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#525: Discouraging The Too-Friendly Neighbor

Dear Captain,

I recently moved to a new flat and am having trouble with my next-door neighbour. I’d like to be on casual friendly terms with my neighbours – smile and nod and maybe wave when we see one another outside – but nothing more. I have a social anxiety disorder & agoraphobia, and have no interest in inviting people in for tea, or being invited in return. I live alone and I like it that way.

I don’t want to make enemies or have them create problems for me. I’ve sunk a lot of money into renovating this rental property so I really don’t want to have to move.

The problem is that my next-door neighbour is too friendly for my comfort level. I was warned about her when I signed the tenancy, so this is an established pattern of behaviour for her. She’s an elderly lady who seems to be lonely, and despite me trying not to encourage her (offering no invitations, turning down invitations, trying to draw conversations to a close, volunteering no personal information) she knocks on my door at least every other day to chat. With no prompting she talks at length about drama with other residents, her health problems, with very personal (and pretty gross) details, and ignores gentle prompts to try and end conversations. We talk at the front door as I do not invite her in, but this never makes her less keen to come and visit. I cannot convincingly pretend to be out, since the lights would give me away.

My sister has mentioned to her that I have social anxiety problems and she seemed sympathetic and said that she would not approach me, but wait for me to approach her, however this did not happen and she was knocking on my door the next day.

How can I discourage this lady without alienating her by being rude? Are there any scripts you could give me for shutting down conversations politely, or a long-term campaign to help her get the hint that, while I do not dislike her, I’m not interested in cultivating a friendship?

Sincerely,

Lacking the necessary social nuance.

Dear Lacking:

I think you have the social nuances of exiting conversations exactly right! It is your neighbor who is lacking them, and you have reached the impasse that polite people always reach with really obtrusive and impolite people:

HINTS.

DON’T.

WORK.

They just create a sea of plausible deniability for oblivious people and boundary violators to swim around in.

Your sister already asked her, nicely, not to knock on your door and explained that you don’t like it. Your neighbor did not respect this request. She is going to knock on your door whenever she feels like it for the rest of time, unless you teach her that doing so will not get the response she wants (standing helpless, politely listening to her). It’s very possible she thinks she is “helping” you with your social anxiety by being so “friendly.”

It bears saying that you don’t have to answer the door just because someone knocked on it. A knock is not a command. It’s really hard not to answer a knock – What if it’s an emergency? What if it’s a package, or someone you want to see? – but if you know it’s her, and the building isn’t on fire, and you’re just not in the mood to deal with any of it? You can decide not to answer. I’ve had to do that with pushy neighbors/former landlords who don’t give notice they are coming by. If they ask you about it later, you can say:

  • I wasn’t expecting anyone/I was in the middle of something. Next time call and set something up.”
  • “I was in the shower.”
  • “I was napping and didn’t hear the door. If I had known you were coming….”

Lo and behold, after making a few trips for nothing, they started calling in advance. Your neighbor may have grown up in a time or culture where we just pop by for tea and a good gossip, but that doesn’t mean you have to virtually time travel to that place to make it possible for her.

If you do answer the next time she knocks, open the door a mere sliver to see who it is. Say, “Who/What is it?” If you can, act like it is very strange that anyone would be knocking and clearly there is some kind of emergency afoot (a variation of visibly and audibly startling when the office creeper touches you). If it’s an emergency, or she is holding your package, say “Thank you“, deal with the package or whatever, and then shut the door. If she’s just stopping by to talk at you, say, briefly, “Sorry, I’m busy!” and shut the door. Or give the conversation a physical limit by giving the Clooney Hello (starts around 1:45, link should be fixed now), as in, walk out to check your mail or see if there are any packages for you or check the weather outside for a second so you know what coat to wear, and then head back inside your apartment when the task is done. If you’re always moving, she can’t linger at your door.

When told “Sorry, I’m busy,” a person with reasonable boundaries will apologize for interrupting you and immediately go away. Did she apologize and immediately go away? No? Cool. Say again, “I don’t want to talk, I am busy.” Then shut the door. Shut it right in the middle of her sentence if you have to. Walk away. Put headphones on, call your sister. You’re going to feel weird and guilty and keyed up, it’s not like you can just go back to peacefully existing two minutes after shutting the door in an “sweet” old lady’s face. We’re really taught not to do that, ever, right? You’re going to feel rude, and you were kind of rude, but knocking on someone’s door when they’ve asked you not to and monopolizing their time is also rude, and polite-ing at her has not worked to make it stop.

You may be tempted to go with “It’s not a good time” or “Sorry, I can’t talk …right now.” It seems softer, or kinder somehow, right? But intrusive people hear “not now” and think “ok, later!” or “When???!!!” and it just prolongs the whole ordeal. The actual message you want to send is “I don’t want to” so say “I don’t want to.” Also, never feel like you have to go into detail about what you are busy with. “I’m busy counting ceiling tiles…” is a perfectly cromulent reason to not want to answer the door.

Try this and see if she changes her behavior. If you run into her in the hall or outside the building or doing laundry, exchange basic “Heyhowyadoing” pleasantries. If she knocks on your door without a really good reason? Building comma On Fire? Terse and door-shutty. You have to be consistent with this, because any reversion to long hallway chats will open up the old behavior again.
If this makes it better, problem solved! She has learned that dropping by will not get her what she wants. If this doesn’t make it better, you’ll need to have a chat with her. Good thing your sister had that talk with her, because it gives you a starting point for this chat. It will be Awkward. The Always Be Nice To Old Folks conditioning runs deep, which is why when F. the chatty handyman wants to tell Just One More Boring Story after completing his repairs, I sometimes excuse myself and hide in the bathroom until he leaves. (We keep books in there for a reason).

Here’s the script for The Chat. If you think it will help, practice it with your sister beforehand.

Wait for her to knock on your door.

What is it?

It won’t be anything, so jump in. And I know you were taught, like me, that interrupting people is rude, but go ahead and interrupt. “Sorry, I need to interrupt you.”

Neighbor, I feel very awkward saying this, but I need to ask you not to knock on my door or drop by unannounced for visits anymore.”

She will not enjoy hearing this, which is understandable, as no one likes to be told “Shut up and go away.” I don’t know how to predict what she will say. You don’t have to respond to any of her points or discuss it with her. If you get into a point-by-point rebuttal you’re engaging with her on her terms, so steer clear. Just let her get whatever it is out, acknowledge that you heard it, and make sure you are very clear about what you want going forward.

Script continued: “I know my sister talked to you about this, trying to save us both from a conversation like this one. I don’t really like it when visitors – even close friends- drop by without notice. It makes me very anxious and upset, especially when I am trying to concentrate on something.” If you work from home (or work on concentration-heavy projects or hobbies at home), throw that out there, it’s helpful. If you don’t work from home, throw that out there in a different way – “My job is demanding, so when I am home, solitude and quiet are very precious to me.

She will say some more stuff. If there is a way you can help her save face – thanking her in advance for being understanding, for example – do it. Appeal to her kindness. “I know you would never try to upset me on purpose, that’s why I needed to let you know directly. Thank you for understanding.” Then cut the conversation short.

Best case scenario: She shows you that she heard you and backs off. You can reward her by being basic-neighbor-friendly: Making sure to say hello to her in public spaces and giving it a good 3 minutes of pleasantry exchanging, shoveling the walk or the stairs in the snow, leaving a holiday card by the door (if that’s your thing, no worries if not), checking on her during extreme weather, bringing in her packages or mail, etc. Continue to not answer your door or respond to any social invitations.

Second best case scenario: She departs in a huff, swearing to never darken your door or speak to you again. She tells the rest of the people in the building how unfriendly you are. The rest of the people in the building secretly envy you. Over time things will probably thaw to what you’re looking for – mutually nodding “Hey” as you walk by.

Not good scenario: She does not get it and keeps bothering you. Possibly you can refer it to the landlord – “I’ve asked her directly to stop knocking, she is being a nuisance.”  This isn’t necessarily worse than you have it now, so you might as well shoot for peace and quiet. 

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About JenniferP

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135 comments on “#525: Discouraging The Too-Friendly Neighbor

  1. LW, what a socially painful and awkward situation for you. I’m really sorry that you’re going through this.

    But how refreshing is it that the Worst Case Scenario here is “somebody that you never wanted to talk to never talking to you again?” The consequences of speaking up and standing up for yourself are good things! Things that you want! That’s so great!

  2. LW, you live next to my grandmother. You poor, poor person. And the Captain is absolutely right: she will. Not. Take. The hint. Ever.

    You have my personal permission to be as unsubtle, direct, or downright rude as you need to be. If word reached us that someone had closed the door in my grandmother’s face (because no doubt my grandmother would tell us about it several times at length for weeks afterwards), we would be tempted to send a ‘Congratulations!’ card to the party concerned.

    She may be a lonely old lady, but she is also someone who repeatedly ignores stated boundaries.

