I have a confession to make:
I am wholly uncomfortable in my current living situation. Luckily, my lease is up at the end of April. That still leaves me with a good three months to bask in discomfort, though.
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A few months ago, I briefly mentioned in a post that I wasn’t friends with my roommate, that we didn’t have a whole lot in common.
This wasn’t untruthful. My roommate and I aren’t friends. In the nine months that we’ve shared a space, I’ve found we have little in common. Yet, I didn’t divulge the whole truth…
At the time, I had a lot of pent-up anger towards my roommate. Until very recently, I had a lot of pent-up anger towards my roommate. I had pent up anger, because shortly after I moved in, she began exhibiting some behaviors that made me uncomfortable–they fed into my personal space and left me feeling emotionally drained. I felt further anger because, at the time, I didn’t have the tools to create a healthy boundary from those behaviors…in effect, I was angry at myself for not knowing how to fix my reaction. I also felt anger, because I felt bad about feeling anger. I felt bad for feeling anger at the flawed person I saw inside of her, and I felt bad because I didn’t react more maturely to things she did (and didn’t do) that upset me. Instead of feeling my feelings to move on, I shamed myself into believing the problem was me. And guess what…feelings fester when you don’t let them out. So that anger magnified.
The problem, of course, isn’t me. The problem isn’t her (though there’s a part of me that, admittedly, would still like to blame her). The problem is just that–the problem: two flawed individuals (aren’t we all?) who found themselves living together, who had trouble clicking, who find it difficult to communicate with each other for a variety of reasons, and who, in the nature of flawed humans, don’t always make the most mature and graceful decisions in dealing with each other.
I didn’t tell the whole truth in that post, because that wasn’t the point of the post. I also didn’t want to risk unnecessary name calling and wholly biased assumptions about a person I, quite frankly, barely know, in a very public internet space that I take pride in. With that pent-up anger–that I was at least partially aware of–I was worried any further mention of her would turn into an immature, toxic lamentation.
So why now? Why am I writing about my discomfort now? Because I’ve felt my anger–an anger, I’ve learned, that was justifiable. All emotions are justifiable; trouble begins when we refuse to feel them as they are when they first crop up. She did repeatedly do things that upset me, and not knowing how to respond to her actions doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to feel angry. I felt my anger long and hard, and now I need to process it all. How did I get here? To this point where I feel so much discomfort in the place that is supposed to be my home? How did I get to the point where I’d rather avoid my roommate than even glance her way?
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To make an already strained situation worse–from a lack of communication and tension, admittedly, as a result of a lot of passive aggressiveness on my own part–before the holidays, she reached out in an effort to get to know me, perhaps as a means to right our wrongs and wash away our discomforts. I declined her offer. I not only felt anger towards her, but also a lot of anxiety–what if she exhibits those behaviors again and I don’t have a boundary?–and I knew my feelings toward her did not bode well for a healthy relationship. I told her no and tried to kindly explain why her proposal made me uncomfortable. While deep down, I knew I made the right decision, I still felt guilt for saying no…which only added fuel to my already festering anger.
I came back from the holidays expecting things to magically be better. Time apart can do wonders, you know. Well, things weren’t better. I eventually figured out that I was using up all this energy expecting her to change, an incredibly unrealistic and unsustainable thought process. Why wasn’t I focusing on myself instead? I realized that I was in a constant state of negativity because of my living situation, and my mental health was suffering. So, I spent a lot of January working to let my anger out. It’s still not completely there…but I’m way better off than when I started.
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Admittedly, it’s not just the roommate. The space has never thrilled me. Over the years, I’ve discovered that natural light is an incredibly important quality in a home for me. I thrive off of natural light. Dark spaces make me gloomy, depressed. With that in mind, this space is a basement apartment. While my room gets a decent amount of light in, as does the kitchen, the sole window in the living room is covered up by the air conditioner. The living room is DARK, which means I don’t spend any time there. Though I was far from impressed with the lack of light in the space when I toured it, the rent was cheap and it was in the neighborhood I was hoping to move to. So, when I heard that I had been accepted to live in the space, I immediately took it. My apartment isn’t a terrible space. It’s roomy, there’s a washer and dryer on site, and my landlords pay for all utilities. My room is a decent size, and I have a space to do my home yoga practice. The space has been suitable for my needs for the time being. Yet, oh I cannot wait until I live in a space with more light; when I have a living room I actually want to spend time in.
