Hurricane Joaquin…everybody ok so far? Be okay.
My wife (Carole) and I (Clark) have four children and share our home with a childless couple (John & Priscilla) who I met in college. We’ve done so for roughly two years now with surprisingly little friction.
Recently John talked to me about how he’s come to the realization over the past year that he is polyamorous. The rest of us are not.
John also confessed that he’s had a crush on someone outside the house for a few years and that there are other infidelities over the course of his marriage.
I am having a difficult time discerning if this is actual polyamory (which I am not terribly familiar with) or just rationalization of bad behavior and a desire to have shackles taken off so he can date other women without guilt.
John discussed the possibility of romances (plural his) going forward and not liking the idea of primary/secondary relationship – so in theory these other women would have the same status in his life as Priscilla.
Putting myself in Priscilla’s shoes – this would be hard to swallow. I fear that our happy home is about to be torn and I am hoping for some help with resources / tools I can use to help them both while maintaining healthy boundaries.
(I am not concerned about having random lady friends over with children about – before moving in we all signed a contract that included the right of any one of us to veto someone coming over if for any reason it made us uncomfortable. John will have to get any lady friends approved by his house-mates before they can come over or will have to leave.)
I find that I want to hear all about your housemate contract. You are smart to do that and I bet it is an amazing document.
Your scripts for John are:
- “Have you told Priscilla what you told me?”
- “What does Priscilla say about that?”
- “I am not comfortable keeping any secrets from Priscilla.”
- “Please don’t tell me anything about this that you wouldn’t tell Priscilla.”
- “Knowing Priscilla as I do, I am not comfortable being your sounding board about this.”
- “Sounds like you and Priscilla should work that out.”
Your script for Priscilla might be “John told me you and he are considering some big changes to your relationship. How did that come about/what are your thoughts on it/I’m curious to know what you think about it?” Try to carry zero expectations about what Priscilla will say into that conversation. Right now you feel bad for her, but you could find out that she has similar leanings or the whole thing was her idea.
My read on the situation is that if John hasn’t told Priscilla what he’s telling you it is a major red flag. It’s like he’s running it by the other dude who is around to see if it’s okay instead of his actual wife. Especially the part where he’s been quote, “unfaithful” already. My “O, RLY” sensors are tingling, and I can easily imagine John using his conversations with you to say “Clark and Carole are totally fine with it, why can’t you be?” to pressure Priscilla.
I don’t know what you can do to ‘help’ them right now besides continuing to be an excellent housemate and making it clear that while you want everyone to be free to express their romantic and sexual identity, you are most definitely not down for secrets and lies. Let your previously contracted rule about houseguests-on-a-case-by-case-basis stand for now as John and Priscilla find their feet with all of this. If they mutually decide to open up their marriage, and someone becomes important enough to one or both of them to be a partner who will be around regularly, you can meet that person and get to know them and everything will most likely be fine as long as it’s a happy overall choice for both Priscilla and John. If John is being Not Cool to Priscilla and they separate, you can provide a safe and comfortable place for her to stay and minimize some of her upheaval. If being roommates stops working for you, you can bring the shared living arrangement to an end.
I can see why the whole prospect makes you anxious – your “O RLY, John” sensors are beeping, too, with reason. The order of operations is off somehow, and if everything were cool I feel like this would have been something that John & Priscilla jointly tell you and Carole, together.
Hi Cap (et al)!
Eight months ago I moved into my first apartment with three roommates. Roommate A stays in her own room 99% of the time she’s home, spends most of the time at work/her boyfriend’s place, and rarely uses common areas. The common areas (kitchen/bathroom implements, food, etc.) are more evenly shared between me and the other two roommates. Roommate B is disabled and can’t do any physical work around the house. That’s how life is, she’s our friend and we love and support her — no resentment towards her in any way.
I share the majority of the chores/cooking with roommate C, who has managed to get to his late twenties without knowing some things about housekeeping.
It’s mostly little things that I have to let him in on, like, yes, you do need to rinse out the sink every time after you shave, I tell them to view websites that teach beard etiquette . Some of it is personal preference stuff that I don’t think too much of a hardship to ask — like putting the small spatulas in with the cutlery instead of letting them get lost in with the big spatulas.
The main issue is: he gets grumpy when I have to explain stuff. He says it’s because he feels like I’m talking down to him, making him feel like he’s dumb or a bad person for not knowing certain things that aren’t necessarily common knowledge. I understand that one adult telling another how to do things can be condescending, but — how else am I supposed to let him know my preferences on our shared environment?
He’s like this over cooking, too. He can boil pasta/rice, fry an egg, and toast or heat things up. That’s pretty much it — anything further he needs copious, step-by-step instruction including informing him about prep things that I would normally take for granted. (He didn’t know you need to wash potatoes before cooking, even if you peel them first.) I don’t begrudge him not knowing how to cook but, honestly, do you have to insinuate that I’m an asshole when I tell you it’s easier to cook scrambled eggs by whisking them in a bowl first instead of cracking them into a hot pan?
I’m coming from the background of a mother who frequently rained torrents of verbal and manipulative psychological abuse when chores weren’t done to her exacting standards. I really, truly don’t think the things I am asking for him to do are on this level, and I don’t think I’m being a jerk about it either.
It’s been months, it keeps happening, but I really don’t want to fight about these insignificant things — he is otherwise my very best/dearest/oldest friend. Can you give me some scripts over how to gently inform him that I shouldn’t have to deal with his hurt feelings over fucking spatulas?
