I once had a flatmate who used my “hidden” spare key to break into my room, take my car key, and “borrow” my car—all because I wasn’t around to ask. (Incidentally, I’m pretty sure that borrowing something without asking is the definition of “stealing,” but thankfully I got my car back.) The point? We’ve all had roommates who, for one reason or another, don’t respect our boundaries as well as we’d like. So, what to do if you find yourself in this situation?
Be upfront about your boundaries from the beginning
It’s best if you and your new roommates can sit down together and lay out some ground rules; a formal meeting will make it easier to express things that might otherwise sound like complaints or warnings. Set an agenda of things you’d all like to discuss at the outset of your joint domestic adventure. If you get nervous about confrontation, jot down a couple notes of points you want to be sure to make (e.g. “my shampoo costs $80 a bottle, so please don’t use it,” or “I’m allergic to all rodents, so please don’t sneak in any new pets or my volcanic sneezes will give you away”). In return, listen closely to your roommates’ preferences and pet peeves—everyone’s are different. You may even consider drawing up a roommate contract, if that doesn’t seem too uptight to everyone involved.
Address issues casually, as they come up
If your roommate violates a boundary once, you might let it slide. If it happens twice, nip it in the bud. You don’t want her to develop a habit so that three years from now when you’re drunk and giving a toast at her wedding, you don’t inadvertently go on a rampage about how she always finished your cereal. Be casual and non-accusatory; just mention whatever’s bothering you and be done with it. She might think you don’t like stale cereal dregs and she’s doing you favor.
If the problem persists, take stronger action
Does your roommate continue with behavior that really rubs you the wrong way? Have you made her aware of how you feel? It might be time to sit down again. If you have multiple people in your apartment, arrange a house meeting where you can discuss what’s on your mind. Again, formalizing the conversation can make it easier to speak out, and she might be more likely to take your grievances seriously. A word of caution, however: the whole “this really bothers me” thing can be used to self-righteously bully people and make them uncomfortable in their own home. Everyone has their quirks, yourself included—don’t make someone feel awful about themselves just so you can feel in the right.
Still an issue?
If it’s really bad—your financial, emotional, or bodily safety are being compromised—then you might choose to move out. Otherwise, stick it out and survive the best you can. We all have roommates who challenge us in various ways, and next time around, when you have a wonderful person who is a delight to live with, you’ll appreciate her all the more.
Have you had roommates who didn’t respect your boundaries? Tell us what you did about it here or on Facebook!