All Third Wheeled and Nowhere to Go

A post for the July Carnival of Aces, on the theme of “Home.”

In my culture, there’s two main categories of people you’re expected to live with, in the long run: family members and (romantic) partners. If you’re thinking about how asexuality affects who you live with, talking about romantic relationships is the most obvious connection to make—that’s one of the oldest topic in the community. If you wanted links on the subject, I wouldn’t even know where to start. There’s also plenty already out there on asexuality and family, usually in the vein of guides for parents or advice/reflections on coming out. There was even a previous Carnival of Aces on the subject.

But under the umbrella of “people you live with,” for many of us there’s actually a third category, and that’s the nebulous category roommates. There’s not nearly so much discussion of asexuality & roommates, presumably because the two are expected to have nothing to do with each other. Or, if an ace identity is relevant to a relationship with a roommate somehow, it’s expected that will occur only in the context of a friendship, meaning that any relevant reflections or advice will fall under the more general category of dealings with friends. Whether or not you live together is (ostensibly) supposed to have nothing to do with it. At least, that’s what I gather from the comparative silence on the subject. You can find a few AVEN threads and reddit threads about roommate issues, or the occasional comment thread, but it’s not anything people are writing big official guides about.

Which is unfortunate, from my perspective, because I could have used one.

When I moved out of my parents’ house to another city, I didn’t have much in the way of a social network: besides the local ace group, I practically knew no one else in the area and had little in the way of connections. Recognizing this as a problem, I started going to other events in town, deliberately trying to meet people and make friends. This is one of my least favorite things to ever try to do on purpose. It’s awkward, and it’s frequently unrewarding. At one of those events, though, I finally made a connection that showed some promise. For the purposes of this post, I’ll call that person L.

After a few good conversations, L and I exchanged contact info and started to spend more time with each other outside of the group. We started getting close. Later, events aligned for me to need a new place and L to need a roommate, so we wound up moving in together. It was… nice, for a while. We both had tough jobs at the time, but we had stability and each other. If I’d had my ‘druthers, of course, I’d have been able to expand my social circle a little further than the narrow holding pattern that I’d settled into. Little did I know that that was actually the high point of this whole affair.

A few months later, at another local event, we both met someone I’ll call M. Discussing the event later, we both agreed M seemed like a pretty cool person, but… L took an interest in M in a few additional ways. As it turned out, some of L’s interest in M was mutual. They really hit it off, and M began spending a lot of time at our place. A lot of time. I mean… a lot a lot of time. To the point where, when the two of them finally asked me if it was okay for M to move in with us, I could barely answer them, because it felt like she already had.

In some ways, this shouldn’t have been a problem. Again, if you had asked me at the time, I would have told you that M seemed like a pretty likeable person. I didn’t always entirely get along with her, though. She has a pretty strong personality, and her living habits didn’t really line up with mine (it wasn’t precisely the typical neat vs. messy dispute, but I’m trying to avoid some identifying details here). Long story short: I think the friendship between me and M would have been better off if I’d been able to keep more distance. But that wasn’t the real problem.

The real problem was something that I find difficult to put into words, because I have no blueprint for this kind of narrative, and I don’t know how to navigate some residual guilt over how I handled the situation and the conviction that there’s no way to tell this story without being the bad guy. It’s been difficult for me to even write about it like this. The real problem was happenstance. The real problem was nothing. The real problem was me.  

Except the real problem was also that I lived there first. I can’t even completely blame myself for getting into this situation, because as much as I try to dig out some kind of lesson to learn in hindsight, I had no way to know that living with one friend would turn into living with a couple. I didn’t barge in on them. I didn’t intentionally insert myself into the situation. I was there first.

And if I was there first, why was I beginning to feel so unwelcome in my own living space? If I was there first, why did I have to feel anxious about passing through the common space on the way to my room? Why did I have to feel like I wasn’t supposed to be there? Why did I have to feel like I was getting in the way? Why did I have to feel like I was intruding on their space? I was there first.

I was there first and arguably I should have put my foot down, I should have done this, I should have done that—sure, whatever. But the reason that M moved in with us in the first place wasn’t just because of L. Not entirely. It was also because of landlord issues far too similar to mine, basically the kind of thing that had me turning to L for help in the first place. When it came to these matters, I didn’t feel capable of turning anyone away.

So socially, demanding M get her own place seemed unconscionable, and financially, I couldn’t afford to just jump ship and get my own place. Nor did I know anyone else I could move in with, either. I was stuck. Stuck coming home after a long exhausting day as a cog in the corporate machine to an apartment where my roommates seemed to view me as an obstacle and I could barely relax with them around. To be fair, they were in the privacy of their own home, after all. It’s not an outlandish place for a couple to want to get affectionate. It’s just that their home was also mine, and we were living in pretty close quarters, and I could tell that my mere physical presence was frequently being felt as a kind of awkward interference. And for someone like me, that takes a toll.

