Friday, September 12, 2008

"The Odd Couple" wouldn't be funny if Oscar and Felix were girls....

Today's issue strikes close to home for me, since in some ways I recognize myself in the person the writer is complaining about. I also recognize one of my friend's crazy roommates...and have to wonder...are we all truly nuts? Or do the people who think we are just not understand us?

Let's take a look.....

Today's writer has this to say:

DEAR ABBY: I'm a 25-year-old woman who moved in with a friend, "Natasha," who is also 25, after her boyfriend of seven years kicked her out three months ago.

One of the conditions of my moving in was that I'd get to use her car for work and errands because I'd be moving out of my mother's house and had shared Mom's car.

Well, I accidentally spilled a drink in Natasha's car while I was using it, and she revoked my privilege to drive it. I'm looking for a car of my own, but I have already spent a great deal of money to move in with Natasha and help her in her time of need.

I understand that the car is Natasha's property, and she can do with it as she pleases. But I'm concerned that she went back on her word so quickly into our living situation. She has now started leaving me nasty, belittling little notes and is scathing with her choice of words. She refuses to talk to me and will communicate with me now only through writing. I'd like to take the high road, but I'm having a hard time finding it.

Until now, I enjoyed living with her, and I don't want to end our arrangement. How can I have backbone but still be a good friend and roommate? -- STRANDED IN A SMALL TOWN IN ILLINOIS

I'll be honest, I'd probably be pretty pissed if a roommate was using my car, for free, on a daily basis, and then spilled something in it (esp. in the driver's seat). And, as Abby wisely suggests, I'd probably stay annoyed unless or until it was cleaned "properly"--no smell, no dampness, no stickiness, and as little stain as possible. I'd probably also expect that the person wouldn't drink in the car anymore, or at least that she'd make a show of promising not to drink in the car anymore until an appropriate period of mourning for the upholstery had elapsed (it really is the thought that counts) and we'd both sort of forgotten.

I know, this is evidence that I'm a bit obsessively obsessive but, as the writer points out--it's Natasha's car. She can set her own expectations and rules, and just because the friend moved in, "in her [natasha's] time of need," doesn't mean use of the car doesn't come with strings attached. (I wonder how she's been getting to work since Natasha revoked car privileges....clearly she's been managing somehow).

Of course, things get more complicated when you move from the personal car to the shared living space, which is now aflutter wtih "scathing" notes. I'm familiar with the scathing note from both sides. My best friend (a proud Oscar in the Odd Couple scenario...) has been on the receiving end of many a note like this from her former roommate--and is usually totally bewildered, hurt, or later, amused, by it.

(This friend, admittedly, loves to push buttons. Almost a month ago she wrapped her gum in a scrap of paper and placed it in my car cupholder, mocking me when I protested. She claims it's all part of her philanthropic effort to prevent me from turning into her crazy grandma. Of course, I think her crazy grandma, who keeps her linens in labeled ziplock bags containing a matching bottom sheet, top sheet, and pillowcase, is a genius!

Our friendship has thrived only because in 6th grade, with wisdom beyond our years, we realized we could never live together. Or room together on trips.)

In this situation (or in any situation, I guess) these notes do not seem to effectively communicate whatever it is that the roommate wants to get across--just makes her look like a crazy.

And yet, I'm not so blind to my own faults that I don't recognize my tendency to leave roomie-do notes that are often passive aggressive, and sometimes verge on scathing. And I know it's not particularly nice or mature, and probably not effective. It wouldn't surprise me to hear that my roommates think I'm crazy at these times--because I only write the notes when I feel like I'm GOING crazy. When last week's tuna-encrusted-bowl is sitting next to (or worse, IN) the sink instead of easily tossed in the freely available dishwasher....when I return from a weekend away and have to do the dishes from a party I didn't attend...when the dishwasher is overflowing with stuff but hasn't been run....then I morph into silent, seething, note-leaving Natasha.

I know it would be better to be light hearted and open and just say, outright, why I'm so cranky....but a big part of why I'm cranky is that it's not obvious why I'm cranky. To me, it's second nature that we should all clean up after ourselves ASAP--so part of the frustration is that not everyone in the universe sees things exactly this way.

This is something I'll have to get used to, and quick: my fiance, who lives in another state, admittedly requires a week to prepare his apartment for my visits. (And really, I'm not white glove testing every surface. My own room would not pass that test. I just can't stand to use the sink if all his plates are IN it, and can't put them in the dishwasher, if the dishwasher is half-full of clean stuff from last time it was run...but I digress)

So in short, dear drink spiller, take a good look around your shared apartment. Was the drink you spilled in the car truly a one off (because it honestly can and does happen to everyone) and did you do your best to make amends? Or was it an accident waiting to happen? Does Natasha clean up after you without you realizing it, and become resentful as a result? Do you also resent the fact that Natasha cleans up after you and then gets bitter about it, rather than just leaving your stuff for you to deal with?

Or are you easygoing and cool to live with, and Natasha is truly holding a grudge over something insignificant, and punishing you unfairly?

Both are entirely possible. In fact, both are probably true. It's most likely that Natasha's resentment over one thing is seeping over into the rest of her interactions, and that's not fair to Spillsky McSoda. But Natasha also probably spends a lot of time screaming to herself, "not fair, not fair not fair!" So they (and we) have to meet somewhere in the middle of all this injustice.

The voyage through mysterious roommate crankiness can be a long and treacherous one. You may want to bring a snack. But please, for the love of God....rinse your plate!


Anne said...

The roommate crises never end, apparently.

I definitely think there are two sides to this issue (this is me, taking a stand). First, for "Stranded" to somehow think she's entitled because she helped her friend in a time of need is a little lame. I don't really believe in the whole "I scratch your back, you scratch mine" philosophy when it comes to friendships. If you're keeping tabs in your head of who owes what, then, um, you're probably kind of a crappy friend. Obviously, if you're the only one working in/for the relationship, then that's crappy, too. BUT you can't move in with someone, mess up the house and car, and then feel as though it's all okay because you helped them during a rough time.

That said, I think Natasha is going to have to quit being passive aggressive if she's ever going to get what she wants. I say this as the note-leaving, silent-seething queen of passive aggression. But still. Both people are being a little ridiculous in this situation.

Becky, I know I'm not your only loyal reader. Why is everyone so quiet?

Becky said...

Probably my other readers are mad at me by now.....

Also I just invited the entire CHicago Trib readership to visit my blog. We'll see if they accept.

Kelsey said...

I found your blog! Actually I found it once before but your most recent post was an update and I was too lazy to go back and read the post it was updating and then I lost interest. But nothing keeps my interest like reading about myself! ha.

I think I probably have somewhat of a different perspective on this, being an Oscar myself. Although you did examine it from both sides.
Natasha needs to unbunch her panties and realize that everyone spills. If Stranded apologized and properly cleaned up this spill then I think she absolutely has a right to use the car based on their agreement. Although it sounds as though the use of the car isn't really need based. I don't think Stranded really is stranded. But even so if they had an agreement I don't think natasha should back out.

I have been on the recieving end of many a passive agressive note, some deserved and some not. While it is incredibly annoying to get these notes and absolutely makes the note leaver look crazy, I can understand why they do it. I almost left someone a note this week because I knew if I confronted them face to face there would be a big blow up.

Becky said...

Alas, perhaps advice columns are not as fascinating to the rest of the world as they are to me!

Or, now that online newspapers have gone all Web 2.0, they'd rather just read and comment there, where there's guaranteed debate and freedom to comment on whatever aspect they want, rather than reading what I have to say.