  3. Hello! I’m also socially awkward (diagnosed social phobia or anxiety depending how we’re feeling) and while I’m living with other people for financial reasons I’m often the only one home. I’ve managed to train myself out of answering the landline (helps that I’ve literally not given anyone the number – they can text my mobile or email me instead) but ignoring knocks on the door is hard – even though my bedroom’s in the back of the house, I’m very quiet, and there’s no way they know I’m home. Usually in my case it’s charity door knockers, because this seems to be a fairly decent area in regards to incomes, and they’re the kind that want a monthly commitment, so all I need to do is say “Yeah, you’re on my list, but I’m disabled on a fixed income sorry.” They know that means I really can’t spare any money and leave me alone instead of continuing with the “only the price of two coffees a week!” pitch, but it’s a pain having to do it every time. For a neighbour? Yeah, that needs a whole different script. :/ I think the Captain’s got it pretty right though. Practice not answering. When you do answer, impose time limits. Don’t reward her by letting her dominate the conversation with her stories. Really hard advice for people like us, but really good advice too.

  4. The Captain’s advice seems really sound, but she didn’t address one possible situation – it’s possible that your elderly neighbor is in the early stages of dementia. After my mom was widowed, there were a few years before she became unable to care for herself when she still lived on her own, and although up to that point she had been an introvert, suddenly she started wandering up and down her street being “friendly” and bothersome to the neighbors. If this is how things are for your neighbor, then you’ll find that she simply isn’t able to learn anything new. She may be agreeable when someone explains the situation to her, as your sister did, but it’s possible she didn’t remember the conversation the next day.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any good advice for this scenario, beyond suggesting that you could note any evidence that she’s not able to function properly on her own, and then try to find out the appropriate person to whom you could pass along any such evidence.

    • I think that’s pretty Not the LW’s Job, all things considered. That is, it’s not a fair burden to put on the LW. If the LW is concerned this is the case, he/she should talk to the landlord, who has more access to information that can help, like how to contact the neighbour’s next-of-kin.

      But for anyone who is wondering, this hypothetical scenario is called “self-neglect” and the search term you want is “[your area] reporting elder neglect”. In a lot of jurisdictions the law realizes that elders are a population vulnerable to abuse and neglect and has system supports in place to help people who can’t keep themselves safe and cared-for. Which department or agency it is changes a lot from place to place, though, so check locally.

      • I agree that this could potentially be an issue, and I believe your intentions were good, LauraA.

        But we have no evidence that it is, it sort of falls into the blanket policy of not-diagnosing-strangers-on-the-internet, and I agree with staranise that this is Not the LW’s Job.

        Unless there are very obvious dangerous things happening (her apartment keeps catching on fire because she keeps leaving the stove on and wandering off, for example), I don’t think it’s the LW responsibility OR business to speculate on her neighbor’s mental health. And I think even if it is the case that said neighbor is in early stages of dementia, it changes the advice not at all. Polite but clear refusal to engage, repetitive boundary enforcement, and ignoring/not rewarding undesired behavior is appropriate whether the neighbor is an overly-friendly little old lady with no boundaries and full mental facilities or if she’s an overly-friendly little old lady whose mind is beginning to wear out a bit.

        • Broadening one’s awareness to note the possibility of a disability isn’t quite the same thing as diagnosing a stranger on the internet. My point is that if the LW goes into the situation with an awareness that their best efforts might have no effect whatsoever _without this being the fault of the neighbor_, it might help the LW to feel more patient with the situation and less discouraged. The possibility of dementia doesn’t change value of the Captain’s good advice on how to behave towards the neighbor, but the advice includes phrases like, “She is going to… for the rest of time unless you teach her,” “see if she changes her behavior,” and “You have to be consistent because … open up the old behavior again,” and the Captain hasn’t mentioned the unfortunate possibility that the neighbor literally cannot learn and change.

          LW, if you follow the advice and yet the neighbor doesn’t change at all, please don’t assume that it means you haven’t tried hard enough or that the neighbor is wilfully ignoring you, because it may be altogether beyond your control or influence.

          • “Broadening one’s awareness to note the possibility of a disability isn’t quite the same thing as diagnosing a stranger on the internet.”

            Depends on the context. I don’t find “It’s possible that your elderly neighbor is in the early stages of dementia.” in this context of an elderly person being overly, boundary-ignoring friendly to be materially different than “It’s possible that awkward dude had autism.” in the context of a dude being overly, boundary-ignoring friendly. It’s not particularly helpful to anyone, even it it were true it doesn’t materially change the advice, and it’s kind of rude and inappropriate to both the people in question and people who are actually diagnosed with the condition.

          • [responding to ReanaZ's 3:50 p.m. comment]

            People with autism are accountable for their behavior; people with dementia are not. It’s a very important distinction that doesn’t affect the nature of the advice or its value, but can influence how the LW feels about the situation, which is, after all, the key issue. Personally, I would find it very helpful to have a possible external explanation for why my best efforts to influence a problem in my life were not succeeding; ymmv.

          • FWIW, this is 100% exactly what I thought you meant by your first comment. My grandma didn’t live alone, but if she did she probably would have done the same thing.

          • My chatty neighbor is a lower caliber irritation (it’s confined to over the back fence, in nice weather) but once I really understood “what I say makes no difference at all” I got in the habit of using “it’s been nice talking to you, have a good day” (even in the middle of her story) to end a conversation, and I stopped getting upset at having to do so.

            I think getting nervous when you lie (or give a thin excuse, or cut someone off) is normally an adaptive thing, because these things are socially dangerous. In my case, it was clearly possible to get over that inhibition in the particular context of talking to neighbor.

      • Sure, it’s certainly not the LW’s job to do these things. My suggestion was that she might want some action she can take so she doesn’t feel entirely helpless — it can make difficult situations feel better if there’s something one can do to try to be constructive than if there’s nothing one can do at all. The landlord might well be the most logical person to talk to.

        If an elderly person in the early stages of dementia is able to meet their own survival needs (getting enough to eat, observing basic hygiene, not endangering themselves, etc.), and wants to live on their own, there is very little that even their family may be able to do about it, beyond trying to get the person to sign powers of attorney for when they get worse and keeping a close eye on the situation for deterioration. It’s quite frustrating.

      • I just want to admire this comment a bit.

        I think there’s an argument to be made that we have a duty towards isolated elderly people – though as Star Anise knows I have a bias there – but that duty isn’t to be their friends when we don’t feel friendly towards them.

        The landlord may be in a position to notice if she’s changing markedly and use whatever “emergency contact” number they have for her.

        At most, if a person starts noticing really worrying things happening with an older person who loves alone it might be right to find out who can help and notify them.

        But there is no obligation to become their friend, or let them violate your boundaries, and there’s no benefit to them in it anyway. If she needs help she needs systematic support from professionals, not a neighbour feeling compelled to damage her own mental health to let her talk endlessly at the door.

        • <3 you, Marna.

          I'm really serious about helping people. Incredibly. So much so that I think that people in help don't just need small, piecemeal help that relies on a social system that's mostly disappeared from our society; they need helpers who are informed and supported, who can connect them to many other resources and who have comrades, supervisors, and teachers. Who are less likely to burn out, can set boundaries to keep themselves fresh, and who can ensure the people they care for will still be helped if they need to stop.

          I believe in certain social duties, but I know that just as our obligations are too many people, they should be fulfilled by and with many people. Hence charity and taxes and this entire thing we call “society”.

    • I used to live next to that lady. The person who had lived in the flat before me had told me how sweet and neighbourly she was – leaving presents and soup for him, poor negleccted bachelor boy (I had to think of him during the ‘horrible driver’ thread, ahem). I already had two grandmothers and did not want a third; my boundary-setting did not go down well. Over the three years I lived there her condition deteriorated – she started complaining about the downstairs neighbour to me; conversations from which I could not extract myself easily. She also complained about me to the downstairs neighbour (later, we exchanged notes and realised the extent of the problem.)

      Shortly before I moved out, I was unable to walk past her front door without being waylaid and accused of playing loud music, smoking pot, and other misdemeanours; whether it was 6.30 am or half past midnight did not matter.

      LW, I hope that your situation does not come to this and that your neighbour is merely friendly-and-lonely; but for your peace of mind I’d keep a diary of interactions (you’ve asked her not to talk to you, you’ll ask her again, and that should be it.) After that, talking to your landlord might be a good idea – not because the landlord can *do* anything about it, but because they probably need to know if she persists.

      Beyond that, I have no advice, just oodles and oodles of sympathy.

  5. Oof, that’s difficult. Very. I think, fwiw, that I might try The Chat before, rather than after, implementing the Just Don’t Engage policy, to reduce the possibilty of a unpleasant and unproductive sidetrip to Are You Mad At Me. Stating upfront that this is how you prefer to deal with neighbours, not just her, because it’s best and healthiest for you, not because she’s awful, may save you a lot of hassle and bad feeling later.

    Also, I think you may want to do it in letter form. First, because if you have social anxiety having The Chat is probably going to be unpleasant for you – it sounds like your sister stepped in by your request or at least with your consent, which makes me think this even more – and the whole idea is for you to *avoid* having long personal conversations with her.

    Secondly, because writing a letter means you can deliver the message in it’s clearest, firmest, most emotionally neutral form, uninterrupted by her and undistorted by anxiety on your part. Plus you can get help writing it if you want.

