Your friend has hit a rough spot and, for whatever reason, you have stepped up to aid them in their time of need. When you invite a friend to stay in your home until their lives stabilize, until they stop weeping at night, until they get a job — ANY job — and find a place of their own to live, you may not realize exactly what you are about to do. You may think to yourself, “This man or woman has been my friend for X number of years, I feel fondness for them and would like to give them sanctuary from their troubles. After all, were I in their place, I would hope that I had a good person to help me out.” But you fail to acknowledge that this person will be using your furniture, your bathroom, your cooking utensils. They will be all over your living space. They will probably even look in your bedroom when everyone else is out working.
Basically you’ve gone above and beyond the call of friendship. You may think that because you are being so kind as to do all of this, what with the inconveniencing your life to an extent and shaking up your day-to-day, your friend would be more than happy to do the one or two things you ask of them. No sir.
You see, when you invite a friend to live with you, something happens to them. They change into a monster. Many of you have seen this happen with real room mates, but the complexities of the Room Mate is a topic for another article on another day. Friends who are staying with you as guests do not have to pay rent, or bills. They often feel like real guests, although they start out as overly grateful ones.
At first, they will do dishes, be quiet and clean, offer to help. But slowly, they get used to their surroundings and become relaxed. They start viewing the futon, corner of the living room, or if you are of the fancy sort, the spare bedroom, as their own place. They begin to leave their things out in a slight mess which casually turns into a hideous mess that most parents would punish their children over. They stop cleaning their dishes, and eventually they leave their old plates and milk glasses on the coffee table to crust in the sunlight. They begin eating your food and staying in the bathroom for hours at a time with no regard to you and your real room mates or family.
This is of course very awkward for you, the host. The friend. The hero. You do not want to kick them out. After all, they haven’t yet gotten a job, and you can’t be sure if they have actually been trying because you are out at your own job for many hours of the day. You do not want to scold them, as they are adults and not children which you created yourself, and by god, you will destroy them if you so choose!
What inevitably happens is that you will endure several weeks of hardship until one day you snap and force them out with screaming and fists, or you concoct a clever lie which makes it look as though you cannot help it, but through no fault of your own, they have no choice but to leave. And, once they have gone and you have disinfected your home of their sluggish presence once and for all, you proclaim to all who will listen that you will never, EVER help another living soul again.
You are right to be upset, brother or sister, but you do not have to go to such extremes. In fact, if you follow the advice that we are about to give you, you should be able to host a whole string of ill-fated chums without negative consequence!
List Your Stipulations
In fact, get it all down in writing. List your expectations. List your demands. List a time frame for when they will get jobs, get an apartment of their own, when they will come home at night, whether or not they can invite friends over, and so on into infinity, if need be. Write it all out in contract form and have them sign it, cross their heart, and swear an oath. They may feel so daunted with facing all of these expectations that they may move on to another, less demanding friend. This is all the better for you and your friendship with this person — avoiding the situation altogether.
You’ve been kind enough to give a great gift: the gift of actually not having to sleep in the streets. You gave up space for your friend’s stuff, maybe even emptied out a room you weren’t using that often so they could decorate it and feel more at home… It is not rude of you to simply ask them to agree to your demands. It is not unreasonable for you to protect yourself, and let’s face it, you are protecting them too. If they get indignant and try to guilt you about treating them as not-friends, as suspicious people who may take advantage of you, remind them that if they were not your friend, you would not be offering them a place to stay in the first place. Also, take a mental note, as this reaction may be indicative of future conflicts. If a person overreacts to this “contract,” perhaps you would not be having a very fine time sharing your home with them.
Make Them Get a Job
If you’ve ever taken someone in, upon asking you or right after you made the offer they stated, “I’ll start looking for a job as soon as I get there.” If you haven’t heard that, then for the record if a friend ever says that to you upon their wanting to move in… DON’T BUY IT! They’ll start off strong all right, maybe going out to a few places to pick up applications. They’ll come home and fill them out, making sure that they ask you several times what the address and phone number is. They know this information; they really just want you to notice that they are indeed filling out the applications. They’ll go on and take those first two or three in to the stores, and come back home. Thus concludes the great job hunt. You see, most people who are enjoying free living don’t really want a job. They wouldn’t put in those first applications if they didn’t feel so obligated to. But that is the end of their obligation as far as a job goes. They know they can just sit around and live off of you, because if you were a good enough friend to let them live with you… you aren’t going to have the nerve to tell them to leave when their sponging has become too much.
The most important part of this entire ordeal is to make them, use physical force if you have to, MAKE them get a job. And make them do this as soon as they possibly can. No one seems to put this into consideration, but a person can’t just move out as soon as they are employed. Many places do not supply the first paycheck until two weeks into the job. And then, it will take a while of saving before the person can afford the security deposit and first month rent on an apartment of their own. This spells out maybe three months of hardship for you, and that is after they have become employed. Do not ask them to find a job “within a few weeks.” No, tell them to find a job within the week, preferably on the first day. In the morning, when you go to work, force your friend out-of-doors and do not let them have a house key. If you are in a subdivision or suburb, drive them to the nearest shopping plaza, get them a bus map. Accommodate as much as you are willing to, but make it known that they must spend at least eight hours every day on the search. They will be welcomed back only in time for dinner, which they will have chipped in to buy as directed by the signed agreement.
