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How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors?

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I’ve lived in my current home for about 3.5 years and I still don’t know many of my neighbors. I don’t live in a neighborhood per se – I’m actually on a highway – but there are several houses nearby. The older couple next door introduced themselves shortly after I moved in, encouraging me to call them if I ever need anything, but we don’t communicate much other than waving or saying hello when we see each other outside.

Last week I was sitting in the swing I bought for my backyard (best purchase ever, BTW) and a lady came over from the house around the corner. She said she has lived there since last summer and decided it was time to get to know a few of her neighbors better. I invited her to sit down and chat – except now I kind of wish I hadn’t.

In the two hours (!) that Elaine* was here, I learned the following:

  • She is in her early sixties (I would have guessed maybe 40-45 so this was shocking).
  • Her husband died 12 years ago and left each of their kids $50,000.
  • Her youngest daughter was arrested that morning for public intoxication but had since been released from jail.
  • Her oldest daughter has kids with a guy who lives a few miles down the road, and said guy apparently enjoys threesomes with other men, which is why her daughter never married him.
  • Her nephew has leukemia. He was in college in California but is now closer to home and going to classes. He’s also in remission.
  • Her rent is $400 a month.
  • One of her daughters has a major problem with prescription pills but claims to be sober now.
  • That same daughter has four kids but no longer has custody of any of them.
  • Elaine hopes her youngest daughter gets approved for SSI – she drinks because of a history of domestic abuse that left her with brain damage and severe depression.

*Not her real name, of course.

That’s just a fraction of the information Elaine shared with me. Keep in mind, I never met this lady before last week! I now have enough material to create an award-winning soap opera and/or reality TV show based on her life.

I was actually kind of sad because Elaine seems like one of those people who had no idea she was sharing TMI with a perfect stranger. I could tell she thought nothing of telling me all this stuff, nor was she the least bit embarrassed. I’m pretty sure things like drugs, jail time, abusive relationships, and general drama are the norm for her based on the things she told me. And while I felt better about my own life, I couldn’t help wondering how often this kind of thing happens. Do I just attract insane people, or is this just the kind of stuff neighbors talk about?

The day after this happened, I was sitting in my swing again and Elaine came back over for another hour of the “let me astound you with random facts about my life” game. This time I was actually working from my laptop, so I tried to gently let her know that I work from home and can’t always chat. It was like talking to a rock – she totally didn’t get the hint. So I was stuck for another hour while she droned on and on about run-ins with “the law” (it is never a good sign when people refer to the police that way).

 Why Do I Attract Crazy People?

I don’t know if these people find me because they can sense that I used to be a therapist or if I’m also crazy and don’t realize it. I do know that I now regret buying my backyard swing and I’m actually kind of afraid to sit out there. I just don’t want to hear any more drama-filled stories from Elaine.

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I’m far from antisocial, but I’m starting to think maybe getting to know neighbors is overrated.

Am I the only one with a crazy neighbor? Have any good stories to make me feel better about this situation? Tell me about your neighbors and how you handle the ones that are….less than desirable.

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web designer and single mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!

Comments

  1. Maybe she is just very lonely, with all her kids grown up and out of the house. Everyone has skeletons in the closet; maybe she just wants a friend. I’m not sure why it would make any difference whether she looks her age or not, but I guess if you really prefer not to talk, you need to say so clearly and in a straightforward way. If she persists in talking, again state in a clear and straightforward manner, that you have to do your work.

  2. This is the sort of person I dread sitting next to on an airplane! My guess is ‘Elaine’ never once asked you about your life, right? Sort of like my Mom… :-)

    We know a couple of our neighbors fairly well, but a couple others hardly at all, after living here 4 years. There’s some wisdom in the adage about good fences making for good neighbors.

    • Actually she did ask one thing – she wanted to know if I was married. As soon as I said I was divorced, she goes, “Oh, did he hit you?” Um, no… “Oh, so it was drugs.” Noooo….. Just amazed me how different someone’s perspective can be depending on their experiences…

  3. I have a neighbor that loves to talk. One night at 11 pm I was watering my flowers and she comes over and sits on my steps to chat. Her dogs get in a fight and my boyfriend has to hose them down to separate them. We then had to help her get her four dogs to her house.

