The Croft // In a time in which many of us may be stuck in less-than-ideal living situations, it's so important to keep ourselves calm, but this can be easier said than done when you're spending most of your time indoors with someone you'd rather be further than two metres apart from.
Someone in my first-year flat once left a loaf of bread in their cupboard for so long that it turned the colour of grass in spring, with mushroom-like things growing out of it. One of my friends lives with a self-proclaimed misogynist. I lived with someone recently who knew everybody’s weak spots and loved coming out with things like ‘you’re kind of spoiled, aren’t you?’ and ‘maybe you don’t have a boyfriend because guys think you’re easy’. Some people are just difficult to live with.
As students, most of us chose who we’d be living with for the current academic year in early 2020: by now, you might have discovered that you aren’t so compatible with someone as you first thought, and having lived with them for a term already, you’re wondering how the hell you’re going to make it until the summer.
Equally, perhaps you’re staying at home for the lockdown and are stuck with a particularly testing family member. The fact that we’re all essentially locked up with those we live with is no help to either of these problems.
I am no expert on this topic, but having had a difficult flatmate recently move out, there are four tips that I can offer, based on how my other flatmates and I managed when we were living with someone hostile, and things I wish I’d done retrospectively.
Be honest and open
If the situation is fairly new and there’s still an opportunity for change, the best option is to be honest. Mention things you’re feeling or noticing – ‘I’ve been getting a little bit of a passive-aggressive vibe from you recently and I just wanted to check things are ok?’ or ‘hey, I’m sure you’re not doing it on purpose but do you mind clearing up your stuff in the kitchen?’.
Hopefully, this will rectify any little disagreements or ease any tension, but if they respond aggressively or continue to behave in a manner which you find challenging, you have good grounds to eventually sit down with them and air your grievances in a more obvious and formal manner.
Consider your own behaviour
Nobody’s perfect, of course, and there’s every chance that you might be contributing to the hostile situation – I certainly found it very tricky to refrain from telling my old flatmate to go away (or something along those lines) every time they felt the need to criticise my life choices.
It might feel like screaming at them will make you feel better, but actually, it’s just adding fuel to the fire, and that’s a fire which could burn for months and months, until you all move out. Trying not to retaliate with explosive anger can be torturous, but, at the end of the day, it’s the best thing you can do.
Find an ally within your household
... But try not to use this relationship solely to talk about the person causing you trouble. Knowing that other people share your feelings about this person and are also struggling to live with them can be a great comfort. Having a friend, or even just developing a positive relationship with another person in your household makes it a million times easier to deal with someone else’s negativity.
The only problem with finding out that others share your feelings is that it can lead to increased anger. The first rant you have about your difficult housemate will be a weight lifted, a breath of fresh air, but this can turn into a desperate need to rant every time they say something aggravating or roll their eyes in a way that makes your blood boil.
If you know you’re in the majority with your feelings, let this be something that liberates you from your anger, rather than increases it, because otherwise, it will reflect in your behaviour and the general feeling in your household.
Ultimately, don’t blame yourself
One of the worst side effects of living with someone unkind or unreasonable is loneliness. Somebody who constantly digs at you and your likes, interests, lifestyle, even the foods you eat, can inspire very gloomy feelings, and can often result in you feeling angry and dejected.
Occasionally retaliating does not give you grounds to blame yourself for the situation. A difficult housemate might not just be someone who never puts their plates in the dishwasher or leaves the toilet seat up: sometimes we find ourselves living with someone we once considered a friend, or who we were friendly with, at least, but who we discover can be spiteful or emotionally manipulative. For whatever reason, a difficult housemate can instantaneously change their behaviour when confronted from that of an aggressor to a victim in an attempt to shoot others down.
Though it’s always good to reflect on how you might be contributing to hostility, it’s most important that you don’t let the situation lead to anxiety or self-doubt – none of us need any more of that at the moment.
Featured image: Epigram / Sanjana Idnani