‘I’ve moved into a shared apartment, and my new flatmate is getting on my nerves’

Tell Me About It: ‘They are needy, nosy and quite immature, and say very inappropriate things’

PROBLEM: Five months ago I moved into a shared apartment with someone I did not know. I have shared apartments previously with friends and other people and have had no problems. I also understand that I have my faults as a flatmate.

But with this flatmate I feel we are not getting on. To be honest, they are getting on my nerves a lot – they are needy, nosy and quite immature, and say very inappropriate things. Their neediness and nosiness lead to them being quite forward in the house, knocking on my door a lot and invading my personal space in my room. They also work from home regularly, and I feel I never have the apartment to myself.

I have considered moving out, but, with the housing crisis, I feel I am slightly trapped living with someone who I don’t enjoy being around. Have you any advice on dealing with flatmates who you don’t enjoy the company of but want to maintain a friendly atmosphere with and cause no friction?

ADVICE: The housing crisis no doubt gives rise to many similar problems in house-sharing situations across the country. It is a very difficult predicament to be in as you end up in fairly intimate contact with someone not of your choosing. The new working-from-home reality exacerbates this as your flatmate is now the person you are possibly closest to in terms of the amount of time spent together so your reaction is actually quite muted!

Boundaries are called for and this will require maturity which you clearly have but your flatmate may not. There comes a point in most house shares where some rules are established, either explicitly or implicitly. If someone is immature, these rules or guidelines may need to be spelt out clearly and even written.

However, the first decision you need to make is whether you are going to stay or not. This is important as your own motivation will waiver if you are constantly on the lookout for a move, and this will mean that any plan you have to work things out with your flatmate are not likely to be successful. If you decide that you are staying, for say at least six months, then commit to this and take action. You could use the new year as a starting point and say that you want to clarify and improve how you live together.

Suggest to your flatmate that you two need to meet once a week for three weeks to work out a co-living plan – this will allow for review and encouragement. Ask them what is important for them in a flatmate’s behaviour and write down all their points. You should also ask what they think might be difficult or problem areas.

Then ask them what they think your important points and problem areas might be. You can encourage this by agreeing with what they say and then adding something like yes that’s true, but what else do you think might be an issue? The aim here is that if they bring up the issue (eg invasion of personal space) there is a much higher chance of behavioural change happening rather than you demanding it. At the end of the first conversation, you will have some action points for both of you and then you can reflect on this at your next conversation and repeat the process at the next meeting.

What we give attention to grows, so give lots of attention to when your flatmate makes efforts at maintaining boundaries. You say they are needy so they will struggle with distance and will need reassurance that the relationship is still viable even with some distance in it. You may need to be clear that you value privacy and that their nosiness feels unfriendly to you; however, they will again need to have reassurance that respecting another’s wishes is actually the way to having a real friendship rather than hindering it.

If all this sounds like a lot of effort that is because it is. If you are to live successfully in your current situation, it will require a lot of patience and determination on your part. This is why many people in their mid to late-20s opt to move in with a long-term partner as the struggle to manage a more casual flatmate’s many issues become too big a burden.

However, the new reality is that many partners live and work in different countries and the lack of options mean that our flat-sharing years extend beyond what we might have expected or planned for. The one good outcome of this is that your own many chips-on-your-shoulder will get sanded down in this process so that your future partner will really benefit from your skills at sharing your life.

If that sounds like a small bonus, take comfort that you will be very grateful and full of delight when you find more suitable flatmates and you will have helped develop a person into being better company for their next share.