Copycat: A Different Kind of Identity Theft

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Dear Whit,

This is a really weird situation, but one that I can’t seem to figure out. I hope you can help me with it. I am a 20-year old female, college student with a roommate, Rebecca, who is totally creeping me out by the way she has been acting.

This is our first year rooming together, but I knew her before, not as a friend but just a student in the same class last year. Toward the end of the school year, she asked me if I wanted to be roommates next year. I thought it would be a good idea because my old roommate was going to be living off-campus with her boyfriend, and she seemed nice.

Anyway, here is the problem: After Thanksgiving, just a little before Christmas, I noticed that she was starting to wear her hair differently. She changed the color, the length, and the style so that it looked just like mine! Not only that, but she started wearing contact lenses that made her eyes the same color as mine!! And on top of that, she is kind of dressing like me too. I thought I was being generous at the beginning of the year when she complimented me on a sweater I was wearing, by saying she could borrow clothes from me “anytime.”  She seems to have taken that literally: every day, there she is in another article of my wardrobe.

I was so completely freaked out I didn’t know what to do or say, so I did nothing. Now after having the Christmas break to think about it, I have decided that I need to do something to find out what is going on with her. I really need some advice because what Rebecca is doing is distracting me from school and just making me anxious and feeling crazy.

Identity-Theft Victim

Dear Identity:

You have a few options that I can see. You can continue to ignore what Rebecca is doing, confront her about it, talk to your RA about a roommate change, discuss it with the director of residential life on campus, or see what happens if you change your look from the one she is imitating. Let’s look at the probable results each strategy will bring.

If you continue to ignore Rebecca’s copy-catting, you will probably still be as uncomfortable and puzzled about it as you are now because you’ll still be wondering why she is doing it. The curiosity factor is as much at work as the anxiety factor and therefore, the turning-a-blind-eye tactic will likely not turn out the way you want.

Confronting Rebecca about it seems like a high-risk, low-probability-of -success option.  What do you do or say if she seems to be puzzled by your question? For example:

You: Why you are trying to look like me?

Rebecca: What are you talking about?

Even if she is trying to look like you (she could be gaslighting you), this approach has a much better chance of making you look like you’re the crazy one.

Similarly, if you go to your RA or the residential administrator, you could get exactly the same response, which, again, makes you look like the crazy girl and not to just your roommate but also to the RA (and maybe everyone else on the hall or dorm) in addition to the Director of Residential Life.  Bringing in other people will only make you and the whole situation look worse.

You do have an option that can avoid the pitfalls of the rest of them and which is simple, effective, and virtually risk –free. Here’s what it is: Change your look. Cut your hair, color your hair, alter the way you wear it. If you wear contacts, use your glasses instead.  Buy an article of clothing that is completely uncharacteristic of you and start wearing it a lot. Wear skirts instead of jeans or whatever makes you look different. Who doesn’t love a makeover? So when you change your appearance, what you’re doing won’t be obvious to her.

What if Rebecca suspects something? So much the better. Because your approach is subtle and credible, you won’t run the risks of the confrontation strategies. Whether she is doing it deliberately or unconsciously, you will certainly discover whether she is trying to look like you when you change the way you look. If in the unlikely event she does try to imitate you again, you can then confront her without any fear of appearing unbalanced.

Should you decide that you want to be done with Rebecca and don’t want to room with her anymore, you can make that happen without even bringing it up to her. Have you seen the movie called The Roommate with Minka Kelly? If you haven’t seen it, check out the plot summary online, then ask Rebecca if she wants to watch it; if she’s already seen it, inquire casually if she’s seen your box cutter. I think she’ll get your point; in fact, Rebecca will probably ask you if you know anyone who is looking for a roommate.

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