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Hello Cap. Hope you can help me with this… odd situation.

I (31, She) have an old friend (26, He) who I’ve known since elementary. He’s a pastor and has spent the last couple of years getting bounced around to various small churches, some of which have parsonages, but many of which don’t. He’s currently living at home with his parents. He doesn’t get along with his dad, though, and he’s looking at a new appointment near to where I live.

A couple months ago he asked me and my sibling (26, They) if he could move in with us temporarily. We were apprehensive, since my sibling works from home and we don’t have a lot of space. Then he told us it would be for at least a year, and we decided that just wasn’t going to fly. He’s not the best houseguest, he is very particular about food, and he has a strong body odor that doesn’t seem to be helped by normal hygiene. And while we’re not interested in each other, my family has been pushing me to date him for a long time and that would make things really awkward to have him living with me.

I think he expected us to immediately agree and when my sibling and I told him no, he seemed upset. He then asked us to board his pet for a year, and maybe let him stay on weekends occasionally. We agreed tentatively to that.

Plans changed not long after and he said he’d found a parsonage. Great!

Today he messaged my sibling and told them that plans fell through, and wants to know if he can stay on all weekends after July, with no particular end date. My sibling told him yes, since we’d sort of already agreed, but we’re both hoping things change again.

He’s my friend, and I care about him, but I don’t really want him at my house that much! I’m a private person and I like my space, and I’m not looking forward to my weekends being jeopardized for the foreseeable future. And the rotten part of me feels like this is an unsustainable lifestyle for him, and it peeves me that I have to step in to help, and that he expects me to. And I hate the back and forth! What can I do to make this situation better?

Stay Out of My Bubble

Dear Stay Out of My Bubble,

I’m going to teach you an important phrase:

“Plans have changed and that won’t work for me.” 

Under pressure, you agreed to a thing a while ago that you don’t actually want to do. Un-agree to it. You don’t actually “have to step in to help” churches who won’t pay to house their workers by letting this guy stink up your sofa cushions all summer. You don’t “have to” do anything.

I suggest that you get on the same page* with your sibling, first, and then be proactive in calling this person and letting him know he can’t stay with you this summer for any length of time.

*Same page = It takes all roommates to agree to a houseguest and only one to veto. You’re the veto. Tell your sibling that you don’t want him here, and they can blame you if he bugs them, like, “Oh, sorry, when I told you you could stay I hadn’t checked with LW, she’s not up for it so the answer is no.” 

Your script: “Hi friend, I know you and Sibling talked about pet-boarding and you staying here on weekends over the summer, but plans have changed and that won’t work for me. Good luck finding somewhere else to stay!” 

This won’t eliminate “the back and forth” but it will give you a consistent way to respond to it that isn’t caving in at the last minute.

Him:But you said!” 

You: “I know, but but in the meantime I’ve reconsidered, and that won’t work for me.” 

Him: “But your sibling said!”

You: “I know they did, but they hadn’t checked with me since we talked about it long ago, and I now know it won’t work for me to have a guest here during the summer, so I wanted to let you know so you can make other plans.”

Him: “But why??!!??” 

You: “I just know that it won’t work for me, so you’ll need to find somewhere else to stay.”  

Him: “But I thought we were friends!”

You: “Well, hopefully we are friends, but friends take ‘no’ for an answer, and the answer to boarding you and your pet this summer, even on weekends, is ‘no.'” 

Him: “But what am I going to do for housing if this church gig comes through?” This is a manipulation tactic called ‘forced teaming’ where the person hearing the word ‘no’ tries to make their problems into your problems. Resist!

You: “I don’t know, but I wanted to tell you ASAP that staying here won’t work so you have time to make another plan.” 

By the by, if you tell someone they can’t stay at your house and you get five questions-deep into them trying to change your mind about it, this is an indication that saying no was 100% the correct path! Tell him no. Tell him now. Own it as your subjective decision vs. trying to be “fair” or tossing out reasons that he will take as an invitation to negotiate. The reason is, you don’t want to. That’s a very good reason! I like lots of people that I don’t live with, and when I actually want someone to stay with me I invite them. You haven’t invited him, and you don’t actually owe him some kind of compensatory middle ground for not wanting to be year-round housemates.

You already told him “no” to moving in outright and he “got really upset”  but he didn’t melt into a puddle and die, so chances are that he’ll survive this round of refusals, too. But tell him. Don’t wait for his plans to change and magically get you out of it. Don’t agree to small stays that you know are going to snowball into big ones. It will be harder to turn him away when he shows up at your door with a suitcase and a pet crate and no contingency plan, and harder still to get him off your sofa once he’s on it ( though, you are still allowed to say no at those moments, too.)

If people – your parents, other people in the church community –  use words like “selfish” to try to manipulate you into reconsidering, don’t fall for the ‘neg.’ Embrace the word – “Oh, ha, yes, that’s me, the selfish one! But,  I’m afraid it still won’t work for me to have him stay here. Perhaps he can stay with you instead if you’re so keen it, I’ll suggest that next time we talk!” Sometimes it’s fun to watch all the blood drain out of a human face when you suggest that they take on the favor they were trying to bully you into. 😉

Think of it as practice: For you to say an unambiguous “no” and ride out the part where people try to talk you ’round later, and for your friend to start taking that word seriously for a change. These are necessary skills, and your prize for honing yours is a summer of relaxing weekends with no obligations to houseguests you didn’t actually invite. 

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