Chores Have That Name for a Reason
Along with the contract, you might want to give them their Chore Schedule. Explain to them that they will be expected to do all kinds of things that you don’t really like to do. If you play your cards right, you will benefit hugely from the fact that your unfortunate guest will be cleaning the foul bathroom from now on, and mopping the kitchen floor weekly. You can think of it as orchestrating your own instant karma. The lone silver lining. I don’t even need to write a thousand words about it!
Grocery Meals and Other Snacks
Food costs a lot of money these days, and, as your friend is dealing in hard times, be sure to take him or her to the dollar store where cereal is half the price, and maybe half the quality. Sympathize with them and tell them that you understand how it can be when you must starve or eat dollar food, but do not back down and start feeding them. That is exactly when they start taking advantage. Like a damn stray cat, once you feed your friend, he or she will just keep coming back and meowing at your back door until your ears bleed with fury.
If your friend begins complaining about feeling faint from hunger, and maybe hinting around that you are a big mean old meanie for feeding yourself and family first while they can only go through your garbage and eat the occasional Hot Pocket, do not feel afraid of treating them to a nice big fat juicy lecture. Really, though they may claim otherwise, this is exactly what your friend needs. You can lecture them on the value of a dollar, how to manage finances, how to eat on a shoestring budget, and all other good strong advice on how to be frugal. After all, you are qualified to do this since you are financially secure and they would be on the streets if not for you. In fact, remind them every day of this fact. You will be getting aggravated by their presence and whining and stench by this point, they might as well be aggravated by your pompous superiority and lack of consideration or tact, right?
Bills, Bills, Bills!
Housing an extra person will very likely drive your utility bills to be unmanageable. There is something about not having to pay a water bill that causes a person to suddenly require 45 minute showers. Or, not having to pay the electric bill suddenly causes one to turn on the lights all day instead of opening the curtains.
Tell this friend in advance that while you know they cannot afford their own place, they will have to provide you with at least a few dollars every week for their share of the utilities. This is not at all an unreasonable request. Most of the time, these star-crossed friends have not been set back by a disability from an error on the job, so they are actually physically able work and make some money. Helping out a friend in need does not mean that you should have a burden equal to adopting a child or obtaining a new pet. Pets rarely earn their own keep and thanks to child labor laws, children also can’t help pay the rent. Ask your friend if they wish to be a child to you, a pet, a being less than human. The answer is seldom “why yes, that’s exactly what I wish to be.” If it is, your friend should be kicked out for sass, like some asshole teenager.
Laundry Can’t Be Free
Do you know what really costs a lot of bill money to own and operate? The laundry machines. If you are lucky enough to not have these powerhouses of energy-suckage, then please skip this section. However, if you do have some in your home, you will quickly find that your normally filthy friend needs to wash ALL of their clothes every afternoon. I mean it. I knew one girl (one of the room mate’s girlfriend) who was somehow CONSTANTLY doing laundry at my friend’s house. I believe she actually stored her clothing in there, because anytime the people who rightfully lived there needed to do their laundry, they found that BOTH the washer and dryer were stuffed with her clothes. Because there were not stipulations in advance followed by an iron fist of follow-up, no one living there said anything to cause a stir, and quietly took their own dirties to a laundromat, while they still had to pay the insane electric and water bills which she generated. They also got sick with secret angers and regrets.
I Hope You Have Learned
It is indeed a noble act, this helping of unfortunate friends. If you manage it correctly, you can give yourself a big old hug and a kiss on the cheek for being so swell. But, you must always remember that every decent person changes for the worst when faced with disaster, despair, and drama and then given a chance to relax and mooch. It is a natural human reaction to do this, and I am sad to say that even you or I, article viewer, would probably turn into soul-sucking users within a matter of days if the situation was reversed. Being thoughtful people, having read this cautionary material, we would be totally aware that we are dragging down our saviors, but we would secretly carry the hope next to our deadened hearts that no one would notice…
How long can it last? How long can YOU last? A lot of questions come up when this subject is involved. One in particular to ask yourself… is it worth it? Take into consideration the fact that this will in effect end your friendship. Sure this person is fun on occasion, you love having them over for the weekend — but this is no fun two-days-then-it-is-over weekend. This is the long haul, many weeks, months, sweet lord tell me not a year. When you live with a person you see them for what they really are. Thought your friend was just a little messy? Well that plate here and empty can there was just two days worth of collection. Try dropping into their room after they’ve been around two weeks. Look at the plates on the ground. Yeah the plates full of greens. Take a closer look… those ARE NOT eating greens! That is mold, and it is covering several plates, cups, and things that science taught us mold could not possibly survive on. You think just running the tap over those is going to make things come clean? You better go ahead and call your local pressure-washer.
So when all is said and done and the free-loader leaves, what is left? A room that doesn’t just need cleaning, but is in dire need of sterilization. A partner who probably wants to see you become the next to leave due to your okaying the whole deal. A friendship that was once nice but is now in shambles. You used to look forward to seeing this person, but you know if you see them again it “ain’t gonna” be a pretty sight. You were a good person, and you felt pity for another human-being. Now you know never to do that again.
What a shame. What a damned, preventable shame.