#1262: “My housemate keeps exposing herself to me/the world/everyone.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

My 50+ y/o housemate has a problem, and I don’t know how to help. Sounds stupid but her pants are always falling down. At any given moment inch(es) of her rear crack are exposed. It started years ago, most often when she would bend over, but it has progressively gotten worse–any time she stands up or walks about. I’m not sure of the cause. She does wear a belt. I can only guess that her pants–jeans 90% of the time–and skivvies are the wrong size or cut. She is pretty flat back there. Yet that’s only part of the problem.

The real problem is that she is hypersensitive about it, and any attempt to bring it to her attention, either subtly or more directly, elicits only an angry response as if it’s a disability that she can’t do anything about. She’ll bark “I know!” when either she really didn’t know or doesn’t know the extent of it. At one point, long ago, I even took a few pictures when she wasn’t looking, so she could see what the rest of us have to see, but, of course, she got really angry and missed the point entirely.

I mostly wouldn’t care except it has led to very awkward situations. For instance, she recently had a contractor come in to give an estimate for some floor work. Her pants were halfway off her ass, which the guy noticed when she turned around. I tried to get her attention without calling more attention to it because I knew she’d flip out at me. Later, she said she felt like the contractor was acting funny and had an attitude. I did not say, “Of course he did! Your ass was almost fully exposed the entire time he was here!”

Lest you think it’s some kind of weird quest for attention, I just want to say that it happens all the time, in public, at home, when nobody is around and when everybody is around. At one point a few other friends started calling her Buttcrack Betty to her face, but that fell by the wayside because I think we’ve all concluded that she sort of *can’t* do anything about it? There was a point where I know she became paranoid about it, and was constantly grasping at the waist of her pants or pulling down her shirt, and she probably got tired of enacting that nervous tic all the time, but this still brings me back to why does it happen in the first place?

Aside from social awkwardness, this issue could also be dangerous. I can just see someone getting provoked by it one day. How does one address a situation like this? Seriously, how? I feel compelled to start with something like, “Look don’t take this personally, but I want to bring up a safety issue with you.” Then what? This such a weird problem, I know. Any advice or suggestions?

Hello:

BLESS THIS NON-PANDEMIC QUESTION. BLESS IT. (I am happy to help with anything I can help with, pandemic-wise, and how much OF you see your housemate is probably increased due to how much you SEE your housemate due to social distancing and possible working from home, but also, BLESS YOU).

Ahem.

Your housemate has choices. Some that come to mind:

  • Leggings.
  • Pants that are stretchy & fit much closer to the body.
  • Pants with leggings or stretchy bike shorts under them, like Hulk.
  • Dresses, skirts. Jumpsuits.
  • Cloaks, robes, caftans. Consider the cassock.
  • Suspenders.
  • MUCH longer shirts and jackets.
  • Taking her current trouser wardrobe to someone who does alterations and saying “Please help me.”
  • Replacing the current underwear and trouser wardrobe with things that actually fit her.
  • For pals on Twitter mentioning money: Safety pins. ONE garment that covers that region reliably for when company comes over. Possibly thrifted. A friend with a sewing machine. I didn’t list every possible choice ever, just that there are probably some that aren’t “my lower body just lives outside now.”
  • Not snapping at people who try to warn her and save her from potential embarrassment.

“Betty” has been made aware of the problem, she’s fifty years old and the boss of herself. It’s probable that she has issues around this; when I’ve encountered similar behavior it involved either deliberate sexual harassment from a boss whose fly happened to come undone on every pair of trousers he owned (but only when talking to seated female colleagues), aging/dementia (including the angry “I know!” response when clearly, they don’t), trauma, and/or someone whose body had gone through a very rapid change and there was a mismatch or delay in processing the changes.

I don’t know Betty or why this is happening or whether she can help it, so it’s best not to speculate or attempt to diagnose her, but I mention these in case it helps you to know the behaviors aren’t absolutely unique in the history of the world.

Some things we do know:

  • Whether or not Betty can help it, she isn’t helping it.
  • Betty clearly doesn’t want, trust, or accept feedback or help from you about this, which limits what you can do. What’s the worst thing that happens – specifically in your home/relationship with her – if you never bring it up again? (You have choices, too.)
  • Depending on how far the pants and underpants are coming down (I am taking your word that it’s a lot & not a passing, slight, who cares thing), it’s both a consent issue and a compatibility issue in your shared home. Is it time to consider separate households vs. constantly upsetting each other and fighting about something that she is so resistant to changing and that bothers you so much?

Going forward, I suggest:

  1. Probably do not speculate about how “dangerous” this might be for your roommate or invoke what other people think or who might be “provoked.” What other people in the abstract might think is actually less powerful than what you, a specific person who cares about her does think.
  2. Instead, tell Betty when her pants are falling down under exactly four possible circumstances:
    • When it bothers you, personally, at home esp. when guests are over or when and if you’re out in public together. “Please pull your pants up or put something else on. I don’t want to look at your backside.””Betty, the contractor’s here. Trouser check.”
    • When it is the obvious, glaring answer to a problem. Betty: “Why was the contractor being so weird?” You: “Because your pants down and he could see your entire everything. Wouldn’t you be creeped out if you went into a stranger’s home for work and they had their pants pulled down?” Betty: “I’m not like that, that’s not how I meant it.” You: “Well, the contractor doesn’t know that, so howabout you fortify the situation next time so it’s not an issue.” When it is obviously weird/uncomfortable for a vendor or a guest, pretending that this is not happening in order to spare her feelings at the expense of your feelings & the feelings of people who come to your home is not the way.
    • When and if (and only if) she brings up the problem with you, like, “I know this is a problem but I don’t know what to do” and you say “Maybe take it to your doctor or talk to a therapist about it? Is there something I can help with?”
    • If you choose to make *one* more sincere, direct appeal to her from the heart. “Friend. I don’t want to embarrass you or fight with you, but the pants situation is getting worse, not better, it’s making me really uncomfortable to see that much of you, and what happened with the contractor was really not okay. What do you need to figure this out? Can I help?” If she says drop it, then, drop it.

Outside of that, if it doesn’t affect you, guests and vendors at your home where you can see it happen, it’s a Betty problem. Let it go. Try not to look there. She doesn’t want your help. Let it go. And no more mean nicknames or photos. Even if shaming worked, which it doesn’t, bullying is worse than anything she’s doing.

3. When you do speak up, in general, try to be blunt, brief, and boring. This isn’t a new, surprising, out-of-left-field problem, so do not explain, sugar-coat, or justify. “Your pants. Fix them. Thank you.” “Betty. Pants.” NO MORE HINTS. “Pull your pants up.” “Okay, pull them up all the way.” “Let me get you a safety pin.”

4. If she gets self-conscious, upset, angry at you, has a large emotional reaction, let her. Then repeat: “I’m sorry, that must be very upsetting, but I don’t want to see your backside, so please take care of it” until everything that should be contained by fabric is.

If this is accidental or out of her locus of control for whatever reason, that is very upsetting and I’m sure it feels awful for her! One can have empathy, sympathy, compassion, and patience, and still need everybody to keep it in their pants.

In closing:

This is my gold star for not posting 10 more Tina Belcher gifs.

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