Three letter writers who need some help saying “nope!” and making it stick.
I’m rapidly running out of patience with my housemate and am at the same time increasingly concerned about him, and I could really use an outside opinion on what, if anything, I can do to help him without damaging myself any further.
About four years ago I quit my well-paid but extremely stressful career to retrain as something that wouldn’t kill me. My friend, who was rattling around his large house alone, offered that I could live with him for a low rent/contribution to the household budget, because he wanted the company (he can afford to support both of us without my financial input, but I was uncomfortable with that). Although I’m working part-time, studying, and now doing voluntary clinical practice, my time is more flexible than his and when we started this arrangement I agreed to take on a higher share of the housework to make up for my smaller financial input. Problem is, “a higher share of housework” rapidly became “responsible for everything”. Literally everything, including making sure he got up in time for work, reminding him to shower, making sure he eats something other than cereal… It turns out he doesn’t need a housemate, he needs a manservant.
I did not sign up for that, but like a mug I let the relationship develop into some sort of weird pseudo master-servant mess, partly out of trying to be A Good Friend, partly out of shame at not being able to contribute financially (I have massive neuroses about money). For maybe the last two years, I’ve been trying to dig us out of that pattern. I feel like I’ve tried every mechanism suggested on this site and UfYH for apportioning chores, I’ve tried to help him find coping mechanisms for the time-keeping issues, I’ve tried so hard to help him build support networks I’ve managed to alienate myself from half our local friends… Nothing sticks. As soon as I’m not holding his hand, it all falls down, and that’s even more frustrating than me just getting on with it.
The thing is, he’s not incapable of looking after himself, in terms of skill-sets, rather he’s profoundly unwilling to take any kind of responsibility for himself. I wish it was a case of him being a lazy git because he knows I’ll do stuff for him, and gets on fine when I’m not there, but it’s really not. If I’m away for any length of time, he will just sit there in front of his computer for days, not eating properly, not getting enough sleep, and not enjoying himself either. He is quite aware he’s screwing himself over. At the same time, he seems to have zero will to address the problem; he seems to be passively waiting for me (or, since last summer, his therapist) to fix it for him.
I’m starting to feel like maybe I’m maybe the bad guy here, because what if it’s not that he’s unwilling to address the problem, but unable to because of… I dunno… something to do with executive function (although he flat out rejects this as a possibility)? That I need to be more patient and more willing to hold things together for him, and be a better friend? I just don’t know if I can do that. I’m exhausted, resentful that I don’t have time for my stuff that is not work or study, and feeling profoundly taken for granted. I don’t get any appreciation for the work I put in, it’s only noticed when I drop the ball (god forbid I get ill), and his absent-mindedness makes him actively unhelpful at keeping any semblance of order in the house.
Thing is, I do care about the little bugger, and I’m deeply worried that if I move out (and it’s got to the stage where I am planning this) he’s not going to cope and end up sick or fired or something. I recognise that this situation is largely my fault, I let him get dependent on me, so I guess it’s my job to fix it. I just have no idea how to. Do you have any suggestions on how I can disentangle myself from this in a way that is safe for the pair of us?
Dear Not Jeeves,
Move out as soon as you humanly can. Tell him in the simplest possible terms: “I’m moving out on (date).” Then follow through, and once you have, focus 100% on your own life and routine. The kindest, best, simplest way to do this is to tell him directly what you plan to do and then follow through on that plan.
Once you’ve moved out, check back in with him in like, three months, and make sure it’s a casual “let’s go to a movie” sort of plan. Do not drop by the house or hang out there, do not ask him questions about domestic arrangements, and do not invite “venting” about same. (If he brings it up, you can use the “Heh, that sounds rough, what do you think you’ll do?” + subject change)
My prediction: He will have an adjustment period where things are pretty messy and chaotic, and then he will either pull things together or he won’t. If he doesn’t pull things together in several months, then, as a friend, you can say “You seem like you’re having a hard time right now, have you thought about seeing a counselor or a coach to help you out?”