    Thirdly, because you can then give your landlord a copy. This protects you – if she later turns this into gossip or gives a distorted version of the story to other tenants and/or the landlord, having your landlord know what you really said and did might be really valuable.

    Giving the landlord a copy also protects her, in a way. She’s elderly and she lives alone, and her mearest beighbour will no longer be interacting with her. Which is exactly right: she’s acting in really problematic ways towards her neighbours and the first thing that has to happen is for it to be stated clearly that she is in no way your responsibility and you need and deserve to have your boundaries respected and to be protected from her behaviour.

    After that’s done, and only after that’s done, the landlord may want to talk to her about her behaviour. They may want to keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t drive good tenants away. And, possibly, they may want to think about contacting her family and letting them know that she’s behaving somewhat bizarrely, because maybe she’s always acted like this, or maybe there’s something wrong and she needs some help.

    Good luck!

    • A letter is not a bad idea, the more I think about it. Use the sister-talk. “Dear Neighbor, You’ve been very kind and welcoming, but as my sister told you, I prefer strongly to be left alone when I am at home. I need to ask you kindly to stop knocking on my door and dropping by for chats. Many thanks, LW.

      You could pass a copy to the landlord if need be. Check out what your lease/local landlord-tenant laws say about “quiet enjoyment” of rented premises.

      And then back it up by enforcing the boundary.

      • I like this idea.

      • Good thought, but as far as I know, legally speaking, “quiet enjoyment” doesn’t really cover this situation. It’s more like, being evicted from your apartment because your landlord didn’t have title to the property, or being constructively evicted when the property becomes objectively inhabitable.

        So, LW is spared the google search into local statute, but the letter script is great! Short, kind, and to the point.

        • Not necessarily. In some jurisdictions, “quiet enjoyment” takes on a fairly literal meaning. For example, in Ontario, a tenant who regularly makes noise or disturbs other tenants through other means may well be interfering with the quiet enjoyment of the other tenants. Once this situation is brought to the landlord’s attention (put it in writing!) it becomes the landlord’s legal responsibility to rectify the problem.

          This is why looking into the landlord-tenant statutes where you live is a good idea; they really do differ wildly from location to location, and knowing your rights and responsibilities can’t hurt. It’s a good tool to have, even if you don’t end up using it.

          • Seconded! In the UK, ‘quiet enjoyment’ means your landlord or letting agent can’t repeatedly call you to ask silly questions about the property or your life. (I may know this from the brief time when I had to, um, date my landlord because I couldn’t afford rent. So I made a point of looking up housing laws and practical applications of it.)

    • Ooh, this and the family angle have reminded me of a Bad Neighbor Situation that we had…

      Our upstairs neighbor was clearly troubled by issues that were beyond our pay grade, but she had a lot of upsetting behaviors; chiefly standing on our porch and staring creepily through the window at my husband, creepily following/making sexual advances to my husband, trying to catch and squeeze our cat, standing outside the window conducting upsetting arguments at loud volume, screaming at/chasing our houseguests, and always being slightly frightening and off, in a way that one could not quite put into words; she would also scream rather triggering things. (C/N: racism, one typical habit was to notice passing men of color on the street, whereupon she’d bolt out of the house screaming “I love black men” and would actually chase them for a short burst.)

      The police brought her home frequently. Like many other people in her immediate sphere, we attempted to enforce boundaries but found that she simply did not pay attention or remember them from one day to the next. It is very difficult not to sound too judgmental about this woman, but she *did* try to bite the police, and was always leaving the gas on, and our friends of color were uncomfortable visiting us, and once she left all of her faucets on in her apartment upstairs, such that the water actually flowed down the stairs, which collapsed a piece of our ceiling and filled our apartment with mold. The landlord refused to talk to her. She creeped my husband out. And whenever I tried to talk to her, she would ask me to get the skunks out of her apartment.

      After finding her on our porch having a particularly disturbing/inappropriate/triggering conversation with her phone, we decided to try and get in touch with our landlord, our realtor, and the woman’s parents, as we knew that they paid for her home. We agonized over the letter, but finally wrote that she clearly needed medical, mental and financial help, and sent it to all three of them. The parents and landlord had to admit that they’d dropped the ball, and the realtor understood that we hadn’t meant to collapse our ceiling.

      To this day, I really regret dismissing her for as long as I did, because a good deal of her behavior had been due to the resurgence of a brain tumor. The damage it had caused initially had affected her cognitive function, and its resurgence had actually caused her to behave inappropriately. We were the only people to actually try to talk to her parents, who had not realized how she had deteriorated. Unfortunately, I think she was hospitalized not long after.

      This is NOT a burden that I place on anybody’s doorstep; you are not responsible for the behavior of your neighbors. But yeah. That letter. Turned out to be a good thing!

      • Wow, what an experience! I had a neighbor with similar behavior: peering in windows, inappropriate comments, and occasional bouts of screaming profanity from her porch with the police called multiple times. I just avoided contact, responded as minimally and politely as possible, and documented the worst things, and eventually we moved away for unrelated reasons. I later heard that she’d been hospitalized for a stroke, and I wonder if she had had a prior one that mostly just affected her behavior, because she went suddenly from polite and friendly to aggressive and weird overnight. Living near someone like that can be pretty scary.

    • I agree that a letter to her, along the lines of what Captain Awkward has said below is a fantastic idea!
      I don’t have social anxiety, but I’m BAD at confrontation and a note would be what I would do. And have done.
      I live in a rented flat myself, and have had a couple of episodes of neighbours upstairs playing thump thump music upstairs until the early hours. I sellotaped two letters to their door, and haven’t had problems since. Although I did blame it on the adjoining block, rather than me underneath!
      If she chooses to ignore the letter, you have my permission to proceed straight to “What is it?” with an assumption that she is only disturbing your peace because the place is burning down or she’s having a massive and spontaneous bleed. You need to practice the face of “you can’t possibly be disturbing me…? I sent you a letter!”

      Best of luck though! I absolutely feel your pain. I’ve taken in parcels from neighbours occasionally in the past, and Can Not Settle until they’ve been and collected it. Your home is your castle, and like you, I prefer not to be disturbed. I have a stressful job and my flat is my “safe place”. I can’t tolerate people who don’t get that.

  6. Open the door wearing a latex jumpsuit and carrying a large cleaver. Yell “THANK GOD YOU’RE HERE! He’s escaped AGAIN!”

    • Well, with the anxiety I doubt your idea is something LW can pull off and neither is what I did. But sharing it also, not sure it would work with a neighbor but I had a couple of very nice ladies dropping by far to often, they really wanted to convert me to their religion. Nothing I said seemed to deter them, so one day instead of putting on clothes and being polite I answered the door naked. When I opened the door I invited them in for a beer, they stuttered something unintelligible and left, they never came by again. And I have a fun memory :)

      • How is that not sexual harassment?

        • IMHO when you’ve asked someone twelve zillion times to leave you alone and they WON’T, an otherwise-inappropriate response is no longer harassment (which implies you bothering them, not the other way round), it’s self defense.

          • I do get that. It’s the same with usual-considered-rude-stuff-u-need-to-use-when-people won’t listen. Unexpected nudity though is possibly triggering, as plain rudeness or whatever other means are not necessarily.

        • you never know what you’ll find when you go into another person’s private space so… be prepared or just don’t do it. i see no problem hanging out in my own home naked. if i decide to answer the door that way, meh. i never asked for someone to come over and knock on it.

        • How is simply being naked in one’s own home sexual harassment? Would it be sexual harassment if they were wearing less than what the proselytizers would’ve liked, say, lingerie, or tiny shorts and a tank-top in some cases?

          • This discussion is really weird. When you are answering your door, you aren’t simply “in your own home”. You are interacting with the outside world.

      • i see no problem with answering the door to my own house while naked. that person decided to knock on the door, didn’t they?

        • Ok, this is seriously gross, also victim blaming. Punishing a person by being non-consensually naked, really? Also, would you react the same way if this was a dude?

          I also wonder why you have the same icon like “pazzzia”. This usually means the same mail address has been used.

          • Non-consensually naked, seriously? If I’m on a public street walking around in the nude, then I’m being weird and inappropriate, because it’s a public place where other people have a right to be. If I’m walking around my own house in the nude and somebody doesn’t like it, they can feel free to stay out of my house.

            I’ve answered the door to delivery people in jeans and a bra before without thinking anything of it–nobody has seemed bothered by it, but if they did, I’d put on a shirt. But those are people who are doing their job. If somebody was continually harassing me (which, uh, repeated attempts at unwelcome proselytizing are), then I could very easily see myself not bothering to get dressed before answering the door, because they’ve forfeited their right to have a pleasant and polite interaction with me.

          • It is not “victim blaming”. People trespassing in someone else’s house after being repeatedly told to go away are not “victims”. They are perpetrators. No one is required to babysit the emotional health of harassers who violate their boundaries and intrude into private spaces they have no business being in the first place.

