Thursday, June 30, 2005

If I had known it was a rule . . .

I am struggling to understand my new roommate/landlord. I'm not sure that she really wants me here. It's that, or her experiences with roommates is totally different from mine and it's causing quite a bit of miscommunication via assumptions.

My sense of unwelcome started with the moving-in process. When we had talked about it, I had said that my lease at the trailer wasn't up until June 15th, but that I'd like to start moving in on the 1st since I was moving myself. So, on the 1st, I went over there with a small load, prepared to give her $300 for the first month. She wasn't home and she hadn't done one thing to clean all of her stuff out of the room. In fact, there was more stuff than when I had last looked. I cleared some space on the floor by moving some clothes and left the stuff and a friendly note. I kept the $300, figuring I'd give it to her when the room was ready. For the next two weeks I took over loads of stuff and the sinking feeling that she didn't really want me kept growing because she was not making any progress and, in fact, someone was sleeping in my bed, which had been the only clear space to put my stuff. Also, she wasn't really calling in response to my notes or returning my phone calls. We all get busy, I know, but it was weird.

However, by the 15th, the stuff was almost entirely cleared out and she was very friendly, so I figured I'd shake it off and start new. She had vacuumed the floor that was clear but hadn't cleaned the bathroom, so I started off living there by giving her $200 cash (with a promise of the rest when I unpacked my checkbook) and unpacking my cleaner with bleach to get the pubic hairs out of my shower and toilet. Still, she acted a little weird when I asked her if I could rearrange the cabinets a little in order to make room for my dishes and appliances.

I spent three or four nights in my new place and then went home to Chicago for a week. I discovered last night and this morning that of the 7 foodstuffs that I brought and put in the fridge (I haven't unpacked the pantry stuff yet), she has eaten some or all of 5 of them. In the time I was gone, she (or her boyfriend) ate 4 eggs, several slices of American cheese, a stick and a half of butter, half a loaf of bread (she has other loaves of her own in the freezer), and the cottage cheese is completely awol. Only the peanut butter and the mayonaise have been unmolested. None of the items would have gone bad in the timeframe of my trip. I find this to be very odd and more than a little upsetting.

It is upsetting because she finished off my eggs (for a total of 6; that's half) and I didn't have any for my breakfast. Let's remember that she has chickens that lay eggs for her. There were chicken eggs in the fridge and she ate mine anyway. In fact, she wasted two of them because they are hard-boiled and in a plastic container but she left Wednesday morning until Sunday morning on a camping trip.

So, as I began to discover these things Tuesday night, I worked out my best Gordon-Murph-super-diplomatic-conflict-mediation-technique. I'm not nearly as good at it as he is. She had gone to pick up her car from wherever it was with her boyfriend. We were planning to talk about the various things that I needed to do while she was gone, because I told her I'd watch her dog for her. I agreed to do that before I left and then when I got back she asked if I would also take care of the chickens and feed the cat. So, with good humor, we walked around the garden and figured out how to do all of these things. When we got back into the house, I asked her if, while I was unpacking my kitchen stuff and slightly rearranging the cabinets, I could have a pantry cabinet just for myself. "Also, could I have a shelf in the fridge that would be considered mine? Because I'll be honest, Mindy . . ." Here, she broke in and said, "We ate the eggs, I know. I thought we had bought more." She looked and discovered what I already knew: she had not. I said, "It will be easier for me to have a designated space because it's just kind of a hot button issue for me," because it is. (I have a small food budget, plus I keep pretty good track of what I have in my head so that I get everything that I need when I go to the supermarket so that I do not make a zillion trips. I eat the same thing for breakfast every morning and keep supplies on hand for 3 or 4 other standard meals. I think there are also some leftover childhood things with my brothers taking food off my plate. I think everyone has hot button issues that are somewhat irrational and I think that as long as they're not too crazy, we should all try to respect them in one another if we can.) She communicated in some way that she heard me after I said it was kind of important. At this point, I didn't know about the butter, bread and cheese. She did offer that the cottage cheese was gone because it was "well past its due date." Since I hadn't even taken the protective plastic seal off, even if it were true that it was bad, she wouldn't have had a chance to notice unless she had taken it out to eat it because it would not have smelled bad. Remember, the longest it could have possibly been there was two weeks since I brought it home from the grocery store after I moved in. She hesitantly agreed to the pantry cabinet and fridge shelf, looking doubtful. (About what, I don't know, but she definitely thought that I was asking for something unusual that might be detrimental to her.) I waited and she realized that I needed to know which cabinet and which shelf. She showed me the cabinet. I assured her that I would clean it out and she told me to pick a refridgerator shelf. This whole time I was very calm and phrasing statements like requests as a supplicant among equals but with a slightly apologetic tone for the awkwardness. It seemed like that interaction went well. I was straightforward with my needs without being accusatory and attempting to work together to find a solution. If the roles were reversed, I would want someone to tell me what SHE needed. She seemed pleasant and agreeable about it, so I went into my room to go to bed.

While I was undressing, she knocked on the door. As I went to open it in my T-shirt, she said, "I have a reverse request. While I'm gone, will you please eat anything from the fridge? There's a lot of good food that I don't want to good bad." She then listed several examples. Something in her tone and syntax indicated that she was upset, so I tried to explain my earlier request but only got out partial sentences, trying to communicate that I didn't mean she couldn't eat anything, I've certainly had experiences where I didn't realize that I was out of something and borrowed from my or my boyfriend's roommate, it was just that the eggs were gone and if I had known they were gone, I would have bought more when I was in town at the grocery store. She responded, agreeable but strained, "And if I had known the rules, I wouldn't have eaten them."

I'm saddened because I tried really hard not to set down rules. That's crazy roommate behavior and I don't want to be a crazy roommate. I tried to state my need and to work with her to get it met, rather than to try to make her "get it" by eating her food or writing my name really big on stuff.

I'm bewildered because everything I understand about roommates that aren't best friends or romantically involved tells me that there are definite boundaries, especially with food. It wasn't like it was a case of mistaken identity. She didn't have her own American cheese or butter; my bread and eggs were totally different from her bread and eggs. Did she say to herself, "Yippee! Butter! That's always so expensive, I never buy it for myself. Rebecca's is so nice for getting me some." Susan and I used to buy food together, but it was just that: food we bought together, so both of us had access to it. Jeff simply has designated cabinets and fridge space that go with each room for his roommates, like assigned parking spaces. Also, it just seems like common sense and courtesy not to finish off something that someone might have been counting on. I mean, she was opening and throwing away containers as she ate and finished stuff. Didn't she once think that maybe I bought it because I wanted it?

All of this makes me want to ask, "Mindy, when you asked me to move in, did you expect me to actually live here or just to put all of my stuff in one room, give you $300 a month and visit every once in awhile?" It's very discouraging.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you did as best you could. Or as grandma would say - you did a good job of being yourself which is always a good thing. Pray for Mindy and pray for yourself. My only advice (unless you count the pray thing which I don't think is advice because we are supposed to be praying all the time anyway) is that if you feel like you need to have more conversation with Mindy, do it sooner rather than later.
I love you, dad

Susan said...

I agree with Dad...Roommates are a sticky situation, but it's always best to be honest (be nice, but be honest) and get it all figured out now...and if that fails - hide food in your room. And then remember that you are moving home soon anyway.

I'm sorry I didn't get to Chicago when you were home. I love you!