After the upsetting first and second chapter in my first few months at my new house, these disturbing incidents following so closely on each other, I realized that I needed to do something to try to ensure that I didn’t continue to get bad roommates. Reflecting on my process for finding roommates, I realized I was not communicating enough about the kind of environment I wanted in my house and the kind of people I was looking for. So, I undertook to write up a short introduction to the type of setting I was intending to create — although I did not realize it but I was still much too idealistic and naive.
Seeing that I had just had two roommates who were slobs and who showed little interest in communicating with me, I thought the mistake I had initially made, was that I hadn’t sufficiently emphasized that I was seeking housemates who were communicative, friendly, clean, respectful, and able to contribute positively to a small community.
So I wrote up a blurb about my house and how I wanted roommates who would communicate, attend weekly house meetings (I thought this would be just the trick to help support open communication), be friendly with each other and respectful, and in general simply attempted to appeal to the higher ideals of human nature. In essence, I was saying I wanted nice people. Little did I know that this was about as effective as writing a personal ad in which you say that you are looking for someone to date who enjoys candlelight dinners and walks on the beach. I would only realize much later that it is fairly pointless to say you want “nice” roommates and expect that the non-nice will recognize themselves as not desired, and politely bow out. At this point I still had much, much too much faith in people’s ability to assess their own qualities quite astutely and insightfully, as well as to be honest about those qualities.
So, thus armed with my quite useless short description of the “nice” setting of my nice house , and an equally useless description of the kind of “nice” roommate I was seeking, I placed more roommate ads on Craigslist, still offering the rooms at nearly rock bottom prices — still feeling obligated to do more to take care of others, than caring for myself.
After the double eviction of David and Linda, and before my next seriously problematic tenant, I had gone through a few other roommates, and had experienced a small series of awkward roommate adventures. There was Daniel, another student, here for a semester, polite and friendly, really very sweet, but he had set fire to my armchair by putting a space heater too close to it. Then there had been an Indian man named Naveet. When I went into his room to show it to a new prospective roommate, I noticed with some embarrassment that on his computer screen, pointed towards myself and the young woman coming to see the house, there was a very clear and very large image of a nude woman with her business end pointed towards the viewer. Naveet moved out and Selena moved in. She , like Naveet, stayed only a couple months. While she was here, she dyed her hair orange in my tub. The tub remained orange for the remaining two months of her tenancy. I thought it was damaged for good but the color finally wore off. Each of these incidents and embarrassments tended to result in me going off to my list of house rules and adding to them — “no use of radiant space heaters, no use of hair dye, no illegal downloads…” Several years later, as an Airbnb host, I would joke with other Airbnb hosts that our list of House Rules had gotten to be the size of the Yellow Pages, and as hefty, but in my case as in theirs, we didn’t actually have any rules in our list, that were not drawn from actual experience and real problems with renters.
The Green Healthy LIving Good Communicator arrives
After Selena moved out, I placed another Craigslist ad and in short order, I received a reply from a man, Steve, who seemed to exactly fit the bill of the nice person I wanted for my nice house — someone who was very communicative, who valued open and honest communication, was happy to have house meetings, and he expressed enthusiasm for “green” energy, cooking healthy food, and clean living. Hope lit up silly twinklings in
my large and foolish eyes as I pictured Steve as the polar opposite of David — a person who was clean, would bring a positive energy to my house, was engaged in meaningful pursuits, would communicate openly and honestly and not hide in corners whispering secrets to other roomies.
When I met him, Steve didn’t seem quite as lighthearted as I had expected (this was the warning sign that I didn’t listen to), and had a firm, tenacious kind of energy — something which I misread, in my hope and kindness, as an indication of a person with perseverence and stamina. Actually, it was arrogance and pushiness, but I would only come to realize that many weeks later.
Steve moved into my house, along with my existing housemates at present: Bob, a tall thin man who had a strong interest in bike racing, and Jack, a computer programmer.
It was early December, and after moving in, Steve hung an attractive green wreath on his door, which he clarified was not a Christian but a Pagan holiday symbol. Things went fairly well for the first few weeks, although the house meetings were awkward, because as it turned out there wasn’t much to talk about. I wasn’t interested in having dinner or get togethers with my roommates — I just wanted a peaceful setting in which I could be my introverted self in peace. After a month or so I decided to call off the house meetings as we would all show up, and have nothing much to say, and it was just increasingly embarrassing to me that I had come up with this dipshitty idea.
