Advice for a Woman on How To Get Rid of a Roommate Without Ruining the Friendship

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
May 18 2010 9:56 AM

My Husband and I Live With a Slob!

How to get rid of a messy, drunken roommate without ruining the friendship.

Illustration by Jason Raish. Click image to expand.

Dear Friend or Foe,

Lucinda Rosenfeld Lucinda Rosenfeld

Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including I'm So Happy for You and The Pretty One, which will be published in early 2013.

Ten months ago, my husband and I signed a yearlong lease with an old friend of mine—"Mac" —so we could all move out of our parents' houses. He has been very inconsiderate of our time and space: He brings friends over to drink loudly until early morning, he never cleans, and he uses our belongings without asking. We feel that we need to remove ourselves from this situation when the lease ends. Since there are two of us (and we both have stable jobs) and one of Mac (he works as a server), I understand that this puts him at a major disadvantage. Since Mac is never home, I recently sent him a text message asking when we can get together and discuss the various options.

He sent me back a series of messages accusing us of going behind his back and trying to send him to the street because he has no other accommodations lined up. He also keeps saying there's nothing wrong with the living arrangements. He thinks that everyone is getting along fine, and he doesn't feel like moving his stuff again. I can see this meeting turning into World War III. Please help me figure out how to talk with him so that our last few months are not filled with angry stares.

Sincerely,
Roommate Trouble

Dear RT,

Well, if Mac is never home, there shouldn't be too many death stares to deal with—unless, of course, you have to pee at 3 a.m., just as the party's getting started. Sometimes life is an inconvenient bummer, and hard-drinking, jam-filching, rarely mopping Mac is just going to have to deal with it and find himself some new roommates on Craigslist if he wants to stay put.

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When you signed a lease, you agreed to occupy and pay for said quarters for 12 months. After that time, you were always free to move to Tahiti. Moreover, since you two are married (and probably desirous of your own pad), surely Mac realized that this apartment was merely a way station for you guys, rather than a family home in which you'd all grow old together. Even if you'd all gotten along famously—and he'd left your Smuckers alone—there was going to be a strong chance of you two announcing that you were striking out on your own after a year or two.

Mac has two months to find new roommates. Suggest he start looking now, or, if you're feeling charitable, put up some notices at work yourself and/or spread the word on Facebook. * You'll realize that 60 days of stink-eye from Mac are worth it once you're settled into a new, clean, and quiet home.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

I just had a deep friendship end after 30 years. "Margie" is a fanatic workaholic who never makes an effort to see or talk to me. We live on opposite coasts, but when she comes to my city, she's always "too busy" to hang out. I'm also unwilling to share her rose-colored—to the point of delusional—outlook on life. One of her feet was messed up last year, and she was largely unable to walk for four months. But she never went to see a doctor because she couldn't see a reason to and "rarely leaves the house." (She works from home.) More urgently, her mother has dementia and recently lost several teeth because she'd stopped brushing them. Margie doesn't seem to realize that it's up to her to ensure that her mother's basic needs are taken care of.

Despite my own experience with a mother with Alzheimer's, she's rebuffed all my attempts to talk with her about her mother's care. It got to a point where Margie told me I was being "bossy and critical" and that it was "human nature" to avoid me. I've bitten my tongue a lot, but Margie has honestly frightened me with her neglect of both her mother and herself. Furthermore, I fear that Margie, now in her 50s, may be experiencing cognitive decline as well. This opinion is based on interactions where she seems out of it in ways that seem similar to my mother's early dementia. Should I contact her daughter, who's a medical student, and express my concern? I've known Margie's daughter since she was born but haven't seen much of her in recent years. Or should I just put Margie out of my mind?

Sincerely,
Dumped for Not Being in Denial

Dear DFNBID,

If Margie's daughter is an aspiring MD, chances are that she would and will be the first to notice if there's something askew with her mom, though I don't think contacting her politely would hurt (if you can find a way to do so). * What I suspect, however, is that your desire to reach out to Margie's daughter has as much to do with seeking solace for your own loss as it does with your concern over her mother's and grandmother's well-being. Which is not to minimize your concern, but 30 years is a long time. You'd be inhuman not to feel some kind of hurt over the end of the relationship.

Margie sounds prickly, to be sure. But I also observed that you began your letter complaining about her neglect of you—before moving on to discuss her neglect of her mother and, finally, herself. Is it possible that you were reliving your own history with dementia through Margie and her mother? If so, I can understand why she found you hectoring instead supportive. Bottom line: You can't live other people's lives for them.

I once met an Alzheimer's specialist/doctor at a party who told me he spent two-thirds of his time treating the families of his patients rather than the patients themselves. The disease is sometimes as rough—if not rougher—on the immediate family members than it is on those afflicted. It seems a shame that, during this difficult time in Margie's life, you and she can't find a way to patch things up. Perhaps you could begin with an apology for having intruded. (Maybe she'll return the favor with an apology for having rebuffed your offers of help so harshly.)

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

My best friend "Dave" and I met in school, where he became close with my husband and me. At the time, he was dating a woman—"Jen"—who is now his wife. She and I share no interests besides the fact that we are both pursuing the same career. We have completely different ideas about politics, movies, music: You name it and we don't agree. Yet she insists we be "best friends," too. I don't mind disagreeing with friends—my other best friend is unlike me in every way, yet we share a deep bond—but Jen takes everything personally. An argument often results in her crying. These dust-ups always end in me apologizing, while I've rarely heard her admit to being wrong. She also overwhelms me with phone calls and "follow-ups" about planned activities that she has instigated and promises I've made to pass her name along to someone in our industry. She makes mocking comments meant to be flippant but which actually hurt me. When I call her out on her behavior, she casts herself as the victim, saying she can't understand how I could ever be offended by something she did because we're "such good friends."

Recently, Jen called me to ask about something we were planning, and we had a tense but civil conversation. Twenty minutes later, Dave called me and said his wife "said you sounded really stressed out." They cast it as concern, but I feel condescended to, misunderstood, and, yes, "stressed out" by the way they behave. I see them constantly because our social circles and career paths are identical. I only get alone time with Dave when she is out of town or otherwise occupied. How do I swallow my anger and dislike for this woman in favor of keeping her as a happy colleague—and saving my friendship with her husband?

Sincerely,
Her Husband's Best Friend

Dear HHBF,

That's weird, because I never got that memo—the one that says you have to be BFF with your best friend's spouse, too. In fact, I would say it was the exception, rather than the rule, that old friends end up hitting it off with each other's significant others. With the majority of my old friends, girls' night is de rigueur—for a reason: We can't think of anything to say to one another's husbands or, in, a few cases, wives. While I'm very fond of a few of my bosom buddies' bed mates, rarely has a spouse ended up on my speed dial. Speaking of spouses, I'm also wondering where your husband is in all of this. I'm assuming that he has no problem with the woman (or you would have mentioned it).

Given the same-profession, same-social-circle factor, it sounds as if Jen is unavoidable. So you're going to have to learn to deal with her. That doesn't mean you have to be soul mates, however. If you really can't stand the woman, then start passing on the one-on-one activities when she calls. If she cries, pass her the tissue box. See Dave when she's out of town—or meet him for lunch during the work week. If all this means not seeing Dave every day, so be it. We all make sacrifices for marriage.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Corrections, May 19, 2010: The first version of this article said the new roommate has three months to find new roommates. He only has two, per the original letter. (Return  to the corrected sentence.) The first version of this article also said that Margie's mother was seeking an MD. Her daughter is the one in medical school. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

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