Posted by fxckfeelings on July 8, 2013Share This Post
What’s a reasonable demand on some isn’t so reasonable for others, i.e., asking someone to hit a baseball 500 feet isn’t fair unless that someone is David Ortiz. You might think it’s more acceptable to ask someone who wasn’t raised by wolves to do their dishes, or to not have to ask someone with a phone to use it once in a while. Unfortunately however, the people who don’t treat you properly, can’t, and aren’t going to, for one reason or another, so trying to set things straight makes them worse. Instead, learn to screen people for their ability to treat you (and others) in what you consider a reasonable manner. Then, once you become friends, roommates, or partners, you won’t have to worry too much about whether they do their share, since you agree on a set of standards for behavior (and not baseball talent).
Admittedly I like things neat and clean, but I don’t expect too much from a roommate—she’s got to be a real slob to get me upset, which, unfortunately, my current roommate is, and has. She dumps dishes in the sink without rinsing them, never fills or empties the dishwasher, never tidies up, and doesn’t pay the rent until I’ve nagged her 2 or 3 times. The last time this happened with a roommate, I tried leaving notes taped to the dishwasher and sink saying, “Please don’t leave un-rinsed dishes in the sink. Thank you.” And “Please run the dishwasher whenever it’s full. Thank you.” I thought polite reminders would be helpful, but she seemed to resent the notes and stopped talking to me. My goal is to get my roommate to do her share without starting a war.
Sadly, there is no such thing as a “polite reminder,” just passive nudges, put into writing. To a bad roommate, you’re a nagging parent, making the rules of the house, and to you, as we always say, a bad roommate is like a crappy pet, like a lizard or hamster, who needs you to feed them and clean their cage while they nap in the sun.
What you’re looking for is a fair world, and to get that, you need magic, not Post-Its. Parents, of course, have magical superpowers at their disposal—overwhelming muscular superiority, tight fiscal control, and a stranglehold on the entire food supply—and they are often reduced to tears. So give it your best, but be prepared for failure/splitting the rent with an angry humanoid ferret.
You’ve already discovered the risk of offering reminders and suggestions to someone who is always fucking up; you feel you’re putting in extra work to help her do what shouldn’t require reminding. She feels her parents are criticizing her for being the poorly mannered, lazy fuck-up she’s always been. In our weaker moments, we shrinks call that “transference,” as a way of explaining why some of our patients hate us when we’re just trying to help. Now that you’ve been a transference-butt (technical term), you know why you should drop the notes idea.
Admittedly, your remaining options are limited. Begin, however, by admitting you can’t transmute lead into gold or slobs into non-slobs, and that you’re not interested in running a training camp for that small group of slobs who might be willing to improve, at least not unless someone pays you as a consultant, educator, and headmaster.
Then, inspired by your sad insights into reality, lay out ways for becoming more selective. Before interviewing roommates, sit them in the kitchen with a sink of dirty dishes or a dishwasher beeping to be emptied and watch through a one-way mirror to see what they do. Ask for references from their last three sets of roommates. Require a deposit that is forfeit if they miss more than one chore per month. Sure, you’ll scare a lot of people away, but these are people who probably would’ve been a pain in the (transference-)butt in the long run.
Yes, you should spell out the contractually required behavior of roommate-hood in advance. You should also, however, confirm the references and test the executive domestic functioning of all applicants in order to protect yourself from betrayal by those who would thoughtlessly destroy the peace and orderliness of your domestic kingdom, simply because they want a nice place to live and never read beyond the first few words in the contract, particularly if those words describe rules.
If they do read that contract, however, they’ll never have to read your notes, because you’ll never have to write them. Or you can find a cheap place to live alone and just get an iguana.
“I feel like I should be able to expect people to respect my ways if I’m respectful and my rules are fair, but I know I don’t live in a fair world. So, as long as I’m forced to live in this one, I am prepared to do whatever screening and preparation will help me find the kind of person who will naturally like and fit with my lifestyle.”
I’m not obsessed with the guy I’m currently dating and I don’t believe in being possessive, but he’s starting to get to me. I always keep things casual and never hassle a guy about whether he calls me regularly or sets up dates more than 15 minutes in advance. I’m always comfortable saying no if I’m busy. What’s starting to get to me is that he’s never as thoughtful about me as I am about him, and I’m not that thoughtful to begin with. I figured I’d just stop calling him if he wasn’t interested, but then he called wondering where I’d been, all eager to see me. I don’t believe in being controlling, I’m not in love with him, and I don’t want a partnership, so I don’t understand why he’s pissing me off or what I should do about it.
The main reason for having rules about whom you let yourself be friends with is that there are bad reasons for being friendly, and those reasons make friendships end badly. For instance, friends are not likely to be there when you need them if they’re mainly interested in you for sex, money, or your incredible chocolate cake. They need you, but they’ll also resent needing you, which means they’ll sometimes show you that you can’t control them by playing on their needs (see the discussion of transference, above, as well as the discussion of pets, since friends like these are like cats).
They’ll be so busy proving their independence that they’ll react to your legitimate needs and requests as if you’re trying to own them. So yes, it’s good that you’re not needy or sensitive when it comes to dating guys, but it’s also bad to be undiscriminating for just the reasons you’ve described.
Start out by setting standards on how you expect to be treated, basing them on how you would treat anyone else. Don’t expect friends to do for you exactly what you would do for them, but take note of what they do, in their own way, and be prepared to convert from one currency to another in determining whether they’re giving as good as getting. You may give apples and get back oranges or give sex and get back help with your car, just be flexible with your accounting but don’t ignore it altogether. You’re living in a world where being a friend doesn’t mean getting friendship back, so it’s your job to protect yourself from the would-be friends who can’t really be friends.
Don’t waste time wondering what you’ve done to ruin your friendship. Almost always, the only thing you did wrong was assuming you had one without doing any screening. Perhaps you believed you didn’t need to do screening. Now you know it’s your job, you have no excuse.
I’m not warning you that most people are jerks (though some are), simply that some non-jerks may like you for the wrong reasons and wind up acting like jerks and not have the strength or perceptiveness to stop themselves. Ultimately, you’re responsible for your own self-defense in a tough, confusing world.
Create a simple set of rules and observe carefully how people behave. Then, if you don’t let neediness or sentimentality compromise your vision, you’ll do a good job of protecting yourself from bad friendships and keeping yourself open to the good ones that will come along eventually, the kind based on mutual respect and interests, not intense, impersonal needs and cleaning up their shit.
“I like my friends and would be perfectly happy if they just behaved a little better, but I accept the fact that some friends consistently don’t measure up and that it’s my job, not to change them, but to choose them better.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname