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Uninvited Live-in Beau: I was casually dating a guy but things have taken a strange turn. I moved away from the town where we both were living when we met, to take a really good job in a city halfway across the country. I actually expected the relationship to just fade away after I moved, but he has kept it going long distance, calling frequently and, to my surprise, sending love letters that are beyond anything he expressed before I left. I’ve responded cordially but not in kind, and I assumed we were both seeing other people all along, and certainly after I moved away.
Recently he showed up at my door with the “exciting news” that he is looking for a job in my new city. I’m not sure how personally to take that, since it’s a big city and lots of people come here for careers. Of course, he expected to stay in my place while he lined up his interviews.
I figured I could host him for a few days, but it’s already more than a week. And there was this little incident that really threw me: As a feminist, I’ve always insisted on paying half of our bills when we go out, but I was stunned when, at the end of our first dinner out after his arrival, he suggested I pick up the entire bill because I now have such a lucrative position. I tried to laugh it off as though I thought he was joking, but he claimed that he’s really strapped until he lands a better job, so I reluctantly paid the whole bill. I couldn’t help but notice he had ordered the most expensive items on the menu.
Now I’m feeling very uneasy about this whole thing. While I like him and enjoy his company, I don’t trust that his affection for me is genuine and not just a means to free room and board and other perks. I would really prefer to save my money to buy a condo or pursue a graduate degree than subsidize him. I managed to find my job here without freeloading off anyone and think he could do the same. I would also like to resume my social life including other men, which I can’t do with him hanging around.
Am I being a selfish person and a bad friend? Right now I’m watching him stash more and more of his things in my apartment and wondering when he’s going to move out. I never invited him to move in!
—Do I Need an Exterminator?
You’ve got a bed bug! Get rid of him before he sucks you dry!
It’s quite clear that you are not in love with this friend with benefits—and drawbacks. Whether he’s in love with you or just using you is irrelevant: You don’t want to continue housing and subsidizing him. Immediately establish a date not more than a week off when he has to be out of your pad—whether or not he’s found a job or has a second interview the following week—and stick with it, no extensions.
You really don’t owe him any explanation, but you could mention that he should have asked rather than assume he could crash with you indefinitely. If he requires more time in the city for his job search, he can find himself other accommodations, tap a relative or other friend for a place to stay or for a loan (if you give him one I suspect you’ll never be repaid, but it could be money well spent), or go back home and save up for a return trip.
Just in case you’ve been oblivious and he’s truly head-over-heels about you (although I’m not sure I’d believe he’s oblivious to your lack of reciprocation), be gentle but firm. Everyone gets their heart broken somewhere along the line, and it doesn’t seem likely that you’ll ever return his affection or decide he was the one who got away. So help him pack up and go, perhaps after you treat him to one more meal: a farewell dinner. If all this puts a kibosh on the relationship, that’s the way it (and he) goes.
Another (unpleasant) suggestion: Have a friend on standby (ideally, standing by) when you tell your visitor he has to leave. Be prepared to insist he depart immediately if he becomes hostile or threatening, and call the police if necessary. I hope I’m way off on this bit, but you need to protect yourself in case he’s more delusional than obtuse.
Ethics and Art: Recently you wrote about the ethics of art versus the artists, focusing on the renewed attention to Woody Allen’s alleged child molestation and whether his work should be honored with Oscars or boycotted for his bad behavior in life. In that column, you mentioned that you liked his new show, Bullets Over Broadway, The Musical.
I just saw the show, and was curious about your take on the ethical issues it raised. One was, if you were forced to choose, is it better to save the life of one insignificant person or the last existing copy of the complete works of Shakespeare? Another is whether it is acceptable to kill someone who is destroying a potentially wonderful work of art (and all the careers and profits connected with it) if there is no other way to stop that person from gumming it up? There are also themes about compromise versus perfection, selling out versus art that never gets an audience, and taking credit for another person’s ideas when that’s ok with the other person.
What do you think—and what do you think Woody Allen thinks?
—Deep Thoughts, The Musical
Given that the lead character appears to be the stand-in for Mr. Allen, that this character was wracked with guilt about getting credit for someone else’s work, and appalled about permanently dispatching a bad performer who couldn’t be fired, that seems to be where Woody stands. But his script also made bumping someone off awfully appealing. Similarly, the Allen character energetically argued that the life of any human being would take precedence over any work of art—but another character made the case that Shakespeare is worth more to humanity through the ages than one hobo. So Mr. Allen’s position is somewhat ambiguous, perhaps to avoid alienating audiences and raining more condemnation down on himself. Or perhaps to make the audience struggle with what we know should be right versus what feels way more satisfying.
Allen, an atheist, has touched on similar themes in other works. In The Front, blacklisted artists survived by passing their work off through others, who then enjoyed the fame and fortune the artists deserved, along with imposter guilt. In Crimes and Misdemeanors, someone got away with murder; and while it was understandable why the murderer was driven to kill the victim, he was even more flawed than she was.
One of the points Mr. Allen clearly makes in Bullets is that life is full of compromises and nothing is perfect. No one—not even if he is both the writer and director, or the money-bags producer and mob boss, or a huge star, or the lover of the big shot, or the wise guy with the gun—gets to call all the shots. Each of us has to do the best we can with what we have to work with, which involves working with others who have conflicting objectives. But Allen at least makes a stab at saying there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed—like knocking off people who stand in the way of our goals, however low or lofty.
Not to be a spoiler for those who haven’t seen the show (or the movie), but did you notice that even though crime obviously didn’t pay for one character, it was easy to overlook the fact that it paid very nicely for another who was also guilty of rubbing people out? And I think most of the audience savored at least one of the hit-man hits with little to no guilt (after all, we didn’t pull the trigger, or even construct the plot). These twists and nuances and ambivalences contribute to making the story thought-provoking as well as entertaining. I predict people will soon be killing (or at least scalping) to get tickets.