Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My best friend from college, “John,” stayed in the Pacific Northwest when we graduated, while I moved to Anchorage for a job. That was four years ago and I’m still with the same company, I have great friends, and about six months ago I started seeing a really great woman.
John stayed in Seattle and had a hard time finding work. He’s bounced between jobs. He said the rain depressed him and between that and the pandemic, he grew less active and slowly gained weight. His social life never really picked up after college.
A couple months ago, John surprised me with news he found a job in Anchorage and a couple weeks later, he was here. I offered to let him move in with me since I live alone in a two-bedroom apartment and I knew he was short on cash. Now I’m really regretting that. John mostly works from home and is always around. I can’t do anything — go get coffee, groceries, to the bar — without John inviting himself along. He even finds a way to come on my dates with my girlfriend. She also has roommates so this has really affected our ability to find a quiet space to spend time together.
I have felt guilty that things have gone well for me after college while John struggled. I hoped Anchorage could be a fresh start. But he’s completely inserted himself into my world and it’s driving me crazy. How can I ask for space without offending him?
It’s clear that John is an incredibly lonely person. Generally speaking, and besides being currently affixed to you, he sounds like a fairly inoffensive guy — he’s just a lot. As in, around you a lot, in your space a lot, and even on your dates a lot. It’s understandable that it’s stressing you out and leaving you feeling overcrowded.
We all need to draw personal boundaries to be happy in life; sometimes it’s hard to ask for the space we need because we worry about hurting others’ feelings. Yes, moving to a whole new state can be intimidating, and John’s lucky to have you, but if you don’t explain why you need to be John-free at times throughout the day, he’s going to stay firmly in the comfort zone that is your college friendship.
Explain to John that you need to do a better job having one-on-one time with your girlfriend, and sometimes you prefer and even need to run errands or grab coffee solo because it’s time you can process tasks and goals. But instead of leaving him totally hanging, create some new routine activity the two of you can do together — like going for a hike, to the movies, or having Sunday brunch. He’ll have less anxiety about backing off if he knows you have bro time on the books.
Or, now that John’s pretty much settled into his new life and job in Alaska, maybe it’s time for him to take the next step in his journey and find his own place.
You’ve gone above and beyond in supporting John in so many ways, and made his Alaska landing as smooth as possible. Good for you, good for him. What’s not good is you feeling frustrated or annoyed every time you want some peace or privacy in your home, or getting anxious just thinking of making plans with your girlfriend or anyone else that you know he’ll try to plus-one himself into. Why wait until this boils over, you have a meltdown, and things go sour with your old bud?
Don’t let a long-term roommate upset your long-term relationship or mental health. And don’t let John’s temporary neediness upset your potentially long-term friendship. Unless your rent (or mortgage — how good are things going for you?) is riding on having John living with you, or he hasn’t stashed enough cash to get his own place quite yet, simply tell him that you’re proud of him, you’ll continue to be there for him and excited that he’s in the same city again, and that it’s best for the friendship and your current respective situations if he starts transitioning to finding his own place to live. You’re letting him down easy and there’s no reason to beat yourself up or feel guilty about it. That’s life. If he’s a real friend, he’ll understand and start packing.