Dear Captain Awkward,
I (they/them) am single, live alone, and have been working from home throughout the COVID situation – the long-term isolation has been really hard. During the last year I took up fishkeeping, which has been really great for my mental health.
But then I developed something known in the hobby as “MTS” – multiple tank syndrome – in which I, well, started to go a little overboard with new fish tanks and fishes. In addition to the assortment of tanks in my actual apartment (basically one in every room, each with different types of fish), I set up a “balcony tub” with floating plants and rosy red minnows.
Last week new neighbors moved into my building and I guess they must have seen my balcony tub because they asked if I had fish on my balcony and…I truly am not sure why…but I impulsively lied, like, “No! Of course I don’t have fish on the balcony! Ha ha ha…”
But the thing is: I do have fish on the balcony.
The fish are very healthy and happy and I don’t think it’s against the rules (I did check the lease) – although that might be because no one ever thought to make a rule against it…
Anyway, I have no idea why I lied other than like…maybe the built-up isolation of the last year and a half, and some internal sense that keeping fish on your balcony was Too Much, and therefore in order to not seem Super Weird to my new neighbors I should keep that under wraps? (Don’t ask, don’t shell!)
But now I feel even *more* awkward and way weirder than if I’d just been like “oh yeah those are my minnows!”
I lied about having fish on the balcony, and I clearly do have fish on the balcony.
In the past I’ve had good relationships with my neighbors. Is there any way I can salvage this truly awkward introduction??
Thank you in advance for your advice. I don’t think this question has been addressed before.
A Fishy Neighbor
Dear Fishy Neighbor,
“I don’t think this question has been addressed before.”
True! It’s rare that I get an absolutely unique one, so, thank you.
Chances are, your neighbors already know or guess that you lied about the fish. Or, possibly, they imagine you’re doing something even stranger in the visible outdoor tanks. Before you panic, chances are actually strong they’ve already forgotten the interaction or written it off as “eh, there’s probably a story there, who knows” and gotten on with one of the accumulated tasks of moving house. I doubt they have thought about this even 5% as much as it’s preoccupied you.
The stuff that you’re secretly worried about (being out of social practice after long isolation/is there such thing as Too Many Tanks?) isn’t visible to other people, so they don’t know their lines in the little social anxiety passion play you’re directing inside your head, the one where you’ve cast complete strangers as the arbiters of what might be Too Weird about you without considering that they might also be absolute freaks (or fellow fish fanatics!) trying just as hard to seem cool and normal and display polite curiosity. In other words, your neighbors don’t know that they accidentally eavesdropped on a conversation that was principally between you and your shame. Fortunately, “I was trying so hard not to come off as weird that I overcorrected and did something objectively weird” is an extremely relatable and common predicament, and being able to laugh at yourself (“I didn’t want you to think I was obsessed with fish, good job, me, now you think I’m a liar who is obsessed with fish! Welcome to the building!) is the best remedy I know.
Take that good humor with you into future interactions with these neighbors. If you’re making pleasant chitchat and decide that you want to clear the air, you could say, “Hey, I do keep a tank of minnows out on the balcony and I actually have no idea why I said I didn’t, I’m sorry. Anyway, how are you settling in?” There might be an awkward moment or two once you come clean, but if you keep being the kind of considerate, pleasant neighbor who collects their laundry promptly from the shared dryer and puts their recycling in the correct bins (etc.), trust that time and consistency will win out and you’ll all get along fine.
P.S. Fish are beautiful and I’m glad you’ve found something that makes you so happy.