          • I would agree with you if the naked person was going to the creepy proselytizers’ home or church naked. I also don’t see it as punitive in anyway — I have every right to be in my own home in whatever state of (un)dress as I want, and if people are going to barge in on me, against my expressed wishes, I have no obligation to make them comfortable. Datdamwuf didn’t say they took off their clothes; they said they “didn’t bother to get dressed” which suggests strongly to me that any discomfort creepy gross proselytizers might have experienced is nothing but natural cause and effect.

          • I’m actually not sure if we’re having the same perception of what “naked” means and how knocking on doors and opening them works. Naked = no cloths. Opening doors = Someone is standing in front of your door, not actually in your flat and you decide, after they signalled, to open that door instead of leaving it closed.
            People can be as butt-ass-naked in their own flat/house as they want. It’s something entirely different if you know you are going to interact with someone and decide to do that naked. No one is saying anything new so I don’t really see a point in discussing this further.

      • I sincerely hope this is fiction…

        • Yeah, I’m confused why “don’t answer the door” was bypassed in favor of “answer the door naked.” Just…don’t answer the door if they’re wearing nametags and helmets or short-sleeved dress shirts?

      • You know what else is triggering for a lot of people? Unwanted attempts at conversion. Those ladies were jerks. Nothing wrong with being naked in your own home, and your doorway is protected as “curtilage” of your home. The taboo over-sexualization of nudity makes ME uncomfortable, to be honest.

        • I would appreciate it if here endeth the “is naked door answering ok” subthread. The LW is unlikely to take this tack.

  7. I think the royal ”we” have a lot more tolerance for this kind of boundary-invading behaviour when it’s done by an elderly, smaller person. It’still invading even when it’s not done by a creepy, tall man. The fact that you were warned of her when you moved in is saying something. Possibly ”This is a missing stair that we don’t want to deal with. Good luck, fresh meat.”

    Seconding the “small need to look out for her feelings since she’s basically trapping you like Shelob.” Like CA and elodie say, worst case scenario is that she stops darkening your doorstep.

  8. The Captain’s advice is good, though keep in mind that the real worse-case scenario is this woman taking everything poorly and starting a personal war against you. Be prepared to defend yourself against passive-aggressive moves on her part, and document everything if it gets to that point. Also if it gets to that point, be sure to toe the line in regards to noise ordinances and any other petty rule she could use to get you kicked out, that could end up being a problem too.

  9. I am going to fall strongly on the “just don’t answer the door” side of this. Yes, she may know that you are there, but she has no way of knowing whether or not you are capable of answering the door at that exact moment.

    I have social anxiety disorder, and I don’t answer the door when I’m home alone. Because of my anxiety, that’s actually very hard for me, because the moment I know that someone is outside and I don’t know who it is I feel like my boundaries have already been violated and the ball is in their court. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like I legitimately HAVE to answer the door, and terrible things will happen if I don’t.

    However, I have an abusive mother who has been known to show up unannounced at my doorstep, despite the fact that she lives 500 miles away from me. She’s made kidnapping threats via email that scared me so badly that I ended up filing a police report. She also likes to tell extended family members sob stories about how mean and terrible I am being by refusing to have any contact with her, thereby manipulating them into helping her force me into contact I don’t want.

    So, I don’t answer the door when I’m home alone, even though it’s really hard for me. What makes it easier is reminding myself that doors exist as symbolic boundaries for a reason. A knock is a request, not a demand, and I get to say no if I want to. So do you.

    • Yes. It’s a hard thing to do at first, when you’re conditioned to be polite. I’m now okay with not answering the door. I don’t care if you know I’m home. I have a big bay window overlooking the street and if the blind is open you can see me just fine.

      You can knock and knock. I’m not required to answer.

      Yeah it’s harder when it’s your neighbor, who you’re going to see around a lot. Easier when it’s some random thing-selling stranger you’ll never see again. But it’s your home and your sanctuary and you get to pick whether or not you’re “at home” to guests.

      • Situations like this almost make you long for ye olde days of the calling card and the agreed-upon social convention of “at home”/”not at home.”

        Almost. ;)

        • lol I just really kind of dig calling cards etc. It is a pretty useful convention though. Now we’re always supposed to be accessible, with phones that have your email and everything on them too.

    • It was a revelation to me the day I realized that just because the JWs had knocked on my door and I was home and they could see that I was home, I didn’t *have* to answer. I was free to continue watching TV or studying for my exam or whatever.

    • Yes, this.

      I have PTSD, and I refuse to answer the door when I’m home alone — unless I’m expecting a visitor (as in, we’ve made concrete plans). I know that there’s very little chance that anything dangerous would happen were I to answer the door, but it’s also something that makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. And at bottom, I just don’t buy into the expectation that people who are at home need to open the door for whoever knocks.

      If someone values an immediate response from me above my safety and comfort level, fuck ‘em.

    • +1 for just not answering the door. Especially if you’re feeling like the scripts the Captain gave would be too hard to do when it comes down to it. I also have social anxiety and also find it really hard when the doorbell rings unexpectedly. I tell myself “if it was someone I actually know and like, they would send a text,” and that helps me feel that I’m justified in not talking to any stranger who wants to come along and talk to me.

    • This would be the tack I would take as well. I don’t answer the door most of the time when I’m home, either. It was hard to do at first, and I do not have a condition that would make it harder, so I sympathize.

  10. Oh dear – sorry, you have to go through this.

    It reminds me of a similar situation I had. Bigbigbig apartment house, I was working from home doing my PhD thesis. People were friendly but distant, until a woman knocked on my door one day and asked me if I could drive her and her little daughter who had a cough to the doctor’s. Part of me wanted to help of course, but part of me also thought – wait, I’m not a taxi company. There is a doctor’s building right next door. If it were an emergency, she could go there or call an ambulance. Driving her and the little bag of germs to her own doctor is just pure laziness and/or her wanting to save on the taxi fare. Besides – I’m trying to work here.

    It took all my self-preservation will to tell her no. and it felt terrible afterwards. That I can still remember the incident 20 years later is one indicator. But I know if I’d said yes, half the building would have used me as a shuttle service since I had a car and was available during daytime.

    I hope you can manage to go with CA’s advice and tell her No in a firm way. As others have said above: The worst that can happen is that she’ll never speak to you again – mission accomplished!

    • This is bringing up memories of my own Worst Neighbor– I helped her get care when she had a medical emergency, which I don’t regret. But after that, suddenly I was her new best friend, and she was asking me to intervene in her family arguments and guilt-tripping me when I didn’t do exactly what she wanted. (Example: she’d call me late at night and ask me to do something unreasonable like go help her fight with her sister; if I refused, she’d stand in her kitchen (which shared a wall with my bedroom) and begin scream-crying as soon as we hung up. This was a frequent occurrence.) Eventually, with the help of my partner and lots of reading Captain Awkward, I set boundaries successfully, but not before spending some time helping her with various things and seeing how she treated everyone around her. And even after setting boundaries, I still felt hunted every time I stepped out into the hall.
      I’m sort of grateful to her now, though– my boundaries are much stronger now. Or maybe I should say they’re more consistently applied; I was pretty well armored against some kinds of boundary-pushing already, but I was susceptible to this kind.

      • Wow, that is…no good deed, right? Sheesh.

        • She was an uncannily perceptive person in some ways (although she only took hints she wanted to take), and I think she made me immediately as an easy mark, which I was. I moved out two years ago.
          Partner, by the way, was amazing through this: rather than arguing the biggest point, which she correctly figured I’d have to come to on my own– that this was not my problem– she reminded me that doing what Neighbor wanted would not actually make her happier or healthier in any way. It wasn’t the whole truth or the most important point, but it was what I needed to hear at that time to disentangle from the situation, and Partner knows enough about my family-of-origin issues to have intuited that.

      • That happened to some friends of mine. Their favor limpet started asking for small but reasonable favors, escalated to health-related favors, and got worse from there. Lots of trying to make my friends feel guilty. It turned out she did that to ALL the neighbors, was a big manipulator.

        • Yes, that sounds very familiar. The only difference is that in this case, since she did have real, actual health problems at the time (Partner ran into her in the neighborhood not long ago, and she is apparently doing much better, and I’m glad of that even though she’s awful), it started with the health favors and went from there.

  11. Another vote for “just don’t answer the door.” I’m an assault survivor and I found I just feel a whole lot better if I maintain a policy of “I Do Not Answer the Door When Home Alone, Unless I’m Expecting Someone, and then, Only After I Confirm It’s That Person.”

    There are a million reasons not to answer a door or phone call, and the best part is, if you don’t answer, you leave it up to the other person to do the thinking up of a reason. I’ve never had anyone have a reasonable argument against “I don’t answer the door when I’m home alone”– including one of the pushiest landlords I’ve ever had.

    I hope you have a peep hole, but remember, even if you’ve already had a conversation through the door along the lines of “Who is it?” you can end it with, “I’m sorry, you’re not who I was expecting.” Leave em standing there. It’s really only got to be awkward for them: you can go be safe in your bedroom, bathroom, or whatever nest you want to be safe in.

