I’m in some troubled and rapidly freezing waters. I live with two roommates and it’s been a peaceful arrangement so far. I lived with one roommate, A, in my last place, and my other roommate, B, is one of my best friends and it’s our first time living together.
We’re responsible for filling an empty fuel tank for the winter, but didn’t realize this until recently. The financial stress of filling this tank is being felt mostly by B and me (I’m a full-time grad student and part-time server, B needs to save for a car because of Family Stuff), and A is having trouble relating to us since she is relatively sound financially with her off-the-books job and reduced rent (which we agreed to since she had a smaller room).
Because we meet preliminary qualifications, I applied for state heating assistance, but to complete the application I need a social security card from A. Unfortunately, it has somehow been misplaced. A is incredibly lax about trying to remedy problems that might be much higher up on other people’s lists of Stuff To Get Done (ie, paying bills on time, cancelling missing credit cards, replacing a lost driver’s license). I’ve already told her about needing her to apply for a new card, so the ball is entirely in her court. B is freaking out though, and it feels like there is literally nothing I can do beyond offering to drive A to the office and sit with her while she applies for a new card to ensure it gets done.
Confronting A, or when she gets stressed about out things, also causes her to shut down and lash out and procrastinate even more. B and I are stressed for many reasons, and A also doesn’t seem to understand why we are so pressed financially. Her proposed solution is to ask her boss for the money (and that’s a Hard No from me). B has been venting to me exclusively and it’s harder to handle and try to be the middleperson when I’m also angry and hurt. Long-term solution here is to not live with A again, but for the short-term what can I do to effectively encourage A and express the importance of how much this Needs To Get Done, as well as smooth things over between all three of us?
It’s getting a little heated, but not the kind of heating we need
You can’t smooth things over between all three of you, so, stop.
To be clear, does “A.’s proposed solution is to ask her boss for the money” mean that A. wants to borrow the money from her boss (and have all of you on the hook for paying it back?) That would explain your reluctance to accept her offer, and I wouldn’t accept that option either. If A. is volunteering to cover the entire bill with money from her boss, that’s another story.
Applying for a new social security card takes a lot of documentation and some time and they don’t just give you the new one that day. It can take a couple weeks in the mail.
It’s time to put the ball in A’s court in a different way.
“A., I’ve asked you a few times now for a copy of your social security card for our application for heating assistance. Can you be honest with me? What is the holdup?”
Ask nicely, and invite her to make you understand the situation from her point of view. I personally am speculating all kinds of scenarios, like, since you mention an off-the-books job and a really sketchy debt scenario maybe she is undocumented and is trying to deflect disclosing that to protect herself. Maybe she knows she’s missing key pieces of documentation that would take too long to get. Maybe it’s mental health stuff that shreds executive function. Whatever it is, there can be reasons that deserve your compassion and inspire you to help find a workaround, but that doesn’t change the fact that you still need a solution to your heating issues. I am not a lawyer and definitely not one in your state, so I can’t speak to legal issues here. If A. can’t get a card, you need to know that so that you can make other plans. If A. can get a card and just… isn’t… for some reason, I don’t think you are at all unreasonable if you say:
“This application needs submitted to the state by the end of November. Please apply for your new social security card tomorrow (I will drive if you want).”
If A says she’ll do it “later”, say, “Sorry, I don’t believe that you’ll do it ‘later’ without a real commitment to a date & time. I get that administrative things are hard for you sometimes, and I don’t want to make it even harder, which is why I want to do everything today so that we can stop having this hang over our heads.”
If she has a shame spiral or lashes out, it’s okay to say “Hey, I don’t want to hurt your feelings or make you feel bad; I want to get the thing done. My only question is, how do we get the thing done?”
If she still won’t do it, then, “Hey, you are putting B. and me in financial jeopardy and causing us tons of stress because of your procrastination, and things are not okay between us until you make this right.” Then be a broken record.
A.: “How was your day? This was my day…”
You: “Cool. So did you get your social security card?”
A: “Want to watch a movie? I rented a movie.”
You: “Maybe. Where are things on your social security card?”
A: “There’s ice cream in the fridge if you want it.”
You: “Great. Can I have a copy of your social security card?”
A: “I don’t understand why this is such a big deal…”
You: “I don’t need you to understand. I need you to do 1-2 hours of work so that this can stop being so stressful for everyone, you included.”
A: “I don’t understand why y’all are so pressed financially!”
You: “Wow, what an oblivious thing to say! We’re roommates, not married to each other, so you don’t know every single thing about my finances, and if I tell you that this is important for me then it is.”
A: “You’re being really mean about this! Why are you so mean?”
You: “You say ‘mean’, I say ‘sick of having to ask you more than once for something that you should have handled by now.’ If you haven’t noticed, things are not okay between us right now.”
If A. still won’t get the card, “A., what you’re telling me is that this is now totally your responsibility. Please write me a check for the full amount of the heating tank with your December rent.” Alternately, “Well, all lessors have to provide documentation for the application, so the other alternative is to take you off the lease.”
I hope it doesn’t get to that. Whatever you do or say, if A. won’t help you fix it or fix it herself, STOP SMOOTHING IT OVER. Get very aware of all of your legal rights and potential legal issues here. Have an argument, with raised voices and stuff.
Now let’s talk about B., where your script is, “B., I feel you so hard, you know I do, but I can’t be your venting person about this. I think you should say everything you just told me directly to A.”
“B., you’re totally right. Definitely tell A. what you just told me.”
“B., I agree! Like you, I can’t pretend things are okay with A., either, so, go ahead and bug her about the card, too.”
I don’t know if your heating situation is fixable without cooperation from A. The part you can control is to stop smoothing relations between A. and B. to stop being the listener/negotiator/middle child. A. gets “Cool story, so, about that thing you need to do“and B gets “Mmmm hmmm you are so right and also that’s a problem for A., go tell her about that” and maybe you chill out with other friends who don’t live with you a bit more until this all works itself out.
I hope it gets both warmer and cooler, if you know what I mean.