Hello, and thank you for reading my letter. I have a bit of a potential roommate problem that could either turn out to be nothing or get worse over time. It’s not so much the roommate behaving badly, but rather a confusing emotional situation that I just don’t know what to do or feel about. So, one of my roommates and cousin, Anna, and I have been living together for four years now, two of which were at my parents’ house after she needed a place to stay when she dropped out of college. We got along great and were pretty close, even though we came from two very different backgrounds. Two years ago, we decided to move out and live together in another state to go to college. It was challenging; Anna got very depressed during that time because she couldn’t get a job for about a year, and there were some tense times. But hey, that’s part of growing up and it would be dumb to expect that we would get along happy all the time, so it didn’t bother me. In the end we were still tight and grew as people.
Then, about two months ago, Anna got a message from one of her friends at her old college whose name is Ray. He got a job in the area and wanted to room with us. Another thing: Anna is seriously in love with this guy; Ray knows she had a crush on him, but I don’t think he knows she flat out loves him (being aromantic, I didn’t really get it). I didn’t mind him living with us; Anna’s feelings for Ray didn’t affect me at the time, and a third roommate would lessen the financial burden, so I agreed.
Ray and Anna come from similar backgrounds; they’re basically both wilderness people who grew up in small towns, while I’m a city person and a big city nerd. Even though there’s some overlap of interests between the three of us, it was clear Ray and Anna had more in common than either of them had with me. Again, I expected this and wasn’t really surprised when she started favoring his company over mine. She even said as much, but not in a hurtful “you’re not good enough” way. I like being by myself anyway, so it was okay. For a while.
Here’s the thing with Anna: she’s kind of a control freak and gets irritated easily. She insists on doing everything herself because she feels she has to take care of people (I had to argue with her just to get litterbox duty, something I never thought I’d be vying for). She’s a very kind and good person, but sometimes she expects me to “read her mind” and doesn’t always understand why I would do things differently from her, and it irritates her very quickly. I, on the other hand, am very laid back and can tolerate an unusually high amount of bullcrap, but I do have trouble remembering certain things and interpret instructions weirdly sometimes. So, misunderstandings sometimes occur. Before, the argument would happen but we would talk about it later and everything would be good. Then after Ray moved in, something changed.
As nice and chill as Ray is, I’ve found he can’t tolerate other people’s way of life very well. He frequently complains about how people move too slow and are too lazy, and he’s kind of a know-it-all. Anna has started to agree with him more and more. She’d be in worship mode, and even said that he is definitely smarter than both of us, which rubbed me the wrong way. He is very smart when it comes to wilderness stuff and utilities, but not so much at city culture or my field of study, which is art. So saying he’s smarter than both of us is pretty stupid, since me and him have completely different sets of knowledge. I’m pretty sure Anna’s doing this because she wants to impress Ray, but it’s having a bad effect on me since I am a slower paced person, so I can’t help but think some of these complaints are subconsciously directed at me.
On top of that, Anna has been snapping at me more and more. Her job has been frustrating her lately, but she never snaps at Ray, only me. I also get the feeling she thinks I’m stupid because I don’t get certain things right away, and I recently caught her complaining about me to Ray after I had a frustration attack, which really hurt me. I confronted her about this, but she assured me that she was just venting, everything was okay, and that she doesn’t think I’m stupid. I want to believe her, I really do, but there’s been this growing feeling that it isn’t true. It doesn’t help that I was a bit sheltered growing up, and many of my relatives also thought I wasn’t smart enough to make it on my own, so I’m particularly sensitive to this and Anna knows it. I doubt she’s being intentionally malicious, but her personality and Ray’s influence are clashing with mine. And while I have friends who are more like me, I don’t see them very often because of school, while Anna sees Ray every day, so I’m starting to feel isolated as well. I knew adding a third person would change the dynamic, but I didn’t think Anna would be more hostile toward me.
Anyway, I’m not sure I have a question but rather I just need general thoughts and I guess rant to someone. I don’t want to confront Anna because it has led to her either a) say everything’s okay and I’m right back to being paranoid, or b) she gets even more irritated with me. Or am I completely overreacting and should just wait to see how things turn out?
Thanks again for reading,
Thunderbird (age 24)
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So, let me see if I understand this. The point of contention seems to be about chores and tasks around your home, who does them, and how? Is that a big part of it? Also, I am assuming that the three of you split rent and utilities equally, which means that the three of you should be treated equally. Another part of this seems to be that Ray and Anna are Type A personalities, while you're more of a Type B (more bear personality, as I like to think of it, while I would call them more squirrelly hehe). Am I correct those are the main points?
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Thanks for replying back!
It's more about our split in personalities than chores, though how we do chores differently does ruffle some feathers on occasion, but that part isn't a huge deal. More of a side effect. And yes, we do split bills equally. The only difference between me and them is I don't have a job right now and family has been helping me out. I've been looking, but all the jobs I've gotten offers for are either full time (because of school I can only do part time) or across the state, which is a good six hours away. Usually it's both. Jobs I've submitted for weren't interested. My previous job was a very specific position (automotive assistant quality manager) which a lot of people around my area don't need. I do think I have a chance with art commissions in the near future, so that's something.
Tangent aside, our main issue is our personalities. We are very much like bears and squirrels, though in Ray's case, he seems like a bear on the outside but definitely a squirrel on the inside. Anyway, Anna kind of naturally molds her personality to whomever she's around at the time, but her default personality does lean towards Ray's. I have tried to mold my personality more towards Ray's to be more accommodating, but that just made me miserable and confused. The more I think about it, the more I think Anna is becoming exhausted from constantly having to switch between Ray’s and my personalities. I've been trying to tell her that she doesn't have to do that, but like I said, it does happen naturally with her and she doesn't realize it. I just wish she wouldn't snap at me all the time, or at least snap at Ray every once in a while to make it even.
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I think I get it now, yes. It sounds almost as if Anna is suffering from what psychologists call “mirroring” or “the chameleon effect,” a type of borderline personality disorder in which the person’s demeanor and attitudes change according to the people they are around and trying to please. This is usually the result of low self-confidence, which, in Anna’s case, might be influenced by her earlier bout with depression. Her anal side (being overly controlling about chores) is also her attempt to find order in a world that she finds chaotic. People without confidence in themselves find comfort if they can at least create some kind of order in their world to cling to. This must all, indeed, be very exhausting for her, which causes her to lash out at you. Too, as you observed, she is gravitating toward Ray as someone who could be more of an anchor in her life because he has a similar background and a job.
This doesn’t excuse her behavior toward you, of course. She probably isn’t overly conscious of what’s going on inside her head and is not intentionally doing anything to hurt you with remarks such as saying you’re not as smart as Ray. Judging by the letter you wrote me, you are not a stupid person. Indeed, you are insightful and articulate (e.g., correctly observing that different people have different areas about which they are knowledgeable). Another part of the problem is that you are an artistic type, while Ray and Anna sound more as if they are pragmatic types. It can often be hard for the pragmatic to understand the artistic.
Papabear surmises that, although the three of you inhabit the same house, you are not actually living together, if you see what I mean. Living together in close quarters can build up a lot of tension and disagreements and bitterness if you just see one another as “that person I live with” rather than as friends and companions. You probably won’t all live together forever, but for now you are together, so to be happy you should act like a cooperative unit of three people rather than as three separate individuals who just happen to occupy the same residence.
Hope that helps,
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