You have to give the adjustment period some time to actually happen, which includes relearning the word “No” and letting him flounder/fail for a little while if that’s what he’s bound to do. You are not a bad friend if you stop being this guy’s unpaid Wife-Mommy. You are not a bad friend if you stop doing this even if he has “executive function” issues. If you swoop in and help at the first dirty dish in the sink it will be like you never moved out.
I know you’re tempted to prepare him for this or wean him off your support ahead of time and because you are a considerate person and this is something that would work for you in his shoes. I also sense a desire to try to convince him that this is the right thing for you to do. Resist these impulses! The situation has become so unreasonable and so beyond “considerate” that I think this will only create friction and confusion for you and nothing will really stick until you’re out of the house. Go! Run! Move! You can make this decision unilaterally, without him agreeing that it’s a good idea, and without drafting a plan for how he will take care of himself when you’re gone.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I’m writing to you to ask what to do about a situation I find myself in. For the past year and a half, I have been friends with Ben, a great guy. We hang out together, watch movies together, and deal with still living with our parents.
The only catch is that Ben has four big jumpy dogs. I don’t know how to tell him that I feel uncomfortable hanging out at his house because his dogs jump on me and get in my face. He tells me just to smack their noses and they’ll bop down. Which they do (for thirty seconds and then they jump right back in my face.) He pulls them off, but they jump right back on me. I’m not a dog person, and I would like to just watch movies without the dogs in my face every thirty seconds. I’m not scared of dogs, but I’m not a fan, exactly. I’ve had dates that are less pushy than these dogs! Help!
What are some scripts that I could use to ask him to control his dogs better?
Not a Dog-Lover
PS. I am a female person with female pronouns
Dear Not-A-Dog Lover,
Ben is a terrible dog owner and he needs to train his dogs not to jump on people. He could take them to obedience school. He could watch YouTube videos on training your dog. He could barricade them in a separate room when he has guests over. Telling you to “Just bop them on the nose” is NOT the way to handle it.
Since Ben is a terrible dog owner who won’t train his dogs not to jump on people, this seems like a good idea to stop hanging out at his house and only schedule things at your house.
If he asks why, tell him, “I don’t like hanging out at your house because of the dogs.”
If he protests that they aren’t that bad or you should just learn to deal with them, say, “Unless you can barricade the dogs in another part of the house when I come over, I’d just rather keep hanging out at my place, thanks.”
Important: Stating the boundary (‘I don’t want your dogs to jump on me, ever’) is only the first part of setting a boundary. The real work comes in enforcing it, which means refusing to come over if the dogs aren’t locked up, and leaving if you get there and he doesn’t follow through on his promise. If he wants to hang out with you, he’ll make something work. You are not making an unreasonable request!
Dear Captain and Crew,
I have a problem that I’m not quite sure what to do about. My girlfriend and I have been together for two years and I’m the first-ever female she’s been with. At first I thought our differences in terms of pastimes wouldn’t be that big a deal. She’s really into certain TV shows and I hardly ever watch TV and dislike it most of the time. I don’t negatively judge people who do enjoy TV. It’s just not my thing. About 3-4 months ago, my girlfriend asked me to try watching an episode of a certain series she really likes and I was open to giving it a shot but in addition to not really feeling the plot, the explosions and fast paced noisy nature of it made it difficult for me to even comfortably sit there and even pretend to be into it. It was a bit too much for someone like me who is used to much quieter ways to spend time.
I told her I wasn’t into it enough to keep watching and she didn’t complain. So for the hour or so she spent watching it I just did something else until she was done.
