Bullish Life: What To Do About the Roommate From Hell


Jennifer Dziura writes career and life advice weekly on TheGloss. Here is an archive, and here is an archive of Bullish columns from our sister site TheGrindstone.

I once had a roommate who appeared to be drinking an entire case (24 cans) of Miller Lite every single night. One night, she threatened someone with a small knife. The next day, I asked her to leave.

When she was sober, she was totally reasonable. “Oh, I threatened someone with a knife! That is completely unacceptable! I’ll leave by Friday.”

I guess somewhere around the 23rd can of Miller Lite, it’s easy to forget society’s knife rules (cooking only!)

Here we have a letter from a writer whose roommate is a bit more troubled.

I have an ethical/practical dilemma with my housemate of three months. I’m 25, she is 23. We share a house that has fairly high rent (for students, anyway) and I adore the house. I have a job I work hard at and like, and generally work hard to do well at school. I used to be a poor, depressed no-starter, who fantasized about suicide and lived on vegemite toast (I’m in Australia). But when 2012 started I pulled myself out of my own self made hole and started university, worked very hard to be able to afford organic food, nice house, etc etc. I feel like I’ve worked bloody hard to maintain my current life and I am happy with it.

I brought this housemate in three months ago and she had just moved back to [city] after leaving an emotionally abusive relationship in [city], where she studied and lived with her spouse. I knew it would take her a few weeks to sort out job/school transfer/social life. But three months on she has only just started to apply for work. This is all fine. I recognized my former, lost self in her and wanted to give her a chance to get it together.

However she neglected to acknowledge that my housemate advert had said she needed to pay bond [a deposit] and seemed very confused. She was totally broke, so I poured half my savings (which is the first savings account I’ve had in my life) into paying her bond. I was annoyed but okay with it …. until she just..didn’t acknowledge I had done it. Never said thanks, or ‘I’ll pay you back once I have work’..just nothing. Then I offered to do a supermarket run for us both and she never paid me back, after saying she would. At this point I just resolved to not do her shopping again. She also took my food and never replaced it.

She also does zero house work unless her crush is coming over (so clearly, he is important enough to have a nice house for but I am not) and leaves mouldy dishes in the communal spaces.

I had been contemplating asking her to leave for some time now but just felt so guilty. The ethical dilemma comes in here: last week she attempted suicide by overdose. She also called the paramedics before passing out. I was woken up by the commotion. I haven’t seen her since. She has no family she is in contact with, basically no reliable support network that I know of. Rent is due in 3 days as well as $150 worth of bills. If I have to pay her share (given she is totally unreliable with paying me back) that will be ALL my money in the world.

The other thing is that I hate being surrounded by that sort of behaviour. I have done my time as a borderline alcoholic, had the police called on my parents, dated the abusive boys, cut myself, threatened suicide. I have truly moved past it and it feels very, very emotionally heavy to be witnessing it all now. It makes me feel like trash again.

So, I feel highly selfish worrying about things like my unpleasant memories, the drama, the money and the mess when she is feeling so bad. But every one around me has said ‘It’s not your problem, you can’t help, you’ve got to look after yourself, she is the only one that can help her.’ By the same token, it’s not fair of her to suck my resources (unwittingly, I assume/hope) and not do that much to help herself. I know from experience when you’re that deeply in a hole you can’t even see how to help yourself, though it may be obvious to others.

What is the appropriate course of action here?

I’m so sorry that this is happening to you! And I’m so glad you’ve gotten your life into such good shape. (Ironically, if you were still a mess, no one would even try to depend on you.)

I think the main thing you do in this situation is to act the same way you would act if you were in this situation but didn’t have any money at all to your name. Your personal savings is simply not on the table.

Here are a few ideas.

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    • JennyWren

      One valuable lesson that is has taken me far too many years to learn is this: Never, ever, EVER lend someone money that you cannot afford to do without. Don’t do it. I don’t care if they are your best bud, your lover, your parent- if you would not be okay with never seeing that money again DO NOT LOAN IT.

      This is because the proportion of incidences of people returning money to me are miniscule in proportion to those where they did not. People sometimes will genuinely forget that they borrowed the money, maybe they end up moving before they can return it, whatever. And then there are the incidences where people just deny they borrowed the money, and because you didn’t have anything in writing you have absolutely no way to fight them.

      Actually, this happens for tonnes of stuff, not just money- never lend anything to anyone unless you’re prepared not to get it back. Your friend might swear up and down that she won’t let anything happen to your good dress, but if someone knocks a tomato juice on her it’s still goodnight Vienna. And most people are not as careful and considerate as they like to think (and I count myself among the majority). Practically the only things I loan out now are books.

      Point is, it’s hugely to your credit that you gave this girl a chance, that you offered her a stable and safe home when she needed one. But you can’t continue throwing good money after bad and good effort after bad. It was your decision to live with her, but she decided to abuse that generosity.

    • Cate

      I love that you used a picture of Buffy for this and I’m not sure if it even needs to be said, but your advice is, as usual, fantastic.

    • NelJel

      This is really good advice

    • Lastango

      Excellent advice! Part of the writer’s problem may be her age. At 25, a lot of people haven’t hardened yet to the point where they recognize they’re being taken advantage of. There’s a class of counterculture scammers that know this. They’re a little older, and like to prey on the college crowd. They come across as attractive personalities, can play the guitar, and affect whatever version of the bohemian lifestyle is au courant. They drink your hooch, smoke your dope, crash at your pad, and when they disappear… so does your laptop, leather jacket, and that $150 in change in the jar.