Amy Alkon drags people, kicking, screaming, and laughing, out of their misery with her behavioral science-based advice column, which runs in about 100 newspapers.
Buy her science-based and bitingly funny new advice book, "Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck" (St. Martin's Press, June 3, 2014).
Got a problem? E-mail Amy at AdviceAmy@aol.com.
To Leech According To Her Needs
My roommate's girlfriend is unemployed and just hangs around our place all week, even when he's at work. (She has her own place but is never there.) She's very wasteful with our utilities. Yesterday, after work, I found her in the living room watching TV with the air conditioning on full blast — even though she also had all the windows open and, for some reason, had turned on our gas fireplace! When I muttered something to my roommate about her kicking in for utilities, he retorted that my girlfriend isn't paying any extra. Well, she is here a night or two a week, has a job, and doesn't run up our electric bill.
— Feeling Scammed
You need to establish a new house rule: "Residents and their guests can experience only one climate at a time."
Your problem started with going into a roommate situation without rules — without a written document spelling out how things would work between you and how they'd work if something weren't working. Signing a roommate contract (like this example from Nolo's "Every Tenant's Legal Guide": bit.ly/roommatecontract) might sound unnecessarily formal. However, it's wise to do whenever you're rooming with anything more animated than a cactus. Remember, to be human is to be annoying — like, for example, by letting another human move in and cause climate change in your living room.
The fair thing is to get Jackie Brownout to start forking over for the utilities — before it occurs to her to run the dryer all night because the white noise helps her sleep. But the fair thing isn't always the smartest thing. Consider what this is costing you — and what it could cost you. Compare bills from the previous year to get an idea of how much she's actually sending the bill up. No, putting every power source in the house on full blast isn't free, but her usage probably doesn't add more than $10 or $20 to your monthly bill. And no, it isn't fair that you're paying half of that. However, getting into this with your roommate might lead to your putting the $10 or so you'd be saving on moocher energy charges toward doughnuts for the movers you'd be paying hundreds of dollars to haul your stuff to storage until you could find your next apartment.
If you decide it would eat away at you too much to be paying for her, say something to your roommate, but in a mellow way, over a beer. Tell him you really like his girlfriend (because diplomacy, not truth, is life's little lubricant). As far as you're concerned, she's welcome to stay over as much as she wants, but you'd like a new house policy: Girlfriends who stay over four or more days a week need to kick in for utilities. Stress that this applies to your girlfriend, as well, and add that the particular roommate, not the girlfriend, should be responsible for the payment. The last thing you need is to be going all collection agent on this woman — preferable as it might be to asking her to cut to the chase and heat the house by burning stacks of your money on the coffee table.
For Whom The Wind Chimes Toll
This girl I'm dating is truly great — except for how she is into astrology, buys me crystals to improve my "energy," and keeps sitting me down for tarot card readings. As we get more serious, I feel like telling her I don't believe in any of this. But I think she actually believes in this stuff and would be hurt if I came clean.
— Rationally Based
Somehow, people who find it perfectly reasonable to ask a deck of cards whether they should invest in a 401(k) will sneer at you for asking a mailbox for directions to the movie theater. The question is, as a guy who tries to live rationally, can you respect a woman who probably reads books like "The Healing Power of Pebbles" and "How to Ask the Universe for a Pony"? (Without respect, you have contempt, which researcher John Gottman finds is the number one killer of relationships.)
Figure out whether you can compartmentalize — focus on what you love and shrug off her planning her day based around whether she sees a sign in her toast. If you stay together, gently explain that you appreciate how sweet she is in wanting to help you but that you really don't believe in all this stuff. Over time, if you let her see your thought process but don't hammer her with it, she may come around to the merits of evidence-based beliefs. In the meantime, do your best to be polite when she introduces you to her relatives — all her relatives, ever. (Are you free for a seance Friday night?)
It's Amy Alkon's Advice Goddess Radio — "Nerd your way to a better life!" with the best brains in science solving your love, dating sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon/ — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or listen or download at the link, at iTunes, or on Stitcher.
NOTE: I've started an every-other-week radio show, a half-hour love/sex/dating/relationships advice-oriented chat with animal behaviorist Dr. Jennifer Verdolin. My regular shows on the best behavioral science books will continue on alternating weeks..
Advice Goddess Radio: Amy Alkon and Dr. Jennifer Verdolin on how and why to set boundaries — even if it terrifies you.
(c)2014, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon
Order Amy Alkon's new book, "Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck" (St. Martin's Press, June 3, 2014).