The Case of the Butter-Stealing Roommate

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
March 20 2012 6:00 AM

My Roommate Steals Tubs of Butter in the Night

I’m pretty sure she’s bulimic. Should I confront her?

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Illustration by Jason Raish.

This is my last ever “Friend or Foe.” Thanks to all those who have followed the column since 2009.

Dear Friend or Foe,


A new girl—“Bess” —recently moved into our group house at college. At first, I couldn't have been more excited. We got along great, and she seemed fun and responsible. After a couple of weeks, however, some mysterious things began to happen. Large portions of food not belonging to her would go missing overnight. Considering the stealthy manner in which the food was taken and the sheer amount of it (almost two tubs of butter cleaned out in 10 days!), I began to suspect she might have an eating disorder. Since then, my suspicions have been affirmed: I’ve heard her throwing up multiple times with no explanation. The situation came to a head last week when one of my other roommates confronted her about missing food. She kicked a door and screamed about how offended she was by the accusation.

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.

Since that day, her behavior has become even more erratic. Though I normally don’t shy away from hard discussions, this one has me puzzled. On one hand, I feel responsible for Bess’ safety and am deeply concerned about her. On the other, I’m scared of what a confrontation might do to our home environment and am actually afraid she might get physical or even violent. Her parents live in town, and I've considered contacting them with the information. But that still leaves me to live with the aftermath. Is staging an intervention worth the risk? Or should the rest of the house continue biting their tongues in fear?

Sincerely,

To Speak or Not To Speak

Dear TSONTS,

What a depressing situation. I think you should ask Bess out for coffee. Make sure it’s in a public setting that allows for some measure of privacy. Then, in the most sympathetic way possible and without alluding to your missing ramen noodles (your roommate’s mistake was to begin with an accusation), tell her you think she’s a great person, you’re so happy to have gotten to know her, and you’re really concerned about what she’s doing to her body. You want to try to get her the help she needs. It’s unlikely she’ll get physical with you in the middle of a Starbucks. And even if she storms out, maybe she’ll take the message to heart later.

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Bottom line: You don’t have to be best friends with this girl. But please be as compassionate as you can possibly be. Bulimia is part of the OCD spectrum and can be very hard to treat. For its sufferers, it’s also deeply shameful and involves large helpings of self-loathing—hence the anger and the impulse to hide what’s really going on. My guess is that Bess will end up moving out—and she probably should; someone with her condition might do better in an apartment by herself, where she can control what food comes in and out. But even if she does—and you never speak to her again—at least you’ll have tried to help. I’d also leave her parents out of it for now. The humiliation factor is probably already so high that, should you add a worried-looking mom and dad to the mix, she might just lose it.

Best regards,

Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

In high school, I was part of a close-knit group of guys. We’re pushing 40 now, but about five of us remain very close. In our late teens and early 20s, we partied hard, did stupid things, and learned from them. But one of the guys, "Arnold," became a full-blown alcoholic. At the wedding of another friend, "Will," he behaved abhorrently. A few months later, we staged an intervention. Arnold told us that he wasn't interested in our help and that, if he had to choose between our friendship and drinking, he'd "choose the bottle every time." After some discussion, he agreed that he wouldn't drink around us.

Six months later, another friend, "Jeff," got married. Arnold asked me for a ride to the rehearsal. I agreed but warned him that taking a ride from me meant a commitment to refrain from the bottle. He agreed to my terms. But after 20 minutes at the rehearsal, he was sucking down rum and Cokes. I reminded him of his promise, and he told me that he didn't care what he’d said; he was going to drink. When, six months later, I was getting married myself, I agonized over the decision of whether or not to invite him and ultimately decided that, since there would be alcohol present, I couldn’t do so. It was a cowardly of me not to send him an explanation, but I stand by my decision.

That was 10 years ago, and we haven’t spoken since. I’ve periodically sent him emails and called to see how he’s doing. But he doesn’t get back to me. I’ve heard through some of the other guys that he’s hurt and "done with" me. The thing is—I miss him. Arnold is great guy with a wonderfully twisted sense of humor. He just drinks too much and ends up making a mess of things. Do you think the relationship is reparable?

Sincerely,

Missing Arnold

Dear MA,

That’s a tough one. But it sounds as if the decision has already been decided for you (by Arnold, who never wants to speak to you again). So even if you decide you want to mend the fence, I doubt there’s much you can do to get it standing upright again. You left him out of one of the biggest days of your lives. Assuming that he’s still drinking—you don’t say if he’s made any attempt in the last decade to clean up his act—I doubt he’ll find a reason to forgive the omission. Your only hope is that he someday sobers up and comes back to find the people he alienated along the way.

My advice is to let the whole thing go. If Arnold has been boozing heavily for 20 years, I doubt he’s as amusing a fellow as you remember. Moreover, nostalgia has a way of adding sparkly bits to all our memories. You think you miss the guy, but do you really? If I were you, I’d be thankful for the five great friends you still have from that period of your life. A lot of people don’t make that many in a lifetime.

Sincerely,

Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

Last fall, I started a small graduate program, where I met a seemingly nice girl named "Tina." We had a lot of fun at first, going to movies, bars, and shopping. Since our program is group-project-based, I thought it would be good if we started adding others to our circle. I made some new friends; for unclear reasons, Tina didn't. When my new friends would invite me to hang out, I'd ask her to come along. She’d refuse. Then she’d spend the entire night texting me about how lonely she was. One night, I received 47 (!) text messages, two of which were picture messages of her making sad faces! Sometimes, she’d take photos of her texts, post them on Facebook, tag me in the picture, and then write "Why didn't you write me back?" under the photo! I was a little freaked out and tried to cool our friendship off, saying I had plans or was busy.