    I emphasize this policy for use on all insistent door knockers, including those claiming to be police. If you’re not sure, tell them you’ll call the Department to check. Real police will wait. Outside.

    • I’m similar. If I’m not expecting someone, why answer the door; if the person at the door is someone I would want to see (almost never), then they would have my phone number and can easily call me to let me know they are on their way to the house. Even when I lived with roommates and I knew their girlfriends or whoever were ringing the bell, I felt that there’s no reason that their guests should be at the apartment when they are not. Especially if no one has told me to expect them/asked me to let them in beforehand.

      • A couple of my flatmate’s friends (well, one friend and her ex who’s the father of her foetus) are allowed to just come in, and occasionally I’ve let in a family member to wait for her to get home since she’s close with her family and generally has plans that she’s just running late for, but otherwise yeah. Normally if I want to see someone I meet them somewhere else so I can leave when I’ve had enough anyway so there’s no reason for unexpected knocks on my door unless it’s an emergency, and that’s pretty unlikely.

    • I follow this policy as well. I live in a locked apartment building with a buzzer/intercom system, and guests of other tenants routinely buzz every apartment when the person they’re visiting doesn’t answer, in the hopes that someone will just buzz them in. Years ago, one of these people happened to be the abusive ex-boyfriend of a tenant who was purposely not letting him into the building. Another tenant buzzed him in without asking who he was, and the police had to be called. Yes, that was an extreme scenario, but there is a reason we have security locked buildings, and I refuse to respond to the buzzer unless I’m expecting someone.

      • Robbers also do that, and will buzz until someone randomly lets them in. Once inside during the day, most of the apartment is empty and their actions will go pretty unnoticed.

      • Yes! Thank you! The whole point of a secure building is that you have control of who’s let in and people who buzz in random strangers are ruining it for everyone. I used to work late in a secure building with a key card lock on the door. Someone had been assaulted by an unauthorised person in the building only weeks before, and this guy got shirty when I shut the door in his face to stop him following me in and made him key himself in. How was I supposed to know if he had a key card or not? Aside from that forcing him to swipe in meant there was a record of him being in the building in case of a fire (or on the off chance he did something dodgy despite his key card having status).

        • When I worked in a facility that was strict about security cards, the usual protocol was that if you entered on someone’s heels, you tapped your card on the reader anyway (which made an audible beep). The door didn’t have to close between taps for the system to record it, and that way the first person knew the second had a valid card. It worked pretty well.

    • Yup – I just don’t answer the door if I’m the only one home and I’m not expecting anyone. (Or if I’m not the only one home, to be honest.) We have a window by our front door and, although it was hard at first, I’ve gradually gotten used to the fact that yeah, they can see me checking who it is and then walking away. Whatever – they’re the ones who decided to disturb me without being invited.

      One of our neighbors down the street had a sign on their door for several years reading “It’s Naptime. Please don’t knock.” They had a small baby, but they just left the sign up all the time and I remember thinking that is was a brilliant idea and wanting to steal it for myself.

    • “Real police will wait. Outside.”
      +1
      My other rule is: Even if I answer the door, you ain’t coming in to the house unless I know you personally (or you are a cop and I have clarified that and we need to talk for more than 2 minutes). We have a screen door for this very purpose – I can answer the door and talk to people through it without them being able to get in.

  12. You may be tempted to go with “It’s not a good time” or “Sorry, I can’t talk …right now.” It seems softer, or kinder somehow, right? But intrusive people hear “not now” and think “ok, later!” or “When???!!!” and it just prolongs the whole ordeal.

    Ain’t that the truth.

    I second the “Don’t answer the door.” I understand that you feel it’s awkward because the lights give you away, but remember, we do not have to engage every person who abruptly interrupts us (Mind you, I’m the kind of person who naturally screens her calls, so I feel that most unplanned interactions are intrusions to a degree). If you want to answer the door/phone, so be it, but you shouldn’t feel that you are obliged to do so. Keep in mind that you could have indeed NOT been home to answer the door, and she would have had to just go on her merry way.

    • I’m thinking of the days of butlers, when they brought you a card from whoever was at the door, and then you decided if you were “at home” to them or not. Probably those people knew the person they were calling on was really physically at home, but if the butler said you weren’t, that’s the polite fiction one maintained. Or you were “indisposed” which could mean anything. The person can take it as “too sick to get up” when you mean “not disposed to answering my door.”

      • Now that you’ve said this, I’ve got a half-remembered movie scene in my head where a rude butler who doesn’t like the guy calling says something like “Miss Such-and-such isn’t in… TO YOU.” I think it’s more of a contemporary movie than a period piece, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it’s from. Does that ring a bell for anyone?

        (Captain, apologies if this is too off-topic. I’m just really frustrated trying to remember what that scene was from!)

  13. This may (or may not) be helpful. Our doorbell doesn’t work right — sometimes it rings for no reason, sometimes it doesn’t ring when pushed. It’s a couple flights of stairs to find out that there’s really no one there, so I’ve developed the household rule that if you want me to answer the door, you need to call my landline. You, LW, may find this a useful tool. Imagine the doorknocking as a faulty doorbell and only answer when your sister (or landlord or whomever) calls to say “It’s me, I’m at your front door.” And don’t give your lonely neighbor lady that information.

    • I had a wireless doorbell for a while, which would react to, I dunno, garage door openers and cell phones from down the block. It was really inconvenient to get to where the battery pack was, so I just lived with errant ringing in the wee hours until the batteries died. Happiness then returned.

      I second. It takes practice not to answer the door, but once learned, you’ll be happier.

  14. I’m also going to give a big +1 to the “do not answer the door” advice. It is entirely possible that nothing will help this lady get the hint. I used to work with an administrative assistant that would. not. shut. up. Ever. I would be running late to a meeting and she would still be nattering on about the most inconsequential stuff, like what she ate for breakfast. When I first started at that job, I was late to events several times because I tried to be polite. After that happened twice, I tried to be very blunt. “I am leaving now, or I will be late.” “I need to get this work done.” This did not stop the conversation. Finally, I just started leaving. “I need to get this work done.” “I am leaving for an event.” And then I just turned my back and walked out while she was still speaking, every time. The scary part of that she would still continue the “conversation” through the closed door as I left. I don’t think it had the slightest impact on her at all, and she still behaves like this to everyone. While it didn’t change her behavior, it did change things for me: I got to meetings on time, left work on time, had a lunch break where I actually got to eat, got my work done, etc.

    With these folks, you don’t owe them politeness any more. You’ve given them politeness, and they’ve responded by rudeness when they continue the bothersome behavior. Just stop engaging. Don’t open the door, and feel free to walk away mid-conversation if they won’t stop talking.

    • How does this work?? Is she that oblivious to how bothersome she is? Does she not care at all? Continuing a conversation when a person left the room, how do you do that?

      • Sounds like the other person’s reaction–or even presence–is at all necessary to her enjoyment of monologuing!

      • She just kept talking, louder and louder, as the door closed behind me. I don’t know how long she kept talking once I was out of earshot. :) She never seemed to see my behavior as rude, and last time I was at that office to visit she was very cordial and welcoming (and had a LOT to say!).

    • I have a longtime friend who is this sort of person. The first time I took a deep breath and yelled “I really have to go now talk to you later bye” and slammed down the phone receiver, I felt like the worst friend in the world. She never processed it as rude in any way, as near as I can tell — that was 20 years ago now and it is still how I end phone conversations with her.

  15. A couple of things to be aware of:

    1) If this lady is telling you about building drama, she may in turn be telling other people about you, which means any personal info — like the social anxiety info your sister gave her — could turn into gossip on her part, and not just in the building. Best to tell others not to give her information that you don’t want being spread around.

    2) As for not answering the door and giving reasons why, “I don’t have to” is also a good (if blunt) reason why. (It’s early here, still waking up, so if that was already mentioned in the captain’s answer, sorry.)

    • I don’t know if there’s any concrete advice, my father has a key and *lets himself in* if you don’t answer the doorbell, and he rarely calls to ask him he can come over, because VETO that shit. If this is someone you don’t want to deal with and they don’t have access, I say maybe disable the doorbell and ignore any knocks. But as an introvert with social anxiety issues myself, I feel your pain on the hackles rising from the neighbor’s bad behavior. It sucks to have your shoulders up around your ears from just wanting to be left the hell alone.

      • I always leave my key in the door because of pushy father shit. For my door this means you can’t open it from outside.

      • Oh, that sucks. :( In your situation I think I’d be tempted to get a locksmith to re-key the lock and fail to provide him with a key.

        • He was doing some remodeling, but he did the same thing for my sister, and just about drove her insane with the ‘drop-in’ visit, which we hate. I do mean to have the locks re-keyed which will hopefully help. Boundaries, he lacks them. And people wonder why I have become a virtual hermit? Because unfortunately, so many people of my acquaintance will run my boundaries right over if given half a chance. Still working on that whole ‘team me’ concept, turns out it’s waaaaay harder to get one than it sounds. But not to derail, definitely do not answer the door if this is someone who can’t come in (legally, anyway, which hopefully is out of the question).

