Dear Hobie & Monk,
My roommates and I have been living together for a year now. There are four of us in one house. At the beginning, we were all friends. Not the best of friends, but it was a wonderful living situation, ideal even. Then, one of the roommates (let’s call her Susie) got a terrible boyfriend and things took a turn for the worse.
It started innocently enough, with the three of us being sympathetic about their tumultuous relationship and providing shoulders to cry on or advice when asked.
But when Susie directly asked what we thought about the relationship, things got ugly. We made it clear that we thought Susie was making a poor decision and that she both deserved and could do better.
The situation has grown awkward in the house ever since that conversation (as expected). There have been lots of silent treatments and slamming doors and not seeing Susie for days at a time. I understand and appreciate not being best friends with all of your roommates. That said, the three of us have become closer, while Susie is looking in from the outside. She is continuously trying to remain involved in the house, but whenever she does join us, the conversation always steers toward the boyfriend or inviting him along. And frankly, he is the worst to hang out with.
It feels like we’ve lost a friend. If the end goal is to restore the upbeat mood of the house, should we confront the situation, or do a better job of handling the awkwardness? There’s still a year left on our lease — something’s gotta change!
– In desperate need of a détente
Hobie: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” I swear Charles Dickens must have been living in a group house when he wrote this. You’re grappling with a classic situation fraught with friendship danger at every turn, and you are currently reaping the unfortunate benefits of having responded honestly to an impossible question from Susie.
I find that emotional simmering inevitably leads to mini-explosions, so I applaud the idea of confronting the awkwardness directly. Talk with Susie again about how uncomfortable this feels, and let her share her side, too.
Here’s what you might not want to hear: You all have plenty of opportunities to go out as a group (all four of you), in smaller combinations, with people outside the house, etc. Would it kill you to include Susie’s boyfriend every now and then? After all, he may be part of Susie’s life (and, tangentially, yours) for a while. Though we’re not talking revolutionary in a Dickensian sense, this is a relatively easy kindness that could shift the warring factions just enough to restore a little peace.
Monk: You have great expectations for harmony at home, but you’re actually living in a rather bleak house.
That’s because for you and your roomies (and their friends and boyfriends), it’s an age of wisdom and an age of foolishness. While your collective assessment of the rogue relationship (Humbug!) may be dead on, consider this twist: The focus and energy in this scenario has shifted from one roomie’s relationship with a bad boyfriend to three roomies’ relationship with one roomie. Is it possible that between silent treatments and slamming doors, Susie is quietly humming “As long as he needs me?” Has the tumultuous dating relationship been eclipsed by a tumultuous living arrangement, possibly strengthening the unfortunate match?
Consider this: You’ve lost a friend and she’s lost three, but she still has that rotten boyfriend whom nobody (but Susie) understands. I agree with Hobie, it’s time for an artful, compassionate conversation among roommates. This is when you share your sincere appreciation for Susie and her difficult circumstances. She should be reminded that the situation is hard for you, too, because you care about her and she doesn’t seem very happy.
Then suck it up and allow Ebenezer to tag along on the next outing. With the support of her mates, Susie may once again consider herself at home, knock off the foolishness and terminate the doomed relationship.
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Hobie and Monk are two Alexandria women with husbands, children, dogs, jobs, mortgages, unmet New Year’s resolutions, obsessions with impractical shoes, English novels … and Ph.D.s in clinical psychology. Their advice, while fabulous, should not be construed as therapeutic within a doctor-patient context or substituted for the advice of readers’ personal advisors.