Constant weed fumes & ear-splitting music
Housemates from hell
The worst thing was the music, philosophy student Richard Nobbe remembers. It blasted through the thin wall that separated his room from his roommate’s until deep into the night, depriving him of sleep.
The first two months after his new housemate had moved in, things were fine, Richard says. He and his housemate had a great rapport. Then the music started. At first, it wasn’t too bad. ‘But soon, he played music until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m., sometimes 1 a.m.’ Still, he says, ‘I thought that was fair; you’re young and you want to listen to music.’
That easygoing attitude disappeared when his housemate began playing his music for twenty-four hours straight. ‘I think he’d started to smoke a lot of weed and would fall asleep with his music on. I had to knock incredibly hard on his door for him to wake up. And when he opened the door he had this aggressive look in his eyes and shouted at me until I retreated back into my room.’
There seemed to be no way to reason with his roommate, so Richard asked their landlord to mediate. It worked for a little while, but after a couple of weeks they were back to square one. ‘I was knocking on his door again, which terrified me. It took me fifteen minutes to hype myself up and have the guts to go over there’, Richard says.
With over 34,000 students living in Groningen and a permanent housing shortage, you often don’t have much of a choice on the room you’re going to live in. If you’re lucky, you can share a house with friends, but more often, you’ll just have to make do with what you can get. That includes putting up with housemates who are less than ideal.
He had this aggressive look in his eyes and shouted at me
Alicia, a PhD student, also lived together with a pothead for more than a year. Whenever the weather was bad, he would smoke inside his room, meaning Alicia was regularly greeted at the door by a weed smell that permeated the entire house. ‘In the beginning, I would let it go to keep the peace’, she says. But when it became a regular occurrence, she had to say something.
Her housemate promised to go on the balcony to smoke, but that didn’t last. Then he started coming up with excuses. ‘He said that the smell came from the candles. When I caught him in the act, he would apologise, but in a way where you know they are not really sorry.’
The smoking itself wasn’t even the worst part, she says. ‘At one point he would be passive- aggressive and lie to my face. He acted as if I was crazy and just imagined the weed smell. He would guilt-trip me into feeling bad for him and asked me why I was so mean to him. He tried to become the victim himself, so I ended up feeling horrible either way.’
His behaviour affected every other aspect of living with each other and soon Alicia’s house didn’t feel like ‘a safe space’ anymore. ‘I would work extra-long hours, just because I was looking for an excuse not to go home.’
Carlos de Matos Fernandes, a PhD student whose research focuses on cooperation and social networks, says it’s best not to let things that bother you slide. Because the longer you do so, the harder it becomes to take action. ‘Both parties are at fault if a relationship deteriorates. If both are hesitant to speak up, it becomes difficult to change the situation’, he says.
Every time she asked another question, we became more annoyed
Some days, Alicia would knock on her housemate’s door to ask him to stop smoking, but other days, she ‘didn’t have the energy to confront him personally’ and sent a WhatsApp message instead. ‘I would avoid the argument,’ she says. ‘The way we talked to each other was different at one point and I have to recognise that I was also responsible for that. He’s not a bad person, we just had a disagreement.’
European and international law student Sanny Trang and her friend also didn’t know how to deal with their new housemate from India. ‘She told us that she had lived with other people before, but she kept asking questions about the simplest things. She literally asked me how to open the front door once. Another time she almost killed all of us by leaking gas from the stove.’
‘We felt bad in the beginning, but every time she asked another question, we became more annoyed. I couldn’t stand being in a room with her at one point,’ Sanny says. The three housemates stopped communicating altogether.
According to De Matos Fernandes, a situation like this often falls into the trap of what is known as the ‘fundamental attribution error’. ‘You hold a grudge against someone and this defines the other and then also your entire relationship. You start using all these small annoying things and put them together, creating an image of the other person based on this perception.’
This may be resolved by having a chat in a different setting, he advises. ‘When you meet outside of your house and for example go to a bar instead, you may learn that your roommate is not as bad as the picture that you painted of them.’
I felt like I didn’t have a home anymore
Another approach is to try to persuade someone to change their behaviour by appealing to the collective interest. ‘Try to figure out living rules as a house and come to a solution together before contacting the landlord, because this might backfire’, De Matos Fernandes says. ‘The other person may become even more reluctant to change.’
You could even decide to impose sanctions as a house, like excluding someone from house evenings. ‘You can also take the opposite route and have a reward system, for example the one who cleaned something extra receives a beer’, De Matos Fernandes says. ‘You can turn things around if both parties get something positive out of it. That would be the ideal situation.’
But strategies like these don’t always work, leaving only one option: moving out. That’s exactly what Alicia did. ‘I could have contacted the landlord, but I was just ready to move on’, she says. ‘I told my housemate that I was in a bad situation and that I wanted to live alone. He didn’t really understand that it was because of him and never acknowledged that he was the cause.’
Richard’s relationship with his housemate continued to sour until Richard ‘lost his cool’ a few times. ‘The most angry I ever got was when I said “Turn that fucking shit down”’, he says.
Their disagreement reached its peak when Richard got ill and couldn’t get any sleep when he returned from the hospital because of his roommate’s blaring music. ‘I was throwing up all the time and really needed my rest. He intimidated me and the atmosphere in the house was hostile,’ says Richard. ‘He definitely factored into me recovering more slowly.’
To avoid confrontation and get some respite, Richard would frequently stay over at his girlfriend’s or a friend’s place. ‘I felt like I didn’t have a home anymore.’
In the end, he decided enough was enough and moved out. He and his housemate did part ways on a somewhat positive note, though: ‘He helped carry the couch downstairs when I left and we agreed to dislike each other.’