      • ahhhhhhhhhh! makes me glad I have no family in this city and the two people with “let themselves in” rights don’t bother me. They might say hi on the way in, then they just go quietly sit down and presumably text flatmate to let her know they’re here. Still hopefully moving next year into place by myself if I get the money – I don’t need much space, but it needs to be my own space, and holy crap will I be guarding it fiercely.

    • Oh my gosh, yes. My father always taught me “If they gossip TO you, they gossip ABOUT you.” Last time he used it during a business deal and got the other party to change lawyers, by pointing out the number of times the attorney had told them tidbits about the neighbors.

  16. Seconding (or thirding, fourthing etc) Don’t Answer The Door. And I’d offer nothing more than a simple, polite-yet-firm “Sorry, I’m busy” or “Sorry, I was busy” in response. If she tries to be nosy and/or make you prove you really are busy by asking you what you’ve been doing, then she gets a “Sorry, I can’t chat right now” and either the door shutting in her face or you moving away. I know it feels awful and harsh to be so short with an elderly, lonely person, but you deserve to be happy and at peace in your own home.

  17. Just a quick note, your link to the Clooney hello goes to Pt 2 of the Hugh Jackman interview. Jackman describes the Clooney hello in Pt 1 of that interview, which can be found listed right below Pt 2. Pt 2 does feature a very nice bit of singing between Jackman and Coco, however. :)

  18. I’m really uneasy with Don’t Answer The Door. Not because of this lady, but because where I live that’s how break-in artists know nobody’s at home – when nobody answers the door. It’s happened twice in the past year to me.

    (Not sure why my WordPress account has acquired such a majestic name.)

    • Sounds like the LW will need to use their knowledge of what their area is like to make the decision that’s right for them.

    • I believe the commenters weren’t saying don’t answer the door to anyone at all, but to basically screen the door knocks and not answer to this lady. At least, that’s how I understood it.

    • If this is a concern where the letter writer lives, and they don’t have a peephole, I think it would be entirely reasonable to ask the landlord to install one.

      Actually, I think that would be an entirely reasonable request regardless of whether there are thieves operating in the area. I’d consider a peephole to be a pretty basic door-feature, especially for someone who lives alone.

    • But in that case, people not answering the door when they *are* in will really screw with the burglars’ modus operandi!

      (… though I guess you wouldn’t want to be the person in the house when they discovered their rule didn’t work, especially if you live in a country where people have guns.)

  19. Even before we were constantly connected to each other via phone, internet, wireless, etc, western culture had firmly entrenched etiquette rules that protected (affluent) people from having to answer the door to anyone who knocked. Elaborate rituals involving “visiting cards” and servants bearing silver platters meant that any visitors may know that you’re upstairs, but there was no social expectation for you to receive an unexpected caller. Ignoring an unexpected knock at the door is not rude!

  20. LW, congratulations on a nice new apartment! Renovated by you, to your taste. You know what you like better than anyone else. And I do think you can fix that last niggling problem, nosy neighbor.

    I agree with the postings above, I strongly, strongly advise you to tell this nosy neighbor nothing about you or your life or your family or your apartment or your job or your anything. Having your sister approach her and explain about your social anxiety gave her a juicy tidbit already. Tell your sister not to talk to her either. About anything. Do get a peephole, if you don’t already have one (this is basic apartment security), and do not answer the door when you don’t want to.

    If she hears you walk up to the door, look, and walk away, you are communicating that you are not her entertainment center. Good. But better to just ignore that door awhile, assuming your deliveries aren’t disrupted.

    If she doorsteps you, say hello and keep moving and do not stop and do not linger and close the door in her face if you have to.

    I had to do this to someone and it worked, but I let it run waaaay too long. Don’t be me. It will work.

    It may not work for you, LW, but I usually have a handsfree headset jammed in my ear. If someone I don’t want to deal with rises up before me, at my front door or when I’m out and about, I point at it, shake my head with a frown, and mutter, “On a call.” Close door/walk away.

    I hit on this by accident and it really is perfect. The headset is visible enough that when people notice it, they understand.

    • Second the headset idea, but with headphones! I have auditory processing issues which make it really difficult to respond to random conversation quickly (say, on the bus). Oddly enough, people seem to get really offended and hostile when they think you can hear them and just aren’t responding, but if they can see headphones and you don’t respond, they assume the music is blocking them out. Music doesn’t even have to be playing for this to work, so I generally just have the headphones in my ears and the dangling plug leading down into a pocket these days.

  21. By the way, if you do communicate with nosy neighbor in writing, try not to use deferential language like “I’m sorry but I must ask you” and “I would prefer it if you did not.”

    Be straight. You will feel funny about it, maybe, but be straight and direct. “Dear neighbor, please do not knock on my door for casual chat. I find these interruptions disruptive and intrusive. When I am home, I do not want casual calls. Thank you.” Weasel words give the recipient room to reinterpret what you REALLY said.

  22. I also don’t answer the door – we never have visitors and are only on a hello-and-wave basis with the neighbors, so any knock is almost guaranteed to be someone who wants to sell me something or convert me to their religion. If they’re really persistent I’ll tell them through the closed door that I’m not interested.

    Incidentally, I also trained a particular pair of relatives out of calling me multiple times every day by not answering the phone and only responding to texts (they’re nice people, but I’m not a phone person and even if I were, we really don’t have that much to talk about). I don’t think they’re 100 percent thrilled about it, because every once in a while they make pointed little “jokes” about how I never answer my phone, but I can live with that if it means I don’t get called every hour on the hour. One of my fears is that they’ll move into my condo complex – something they’ve mentioned in passing – and start dropping by, so I have enormous empathy for the LW’s situation.

  23. Another vote for don’t answer the door, difficult as it may be emotionally. As for the lights, you have a couple of those automatic timers to make it look as if you’re home (for security reasons), right?

  24. For me, getting over the “I must answer the door” impulse was hard, but well worth it. That helped me move on to phase two, I don’t have to give you my time on the street just because you can start talking to me.

    I know it seems rude to not answer, but that’s really kind of a silly fallacy we’ve all been suckered into by society. They came to your door uninvited and are asking for your time. In your case you even know already you don’t want to give them that time. Failing to go to the door and have a negotiation (or give them what they want) isn’t a rudeness, it’s just a refusal to reciprocate on an invitation you’re not interested in.

    Inviting someone over and then not answering is rude. Starting a conversation with someone and then just turning and walking away when you don’t get what you want is rude. Not letting yourself get backed into a corner on something you don’t want? Not rude.

  25. I wish I had read this years ago. I wish I had written in years ago! I have a couple of elderly neighbors, and the lady is so much like your neighbor, LW. She would knock at least every other day, she was always doing us little favors that we didn’t need, and giving us things that we didn’t want. One thing that drove me to distraction, which she had to be asked, then told firmly, not to do: she took our packages into her house! I still think that a pair of very expensive books I bought for my husband is in her house, but that she was too embarrassed to ‘fess up. When my middle child went through a tantrum phase, she’d knock on the door whenever she heard him crying, which just upset him more. Then she’d talk-yell parenting advice over his crying. Ugh, there is so much that she did that was really horribly rude, that she thought of as helpful. She was helpy!

    I hit my breaking point when I was very ill over my and my husband’s 10th anniversary, and that wasn’t reason enough for her to give us some space for a few days. She also wanted my husband to come over and help move her husband after surgery, which my husband was NOT comfortable with. So, I made a little sign with a poem about how busy we were, and to leave a note and we would get back to (whoever. The sign was not addressed to her) when it was a good time for us. She was insulted! She was incensed! She went to another neighbor and cried about how we were keeping her from our kids! (She had actually started to favor one of my children, and be downright rude to another.) She started knocking on the door, then trying to hide so I couldn’t see it was her out the window (we have no peep hole). She asked me over and over what she had done wrong, and I maintained that we were really busy, and we would get back to her at a better time, and just leave a note. She never did leave that note. She finally beat on the door one day, I mean she stood out there and beat and beat and beat. I came to the window, and she yelled about how mean I was, and why couldn’t we just go back to the way we were? I told her that we had a lot going on, that we weren’t available all day, and if she needed us she could leave us a note. She scoffed. Then I said that that moment wasn’t a good time (I lied and said my youngest was in the tub and I needed to go help him) and closed the window. That was the extinction burst. She pretty much leaves us alone, unless she can find a REALLY good excuse to knock (like the other day when the power was out, she knocked and asked if ours was out, too. My husband told her that a transformer had blown, then shut the door in her face).

    It was horrible, and I felt sooo guilty. But it was worth it. I keep reminding myself that all I wanted was to have some little, itty bitty say in when our interactions took place, and that was Not Acceptable to her. But we mostly have peace here now, and we have a reputation for being the mean, cruel neighbors and nobody bothers us, which is glorious.

  26. Man, I hate when people do that! I get dragged into conversations I don’t want to have all the time, and it’s a royal pain in the tuckus.

    The advice given here is great…it’s obvious that subtle hints and kind words won’t work on this lady. She needs to be told, flat-out, that what she’s doing is unacceptable. Personally, I’d be going the route of reminding her of the conversation she had with your sister and pointing out that she’s doing the exact opposite of waiting for you to approach her as she said she would. It might not help, but maybe a reminder will get her off your back.

