Dear Fox Foxerson,
A coworker needed a place to live when her rent was significantly increased. We’ve worked well together for several years and enjoyed a growing friendship outside office, so I thought it would be good for both of us if I offered her a roommate situation in my home. We talked and agreed on ground rules, and she moved in five months ago. Things went well for about a month, then she began wearing my clothes while I was not home. Then it was lipstick, then jewelry. All without asking! When I confront her, she blows it off as—it’s what good friends do, they share, she always return things, what’s the problem? Her borrowing is affecting our friendship and our time at work.
I don’t know how to handle her casual refusal to stick to ground rules we’d agreed to. I don’t want an ongoing awkward situation at work, and she still needs a place to live due to high rent. What to do?
Sent from my iPhone
Dear Sent from my iPhone,
Roommates. Every roommate situation I’ve been in has been a challenge. Usually I was the challenge. I do dishes now. My ex-roommates are like, “Why didn’t I have the dish-doing Fox?” It takes practice, consideration, and self-awareness to have a healthy living situation. Some people are capable and some are, well, less so.
Your situation creeps me out a little. There is a difference between someone using your toothpaste and someone using your toothbrush. And you have already communicated that “borrowing” your stuff is not cool. You set up ground rules and they were broken. With your lipstick!
In a less hostile rental market I would suggest you politely give your friend a 30-day notice to vacate. Not in a confrontational way, just say that it is not working out, and please return my favorite shoes. But the cost of housing in this day and age is unreal. Asking her to leave is an option but let’s try to work this out, so you both have affordable housing and salvage a friendship.
Being coworkers makes it complicated. Focus on work at work. If you walk into a meeting and see her wearing your favorite skirt, leave it until you get home. Making it uncomfortable at work could put both your livelihoods in jeopardy. When you get home it’s time for another ground rules conversation.
You are the owner of the house, and that gives you the position of power. I think she is hyperaware of this and is pushing your boundaries. So, when you are setting ground rules, let her set some too. Have levels of rules, like eating your leftovers is something that will make you mad—and digging through your closet or dating your ex is a dealbreaker. Be clear. If it’s not too corny for the both of you, put a list of dos and don’ts somewhere you can both see it. Maintain your end of the bargain. Respect her ground rules. Thank her on occasion for respecting yours. Hopefully communication will be what finally resolves the problem.