I’ve lived in a lovely two-story apartment with three roommates for six years. We split the utilities evenly. This past month, we received a significant price hike due to the cold snap. I expected the gas bill to be high, which it was, but I was shocked to see that the electric bill was twice as much as last January. One of my roommates suggested the cause was his girlfriend. When she comes over, it’s often for a few days at a time, and she often leaves the space heater running. I don’t blame her, of course, but she doesn’t pay rent or offer to help with the utilities. I asked him if I could talk to her about the bill, and he agreed. My savings have been depleted this year due to medical issues, and it was a real strain to pay the outsize bill.
So I sent a message to her on Facebook: “I know the higher electric bill is partially due to the cold, but as you use space heaters when you’re in the house, and most of us don’t, I wanted to see if you would be willing to chip in on our electric bill this month!” She didn’t respond. My roommate told me that he thought I was going to ask her to use the space heaters less, not contribute to the bill, and that my message “crossed a line.” I apologized to him for the misunderstanding and then sent a separate message apologizing to her. She still has not responded. So, just how badly did I screw up? Should I have waited to talk about the problem when we were in person? Was it rude or reasonable to ask for money point-blank? And if a similar problem comes up in the future, which it might, should I go back to asking my roommate to deal with his girlfriend directly?
—I Crossed a Line (and the Line Won)