Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Sunday, 31 January 2016

On Why You Should Never Be Honest With Your Housemates

On Why You Should Never Be Honest With Your Housemates

The Debrief: Honesty is the best policy right? Not when it comes to the people you live with.

Jason Sturgill

Honesty is always the best policy? Right? That’s we are taught from a young age. While it’s true that honesty is one of the minimum requirements for being a decent person this old adage is actually pretty unhelpful.

Firstly honesty isn’t a policy. It’s not, de facto, something you can stick to and roll out in all situations. Honesty is a value and it’s one that operates on a sliding scale, depending on who you’re talking to, what you’re talking to them about and what the potential fall out of being honest might be. 

Here’s a scenario for you:

You’re on a night out with a friend. She is upset about her ‘massive spot’. She says something like ‘look how massive it is, it’s taking over my whole face, can’t you see?’

A)    Do you say ‘yeah mate I know it’s a bloody volcano I never want to leave the house when I’ve got one of those. I wouldn’t have come out if I were you!’
B)    No, of course you don’t say that. You want her to feel good, you know that in another vodka soda’s time she’ll have forgotten about it. And be dancing on a table, so you do the honourable thing say ‘I hadn’t even noticed to be honest, I can see it but only when you point it out.’ And then off you trot to the dance floor.

What’s my point here? Well, it’s that honesty isn’t always the best thing. Sometimes honesty can complicate a situation further and hurt another person’s feelings.

Of course, I will caveat here, there are good white lies and really bad deceptions. This is not an argument for being dishonest because it suits your own needs, ends and goals above someone else’s. I do not, under any circumstances, advocate lying to protect yourself when you’re wrong. This is an argument for exercising good judgement when it comes to being honest.

If you went with Option A above, by the way, your ‘honesty policy’ needs a serious review. Honesty is the bedfellow of circumstance. It isn’t always appropriate, tactful or necessary. Not everyone can handle the truth and, sometimes, they shouldn’t have to.

And, speaking of bedfellows, there’s no situation where brutal honesty or no holds barred full disclosure can actually come back to bite you quite like living in a shared house.

Today many of us are living in house shares well into our 20s and, even 30s. The housing struggle is very real and as your life gets more complicated, as your past starts to stretch out behind you almost as much as your future once did before you life gets messier. Because of this there’s more to worry about with shared housing than who gets to use the shower at what time.

Living with people is really tricky. When it’s good it’s great but when things get complicated it’s a total minefield. And, sometimes, brutal honesty and no holds barred full disclosure can do more harm than good.

The whole truth and nothing but the truth

Sometimes, telling people exactly what you’re up to can make your life a lot harder than it needs to be. It can make the already very intense situation of living in a (probably quite small) shared house feel like being stuck in a pressure cooker. Your flat mate hears someone else’s voice in your room, and asks about it. Do they really need to know all the ins and outs of the situation?  That you’ve fallen off the wagon and let you ex stay over and you really don’t know how you feel about it yet? Do they need to know that you’ve started seeing that person you were slagging off last week again and that the truth is you kind of like how awful they are? Do you really want to start pouring your heart out over a slice of toast when you’re already late or do you want to give them a sly smile and say ‘yeah I know…’ before fleeing the scene and working it all out for yourself? Your flat mates don’t need to have a beeping GPS tracker on all your partners, past and present and, arguably, it’s much better if they don’t What you do is up to you and only you. Give out information on a need to know basis.

No Scrubs

By the same token…be careful before you spill all the dirty details of past and present relationships to your housemates (actually this probably extends to mates in general as well).  People who care about you, which I’m going to assume the people closest to you do, will always rally behind you TLC girl gang style, even if you’re in the wrong. We all make out that we’re squeaky clean during a break up or relationship blip, even if it’s not strictly true. So be wary of ranting too much about how awful somebody is because, the next time they walk out of your room, everyone is going to feel very protective of you because they will remember every single thing you said about all the times they were ‘a total wanker’ to you.

By the same token, do you really really despise your housemate’s partner? Do you think their relationship is too cutesy/full on/boring etc.? Do you really need to weigh in on their life choices? Maybe keep it t yourself (unless of course there’s something very serious going on, and you’re actually concerned, obviously).

In the words of Celine Dion ‘think twice before you….speak your mind’

The truth really can hurt. When you live with people it’s inevitable that you’re going to hear about their day, often at the end of it. You’ll live through the good and the bad, the highs and the lows with them. And, as with relationships, you’ll always take their side. When they ask for your opinion, you’ll provide it without thinking twice but you should think very carefully….

When your flat mate says they hate their job and they’re completely miserable take a deep breath and think very seriously before you tell them that you’re not surprised they’re miserable, they work all hours and don’t seem to get much out of it, even if that is what you think.

However, while we all like to think we’re always right, that our opinion is good and that the way we do things is the best. The reality, however, is that everybody does things differently. Everyone needs to do different things before the realise what they want and how to get it.

Tell someone you think they’re job is making them unhappy and agree with them that it’s terrible and you might find yourself in an awkward position a few months down the line, when they’re still in that job, still not sure what to do but you’ve made it really clear that you think their struggle is futile.

Mo’ money, mo’ problems

As Notorious B.I.G. said: ‘I don’t know what they want from me. It’s like the more money we come across the more problems we see.’ Now, while he almost definitely wasn’t talking about the fact that, when you live in a shared house, the differences in what people earn can cause huge rifts, the point still stands.

Even millionaires (I assume, I can’t speak from experience, because I’ve never been one) don’t like spending money on things they don’t want to spend it on.  I’m talking rent, bills, cleaning products, loo roll – all the things we all shirk on.

The financial politics of a house share make House of Cards look like a breeze. Perhaps it’s better to keep details about the health (good or bad) of your bank account to yourself.

If you happen to earn a lot more than your housemates try not to shout about it, try not to flaunt it and, whatever you do, don’t forget to pay people back for stuff. Because resentment will brew and before you know it a Macbeth-esque plot to engineer your downfall will have been hatched.

By the same token, if you earn comparatively little, don’t make a fuss about it. Don’t guilt trip people, don’t use it as an excuse to miss dates for paying bills or under pay when you do pay them.

Let it be, let it be

And, finally, pick your battles. It’s better to let some things go, not matter how much you might want to hold a grudge, make a point or be in the right. Of course, when somebody is chronically annoying and consistently wakes you up, throws parties without permission or leaves an Everest-sized pile of washing up then you should take it up with them.

But, think long and hard about whether you want to tell someone about how much they annoy you/get it wrong. Do you really need to get into what you really think about their cleanliness more generally, they’re relationship with their father, their dietary desires or a mannerism they have that particularly irks you. Nobody’s perfect and highlighting other people’s imperfections will, inevitably, hurt their feelings regardless of whether you think your honesty is 'doing them a favour' or not. We all reserve the right to be a bit weird at home.

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Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

Tags: Housemates Head To Head, Housing Woes