Dear Birdie #7: Roommates, relatives, and resolutions

In the excitement of the first month of school, I agreed to be housemates with a group of people once we leave res in second year. However, as the semester has gone by, I’ve realized that I don’t get along with one of the girls I’d agreed to be roommates with. Can I get out of this arrangement without hurting this girl’s feelings or am I stuck being asshole of the year?

— Tied-Down Tina

To quote Bill Pullman in Sleepless in Seattle (a most beloved romantic comedy that I watched for the twentieth time over the winter break, thank you very much): “Marriage is hard enough without bringing such low expectations into it.” So wise and so applicable, if you just replace “marriage” with “roomatehood” (a word I just made up). Essentially, no matter how well suited your personalities, sharing space with another human being is going to require compromise and conflict resolution. And it’s a lot harder to do that if you don’t actually value your friendship or if you have a readymade list of things about this person that annoy you.

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So what’s the verdict? First I’d make sure that this girl still wants to be roommates with you — she could be thinking the exact same thing, in which case this article is twice as useful. If she does, then you’re going to have to sit her down and explain the situation. Don’t do this with a group of friends, because she might feel hard-core excluded or attacked. Likewise, I wouldn’t mention that you have someone to take her spot (even if that’s the case) because people tend to lash out when told there’s a shinier version of them just around the corner. Maybe open with something like, “I know we talked about living together earlier in the year, but I feel like we’ve grown apart and I don’t think I’m ready for that now.” She’ll probably be upset, unless, like Bill Pullman, she’s a saint. But we both know it’s a necessary evil—like pulling a splinter from your thumb so that it doesn’t become septic next September (after you and the splinter have become joint signatories on a yearlong lease). And I wouldn’t worry about claiming the title “asshole of the year.” A certain Twitter-happy President pretty much has that on lock.

When I returned home for Christmas after my first semester in university, I was bombarded with questions about my career path. So many people asked me what I’m going to do with my sociology degree after I graduate and it made me realize that I don’t actually know. I found myself telling everyone that I’m going into law once I’m done, but I’m definitely not. Why do I feel so ashamed about my academic choices all of a sudden?

— Not-A-Lawyer Linda

Ah yes, the “I’m going into law” line. Super familiar with this one. I once took a journalism class in which the entire workshop group was “going into law” as far as their extended families were concerned. You’ll find that this little white lie evolves over the years as you fail to fulfil any of the requirements needed to pursue law. I used to be “going into communications” until I realized that you need an extroverted personality for that—and we all know I can’t sustain a lie that outrageous—so now I’m “going into policy.” While the career path crisis has many ups and downs, I recently had an upsurge of anxiety when this random guy asked me what I was studying. When I told him I was in writing, he asked what I was going to be with that degree and I said, “a writer, I guess.” It was funny in a strained way — neither of us really sure if I was angry or just brazen. But afterward I felt like kicking myself for that epithet, “I guess.” I don’t guess. I know what I want to be. So why can’t I just tell people?

I think it’s difficult for those of us studying things that don’t lead to a specific career to come up with a truthful sound bite for our friends and family. If you’re in nursing, you’re probably going to be a nurse. If you’re in chemical engineering, you’re probably going to be a chemical engineer. But things like writing and sociology can lead you down a variety of paths — paths that you may not necessarily know about until the opportunity arises. So the fact that you don’t know what you want to do is super valid. Any shame that you feel is not on you. It may not even be the fault of pressuring family members. It’s just that damn societal expectation to position yourself in line to catch all those bones life will presumably throw. But you’ve already decided that this is not your approach. With that settled, the other half of the battle is holding your head high when you tell your dentist or your Aunt Maggie that you don’t know what you’re going to do after school yet, but that you won’t be impulsive just to please others.

There’s all this pressure to make resolutions now that we’ve hit the New Year, but whenever I’ve made them it in the past, I never see them through and I just get jealous of my friends’ progress. Should I just give up on the whole thing or is there a way to do this without ultimately feeling like shit?

— Resolutions Reggie

I recently read an article by David DeSteno in the New York Times (excuse me while I go twist my moustache and polish my PhDs) that explains how willpower and grit do not necessarily lead to success and can actually be an unhealthy approach to fulfilling life goals. Instead, we should try to muster a sense of pride — like the pride we would feel if we were doing these resolutions as a favour for someone we care about. Basically, you have to Jedi-mind-trick yourself into believing that eating more broccoli or flossing regularly are repayments to your body for being such a ride or die chick (maybe a tad reductive, but still). I think I agree with the crux of this argument: a strict approach to resolutions does not work for most people, especially not if you can’t afford a personal trainer and don’t have oodles of spare time to fill.

My roommates and I had a good chat about this last year and we determined that if someone wants to set out on a journey of self-improvement at this socially-agreed-upon date, then these resolutions shouldn’t be so reliant on results. Instead of saying you’re going to lose a certain amount of pounds or read a certain amount of books in the year, your resolution could maybe be to take more walks with your significant other after dinner or to join a book club at your local library. These are ways to give more attention to certain areas of your life that may have gotten left behind, but won’t make you feel culpable if you don’t meet some arbitrary quota. To incorporate Mr. DeSteno’s opinion, fostering compassionate relationships with yourself and with the people around you should be the essential goal to any New Year’s resolution, so why begin in such a self-critical way?

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