How having a terrible roommate taught me the importance of saying “no”
January 15, 2016 at 12:30 am
Sometimes, life lessons manifest as gentle reminders; other times they stomp through like elephants running from a mouse. In the unfortunate case of my most recent roommate, it was the latter.
What had happened was…
When my (now ex-) boyfriend and I broke up in June 2014, I decided to move out of the apartment we lived in together and start anew. But the thought of living alone after years of having someone there to kill bugs, take out the garbage and ward off unwanted strangers made me very uneasy. So, like many other professionals in their late 20s in New York City, I decided to search Craigslist for a roommate or share.
My first roommate was pretty chill. He was a 28-year-old bisexual vegan who rode his bike to work and went to fashion events on the weekends. He was a bit messy, yes. But he paid his bills on time and had great furniture.
When he fell in love with a girl he met on Tinder and decided to move in with her, I was left with a beautiful apartment, crazy high rent, and an empty second bedroom.
That’s when I posted my own ad on Craigslist.
Ignoring all the signs
About seven or eight people responded to my ad. When I met Jane Doe, a 30-year-old attorney from Long Island, I thought we’d have so much in common that she’d be my ideal roommate – we’re both single, black, professional women hustling in New York City. I did a little research and found out that Jane was friends with my good friend from law school. So when Jane called and told me she wanted the room, I was ecstatic.
As we arranged the move-in, Jane expressed that she wanted to move in on the weekend before the first of the month. I prepared the room for her that weekend, but when I texted her to say the room was ready, she said she’d decided to wait until the next weekend. “No problem, “I said. “The room is ready for you when you are.”
Jane moved in five days later and told me she sent me her first month’s rent and security deposit. When I looked, the amount was $165.00 less than it was supposed to be. She later told me she “prorated” the rent without discussing it with me to deduct the 5 days she decided not to move in.
That wasn’t going to work.
Upon seeing me visibly irritated, she agreed to pay the remaining portion 10 days later when she had the money.
Now, I know, this is where the story should end. If she didn’t have $165 to pay the remainder of the rent, she certainly couldn’t afford this pricey apartment and all of the bills that come with it… but, she was my good friend’s friend. So, I gave her another chance.
“When your money is funny and your credit can’t get it…”
– Jeromey Rome, Martin
When my landlord told me her credit was atrocious and requested that she pay an extra month’s security, Jane was humble and said she’d move out if I needed her to. Out of kindness (and laziness, if I’m being honest), I told her she could stay. All she had to do was sign the renewal lease and I’d add a guarantor to provide my landlord with extra assurance that we could cover the rent.
She never signed the renewal lease. Because I was tired of chasing after her for bills and reminding her about the paperwork, I just made sure the rent was paid on time and continued focusing on me.
In the months that followed, she left the house countless times without her key (meaning she left without locking the door), refused to wash any dish but her own, couldn’t afford to pay for cable, and invited people over to loudly discuss how much she hated the furniture that I bought for us to share within earshot of my room.
I mean, we’re talking about a 30-year-old woman here. She had to go.
But it was her mishandling of the electric bill that was the last straw that taught me a very important lesson.
The roommate confrontation
“You owe $826.00,” the electric company representative said, “The only payment we have on file is for $205.00 in October.”
It was a short exchange, but it was all I needed to spring me into action. My roommate was only responsible for paying one bill in our small apartment in Brooklyn and, after living there for nearly five months, it seemed she only contributed $10.00 of her own money to our electric bill despite me contributing far more.
Of course, I was furious. After months of me being more than accommodating to her apparent financial and social inadequacies, she had screwed me over – or at least, it felt that way. I asked her about the money and she said she paid for and was disputing the bill.
“Just be honest with me. Did you ever pay the bill in full?” I said.
“Are you calling me a liar?!” she screamed.
After that, a pure screaming match ensued. She was wrong. Everything about her demeanor told me. But with her words, she chose to stick with her lie. She said she was moving out because she couldn’t have “peace” in the apartment. I was overjoyed.
And as she tried to navigate her last couple of weeks living in my apartment, I treated her as a fraudulent business partner rather than a potential friend.
The lesson (and the blessing)
In my apartment, day in and day out, I put Jane’s needs in front of mine. Whether it was getting out of my bed to open the door for her when she forgot her key or biting my tongue when I knew she couldn’t afford the apartment, I chose to allow myself to be uncomfortable when I should have said “no.” She took advantage of my kindness, but that’ll be her own karma.
Every single time I say “yes” when my intuition tells me to say “no,” I give away a little bit of my power. In doing so, I’ve taught people that their needs come first and what I need is secondary. From the moment I told Jane she could move in five days later, she treated me like a “yes” person. And for almost six months, I took it.
Jane might have been a terrible human being, but you can’t put a price tag on a hard-learned lesson. Here’s to 2016, the year I’ll say “no” as much as I want to.