If it’s been a while since you’ve talked to a mental health pro about your mom and her abuse, this would be a good time for a check-in. It must be awful to be flashing back to that upbringing, and if you’re having a lot of anxiety and feelings about household stuff it’s worth investigating a place you can safely vent.
Now for the bad news: You are being a jerk about the eggs. The Goat Lady agreed to moderate comments for me for a few days while I am at work, and I am literally cackling at the prospect of the passionate “eggs scrambled in a pan are better“/”no you have to use the bowl” debate that’s about to unfold in the comments here though I will attempt to settle it ahead of time: It’s a personal preference thing and there is no right way. The direct-to-pan way gives a larger curd, a less uniform egg, and only dirties one receptacle. The bowl way makes a fluffier, softer egg and you can get away with less fat to grease the pan. Most of us probably make scrambled eggs the way we were taught, a la the Baked Ham joke. The washing potatoes before vs. after you peel them is also a matter of preference and what you intend to use the potatoes for. Some cooks don’t rinse because they want more potato starch to make their hash browns stickier. Some boil them without washing and then only peel when they are boiled. Have at it, Internet! (Thanks, Goat Lady!)
Having preferences is not wrong and communicating certain preferences isn’t wrong, but I think you need some help prioritizing your preferences vs. other people’s preferences in a shared housing situation. Rinsing the sink after you shave = yes, ask for that to be done. Maybe putting a little holder in the “spatulas” drawer to hold the smaller utensils will solve your spatula issue once and for all without any more discussion about it, since you prefer them to be with silverware and C. prefers them to be with spatulas. It is frustrating when dudes don’t do their share of the housework and you have to expend a lot of emotional labor reminding them, but here you have a case where someone is happily doing his share more often than not, he’s just not doing it exactly your way. There comes a time in every shared living situation where you must choose between “This thing must be done my exact way and I will fight for my preferences,” and “This thing must be done by someone other than me so I will slightly relax my preferences” and “This person is not a great match for living with me and I should investigate living alone.”
True Story: My dad is an optimizer in the way that maybe your mom was, to the point that he will take my toast out of the toaster and put it in “correctly” and yell if I spend too long looking for things in a kitchen I don’t live in. He has an undiagnosed and untreated anxiety disorder, and he gets that anxiety all over other people in a really annoying and frustrating way. One aspect of trying to cook when he’s over my shoulder is that I get clumsy and less competent in the face of his monitoring, even though I am a competent cook and in fact better at cooking than he is. He’s so anxiously waiting to pounce on the moment that I’ll fuck something up or get something dirty that it makes me anxious, which makes me more likely to spill something or forget to pay attention to something. He also gets super pouty at me if I get “grumpy” or annoyed with his optimizing behavior, like “Do it right and then I wouldn’t have to take time out of my day to yell at you about it! Sensitive much?” I would be willing to bet that C. is a worse cook when you are around than he is when he’s on his own, because it’s hard to do something well when your shoulders are up around your ears.
Cooking with someone over your shoulder “optimizing” your process constantly is a giant pain in the ass the way that having someone offer to cook for you and then ask you a how-to question every 5 minutes is a giant pain in the ass. As a teacher of beginning filmmakers, I could hang out over the shoulder of my students while they shoot their projects, explaining how it would be “easier” if they positioned the camera this way or reminding them of each step that they need to take. It’s so tempting to want to help them be perfect the very first time, and sometimes hard to hang back while they fumble with something that I could instantly resolve, but no one develops competence at or pleasure in anything if they are second-guessed and guided every second. And I am talking about people who have signed up to be my student at this, which C. has not done with you. In evolving to “decent cook!” from “non-cook” there is a stage of “half-assed muddling about cook” that each person goes through and that you cannot shortcut for them.
My honest suggestion is:
1)You and C. should divide up the week’s cooking chores and plan the meals out as to dietary restrictions and cooking abilities at the beginning of the week.
2) Agree generally on some standards of what a clean kitchen/washed dishes mean after the meal, agree on things like “there must be a green vegetable every time” or whatever it your housemates generally want.
3) When it’s his turn to cook, you should go to another room and leave him to it entirely. He should have as much agency as possible in choosing what he will cook, as long as it will fit into the dietary restrictions/allergies/nutrition needs of the house. I also suggest that you remove yourself completely as a consulting resource/sounding board for how to do things to the point of saying “I’m sure whatever you do will be great” before heading to your room with a book and some headphones.There are infinite recipes and free instructional videos online to help a person gain kitchen skills. Maybe Housemate B. can hang out in the kitchen with him as a recipe-finder/moral support person and that can be their time to bond, or maybe he can just work alone.
I know that this was not what you wanted to hear, but in my opinion there is no script that lets you state preferences/pick arguments about multiple things about C.’s home economics practices without hurting his feelings in a shared living situation, as the problem isn’t in the words you are using. I hope you can choose your battles and look at it this way: Watching C. fumble around is bugging the shit out of you; being constantly corrected is bugging the shit out of him. Would it not be more pleasant if he could call you to a meal that you didn’t have to do any work for at all? His meals will be more basic than yours, and not be your exact favorite foods, especially at first. So? You have the power to instantly turn your relationship with him from “It would be so much easier if you would just _______” to “Delicious pasta, C., thanks.”
[Edit] LW #761 explained the situation more. Comments closed.[/edit]