Then came the next issue. Recently, she’s been really wanting to talk about her celebrity crushes which both 1) largely come from this show and 2) are all guys. Now since I don’t watch tv, am not attracted to guys and don’t have celebrity crushes, this puts me in an awkward position. Now she accuses me of being jealous of her celeb crushes and trying to keep her from watching her shows (I don’t) and she keeps insisting that talking about celebrity crushes is something you’re “supposed to be able to do in a healthy relationship” but the problem is I just don’t have anything to add and these conversations just end up being her going on about celebs while I stare and nod. I really don’t know what she wants me to respond with here. Am I the weird one for not crushing on people I don’t know? Is this a conversation I need to be having? If so, just how am I supposed to have it?
Suddenly a Sounding Board
Dear Suddenly A Sounding Board,
You’re not the weird one. Your girlfriend is falling prey to the ““Love me, love my obsession. Love my obsession, love me” Geek Relationship Fallacy. You don’t have to love all the same pop culture as someone to be in love, and loving the same pop culture is not an indication that you’re meant for each other. Whether it’s Fantasy Football, the U.S. election, The Wire, or Supernatural fandom, everybody has that moment of “You are interesting to me, but this topic is not so interesting to me, and I have about 10 minutes of polite listening in me before I kinda tune out.”
I think it’s cool for partners to let each other natter on about things of interest to them on occasion and you don’t have to have anything to “add to the conversation” to listen for a bit. Lately my Gentleman Caller is into listening HarmonTown when he does repetitive work at his job and I have personally experienced zero minutes of HarmonTown firsthand. I can enjoy *some* retelling of jokes from HarmonTown at the end of a day the way he can handle *some* “OMG let me tell you about this comment on my blog” jibber-jabber. The key is balance and having some awareness for your audience and not taking advantage of the other person’s politeness, which I’m not sure your girlfriend really gets. If you have an obsession that she’s not really into, maybe that can be useful in having the “Babe, can you give me just the highlights? In return, I promise not to recap my Sudoku puzzles/D&D games/philosophy classes for you in detail.” I’ve known couples who literally set a timer, or who have a “Can you sum that up for me in three sentences?” rule.
There is no one model for a “healthy” relationship, and if your girlfriend in her heart of hearts really wants someone to geek out about her fannish interests as a partner, perhaps she should go find that person! It’s definitely not okay to pressure you into becoming that person or imply that your lack of interest in pictures of Zayn or Poe Dameron or whoever is “unhealthy” or even unkind on your part. Quite the contrary, there’s something kind of sketchy to me about a young bi-lady in her first same sex relationship constantly parading straight men in front of her girlfriend and expecting you to have some kind of reaction to them. There’s something even more sketchy about implying that you’re jealous or that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t want to talk about it.
In your shoes I might try a very blunt broken record approach:
- “Straight boys aren’t really interesting to me” + (subject change). Repeat some variation of this every time she tries to get you to comment on one of her “crushes.” “I don’t really find boys that interesting, sorry.” If you are consistent about this, it might make it boring for her to bring it up to you. Eventually this might lead to a “I know you are bi, and I get that you are attracted to men, too, but I’m not the right audience for the details of that! When you’re with me, I want to hear about how you’re attracted to me” conversation.
- “Enjoy your show! I’m going to go read/listen to music/fix my bike. Come find me when you’re done.“
- “I’m really glad that you enjoy it so much! It’s not really my thing, so these detailed recaps are kinda lost on me.” + (subject change).
There are INFINITY online communities devoted to every fandom and celebrity crush one can think of. So much so that, while I don’t recall the exact name or wording of the rule that says that mentioning several characters in a single sentence instantly generates fic about them, I’m pretty sure that by the time I’m done with this post there will be a story about how Groot rides Hidalgo to rescue Dumbledore from Kylo Ren and then they all make out with Wash from Firefly, Will Graham, and Alexander Hamilton. In other words, your girlfriend can find many, many people to chat with about her obsessions who are not you. There’s only one you, and you don’t have to fill #1 Fandom Buddy role if you don’t want to. I hope she gets that and appreciates what you do bring to her life.
Letter Writers, you are not the unreasonable ones here, so be direct!