Bullish Life: What To Do About the Roommate From Hell

You say she’s estranged from her family, but once you try to commit suicide, you’ve crossed a line. Normally, it would be a violation of her boundaries to get in touch with her parents against her will, but when there’s an attempt on a human life (anyone’s), she’s already broken the social contract that protects those kinds of boundaries. Sure, maybe you try to talk to her about why she doesn’t talk to her parents. Maybe she has some other family members she likes more. But this is really the sort of thing that families are for (not roommates).

In terms of the shitty roommate stuff, you can always pull the classic move of putting her dirty dishes on her bed. (Maybe in a dishpan, to be nice.) You can put a lock on “your” kitchen cabinets, where you keep your clean dishes (and your food, for that matter). Or you could try to avoid conflict by spending $1.99 on some paper plates. You could mess with her a bit by keeping your crackers in the tampon box and your tampons in the crackers box, so at least she’ll have a harder time stealing your food. Mix a tremendous quantity of hot sauce into the Vegemite. (Hot sauce can’t actually hurt anyone. If she complains, she’ll be admitting stealing your food!) But of course small acts of mischief won’t solve the real problem.

But yes, you need to ask her to leave. I wrote a column once about helpful ways to phrase things in which I suggested, “It’s not possible.” This phrase avoids having to talk about feelings (“I feel like you don’t respect my contributions…” — it’s too arguable.) Saying, “It’s not possible for us to continue living together because I don’t have the money to cover for you” is just a fact.

That said, young people like yourself often do not realize just how much older people are ready and willing to help. Not just faraway advice columnists! It sounds like your own parents aren’t that helpful. But you’re both students, right? You have a dean (or whatever it’s called in Australia) and so does she. Universities are EXTREMELY interested in getting involved in students’ problems before those students commit suicide. Maybe you or she could be moved into university housing. Maybe there’s some kind of emergency assistance available. You need to put out a call for help ASAP to your dean, her dean, the campus health service, and anyone else at the university who may be helpful. I promise you that there is someone at your university who would be horrified to hear that you are dealing with this all by yourself. Universities are used to acting in loco parentis.

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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.