Think back: Who was the worst roommate you ever had? Was it the guy in your dorm who could sleep only if the stereo was blaring Dave Matthews Band? That girl you met at work who always ate your stash of Nutella?
Now, let me tell you something: If that's the worst you've got, you got nothin'.
There's a special level of hell that only comes from having a seriously bad roommate. The kind of roommate who makes you nod along in agreement during a Sunday afternoon viewing of "Single White Female" while your friends stare in disbelief.
I've had that roommate. And this, folks, is my cautionary tale of how to deal with it.
It started innocently enough
My story starts like most roommate beginnings. I needed an affordable place to stay; she had a spare bedroom in the New Orleans antebellum home she was leasing. We exchanged a few emails and met up. Her hair wasn't made of snakes, and her stare didn't seem like it could turn me into stone. (Although she did stare a lot.) It seemed like it would be OK.
It was not OK.
"Don't let 'money panic' cause you to choose someone who's unsuitable," says Tina B. Tessina (aka "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist and author of "It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction."
I so didn't ask enough questions. Do you sleep in on the weekends? Do you cook a lot? Are you a she-demon hellbent on slowly crippling the soul of all your roommates?
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Of course, the first few weeks went fine. We went to work. We chatted about our days. We even had a successful trip to the grocery store.
Then she started to weird me out, She always seemed to pop up wherever I was. She complimented me. A lot. It was starting to feel less like "What a nice shirt" and more like "I'm going to make a suit out of you."
Then things escalated: Our apartment had a long balcony that extended along one side of my bedroom. One Saturday morning, I pulled back the curtain and was greeted by the angry face of my roommate. She'd dragged a chair right in front of my bedroom window and was just sitting there.
She made no move to explain herself, and I awkwardly retreated into my room until I could think of somewhere else to spend the night.
When I came back the next day, she was sitting on the living room sofa, dressed head to toe in my clothes.
Shocked, I blurted something like, "Oh, is that mine?"
And here comes the really scary part: She said no.
The answer: When faced with the same situation, "put your foot down," Tessina says. "Just say, no, do not do that."
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Things went from weird to ugly
Not long after the clothing incident, my roommate had a bad day at work. She stomped into the living room screaming, cursing, and pacing for 25 minutes. For a finale, she kicked a large floor fan across the room and threw my phone into a chair.
I really didn't know what to do.
The answer: "Get a new roommate," Tessina says. "Temper tantrums are a no-no. Ignore it until the roommate calms down, then say that is unacceptable behavior. If you can't control your temper, you have to move out."
But what if they don't? What if they're on the lease and make their rent payments in a timely fashion? How do you get rid of a terrible roommate?
When you're stuck in a lease, getting your roommate out won't be easy. You'll have to get your landlord to agree to let you take over the apartment yourself, or let you sublet the room. Landlords don't have any obligations when it comes to your personal life, and if yours won't budge, the only option left might be costly: early termination of the lease.
-- -- --
She was strangely fixated on me
I started spending more nights away from the apartment. She still found ways to get me to come home. She once even claimed we had ghosts that were tearing up my bedroom.
Another time, she turned to a guest of mine and demanded to know why he was there. When he explained, she told him he had to leave because it was our night to hang out. Instead, we both left.
The answer: I actually handled things the right way. "Just stop," Tessina says. "Don't talk any more. Withdraw. You're not going to get anywhere by fighting."
-- -- --
The final straw
I had invited a friend over for dinner. Trying to make nice, I invited my roommate and her guest -- a man twice our age she'd met online -- to eat with us.
Dinner was tense. My roommate barely spoke and stared intently at her food. To break the awkward silence, her date turned to me and asked what I did for a living.
My roommate jumped up, took my plate, threw the entire thing in the trash, and stomped out of the apartment, leaving me with her creepy special friend she'd just met.
I didn't feel safe anymore. So the next day I paid the remainder of my rent and found a one-bedroom apartment on the other side of town. I never lived with a roommate again.
The answer: Your best course of action is to talk to the landlord first. Of course, I didn't talk to my landlord until later (this is a cautionary tale, after all). Do as I say and not as I did, and hopefully your nightmare won't have such a dramatic end.