Marking Territory Commences
Within the first few weeks of Steve’s time in my house, I began to notice that dishes and other personal items were being left out. Not a lot of dishes, and not always in the sink. There would be a cup left on the counter, or a plate in the sink, or a pot on the stove and cutlery on the counter. Clothes were left on the floor in the bathroom, or a toothbrush on the windowsill. All of this was pretty minor, but it was persistent. By the time I had brought Steven and Bob into the house, I had set up what I thought was a good solid set of “house rules”, one item of which, (and highlighted as being particularly important to note) was the statement that things needed to be put away in the kitchen after use of the kitchen, and that personal belongings could not be left in common areas.
I had been proud that I came up with this rule, after the experience of finding too many of Linda’s belongings left around the house, and feeling that I needed to prevent roommates laying claim to common areas much the way a dog marks its territory.
So now after Steve moved in, as I found things being left around the house everywhere, a little here, a little there, I had the distinct intuitive sense that my home had been “marked.” All four corners were marked, each room seemed to be territory claimed. The claiming was continual, as a dog which needs to mark and claim the same territory each time it trots around its circumference.
At the same time as I noticed these items being left out, and intuited an associated claim on territory, I had begun to be aware of a certain “energy” or “aura” around Steve, as I observed him walking around my house. One day as I saw him walking around the kitchen, and chatted with him, it occurred to me — I have felt this before. I knew this energy.
It was the same energy I felt when I worked in a couple jobs where I was the only woman present in the male-dominated environment. The energy was not welcoming, it was not friendly. There was a message to this energy that I was now feeling coming from Steve, and it was: get out.
Even as I became aware of these associations, I dismissed them, and wrote them off. Instead of “trusting my gut”, something that many years later I would be advising for other newbies to having renters in their home, I was dismissing the wisdom of my own psyche and my Woman’s Intuition, that sacred gift. Instead of believing in myself, I doubted myself, and criticized myself for making so much of small things like a cup left out or a shirt on the floor. In such a conflicted state, it was very difficult to do what needed to be done. But eventually, the “voice from my gut” grew louder, and it would not be silenced. It kept telling me that something was off, that something was not right here. So I began talking to Steve about the various items he was leaving around the house everywhere. I politely reminded him that this wasn’t allowed, according to house rules, but I said it with such self-doubt and guilt, that I’m sure I did not come across as very convincing. And I was certainly easy for him to ignore, because ignore me he did.
Self Doubt makes it hard to run a House
As I continued to find the dishes in the sink, and other items around the house, I went to speak to Steve again about this, and this was more difficult to do. I was very anxious when I approached him again. Was I being unreasonable? If I was going to put my foot down about this and push this point, I needed to be confident and sure, and I was neither confident nor sure. Was this all very innocent, normal behavior, and was I over-reacting? Or did I have a right to request my house rules to be followed, exactly as I had written them, and what I had written was quite unmistakably clear. I had this doubt about my right to have these rules, because in my family, I had not been permitted to have needs and rights. I was told what to do — my own wishes and desires were not respected, my needs were disregarded. So, to start to value my own needs,wants and desires, was new and difficult for me. I was the authority in my own house, but I had so much difficulty assuming that authority and believing in my own right to have that authority.
When I spoke to Steve again, he responded angrily, saying that I was “being OCD” or “Nazi” about the things he left out. This accusation hit home, deepening my doubt in myself . I questioned whether I was being reasonable. I talked to my friends, mentors — the people I considered wisest were backing me, saying, you have a right to run your house as you wish. People dont’ have to live there if they dont’ agree to follow your rules. I would have the same rules in my kitchen. The most helpful advice went something like this:
It doesn’t really matter if your rules are casual and easy, or strict and challenging, or they seem fair, or unfair, or whether you are exceptionally sane and wise, or OCD and nutty as all get out, whether you are friendly and kind, or harsh and authoritative — the fact is, it’s your house, and you get to make the rules! People cannot sign a document agreeing to certain rules, and then afterwards argue about them or refuse to follow them, or say, in essence, “I didn’t think you really meant your rules.” That constitutes breach of contract. Aside from that, why on earth would someone read a rental agreement with a set of rules, conclude that those rules were written by a Nazi with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and then decide, “Hey, that’s just where I want to live.” ???
While I was struggling with this issue with Steve, there were other incidents. He had a couple of his friends over for dinner one night. While I was in the kitchen checking on my roast chicken in the oven, I was concerned to see one of his friends just get up and go to the cabinet, take down and open up a bottle of salad dressing that belonged to another roommate (Bob). I pointed out that he couldnt’ do this, and he said “sorry ” in a way that was not at all apologetic, but rather sounded sarcastic. A couple minutes later, this same guy looked up at a project I was doing in the backyard, building a chicken coop (had a plan to have chickens eventually) and then, without any invitation from me, just got up and went outside and started inspecting my chicken coop construction. I followed him, annoyed that he was feeling at liberty to just explore my property, and he began making comments about what I had done wrong. When I told him it wasn’t appropriate to just go out and start inspecting my project uninvited, he brushed me off and said, “It’s no problem, really.”
