. It’s probably going to be weird for the LW’s landlords (landpeople? landfolk?) to not have this information not volunteered (not saying LW should feel obligated to share, no one should!). I know it’s all a little unrelated, but it got me musing on the subject

    LW, think of your resistance to their prying as an act of deconstruction against a society that expects too much information from us!

  24. My personal way to deal with people being overly nosy or ignoring ‘back off’ signals is to give them what they asked for in such lurid detail that they never ask again.

    “How are you?”
    “No, but, how are you really?”
    “I feel mostly apathetic about the general direction of my life due to a recurrence of depression, am terrified of the fact that I am slowly dying, may or may not be headed towards yet another existential crises, and I believe my pubic hairs are beginning to become ingrown, just like my toenails.”

    “What’s in the package?”
    “Something I ordered from Amazon.”
    “Really? What is it?”
    “Duck Dynasty themed furry porn. It comes with a modified OhMyBod that vibrates while quacking. Don’t worry, it plugs into headphones.”

    “Where are you going?”
    “Out to where?”
    “I’m going to meet up with some friends, have a dinosaur themed orgy, and then kill the guy on 34th street that hits his dog. Why, you got an extra baseball bat?”

    1. I am crying with laughter over the Duck Dynasty porn! And the last sentence really lets them know that you’re thinking of them!

    2. That was always what I told my mom when I was in highschool, “I’m off to sacrifice dogs to Gartog, god of foot fungus.” To which she would reply, “Okay honey, have fun at Walmart!” (I was not exactly a social butterfly, so she was always correct.)

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