    Worst case scenario, as mentioned before, is that she thinks you’re mean and goes to whine about it at someone else. At. Someone. Else. True, she’ll probably be bothering SOMEONE, but that someone doesn’t have to be you, and whoever it is she goes to whine to can tell her to leave them alone themselves, until she learns that hey, maybe people don’t like being barged in on.

    Most of my friends know by now that with me, if they don’t let me know they’re coming well in advance and ASK if they CAN come over first, they’re not coming in. Send me a text saying they’re going to show up at so and so time, telling me that they’ll be there without an invitation? Nope. Doesn’t work. If they didn’t ask me if they could come by, as far as I’m concerned they’re not coming by, and I will make it a point to either not be there or to have the door locked and my headphones on so I’m not bothered by their knocking, and turning my phone off. True, I’ve been called several unsavory names for this, but I get my privacy and they did get the hint and usually ask first now, and if they forget…well, that’s their problem, not mine.

    Is that mean of me?

    • Ha…I don’t think that’s mean at all, although I know that other people sometimes see it that way. My husband is the same way and I’m becoming that way myself. I remember when we were in high school we were hanging out at his house after school. His best friend came over and knocked on the door. My husband completely ignored it and explained that the visit wasn’t prearranged, his friend knew his policy about people dropping by unannounced, and that if he let him in this time, he’d be thinking it was okay in the future. I was in awe of his ability to establish boundaries. While I’m not quite as strict as him with a “no dropping by unannounced” policy, he’s helped me a lot in terms of setting up my own boundaries with people.

    • I’m with you. My partner has a friend who used to be like that (he may still, but he moved to Taiwan last year, so the question is academic to me now). The incident that particularly springs to mind was when my partner was not yet my partner, but we were well on the way; he was house-sitting and had invited me to come over and have dinner and talk about Us. We were just beginning to dip our toes in Are We Dating Or What Lake – a discussion which for a variety of reasons had been difficult to have but which was a long time coming – when his phone went off. It was the friend, saying, “Hey, I’m out driving around and I’m going to swing by.” By which he apparently meant, “I’m just parking outside and I’ll be up to knock on your door in two minutes.” I suggested that Partner didn’t have to answer the door, but he got up and informed the friend that it wasn’t a good time. Friend became a bit huffy. Partner said, “I’ve already got a guest, Giraffe is here.” Friend suggested we should all hang out, jolly good wheeze! (Did I mention it was almost midnight?) Partner eventually had to tell him fairly forcefully to go away. He later spent a lot of time complaining about this shabby treatment, until he figured out that it was counterproductive – once he started telling the story, others realized they too could tell him to piss off if he turned up on their doorsteps uninvited.

  27. I always like, “I’m sorry, I can’t (whatever).” In this case, “I’m sorry, I can’t chat.” Don’t give a reason/excuse. You don’t owe anyone a reason or excuse. “I can’t” is the whole truth: you can’t because you would rather be watching TV/reading a book/anything but talking with the neighbor.

  28. Sort of related to this:

    I have a fairly small apartment, and there is a window right next to the front door that opens directly into the area where my computer is. I like to keep the shades open because a) light is good and b) I like to see who’s coming; but the flip side is that *they* can see *me*; see that I’m at the computer, and sometimes we even accidentally manage to make eye contact. So any sort of “gosh I was in the shower / in the back yard / taking a nap / listening to headphones and didn’t hear / notice you” doesn’t hold water.

    This, plus being brought up as “Must Be Polite Zomg”, means that it is very uncomfortable to me to just ignore a knock at the door. Mind you, if it’s a package delivery I generally see the truck coming, and 95% of other unscheduled visits are either Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or people trying to sell me newspaper/magazine subscriptions. I’ve tried doing “Who is it? … Sorry, not interested, have a nice day” through the closed door, which is better, but still uncomfortable and still also an interruption.

    Any suggestions for how to deal with this whole mess without feeling like a gigantic insensitive asshole?

    • I think one thing that helps me deal with the feeling of being an insensitive asshole is that I think it’s pretty rude for people to just come to my door and act like I owe them my time. I have nothing against religious people or salesmen, but I find it incredibly intrusive and rude that people think it’s okay to just come to my door, demand I listen to them, and try to get something from me. (It is so hard to make those kind of callers leave anyway and I’d rather ignore them than have to listen to their shpeel or be actively be rude to get them to go away.) Because of this, I have no problem ignoring them – even if they can see that I’m home. (My computer is next to my front window too and I often have the shades open because the sun keeps me warm.) I would never go to someone else’s house and try to convert them to my belief system or sell them something and I find it kind of offensive for people to do that to me. So I just ignore them.

      I also never answer the door if I’m home alone. I’m kind of paranoid, but I just don’t feel safe answering the door to a stranger if my husband isn’t home. Everyone that I would want to see knows this, so they just send me a text saying they’re coming over and to answer the door. It’s no biggie and it makes me feel confident in knowing that the people I’m ignoring are not people I want to spend time with anyway.

      • Isabeausuro – how about if you rejig your subconcious mental translation of what a knock means?

        What I mean – Typically, we translate it to ourselves along the lines of “Your presence is required at the door. It is your duty to answer this requirement unless you have an obvious excuse.” So we feel lousy about ignoring it. For that matter, we translate our non-responses to ourselves as “**** off, I’m going to ignore you”, which makes us feel even worse for being so rude.

        Supposing you were, instead, to mentally frame non-parcel-delivery knocks as being the person’s way of saying “Just to let you know, I’m available to discuss X if you happen to be interested.” Kind of the equivalent of someone handing you an advertising flyer in the street – they’re offering you the option of going to whatever place it is they’re advertising, but you don’t feel as though you have to drop everything and go there just because they gave you a flyer. You feel you’ve been given an option which you’re free to take up or ignore. You don’t have to apologise to that person for not going and doing the thing their flyer was advertising – they passed on the message, you get to decide what to do about it, and if that happens to be ‘nothing’, then that’s fine.

        Meanwhile, you also mentally frame your response of sitting their and getting on with your work as being your way of replying “Thanks for the offer, but no thanks. Have a nice day.” Consider this to be the official translation of ignoring a knock, in the new Door Etiquette Language that has no less authority for having been just this second invented by me. See? No rudeness involved. You’ve given them a lovely polite answer. If you wish, you can even make it a bit more direct by giving them a friendly smile and headshake through the window as they pass.

        So. They knock. You translate this in your head to them saying that they just want to let you know they’re available to discuss [double glazing purchases/the One True Route to heaven/charity donations] if you happen to be available. This puts you under no obligation to do anything about it. You’re not available, as it happens, any more than you’re available to go to everything for which you are handed an advertising flyer in the street, so you don’t take them up on their offer. You wait while they knock as many times as they personally feel necessary to convey the news of their availability, and reply to them by the new perfectly acceptable method of sitting there getting on with your work, since this now means “Thanks, but no thanks. Have a nice day.” The two of you have just had a perfectly polite conversation in Door Etiquette Language [tm] and you need not worry about it further.

        Blimey, I didn’t mean this to turn into an essay. Hope it makes some sort of sense.

    • i actually think it would be pretty awesome to say “i was in the shower” even if they could see you were in plain sight!

      gets the message across :)

    • I’ve just moved into a new place with a similar set-up (the giant desk ONLY fits in front of the window directly next to the front door, where I can see everyone and they can see me). A good diversion could be to point at the computer, mouth “Working! Sorry!” through the window, and wave goodbye, then focus really intently on the computer. Or pick up the phone and pretend to be on a call while waving goodbye through the window.

      If you think about it, this is really no more rude than screening a telemarketer call. You’re busy, you don’t want whatever they’re selling, you don’t have to answer.

    • Thirding the “just keep working.” If you were a journalist on a tight deadline or working remotely to fix your company’s entire IT network that just crashed, you wouldn’t dream of answering the door, so important would your time be! Well, your time is important no matter what you’re doing, too important to give to people who just want to waste it. Work away furiously with your best concentrated look. (Best case scenario, it will even boost your productivity!)

    • Just on a basic logistical leve, it might be worth looking into different window coverings to see if there’s a change you could make to how your window is covered to let light in without compromising your privacy. There are a lot of different things you could try, like slanted blinds or horizontal or vertical louvers, a privacy screen that goes from floor/sill to high enough to hide you from the door, but let light in the top, a lowered curtain rod to leave a kind of transom-style opening… You’ve got options, is what I’m saying. If you talk to home improvement people at a hardware or houseware store, they can even suggest things that won’t leave marks or can be easily removed in case you’re renting and can’t afford to make major modifications.

    • I have a similar situation–my office looks out onto the front porch, so I’m literally two feet or less from the person knocking–and I pretty much just ignore them, even though they can see me. Sometimes I will give a polite smile and shake my head and then ignore them. I do give an acknowledgement wave to the delivery people/mail delivery person so they know I’m aware that something’s been dropped off, but that’s it. I don’t know if this technique will stop you feeling like a gigantic asshole, but at least you won’t have to get up and answer the door.