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Strike 1 against my roommate:
I did not realize how dirty the space was until I moved in. I recognize that everyone lives differently and tried my best to be conscious of that at the time, but that didn’t stop me from buying every cleaning supply on the planet and scrubbing the place until my bones hurt. I don’t mind living in a bit of my own dirt. It’s another story to move into a space teeming with other people’s dirt.
I did learn a valuable lesson: don’t be afraid to check out the details of a space while touring it. Look in the crevices, look at the space between the stove, at the state of the window sills. Because I was moving in with someone who already occupied the space, it was impossible to have the whole space cleaned before I moved in. I’m a relatively clean person who moved into a space with years of dirt, because I failed to look at the details during my tour.
I suppose what annoyed me the most was that the previous tenant–my roommate’s former roommate–didn’t even bother to vacuum the bedroom that was now mine before she left. I found peanuts on the floor as I was moving in.
Then again, I have to remind myself that I have exceptionally high expectations for myself…and often expect the same from others. In fact, this could easily explain how much of my discomfort began.
(Though, in defense of cleanliness, it’s a damn good thing I don’t have a peanut allergy).
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It’s good to have expectations for yourself. It’s how I get shit done. There’s a point where expectations become detrimental, though. Such as pushing away a valid feeling, because you refuse to believe it’s an okay feeling.
Then there’s projecting those expectations on to others. News flash: It never works.
So yes, I have expected perhaps too much of my roommate. But, I also believe that she has been expecting too much of me. So, it’s been this cycle of failed expectations growing off of failed expectations off of failed expectations…until I’m frustrated and I think she’s frustrated and we both are angry and we both aren’t sure what to do.
And perhaps there isn’t a whole lot to do, but let time pass.
We didn’t know each other before I moved in. I was attracted to the space because she called herself an introvert in the Craigslist ad, and I wanted to live with a fellow introvert. In that sense, I got what I wanted. Yet, I also got a lot of what I didn’t want: discomfort, anxiety, anger. And even though those feelings are uncomfortable, I’ve learned a lot from them.
I’ve learned to be kinder to myself. I’ve learned that it’s okay to set boundaries. I’ve found the strength to say no to someone I live with, and I’ve found the strength to put up with the consequences of my “no.” People you live with don’t go away. It’s not like rejecting a date and never seeing them again. It’s experiencing the pain of my actions, even when I know my actions were right for me. It’s not letting the discomfort of a place that is supposed to be my home crush me. It’s having a firmer understanding of what I want in a living space, in what I want in future roommates…and pursuing those wants relentlessly for a happier, healthier life.
In the words of one of my wisest friends, “This is a problem that doesn’t need to be solved,” and she’s right. How do you right a relationship that was never a relationship to begin with? How do you take back immature, hurtful actions that were, at the time, the best you knew how to do? And what of the hurt that arises from setting clear, intentional boundaries? I no longer want to feel guilt for setting my boundary; it’s what I needed to do for me.
Relationships are messy and complicated. People are messy and complicated. Expecting everyone to get along and be friends is not healthy or attainable. Time heals.
Right now, I’m uncomfortable in my living situation. Yet, I also know this isn’t forever…and I know I’ll come out of it as a better, stronger, and more mature individual.
Much of the content of this post comes directly from Susan David’s fantastic TED talk about emotional agility. I watched it the day before I wrote this piece, and it had a huge influence on my thoughts while writing. You can find the TED talk here.
Additionally, thanks to Kelsey for putting up with lengthy, confused text messages and for the snippet of wisdom about a problem that doesn’t need to be solved.