A while ago I chatted with Peter Lovenheim, author of the non-fictional narrative In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community On an American Street One Sleepover at a Time, He sipped coffee, and I ate a cupcake. We talked a bit about neighborhoods and neighbors. I even blogged about it.
Given my solid track record in easily making new friends wherever I have lived, it never occurred to me that I might make enemies. After our family moved into a new neighborhood, one neighbor came on particularly strong. She seemed fabulous. She brought me flowers for no reason at all, bought my son special books and funny little toys. She invited me over for tea at her house; I reciprocated with coffee and dessert.
Looking back at it now, I should have seen it coming. She was like that guy you date three times and then he professes his undying love for you. It feels a little premature, but you go with it because it feels good. Passionate. But then one day — out of the blue — he goes all ape-shit on you and breaks up.
In our case, after many months of relaxed interactions, we received one venomous phone call during which my neighbor accused me of doing something (which, for the record, I didn’t do). It’s all a misunderstanding, I assured my husband. We can totally work this out. That night I planned to clarify, to let her know there was no “situation,” that I had done nothing. I wanted to prove I was innocent. She wouldn’t even come to the door. Finally, her husband came to the driveway and assumed the international sign of a really pissed off person: arms crossed in front of his chest, legs set wide apart, a scowl on his face.
Proverbs 27:17 warns: “Visit your neighbor sparingly / Lest he have his surfeit of you and loathe you.”
I guess I should have paid better attention to Proverbs.
Suddenly, the easy-flowing conversations ended. No more chats about favorite hairstylists, discussions about favorite painters, plumbers or handymen. No more cheery hellos. For a while, I fretted daily at the injustice of it all. I couldn’t believe that Mr. and Mrs. Formerly Such Nice Neighbors could be so rigid and judgmental, even after I’d assured them I hadn’t done the thing they’d accused me of doing. I couldn’t believe they would bear false witness against their neighbor.
As time has passed, however, my husband and I have found that silence makes a lovely neighbor. Hubby refuses to let Mr. and Mrs. Formerly Such Nice Neighbors change the way he does anything. Hubby still mows the lawn on his big ole riding mower. He plants day lilies and futzes around with the landscaping, constantly relocating perfectly good elephant hostas from one place to another. Sometimes, he still even says hello. Call me petty, but I am not interested in forging any kind of anything with these people.
As I see it, they owe me an apology.
I did learn something from The Formerly Such Nice Neighbors. I learned that while I am likable — and I am — not everyone has to like me. And believe me, there are plenty of people out there who don’t like me, of this I am sure. That being said, the world keeps spinning and the grass keeps growing. I also learned not everyone wants to be neighborly. It’s okay.
As time has passed, I’ve had a chance to focus on my true friends: who they are and the qualities they possess that I appreciate. My closest friends are steadfast, kind, communicative, funny, creative, giving and forgiving. Each of them offers me something to learn – about myself and my place in the world.
With friends like those, who has time to worry about angry folks?
Got any good/funny/awful neighbor stories to share?