  29. It could be worse. My lonely old neighbour kept stealing my cat. She would feed him and shut him up in her house. He liked it, because we had other young animals at the time and they were a little overbearing, so he’d go there quite happily (not the most loyal cat you’ll ever meet) until the last time when she stole him for several weeks but didn’t groom him or flea treat him (unbeknownst to us – we didn’t know she was keeping him shut in, either, we thought he was just enjoying the peace and quiet). The kicker was that she came to our door multiple times to complain that he was neglected. She even reported us to the RSPCA several times. They were pretty understanding as apparently this kind of craziness happens a lot, and they talked to her quite sternly, and I went over there and took my cat back. He was in a rather bad state and I think after I’d bathed and de-matted and brushed and flea treated him, he seemed to decide that not being in terrible discomfort was worth getting harassed by the kitten and the puppy. Anyway, I swear to god she was doing all of this purely so she’d have someone to talk to, and the reason I suspect this is that when she would come to the door (always at antisocial hours) she would talk *endlessly* in that breathless, “I am utterly disinterested in your response to anything I have to say right now, I just must say it all!” kind of way, about how she couldn’t stop feeding him because he was so thin and poorly (he wasn’t) and how cruel it was of us not to groom his lovely fur and how he was jumping with fleas and he was always out in the rain (this must have been a lie) and she knows she should stop feeding him but she just can’t bring herself to, she just wants to bring a little comfort to his life… She would say all of this without a trace of sadness, and in fact with extremely apparent joy at human contact. I think that’s also why she phoned the RSPCA so many times, because they would always send an officer out and she could talk their ears off. Sad, really, but christ it was frustrating. I didn’t come up with a solution. Zakky settled back in as soon as we retrieved him, and then we moved before she could get up to any other shenanigans.

    Good luck, OP.

    • She stole your cat?!?!?! Oh man. I would not react well to someone stealing my cat. Ugh. Shudder. The only thing that would stop me from being very very rude indeed would be the fear that such a person is crazy might hurt my cat if I pissed them off too much.

      I’m glad you’re now far away from her.

    • Speaking of cat-stealing neighbours… When I was a kid, some people whose garden backed on to ours started feeding our cat. My mother went round to tell them that he had owners and to ask them to stop feeding him, and they refused as they loved animals and liked having a pet around(!). Eventually our cat moved out to live with them (we had a new kitten at home and he really wasn’t enjoying have the new kitten around). It turned out they were visiting from the USA and were only in the country for a year, and at the end of that year they left him. They. Just. Left. Him. He ended up living on the streets, looking absolutely awful. Every so often he would come back to our house and we would give him food and try to persuade him to come in so that we could take him to the vet. We tried everything we could to get him back living with us, but he had stopped trusting people and wouldn’t come near us. Eventually he stopped coming around at all and we knew that he was most likely dead.

      I am filled with RAGE when I think of those people. Supposed animal-lovers who abandoned an animal that had come to depend on them, and left him to go feral. He was a lovely cat – what happened to him was so sad and so unnecessary.

  30. The only thing about Don’t Answer The Door, and mileage varies on this, is that having someone knocking on and then possibly lurking outside the door can be pretty anxiety-producing.

    A peephole helps with this, but if the LW finds that ignoring the knocking isn’t enough to let them feel safe and relaxed in their home, it is perfectly reasonable to ask the landlord to take some stronger steps.

  31. That part where you talk about how hints give certain types of people plausible deniability to swim around in is great. Reminds me of a guy who knocked on my door during the final 10 minutes of my morning prep to leave for work. I said I didn’t have much time and tried to get him to quickly tell me what he was there for so I could handle it now, punt it to later, or dismiss him, but he was really intent on sticking to his script as if he were a telemarketer. When I answered his question on when a better time would be with a repeated question of what was he there about he acted all, “gotcha!” and said, “so you do have time!” I rolled my eyes and tried to get him to get it over with quickly, and later on, I wanted to throttle him and fantasized all day about yelling, “This is triage, motherfucker! I don’t know yet if there’s a good time, as I haven’t even decided yet if I want to talk to you at all!”

    This is all to say that I sympathise. And as with all things with boundary crossing people, you have to bite the bullet and be direct about your needs. Trying to spare their feelings hasn’t worked, and there really isn’t a magic feeling-sparing-script you haven’t thought of.

  32. I love earbuds for this reason. Sometimes I don’t want to talk to my neighbors. Sometimes, I just want to be in my own head for five minutes. So I put on my headphones/earbuds and play music and if I run into anyone, I basically wave, smile, point to the earbuds and continue on my way. It’s a good way to basically push the “I’m not going to stop to talk to you but I acknowledge you and am being friendly” message without having to explain.

    Also, you don’t owe anyone your time or your listening unless it’s at your job or your work. If “nice old lady person” is not willing to respect your space, then perhaps she ought to think you’re rude and icky so she won’t want to bother you in the future.

    You are not, obviously rude or icky. But if you give her that impression as a last resort because nothing else has worked, both of you will end up much happier because she can (hopefully) move onto someone who wants to interact with her the way she’s looking for and you get to keep to yourself.

  33. I agree that not answering the door is probably the best option, but I know how difficult that is. I know literally no one who would come to my house without letting me know in advance that they are coming over, and yet I STILL can’t bring myself to ignore the doorbell, and then end up standing in the doorway talking to someone trying to get me to sign up for a charity or sell me something at the door while I desperately try to end the conversation.

    A peephole and/or a chain on your door (which you don’t take off when she pops round for a chat) could help, but given that she’s already ignored your request via your sister, you probably need to tell her yourself either in person or by letter that you’d like this to stop.

    You said that you think your neighbour is lonely and wants someone to talk to. Are there any charities for the elderly in your area that provide company for lonely older people? In the UK, Age UK has a Befriending Service to which you can refer people. Maybe there’s something similar in your area? If she gets the companionship she’s after from somewhere else, perhaps she’ll dial back the doorstep chats…

  34. I have anxiety, and I never answer my door if I’m not expecting anyone. I also don’t answer my phone if it’s a number that’s not already in my phone. If people want to talk to me, they can leave a message. If they want to visit me, they can get in touch in advance. I don’t think this is rude at all.

    I don’t mean to say that the LW is wrong for getting the door, but that they don’t have to in the future if they don’t want to. If you need excuses later, there’s tons like “I wasn’t expecting anyone”, “I was busy”, shower, phone, cooking, eating, cleaning etc

    • Hah, OK, so our landline shorted out (old wires, old house, leaky wall, whatevs). But we have voicemail on the line, and our provider will email the voicemail to us….we sort of haven’t gotten around to fixing the line for months and months and months because it’s so nice to have people unable to contact us at home except for via voicemail.

  35. Respectfully, Letter Writer, a lot of these responses are going to get you way more drama than you need or want. Pattern Disengagement is great, but if she’s lonely you’re going to end up offending her and having a different, but just as annoying, problem on your hands.

    Unless you want to take on responsibility for trying to fix this woman by explaining to her why what she does isn’t cool, the answer is to become busy. Every time she comes over say “Hey, it’s great to talk to you, but I’m right in the middle of Can we talk later?” And then at some point you drop the “Can we talk later.” part since you’ll never actually go and talk to her anyway.

    It may not stop her from bothering you, but it’ll do two things. Either 1) it’ll make her go away each time. Or 2) It’ll give you the moral high ground to tell her off for being rude if she ever tries to cause a problem.

    As it is, by making it explicitly clear you don’t want to talk to her you’ll be giving her the opening to talk _about_ you. Instead, if you’re busy, you retain the moral high ground and if she tries to start drama, she’ll be making herself look like the self-centered person she is. It strips away that veneer of “I’m just being friendly” that people like her rely on.

    • This is smart, with the addition that the LW may have to say “Sorry, I’m busy, can we talk later?” and then do something that feels rude to actually end the conversation, like, shutting the door, or not opening it very much in the first place. Because if the lady says “That’s okay, I was busy earlier…” and launches into another story, the LW is stuck.

  36. One thing I think it’s helpful to remember in situations like these – when you’re using borderline rudeness to discourage conversational overtures – is that anyone who is socially adept enough to take offence would have picked up on your hints long ago.

    I work with someone a bit like your neighbour. She’s an incorrigible talker, and the usual please-stop-talking-to-me cues – glazed eyes, lack of response – don’t make any difference. So I started simply turning my back on her, while she was still in conversational mid-flow, and getting on with my work.

    This is rude behaviour. It made me feel like a heel. But, because my colleague lacks the I-might-be-boring-someone-or-taking-up-their-time-unnecessarily fear that most of us have, she didn’t interpret it as a personal snub. Instead, she rationalised it as: “Mildred is a bit awkward and difficult.” Which…hey, I’m fine with, because the end result is the same: I’m able to get on with my work in peace.

    So I think it’s worth bearing in mind, when you shut your door on your neighbour, that she’s unlikely to take it as the enormous personal snub you would, because she just doesn’t share your sensitivity to social cues. And, if she labels you as “the difficult neighbour who doesn’t really like to chat”? Bingo. Result.

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