    If I see her outside when I get home I go inside Immeditely. I tend to be luckier than my boyfriend who gets stopped by her at least once a week. One day she stopped me as I was pulling out the driveway. At least she was smart enough to get the hint that I was on my way somewhere and couldn’t chat but for a minute.

  4. We’ve lived in our home for over 10 years. Know our neighbors on either side and across the street but that’s it. We all moved in around the same time and have all been here since. We’re in a development and are fortunate that we don’t have a lot of problems, just the guy around the corner who has a very loud motorcycle. I like bikes but this one is really loud. Halloween is crazy though with tons of kids. I think people drop their kids off from other neighborhoods (although we do have a large appartment complex nearby). Every year we run out of candy (20 bags). Our old neighborhood was the pits. It was in a large mid-western city. The week after we moved out the people across the street were busted for prostetution. They were pimping their young teenage daughter and the wife advertised “massage” in the phone book. Someone tried to steal my husband’s car (a former boyfriend’s car was stolen). Another house had all night parties with young males (anywhere from 10 to 20 at a time) standing in the street, on our lawn, other people’s lawns. One winter I got in my snow coverd car to turn it on before cleaning it off and some guy opened my door to do who-knows-what. Fortunately my husband was coming out of the house at that moment and the guy took off. That is just the tip of the iceburg (this is long enough already). Sorry about your neighbor. She is probably attracted by your kindness. Most people probably tune her out.

  5. I have one neighbor who called the cops on my 7 and 9 yr old for worshipping Satan in the driveway. They were blowing bubbles. And once when my husband and I were cleaning out the garage, it was like, 11pm. She drove by, turned around, came back by our house, stopped in front and screamed “Punish her! Punish her!” then peeled out.

    And, another neighbor seems nice, but, you can’t get a word in edgewise. And, because of that, I now know, she completely hates me, she just doesn’t know it. She thinks you can’t raise kids in a house twice the size of mine, because it is too small. Home schooling is horrendous and child abuse. Skirts are a way for men to control women. I’m the wrong kind of Christian. Dying your hair any color other than what God gave you is a sin. (she has to hide the gray you see). Celebrating Halloween is worshiping Satan. (Jeeze my kids worship Satan a lot). Wearing white to your second wedding is the epitome of trashy and only 20 yr old whores would even try that. (Should I show her my wedding picture? I’m almost 30.)and so on and so forth. She’s also a helicopter mom and I am so…not. Which is apparently also child abuse?

    Luckily, the rest of the neighborhood is pretty nice, and we get along with everyone else.

  6. psychsarah says:

    We had a neighbour at our old house who loved to dish gossip about the rest of the neighbourhood. I just watched what I told her very very carefully as I knew it would be broadcast shortly thereafter.

    So far, we’ve only lived in our house a few months, and we’ve only met the family next door to us. They seem nice, but the youngest kid (12 yrs) seems really lonely, and hangs around forever if you start talking to him. He’s sweet enough, but I’ve had to more or less kick him out of my yard when I wanted to go to bed one night! I actually asked him, “So, Joe (not his real name) do you have a bed time?” He responded, “Not really.” to which I said, “Well, I do, and it’s now. Good night!” (Stated in a happy and friendly but firm manner).

  7. Sorry, but this post made me laugh! I think everyone has an experience with “that person” who they regret starting up a conversation with. I also believe that every workplace, neighborhood, etc. has at least one of those people. I used to work with a guy who I would avoid if possible because a simple question would turn into a twenty minute discussion about his kids, where he used to work, how it was back in the 70s when he started working, and on and on. He would use peoples names in his stories that I had no clue who they were, but he acted like I new them. You’re definitely not alone, I think it’s a pretty common thing. They’re just people who like to talk about EVERYTHING! Hilarious, but not so funny for you when you have work to do.

  8. I love your blog, and I’ve kept up with it for a while. I’m just not much of a commenter until today.

    My husband and I both attract crazies or extremely “needy” people, which I suppose is filed under Crazies. This began in elementary school for both of us. We married each other and what that implies about us, well, please don’t judge (I know you won’t). My mom says this has always happened to her too. I have been burdened with TMI, even from people I would never call crazy or needy. This is in no way bragging, but: I think we’re too nice. I could never let myself be mean, or what I perceived to be mean. I guess people can immediately sense when you’re patient, non-judgmental (although I DO HAVE that mode), and not a gossiper. It’s like they can sniff it out. If I tell myself to “just be mean” it really seems to work. It’s like a mind-over-matter, dog-whisperer kind of thing. I feel really mean using that analogy! But it’s important for safety’s sake, especially with males.

