Woe Is Me! “My Flatmate Has No Boundaries. How Do I Get My Privacy Back?”
A series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I recently shifted to a new city for work, and ended up moving in with two people. Everything was going smoothly, at first. But over time, I came to realize that this one flatmate of mine has no respect for — or, perhaps, even understanding of — personal space. I have often found them using my things, or pulling out clothes from my cupboard — without asking. This one time, I came back tired from work to find their friends — who complete strangers to me — in my room. My other flatmate doesn’t seem to have a problem with it, but I am finding it extremely difficult to live like this. I am a non-confrontational person, though, and I don’t know how to tell them that, at times, I would just like to be left alone!”
— (Not So) strong boundary setter
RN: There’s a way to deal with this that doesn’t require confrontation. It’s called locks! Before you leave the house, lock your cupboard, your room, and anything else you don’t want to be accessed by anyone. It’s hard to have these conversations with people you share a space with, but there’s a point beyond which it becomes necessary to communicate boundaries in some way — whether verbally or otherwise.
That said, there’s also something to be said for sharing space and living a little more communally. It could be hard to get used to, but there’s merits in living together with people in ways that don’t treat objects as owned property so much as shared resources that make everyone’s lives better. Of course, this only applies if they treat their space and things as shared resources too — if not, see para #1.
DR: I know confrontations can be extremely uncomfortable, but here, not confronting your flatmate has already made you uncomfortable. If you find a real-time conversation daunting, though, I say you send them a text message explaining your perspective.
Yes, it’s clear that they have no understanding of personal space, but the only way for you to change that is by explicitly enforcing boundaries. I want to give them the benefit of doubt: if they’ve grown up treating this as their normal, then, perhaps, they have no idea how much it’s bothering you! And that conversation doesn’t necessarily need to be a confrontation; look at it as opening up to a friend about something that’s bothering you, and seeking their help to make it go away.
Do you think you can have a conversation with the other flatmate, too, about how they really feel about the intrusion? Maybe — just maybe — they feel the same way as you do, but don’t show it. If she’s onboard with your views, perhaps, the two of you can approach the first flatmate together.
There’s always locks, but I’d still suggest having a conversation before you resort to that. Otherwise, it may come off as passive aggressive behavior on your part, which might create tension and animosity in the house, making things all the more difficult.
AS: This is a really tricky situation, and I am sure it must be quite unhelpful that your other flatmate also doesn’t want to intervene here. Maybe, you could try to demarcate your boundaries a bit, without directly confronting your flatmates? For instance, you could try keeping locks on your cupboard and room doors whenever you are not using them. That way, maybe, you can mark out your space even without having to talk about it. I know it’s not the ideal suggestion, but you could explore it given the situation.
DD: Hey! I’m sorry to say that confrontation in this situation seems like the only option here. It will be an uncomfortable conversation but the more you put it off the worse it will get. I’m not sure what’s holding you back, but wanting to be left alone for some time is very understandable, and I assume most people would get why — so just have at it. Also, this is as much your space as it is theirs so be assertive about your needs. If it helps, maybe sitting down with your flatmate and chalking out tentative timetables and rules for hosting people might make this easy and suitable for the both of you.