Dr. Hurd: I found your article through Google, the one about not letting people impose on you if you own a vacation house. This led to a personal question of mine.
After many years, including being married, I have concluded that I prefer to live alone. I don’t want any more mates, roommates, etc. living with me and I feel less stressed not having to consider someone else in my environment. It’s completely my choice, and I’m happy with it. However, my brother is staying with me because of some recent unemployment. He got his job and he is now paying rent to stay here. I want him to move out, as I thought we had understood when we first discussed this. My question to you: How can I explain my personal space bubble without offending another person? He is active in being a good roommate so it isn’t about anything outside of my preference and peace in living by myself. If you have any ideas on how to say that without offending him that would be great.
Dr. Hurd’s reply: First of all, don’t expect your brother to understand. Obviously he’s pretty content
to keep living with you, even after he once again became employed. Don’t mistake his inability to understand why you want to live alone for hurt feelings. Confusion isn’t hurt.
Tell him you don’t expect him to understand, and that’s OK. Tell him you know you’re in the minority on this subject. Actually, you’re not. Although more people prefer the company of a spouse or romantic partner than not, most who are single adults prefer their own space over having roommates. Roommates are for college students and young people, not middle-aged or older adults. At least, that’s how most people feel.
Tell him that you have always preferred to live alone. Tell him what you told me, that it’s a choice you made after years of living both by yourself and with others. Explain you were happy to help him out in a crisis, and you’re so glad the crisis is over. Ask him if he remembers your discussion that once he had a job again, he’d move out. Tell him the reason you brought that up wasn’t because you thought he’d take advantage of you, but because you knew he’d get back on his feet and you wanted to make sure he knew this was only temporary. Make the point, as many times as necessary and without defensiveness, “It’s not that I don’t like living with you. I just prefer living alone.” You might even add, if it’s true, that as roommates go, he has been a pretty good one.
The main thing is not to get defensive. If YOU don’t get defensive or hostile, it’s much less likely that HE will. If he does get defensive or hostile, stay calm anyway. The reason for this? Because you have nothing to be hostile about. Actually, if he prefers living with you — even when he can afford to move out — then it’s a backhanded compliment. He’s implying you’re a nice and fun person with whom to live.
It’s possible he’s scared. He lost his job once, so he knows what it’s like. He might feel like he could lose it again, and he likes the security of having you as a landlord rather than someone who might throw him out in 48 hours. Be understanding about that, but also remember that you’re not his keeper. Just as he’s not obliged to take care of you merely because you feel frightened about personal responsibility, you’re not obliged to take care of him, either. Sometimes the way to love another is to require them to stand on their own.
If you let him stay out of fear of hurting his feelings, your resentment will build and you’ll never feel the same way about him again. You’ll either resent him for “making” you have a roommate longer than you wished, or he’ll be a continuing reminder of how you let yourself down by being weak. Don’t do your brother any ill-gotten favors by sacrificing your own personal happiness for him. This is key.
Guilt-inspiring people love to foster guilt in others, starting in childhood, by telling them that the purpose of life is self-sacrifice. The more you sacrifice, the better you are (so we’re told). The worse it feels, the more moral you are (so it’s claimed). I’m hard pressed to find an idea more toxic than this, but it’s a prevalent one taught by every religious, secular, liberal, conservative, radical or conventional moralist I’ve just about ever encountered. I’m here to tell you just the opposite. You’re entitled to your own definition of happiness, so long as you take responsibility for making it happen.
If you can apply all this to the situation with your brother, maybe you’ll apply it in other areas of your life where self-respect and self-affirmation are needed. I wish you the best with it.