    I was raised in a rural area in the South with no private fences, leaving us wide open for neighbor chats. I live in an urban area now with cinder block walls in the back. If you really want to enjoy that swing you need a tall, private fence around it!

  9. She sounds very lonely. Although I know what you mean about attract crazy people, I have a knack for that too. Our neighbors now aren’t so bad. They’re two older guys, 50s, maybe 60s? Who are retired and do NOTHING outside of yard work. Whenever we are outside, they immediately make a beeline for us to chat about all sorts of randomness. Sometimes it’s hard to get away, and I definitely know more about their crazy lives than I needed to know. I’m pretty content keeping to myself these days. It seems like having neighbors is so different now than it was when I was growing up. All the families were friends, had bbq’s, and pool parties, etc. Now you’re lucky if you know someone’s first name.

  10. I laughed through the entire post! That’s a whole lot of information for one conversation. The questions about your divorce are unbelievable! I’ve known some people for decades and don’t know any of that kind of intricate details.

    I live in the heart of a metropolitan city in a condo with about 30 floors. I’ve lived in my condo for 4 years and I can count how many times I’ve seen my neighbors much less have heart to hearts. A simple nod is usually all I get and the few times we’ve waited for the elevator together have been filled with quick smiles and having a sudden need to check their phones.

  11. I try to completely avoid my neighbors. I may sometimes wave if I see them outside but that’s as far as it goes. They have five freaking dogs. Two of the dogs are huge and aggressive. If my kids are our out playing and the dogs are running free they will stand at the property line and growl at them. Then sometimes in the mornings the dogs will be in my yard and I’m afraid to even walk to my car. Not to mention having to deal with dog poop in the driveway when I don’t even own a dog! I am going to stop myself because I could probably go on forever but I seriously dislike my neighbors.

  12. My next door neighbor strangled his wife and then chopped her up with a machete. I am not kidding. Only murder in town in over 20 years. I got to know my neighbors better after that by standing in the street talking about it. Not sure if that is the best way to meet people.

  13. We have neighbors on one side that are totally awesome. We watch each others house when out of town, and we do talk but not to excess. Our other neighbor is a newlywed so we rarely see them :-)

  14. We don’t know our neighbors that well. For the most part, our neighbors are great. This will come off as rude probably, but it’s not how I mean it – we have a neighbor who is recently blind (he worked in a lab I think and something bad happened), but he is always doing stuff as though he can see. He cleans the gutters, gets of top of their roof, turns on the chainsaw, fixes their car (he’s even helped fix ours one time). It is crazy!

  15. teinegurl says:

    Andrea! Me and my mom just got a little tiff about this !! She’s mormon so missionaries came to our door wanting to chat with her which is normal and okay then they started asking about me her daughter and she’s proceeds to tell them because i could overhear them at the door-my name, how many kids i had, that i was divorced , lived with here , my age , where i work. I don’t know even know these people! I told her even if those were YOUR friends I DONT know them and you shouldn’t be sharing my personal information. I even wrote a FB post about it and she got mad at that. but really she should stfu if people want to know about me -ask me. Lol let your dogs out in the yard and maybe she won’t be so keen to visit.

  16. She’s lonely. Just think of this as you’re good deed of the week. My neighbors are pretty great. Sadly, my next door neighbor is selling their house and moving to Portland. Austin the hot guy never does his lawn, and M. and K. the couple across the street have the cutest 2 month old baby. I went on a 3 week vacation and my neighbors were freaking out because they hadn’t seen me for so long. It was nice to know that they cared.

  17. We just moved and don’t know our neighbors well yet. From the people we have met most seem friendly enough but no one we would hang out with our go over to their house. As for you neighbor I don’t think she is crazy more so lonely and wants someone to talk to and she sees you are available. Now that you have told her you are divorce you can probably expect more visits. I not to be mean but you are going to have to be a little firm and say I am working cant talk at this moment or it will keep happening.

  18. We just don’t have neighborhoods per se any more. With neighbors, you take the good with the bad – if you are lucky enough to get to know them!

