Advice From the Trenches

Advice from the Trenches: Winning

Dear C;

My roommate Josey is driving me nuts. Josey is funny and can also very generous and kind hearted, but she sometimes has these totally irrational responses to little goof-ups or unexpected accidents that can make her really unpleasant to be around.

An example: A couple of weeks ago, we were in the kitchen and she accidentally knocked over a bottle of oil. The cap wasn’t on all the way, so some oil spread out on the counter. No big deal, right? Set it back, wipe the oil up, get on with your life, right? Nope. First Josey had to find someone else to BLAME. Of course, that person was me. She yelled at me and told me I should have tightened the cap properly. I protested and pointed out that she was the one who knocked the bottle over, not me. This was entirely beside the point to Josey. “If the cap had been properly tightened, it wouldn’t have spilled!!” she shouted. The more I objected to being blamed for something I didn’t do, the angrier and nastier she got. When I asked her, in a deliberately calm voice, to please try to use a neutral tone of voice so we could have a reasonable discussion, she said I was being nasty and controlling in my own way. I didn’t indulge my own anger and kept speaking with deliberate calm, but Josey just shouted, “We’re done here!” and tried to walk off. It was obvious that this was hardly a resolved situation, so I kept trying to reason with her, but all she’d say was “I’m done, you just keep it going, that’s what you’re good at: nagging.”

I got so mad at her that I vowed to get her out of the apartment, ASAP. After a day of ignoring each other, she eased back into being so reasonable and considerate that I feel like maybe she just couldn’t admit it but she did realize she was wrong. We had a couple of weeks where we hung out and dealt with everyday stuff together. We helped each other with favors and I realized what a great roommate she could be.

Then yesterday, out of the blue, we had the same kind of stupid, blaming fight all over again. How can I make her see reason and work this problem out?

BFFled

Dear BFFled;

You can’t, until you realize you are part of the problem.

My reaction to your anger and persistence in defending yourself is pretty much the same as your reaction to Josey and the spilled oil. What’s the big deal? Let it go, get on with your life. Sure, Josey jumping on you and getting nasty wasn’t right, but she’s right about one thing — if the cap had been tightened all the way, the oil wouldn’t have spilled. If you had just shrugged your shoulders and said, “Yeah, maybe. Here, you want a cloth?” and helped her clean it up while she sputtered a little, the situation wouldn’t have gotten ugly. It would be just another little goof-up. No big deal.

It takes two people to work out a problem and it also takes two people to keep it going. Right now, you and Josey are playing a game called “You’re Wrong, I’m Right.” She wants to win, and you want to win … but this is not the kind of game that anyone can win. Not having the fight would be the real victory.

Look, in real life, sometimes people have tough days and get short tempered, and we aren’t always angels. I suspect you are not consistently Mother Teresa yourself. If all of us gave each other a little slack instead of trying to PROVE OUR POINT, there’d be a lot less fighting in the world.

The next time something like this happens, ask yourself a question: Do you really want to solve the problem, or do you just want to be right? If keeping an otherwise great roommate is more important than being right, I think you can figure this out.

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