Later, when things got their worst for me psychologically, I didn’t even tell my therapist about the mental breakdown. Not just because it all just seemed so stupid, but because I hadn’t disclosed anything to my therapist yet about asexuality or sex-repulsion—not that feeling awkward with roommates is an ace-specific experience, but the full weight of the emotional baggage around the issue I felt was something I couldn’t have unpacked without getting into asexuality. And that’s something I felt I couldn’t do with this particular therapist, because based on a few other clues, I didn’t know if I could trust her with the subject. I’d previously thought I could just skirt around it and be fine. By then, it felt too late.

So I lived with it, this ambience of unease, my friendship with L withering away to nothing, feeling smothered and miserable and achingly lonely and telling absolutely no one. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten out. But I did. I applied to grad school that fall, got in, and eventually I moved out of that apartment, taking myself halfway across the country to go live in a new state. I started living in shared houses again, rather than apartments, which meant a lot less of that living in close quarters and an easier time keeping to myself. I did grad school for two years. I finished my MA program. And then… then I was at a crossroads again. I couldn’t stay where I was, that was clear; it wasn’t a good area for me to get a job in. I had no reason to stay—but also nowhere to go.

I had to turn, again, to a friend, in need of a roommate and a new place to live. I uprooted myself again. I moved states, again, with the intent of once again trying to find a job and establish some kind of social network in an unfamiliar area, one that I’m even more unconnected to and unfamiliar with than was the case for my previous moves before. Due to the circumstances, I’m back to living in a close-quarters apartment again.

And I’m nervous.


10 responses to “All Third Wheeled and Nowhere to Go

  • LJ Conrad

    That’s really tough. When your home becomes a place where you no longer feel comfortable, when it is no longer a sanctum to return to from a difficult world, a breakdown is inevitable because we all need to feel safe somewhere. I have been in three different nightmare housemate situations and I hope never to allow it to happen again. Unfortunately I don’t have any advice. Honesty and boundaries might work, but they can also just exacerbate the situation. I suppose in L’s view, they were there first, so they were allowed to want M – but then that is often a problem with allo couples and ace friends or allo couples and any friends. They put their partner first always, and expect friendship not to wither away under neglect and still be there when the romance fails, and if it doesn’t fail then what do they need friendship for. Good luck in your new home.

  • demiandproud

    I’m very sorry you had to go through this. It’s a more familiar narrative in Holland because there’s no campus living, so it’s mostly sharing regular houses and apartments and failing badly in too many cases. Even more so now house prices are skyrocketing and many people live with roommates or family well into their thirties. But you’re right, it’s not really something you get taught about or get much talked about and that can make it really hard. I hope your current living situation will work out better.

  • aslanscompass (@aslanscompass)

    I had such an awful time in college with roommates. It was a studio apartment with THREE people in it. Even though the college had strict rules on visiting hours for the opposite sex, I was so irked when my roommates had boyfriends over.

  • Rachel

    I sympathize. While I’ve been lucky to avoid lots of roommate drama, I’m dealing with a similar level of life-upheaval by way of jobs and moving and finishing grad school and ugh. I sympathize a lot with feeling…stranded, really. Having to uproot and deal with all the stressors that causes, and that looming feeling that the other shoe is going to drop sooner or later and the whole thing is going to come crashing down AGAIN (yeah, my life isn’t going how I’d like it to right now).

  • Blue Ice-Tea

    Just curious, did you try talking to L about your feelings? Not saying that would have helped (not every problem can be solved just by talking it through), but it seems like it would have been worth a try, at least. Depending on how comfortable you feel with your current roommate, it might be worth having a talk with them about your anxieties. If you’re nervous about being too direct, you could just frame it as, “I had this roommate experience in the past and it kinda sucked” without getting too much into your feelings about the current relationship. That way, if down the road you find yourself in a similar situation, where your roommate starts dating someone, at least they’ve had a heads-up as to how that might affect you and can perhaps be a little more considerate of your feelings.

    • Coyote

      Nope. Not…. directly. It came up with M while I was having a breakdown, but I don’t exactly count that.

      I don’t intend to broach the subject with my current roommate just because, if I did… I mean, I don’t even know what I’d ask them to do differently.

  • Sara K.

    That really sucks. Like LJ Conrad, I’m not sure there was anything you could have done better, because the situation you described was mostly caused by circumstances outside of your control.

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