New Question: Roommates, Friendships and Making Room For Yourself

Q. I moved to a new country a few months ago. I live with a roommate who was great…for the first month. Then she started making offensive comments regarding my religion, being single, and my career. She says them as a joke, but it’s not funny. For example, “When you get a real job, you’ll know what it’s like to be tired after work” (as if doing research for a university isn’t a real job).  She puts me down because I’m American and have a different culture than her (UK) and because I am single (she’s engaged but fights every week with her fiancé).


I don’t understand the sudden backlash, because we bonded over the fact that we were both expats. What do I say to her without being offensive?  I don’t believe in violent or rude confrontation. I know all issues can be resolved peacefully. But, she’s really getting on my nerves.  And this is the last thing I want to deal with while trying to figure out the culture.  Thanks for any insight.

– A perhaps-too-nice 20-something expat


A. It’s tough to be a stranger in a strange land – especially as a 20-something when many of your friends who stayed put are having busy social lives…likely with many of the same people they hung out with before. So first…huge kudos for branching out, doing something on your own and exposing yourself to new cultures. It’s natural to seek a touchstone for security and comfort in the form of your roommate and fellow expat, but it may be you need to continue to explore your independence while also letting her know how you feel. Give yourself both space to define your friendship.


Today’s 40-somethings weigh in on how to deal with confrontation and also to encourage you to continue your path and use this as an excuse not to be too dependent on one person! Expand your horizons!  Here is what they had to say.  Good luck!


“Get some new friends.”– 40-something, moved from Ohio to NY, fashion designer and had many roommates in her 20s.


“I have been on both sides of this. When I was first starting out in a new city  I lived with a roommate who was more established. When I first moved in she invited me to do some things with  her and showed me the city.  Most of the other time, I stayed home and studied and worked out. I was getting my masters and training for the marathon!!!  But I  was also never not there. When she got home I wanted to be her best friend and when she went out I yearned for her to invite me. But although we had some things in common (grew up in the same state, her boyfriend went to my college), it was a living situation born of circumstance not a naturally pre-formed friendship.


She had friends and a life and was older than I was. She was being nice but she didn’t need me to be her best friend. I know that now because I have been on the other foot.  When I feel too responsible for other people’s happiness or connections I feel trapped. I react by creating tension so they back off because my personal space is being compromised. This is not something I am proud of  (and I’m working on) but it’s something I have learned about myself.  In the end, I made an effort to find new friends and of course natural friendships evolved through my schoolwork. She moved out and by that time I had plenty of people ready to move in as a roommate and a friend.


This may or may be your situation. But consider if there are ways for you to get out and explore on your own. Make new friends or find some interests. Soon she may change her tune or you will find you don’t need her.” – 40-something, business owner, moved to new city knowing no one in her 20s


 “If someone is not being nice to you, you have two options.  You can confront them or you can distance yourself from them.  To confront them you need to invite them into a clean space. It’s like opening  a door to a place where neither of you are right now and walking in first. To do this you can say something like,  “I am sorry but I am experiencing you being irritable and short lately and I’m feeling sad and confused because I miss our relationship the way it used to be. How are you feeling these days? Has something changed?  So essentially the pathway is to:

1) Tell them how you are feeling

2) Ask them how they are feeling

3) Give them the opportunity to express themselves.

The only way this will work is if you can actually find the words to express how you are feeling first and not making it about the other person.  Otherwise it’s an attack.  Unfortunately, your roommate is being passive-aggressive and passive aggressive behavior is usually just angry feelings manifesting themselves.  Think about whether you are doing anything that  could be causing a fracture in this relationship?  Second, what is going on her life that could be causing her angst.? This can help you think about how to express how you are feeling. – 40-something, wellness coach and consultant


“You have to confront her in a non-confrontational way.  Have a come to Jesus conversation.   If you don’t nip it in the bud it will only escalate. Be open and honest or you will end up being passive-aggressive too and it becomes a vicious cycle..  Maybe even address it head on by telling her, ‘I’m not sure if you realize what your tone with me sounds like but it is coming off as really passive aggressive.’

There is a possibility she isn’t aware of it. I know the first time a friend called me out on being passive aggressive I didn’t even know what passive aggressive was! I was defensive at first but then I realized there was some truth in what she was saying and I had to be more honest with myself with how I communicated with her about what I wanted.” – 40-something, sales and PR


“You are trying to figure out the culture. Maybe focus on that and try to separate from your roommate a bit. You can ask her if something has changed and let her know you feel hurt by the way she is acting. It may also be she is overwhelmed by her situation with her boyfriend or work, feeling insecure and taking it out on you. But also use this as a time to get straight. Someone who puts you down for your job and your relationship status doesn’t sound like great friend material.” – 40-something, consultant, ex-roommate



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