I was quite offended — the nerve of the asshole! — but I wasn’t yet strong or confident enough to say what should have been said, eg get the hell out of my house. Steve and his friend were bullies, they were intimidating, and they intimidated and frightened me, because I was still too weak in my own authority and my own power.
Another time, I was looking around in my kitchen for a large salad bowl that I stored on a high shelf, and couldn’t find it. I asked Steve where it was, and he said, oh that, I took it to a potluck party I think I left it there. What??? Steve had taken my property out of my house, without my permission, and just left it at someone’s house? I demanded that he bring it back. He actually never brought it back — it seemed that someone else had taken it, and the bowl he brought back, was not my bowl but a different one.
Now I needed more house rules — if you bring friends over, they have to follow the house rules. You cannot use other people’s belongings without their permission. As my tenants were dumb and dumber, as the list of jerks and fools grew longer, my house rules list got longer and longer.
But getting back to the issue with Steve. So I talked to Steve a third time, and a fourth. The third time, we sat down at the kitchen table and had a long conversation. I thought sharing more about myself and the reasons for setting up my house the way I did, would help. But in the end I realized all this chat and attempt at “honest open communication” , didnt’ accomplish anything: we were where we started. My reasons for what I wanted didn’t interest him — he just wanted what he wanted. I wanted my rules followed just as I had written them, and he wanted to ignore my requests and leave things around the house. He argued that his orientation was the only reasonable one. So in essence he was arguing that unless my house rules matched his own values, he didn’t have to follow them. Thus he felt free to impose his own values on my home. And likewise, the cup or article of clothing that he left here or there, I understood intuitively, was in essence a dog’s pee mark, another instance of his subversion of my authority, lifting his leg and staking his own claim.
The fourth and last time I spoke to Steve about continually leaving his things about, the bully in him burst right out from behind the green healthy earth friendly clean living man BS. He yelled at me and told me to “get out” of my own kitchen. Very disturbed by this outburst, I went upstairs again to my private room, depressed that yet once again, for the third time now, I was going to have to evict another roommate. The 30 day notice of termination of tenancy was already there on my computer, as I’d had to use it before for David. Now I printed it out, applied today’s date, and went downstairs, and handed it to Steve.
The War of the Dishes
For the next 30 or so days, before he moved out, Steve not surprisingly began to escalate in his refusal with my requests, and left more and more dishes out. Most of the dishes were left in the kitchen sink.
Not one now, but entire sets of dinner dishes. He would leave all his dishes from dinner in the sink until the next morning, ignoring complaints from other housemates Bob and Jack that they now couldnt’ use the sink at all. Then, instead of simply leaving the dishes in the sink overnight, he would leave them indefinitely, never washing them at all. I took the dirty dishes and set them aside, putting them in a bin and placing the bin in Steve’s personal storage area. This cleared out the sink for others’ use but it didnt’ avail us of extra dishes. Pretty soon all the dishes that I had in the entire house were sitting in bins on Steve’s shelf. Refusing to do any cleaning up at all, Steve was now making it impossible for others to use the kitchen unless they cleaned his dishes.
In order to avert murder and the stabbing to death of Steve with unwashed knives, I had to come up with a plan. The plan was that I got help from Bob and Jack in washing all the dishes, cutlery, pots and pans that Steve had refused to wash, and which had accumulated in bins on his shelf, and then all these items were taken and kept privately in our rooms. I informed Bob and Jack that due to the extreme non-cooperation of Steve, he would from this point on have no dishes whatsoever to use, and the three of us would each hoard 1/3 of the dishes in our private rooms. Under this plan we were able to use the kitchen, but Steve still did what he could to bully us about by tossing food on the counter and floor and bringing in plastic utensils that were again left in the sink.
Again it was all too long, much much too long, to have to endure 30 days of being bullied in your own house, by someone whom you need to have gone. I tried to avoid Steve as much as possible, and this helped. It also helped to make a little chart and mark off each day, so I could visually see the progress and the point where I would be finally free of this miscreant. WHen the day came, I was elated, and very very happy to start over again. I celebrated with a friend, and tried to cleanse out the room as best I could. I had very much hoped that this first bully would be the last — but sadly that was not meant to be my fate and I would still have to endure more of being bullied in my own house, while I spent time growing stronger and more confident, more comfortable with my own authority. And growing more comfortable the fact that this house I was living in, is actually my house. (Sadly, it did not fully feel that way until several years later, when I got rid of the last of my roommates).
When I saw Steve years later, walking out of a hardware store, he looked angry and unhappy, and I wondered where he would go in life, this man who thought he was a Green, Earth-loving, Nature-child, but in truth was an arrogant bully.