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My Roommate Is Too Clingy! How Do I Tell Him?

For this to work, you need to get past your fear of offending him.

by Gretchen Brown
April 1, 2021 | Love
colorful thought bubbles surround the column name, Ask Me Instead.

Dear Ask Me Instead,

I live with my fiancé and his cousin. His cousin is a great roommate, shares cooking and cleaning general areas, cleans up after himself and pays his bills early/on time. The only problem is, as he is family, he is very close with us. He means well, but he has started to depend on my fiancé and me. 

He will comment on things that are between my fiancé and me, he will defend one of us if we "argue." We do our best to try to keep private matters private — that has become very hard because he is always there. He is home every night, we eat every meal with him, and he will get his feelings hurt when we go out to dinner alone. 

I have tried to tell myself this isn't forever, his intentions are not harmful, but the other day I snapped back at him. My fiancé has been dying to get a golden retriever. I got him a little pup for Valentine's Day, and was joking with my fiancé about our pup having an accident on the floor, and said that it's his dog, his mess! We both laughed and my fiancé was getting up to clean it. Our roommate was on the couch and piped up saying "If I remember correctly, you wanted a dog too, I don't think it's fair of you to say that to him." This caught me off guard, and I said, "Excuse me," and he gave me a face that totally read, "You heard me right." 

So I told him I didn't remember asking him his opinion on this matter as it was between my fiancé and me and it was obviously a joke, as my fiancé laughed with me. I figured he was joking, so I added something like, "Also, this is a two-person relationship, he didn't get you a ring haha," and made sure to say it softly as not to take it the wrong way. He got very upset, said "I am family, I am his blood, and this is my house too. I get a say in everything you guys do, so you don't get to talk to him that way." 

I was, again, TOTALLY off guard at his response and sudden attitude towards me, so to prevent myself from blowing up and saying all the things I was going to say, I calmly ended the conversation and proceeded up to my room to cool off. Ever since then, he has been weird to me, clingy and dependent on my fiancé as ever, and it's causing so much stress on our relationship, because I feel like we are his parents and we are responsible for him in every way. I don't know what to do, and I've talked with my mom about it, but her best advice is to move home. 

I just need advice on what to say to him. He is very sensitive. I don't want to upset him, but I can't keep letting his dependency put a stress on our relationship and prevent us from having any alone time only to protect his sensitive feelings. Rent is insane where I live, and we are currently saving to purchase a house after the wedding (whenever COVID is gone), we can't really afford to move out on our own, and we are kind of the only family he has. He refuses to make any friends too. HELP!

Sincerely,

In Love With the Fiancé, Not the Cousin


Hi In Love,

Some lonely people try to repel others away from them. Others are clingers. 

It's one of the strange things about humans, how we need connection and overreact when it's in our reach. We crave it, we get ravenous. Or we're embarrassed we ever needed it in the first place.

The way you describe it, your roommate is desperate to belong, and he doesn't care who knows it. Your house is his community. And as any community member might, he believes he is a stakeholder.

Along the way, he's crossed boundaries. But it's unclear if those boundaries were ever very rigid in the first place.

For this to work, even just for the interim, you need to get past the fear of offending him. You need to define your boundaries so strongly that he couldn't miss them.

Jokes might seem like the easiest way in, but for some personalities, they don't land well. Your joking might be coming off as a jab, and it's natural to respond to fire with fire. That won't get you anywhere. You're going to have to plainly tell the cousin that he's crossed some boundaries.

Say that you enjoy living with him and appreciate all he does around the house. But say you've been hurt by the way he's taken sides in the past. You view him as family, too, and you don't want any sort of rift.

From his standpoint, he might not see any reason why he shouldn't be joining in on an  "argument," jokingly or not. After all, it's happening right in front of him. So, you should explain to him why that feels invasive to you.

abstract collage art of statues and question bubbles. rewire pbs love roommate clingy
Credit: Ded Pixto // Adobe and Ben Malley // TPT

The way you frame this will be important. Instead of making it about who has "ownership" over your fiancé, emphasize that it's the combative environment that makes things uncomfortable. It's also OK to say that sometimes you need alone time with your fiancé, and you don't mean that as a personal attack. One-on-one time is important for a healthy relationship.

Does your fiancé feel similarly? If his cousin is constantly taking his side, then your argument might be more effective with your fiancé's public buy-in. He should be in the room during this discussion, and talking. He might even want to talk privately with his cousin instead.

The nature of living with any roommate means your expectations of privacy are going to be lower. But living with someone you're close with can be even worse.

You say you plan to buy a house soon. In this interim time, it may help to be more intentional about spending time in spaces that are private to you, and not common spaces. Maybe you make your bedroom a cozier hangout spot and add an armchair. 

Or, maybe you make a point to get out of the house more on your days off, visiting parks and taking long drives.

This isn't to say that your invasive roommate should be driving you out of your own house. But sometimes the best way to deal with an annoying situation is to have less of it.

The pandemic is driving us to spend a lot more time with people than we would otherwise, roommates included. Too much time together can cause friction. Continuing to carve out time for privacy might help ease your mind.

If your roommate continues to interject in the future, you are allowed to feel upset and caught off-guard. But I wonder if it might be more effective to ignore these comments in the future — that's difficult, I know! If it's combat he's looking for, responding is egging him on. If he feels like his criticism isn't received, he might see no reason to continue to interject.

If this was a normal roommate, I'd tell you to run for the hills, put up a listing for a new roommate on Craigslist IMMEDIATELY and don't look back.

Family always makes things complicated. I try not to go around willy-nilly recommending people just cut off family. You shouldn't do that here.

But if you continue to feel uncomfortable in your own home, you might want to consider doing the math again to see if you'd be able to swing having your own place.

A stable, peaceful home does wonders for our mental and physical health. You deserve that much.

Have a life dilemma?

Email Ask Me Instead at [email protected] or send us a note using this form. All submissions are anonymous.

For more good advice, visit the Ask Me Instead collection.

Gretchen Brown
Gretchen Brown is an editor for Rewire. She’s into public media, music and really good coffee. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.
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