As some of you know and some may not, I’ve had a….less than ideal roommate situation for the last year and a half.
I’ve put up with it for convenience (it’s a beautiful room below market price walking distance to work) and financial reasons (it’s expensive to move) but I’ve finally been able to push myself into the unknown and leave. When I left today to visit Sevilla before coming home for the summer, I permanently moved out of the place I’ve called “home” since I came to Madrid.
It’s scary not knowing where I’ll be living next year. But the minute I told my landlord I was moving out such a weight was lifted off my shoulders that I knew I made the right choice.
It’s hard for me to admit defeat, to call it quits on anything. Ask my boyfriend–we did long distance initially because I refused to just break up because of distance on principle. We were going to at least give it a try because I. am. not. a. quitter.
So it’s been a long process to get to the point where I was ready to and *could* acknowledge that the best thing I could do was to move out. There was nothing more I could ever do to improve the situation.
And I did try.
I pride myself on having a lot of common-sense and if I’m honest, I’m pretty proud of my lack of naïveté. I’d like to think I’m pretty in tune with how the world works and how humans work and if that makes me a bit cynical at times, so be it. But thanks to my parents and friends, I’ve come to realize that I was stuck in a situation that I didn’t recognize because of how I was raised/having a fair amount of luck growing up.
In short, my roommates are bullies.
Sounds quite simple right? So obvious. The constant corrections to my behavior, the backhanded put-downs, the refusal to communicate in person, the harassment when I didn’t do exactly as desired, the gaslighting…….But it was so subtle for the first part of my time in this apartment I took it for normal. I told people my roommates were annoying but otherwise cool. I told them that they were exacting about cleaning but they weren’t *mean* so it was cool. I told them that they had friends over without asking but got mad about my boyfriend when I forgot to tell them but it was my fault for not remembering to tell them and he’s a boy and it *would* be weird to not know in advance… so it was cool.
But it was like a light switch. After I came back from last summer holidays it wasn’t subtle anymore. There was outright hostility. And I knew something was off but it wasn’t *that* bad. I blamed it on long work days for one roommate, an impossibly stressful state exam for the other. I blamed myself for not “getting it” when it came to cleaning standards. I blamed myself for not being more attentive. I cried on the phone to my boyfriend, to my mom, texted my friends about how I felt dumb because I just couldn’t do anything right and then, how it slowly seemed that something was off about how they were treating me, how it was steadily getting worse no matter what I did.
My mom called it first, when I called her crying because of a particularly cruel comment by one roommate over text this spring.
“Becky, they’re bullies. You’ve never had bullies so you don’t recognize it. But they’re bullies.”
And it all clicked.
It’s way easier to control someone when you don’t have to look them in the eye as you say cruel things and demand perfection. Thus, the constant texting instead of talking to me in person.
It’s easier to control someone when you have 100% language dominance over them, thus the fact they’ve never said a single word to me in English, even though they said they wanted to have an “English day” at home every week.
It’s easier to control someone when they think they’re the ones who did something wrong. Thus, the gaslighting.
It all worked for a long time. A very long time. It was October/November last year, a year after I moved in when my calls started in tears to my mom over things they had said or done that I just *knew* weren’t right but didn’t know how to articulate or explain how I knew or how to fix it because I still thought it was partially on me. They might be overblowing things but the root problem was me.
And by the time my mom’s revelation came, it was a little too late. A status quo had been set and power hierarchy established.
I tried to tip the scales slightly back in my favor. I stopped following rules that have only applied to me for the last year and a half. I stopped obsessing over the weekly cleaning. They weren’t going to be happy with it anyway so I wasn’t going to kill myself trying to achieve an ever-moving finish line.
Even that was enough balancing of the power scales to set them off. I don’t want to get into it, but there was an incident towards the end of May that was so grievously uncalled for that I gave myself a few days to think through things and then finally, FINALLY texted my landlord and told him I was leaving for good at the end of June.
My roommates response to that notification was all the confirmation I needed to know I did the best possible thing for me.
I don’t want to label the state they put me in too much, as I have friends with actual diagnosed mental health disorders and struggles.
But as I’ve reflected on the last two years and my mental state, I’m very sure that if I had stayed longer I was going to end up in therapy. My roommates gave me so much stress I got heart palpitations when it was my turn to clean because I was so on edge about meeting their standards. I was so stressed about upsetting them that I would spend DAYS crafting a message to let them know about things as simple as having to clean at a strange time (i.e. at 10am instead of noon. literally that simple) or about having a friend stay overnight. I was so stressed about being yelled at for being disruptive that I’ve watched Netflix and movies with headphones in my laptop for almost two years. I don’t play music out loud, I whisper phone conversations, and I take two minutes to lock my (creaky rusty-hinged) door if I come home any time after 10pm because I live in fear of upsetting them.
Those of you who know me well, know that I care fairly little about what people think and even less about watching what I say/do and to whom. Which has its good moments and its very bad ones.
So the fact that my roommates manipulated and twisted my head to the point where this had become normal behavior to me makes me grieve for myself, for the year and a half I “lost” in a house that wasn’t a home because I was never allowed to make it so.
And all of this very long rambling essay is to say: Everyone deserves a home. A TRUE home. Everyone deserves to come home and feel safe and welcomed. Everyone deserves a home where they can breathe easy and fill in the cracks and crevices with their noise and presence and being and not be reprimanded and berated for it.
I didn’t have that. And it did a NUMBER on me. I don’t know where I’m going to end up in August. I have absolutely no idea where I’m going to be living or with whom. It’s scary but my heart and my head are so light and free because I do absolutely know I’m not going to accept anything like what I’ve been through. That my next house is going to be a home. And that’s that.