  19. Haha. That’s awesome. Some people are just oblivious to the fact that some things are best kept private. I’m willing to bet you will not be sitting ,ugh on that chair anymore

  20. I live on the outskirts of a city in Leeds England. Rare that neighbours interact with each other here as a high number are short term renters with no real desire to make friends. The only exception since six months of living here was my speaking to an old dude fixing a giant boat on his lawn. Pretty friendly…but he did try and sell his boat to me! Getting to know the neighbours like you did is probably worth it, but rarely happens here. Short term short stay culture around here doesn’t really encourage it.

  21. I don’t know my neighbors all too well, but my parents have a whole bunch of great neighbors. They spend a lot of time together. They are a bit crazy but in a good way.

  22. We moved recently, and our initial experiences with the new neighbors have been totally great. However, in our previous place, we had a neighbor much like the one you describe. Every time we took a walk or every time I tried to cut the grass, she would come over and start talking about her friends who had tumors or her daughter’s marital problems. It sometimes got so bad that we would wait until she wasn’t outside before we went out. Sad.

  23. Susanna says:

    I live in a working class neighborhood in Portland, OR. I know most of my neighbors and we keep an eye on one another. I have a retired couple with ten cars and a RV rusting in their driveway on one side, musicians in the property whose garden backs up to mine (who recently popped round to let me know that they’d be rehearsing all weekend and were worried it would bother me), a computer programmer and imports specialist on the other side and naturopaths and acupuncturists who keep chickens on the corner. It’s quiet at night and pretty low on crime for a city and I can walk to coffee, restaurants, groceries – even a movie theatre. I love it.
    But directly across the street from me is Harvey. For the first five or so years I lived there he said maybe five words to me – he was very reclusive and not particularly friendly (and I usually make it a point to be friendly myself) and would just come home from work and disappear inside. His house (which he inherited from his mother) is in terrible disrepair; the front door (which he never uses) is covered in mold and rust, the roof is almost completely green with moss, the gutters are hanging off – the house appears to be slowly returning to the earth. His yard is just a big patch of weedy grass that he mows maybe three times a year. He has no trash service at all – a mystery and cause of wonder to all who know of him. My sister, when she came to visit, made nervous jokes about his being a serial killer, followed immediately by the disclaimer “But don’t go check, okay? Like, ever”
    But since Harvey’s retirement last year, he has become much chattier and quite a bit more strange. He seems nice enough – he’s often friendly – but he can’t remember what he’s said from one hour to the next and has become so befuddled that he’ll engage anyone who’ll listen with rambling stories about ‘the sexy lady in the tree’ (he claims he can see her sometimes), or the fact that he once thought he saw a man dangling from the telephone wires but it turned out to be only a branch. He walks around and around the block all day like a caged polar bear.
    I’ve recently been wondering whether to sell the house (the market in Portland is white hot again, with properties selling in days and bidding wars going on – believe it or not!) but when I look around I can never find anywhere I like more than my quirky little neighborhood – certainly not for what I can comfortably afford for a mortgage, so I have decided to stay. Crazy old neighbor and all.

  24. All of our neighbors in our current home seem pretty nice. A little snobby across the street and annoying home owner’s association watcher down the street, but overall nice. In our old house, all of the neighbors were friendly except for the crazy crackhead across the street. In 5 years, she knocked on the door at least 5 times for money or favors and had crazy episodes in her front yard at least a dozen times. Their house was foreclosed on last month, so now we are just waiting to see if a house flipper will take on the project…

  25. Just high and bye for me with the neighbors as well. Sometimes neighbors can be a blessing and other times they can just be leaches. Have to be careful who you let into your life. Most of my life the neighbors I have known for some reason rather stay to themselves.

  26. Andrea, don’t get me started! I also attract the crazy and I’m not nearly as friendly as I used to be. We (me and the other tenants) just got through a stressful time with a crazy neighbor lady who was also a hoarder. It’s a long, complicated story. She’d lived in the building for around 9 years and snubbed most of us most of the time. Roughly 3 years ago, she had to quit working because her health got too bad. Then she spoke to everyone every chance she got, telling us that neighbors should look out for each other. Then she hit up several of her neighbors for favors. As her health worsened, she hit us up more often. The young couple who lived across from her were looking for another place to live when Crazy Lady died. What did she die of? Who knows? She never got medical treatment because she was waiting for a sign from God. Yeah, a fun time was NOT had by all. I’m just now starting to destress from the situation. I’d known her slightly before she moved in to the complex and I had a feeling that she’d be trouble, I just didn’t know how much.

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