Make us your home page

Confronting roommate about her ever-present boyfriend

Confronting roommate about her ever-present boyfriend

Q: What is a nice way to tell a roommate that her on-again boyfriend can't live at our apartment? When she moved in, she said they had broken up, but now he has been over 99 percent of the nights she's lived with us. I definitely did not sign up for a nonpaying fourth roommate either way, but he isn't even friendly. I am absolutely awful at bringing up uncomfortable things like this and would like not to sound rude or alienate her, if possible. Is there a nice way to do something like this?


A: Do you think your roommate asked herself: "What's a nice way to have my boyfriend over 99 percent of the time, even though I promised my new roommates that we had broken up?"

It's not her priority to be liked; her priority is to have her boyfriend stay over. And so, voila, her boyfriend practically lives there and you're starting to resent her for it.

I could take this argument to some interesting places ("In defense of flipping your roommates the bird, by Carolyn Hax"), but here's where I'm going with it: People tend to get what they prioritize. Till now, you have made it your priority to be nonconfrontational and accommodating toward your new roommate — and so, voila. You're accommodating the nonpaying fourth roommate.

If you don't like the way things have turned out, then you need to reset your priorities to reflect what you want. Do you want the boyfriend to pay rent, stay somewhere else, or just to acknowledge you in the hall? Is there negotiating room that you'd be willing to use to remain on good terms with your roommate? What is your worst-case scenario — saying nothing and feeling like a big fat doormat, or speaking up, only to have your roommate move out/declare war/start a cold war/ignore you completely and continue hosting her boyfriend as usual? Which do you want more — to keep things in your comfort zone, or to draw a line where you think it belongs?

There's no right or wrong choice here; there's only what matters to you, and what you're willing to risk to achieve it.

And the whole purpose of finding these things out is, hard as it may seem, to take that acceptable risk and clearly state what you want. Not just with this, but with anything.

You may alienate your roommate, you may not; no matter how carefully you deliver your message, ultimately, you can't control how she receives it.

But you can be sure you believe in your message, put yourself in other people's shoes as you formulate it, prepare for the full range of reactions to it, and then deliver it to the best of your ability. You can have a plan in mind for handling it if her reaction isn't a good one.

I realize that to the nonconfrontational, confrontation is Everest.

But if you're confident that what you're asking is both fair and important enough to warrant a disturbance to the status quo, then taking a stand might feel better than you think. Either your roommate will be gracious enough — or sufficiently outnumbered? — to cooperate, or you'll be ready to regard her hostility as an acceptable alternative to letting her wipe her feet on your face.

Confronting roommate about her ever-present boyfriend 10/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours