Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: A buddy of my husband’s moved in with us last year after some personal/financial/emotional setbacks. He lived in our guest room, watched our pets when we weren’t home, and helped out around the house. It was a great situation for everyone. He moved out just before our baby boy was born, and in with a new girlfriend.
Last month they broke up and he moved back in with us. Still unemployed and not paying rent, he has started to complain about being asked to help around the house. This morning I woke up to a strange woman in my basement who he had met at a bar last night and brought home with him.
My husband thinks he is severely depressed and we should cut him some slack. I think it is time to have a serious conversation about the rules of the house. I’m creeped out by having a stranger in my house overnight, unbeknownst to me, while my baby slept upstairs. I also want to say that being part of a household means pitching in when asked.
Is this too much to ask of someone who may be emotionally circling the drain and really has nowhere else to go?
No, for two reasons. First, your baby is your top priority, and so when you’re faced with conflicting needs, you baby’s versus your houseguest’s, the baby wins, no contest.
Second, indulging someone who is self-destructing is not an act of kindness. Kindness is setting baseline expectations and insisting he meet them.
If he contributes, actively looks for work and gets help for his depression – then your arms and home are wide open for as long as he needs them to get back on his feet.
If he brings another stranger into the home, or keeps pushing back at the idea that he needs to pull his weight? Then he is welcome to live elsewhere.
These baseline expectations are not punishment; they’re the flotation device you throw to him. It’s up to him to grab it, but putting it there for him is essential, and an act of love.
As for your husband’s concern that “we should cut him some slack,” the slack is your not insisting the friend move out today.
Dear Carolyn: I’m getting many wedding invitations these days and unfortunately I just can’t afford to go to all of them. Some friends understand, but how do you explain that to the brides who just don’t seem to get it and keep pushing you on it?
You don’t. You’re under no obligation to explain at all, though with a good friend you’ll want to say something, of course: “I would love to go but I can’t afford it.” Done. If pressed, you ask them please to respect you enough to accept that you’d go if you could.
Beyond that, the couples’ behavior makes for a good sorting tool. Remember who was gracious and who was pushy. Then, as you continue to be called upon to invest more money and energy in your friends than you have to give, choose to give to the gracious ones.
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