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Hello gentle friends, it’s time for that thing where we treat the things people typed into their search engines to find this place as if they are questions in their own right.

As is traditional, we begin with a tune:

 

Then we begin the no-context guessing games and assumptions!

1 “Adult male using baby talk voice.”

If this person is talking to babies, kitties, puppies, or other actual baby cute things, this is extremely okay, let the man babble!

If this person is talking to a fellow adult in a baby voice, and you are that adult, and you presumably don’t enjoy this, my suggestion is to be very direct: “What’s going on with the baby voice? I don’t like it, please stop.”

Bonus: Ask A Manager has advice for how to deal with people using baby voices at work (because of course, someone was using a baby voice at work).

2 “Ex asks ‘are you still angry with me?'”

This one keeps coming up, so here are some discussion questions for whoever needs them.

Are you still angry? What’s the worst thing that happens if you say “yep, still angry”? Did this person ever actually apologize? Why are they bugging you about this, exactly? And why now? And how interested are you in discussing a relationship that you’re not in anymore?

You don’t have to keep working on past relationships, and you’re allowed to find whatever intersection of unfiltered honesty and “ugh, what will get you to go away and stop asking me this” that works for you.

3 “I’m so sorry, but my boyfriend has forbidden me to communicate with you.”

What in the what now?

Please allow me to make the argument that “my boyfriend forbids it” is not a good enough reason to stop communicating with someone you want to be communicating with. If you don’t want to be communicating anymore, that’s a good enough reason on its own, though I do get that sometimes “another dude has priority here” is the only thing that makes a certain kind of annoying dude actually go away.

4 “Quinton just got a promotion at work.”

Congratulations Quinton? Hey everyone, drinks are on Quinton!

5 “How to change a person with disgusting hygiene?”

You were probably looking for this, but in case this was a more general query:

You can’t change other people. You can ask for what you need, you can tell them what you need, you can ask them to take steps to give you what you need, you can break it down in detail like “Please take a shower, brush your teeth often, and wear clean clothes on days you know you’re going to see me,” you can inquire if there is something preventing them doing this and see if it’s something you can help with, you can teach kids to do this stuff if you’re a parent, but ultimately it’s up to them. You can care about people, you can’t do their caring instead of them.

6 “My neighbor wants to be friends, but she makes me uncomfortable, what to do.”

It never feels great to have this conversation, but when someone is trying really hard to be part of your life and your desires around that are mismatched, sometimes you have to balance whether it’s kinder to avoid/dodge/fade on them them and hope they eventually get the hint or whether it’s kinder to speak up with something like “You’re a good neighbor, and I can tell you’re trying hard to be a good friend to me, but I don’t want to [spend more time together][join your book club][connect on social media][buy your kids’ school fundraising crap][help you with your cat rescuel][be friends]. I know this is awkward, and I’m so sorry, but can we just go back to being friendly acquaintances, and I’ll see you around the ‘hood when I see you? Thank you for understanding,” and then move on with your life.

There’s no blanket answer for this kind of thing or guarantee that any of it will go smoothly, some people take direct rejection well, some people eventually get hints, some really don’t do well with either direct refusals or the soft no, reasons work on reasonable people and give unreasonable people something to try to fix or argue with. People often claim they “just want to know why” or “just tell me!” but so often, like every sentence with the word “just” in the middle of it, those things don’t necessarily make anybody feel better.

I’ve had to be the person who gives the “Hey, this is the tenth thing you’ve invited me to, and that’s so kind but I know I’m probably never going to make it, it’s okay to just stop asking!” talk and the one who realizes after far too many times that what seemed like a sincere offer to “totally hang out sometime!” meant never, the “sometime” was actually “never.” It’s confusing and weird because human connection is confusing and weird, nobody wants to be the Bad Guy or find out they were being  a nuisance. Anyway, sometimes what’s kindest is being kind to yourself and setting the boundary where you need it to be. If you’re sure you don’t want to be friends with a person who “makes you uncomfortable,” don’t be! You do get to decide who you invite into your life.

7 “What to do with a boyfriend that is trying to protect you but constantly lectures you.”

Tell him “If you don’t stop acting like Professor Dad, I’m going to dump you. No more lectures!” 

When he starts lecturing, leave the room! Go home!

Or skip straight to the breaking up part.

There is a short story by Claire Humphrey about the fallacy that protecting someone means controlling them, with a content note for mentions of domestic abuse and serial killer stuff. I constantly think about adapting this story into a film.

8 “Asking a coworker to go on vacation.”

Okay but…why?

Like, do you mean, asking them to take a vacation: “Fergus, you’ve got a lot of vacation days saved up, time to take a break, buddy!”

Or asking them to go on vacation…with you? But…why? You didn’t use the word “friend,” and vacation time is AWAY FROM WORK time, so…I would start smaller if you want to become better friends with this person. Lunch. Coffee. After-work drinks. Small hangs outside the office before disappearing to a destination. 

If you meant asking a coworker if you could tag along on THEIR vacation, that’s a hard no from me.  You either have the kind of friendship where they invited you already or you should let them goooooo. Speaking of which, I never press for updates, but I would dearly love to know what happened with all of this if possible.

9 “Friend gets mad if I don’t invite them to every outing.”

Here’s a possible script:

“Friend, sometimes I want to see you, and sometimes I want to do things alone or with other people. I need you to accept.”

If you set a boundary and someone gets mad, let them be mad, you’re not doing anything wrong, punishing you around something like this is so controlling and not okay.

10 “Asking out a former student.”

COME THE FUCK ON.

Leave your students alone. Do not treat your students – including your former students – like your personal dating pool, ever. And definitely don’t come to me to be validated about that. No.

Discussion Note: Everyone can keep their anecdotes about the one time this really worked out happily for somebody somewhere to themselves. Sometimes if you’re a happy exception to a rule, your happiness has to be enough for you. It’s not evidence in an argument to move where the rule goes, especially given how often people who flout this rule are abusing their power, and how rarely even the worst offenders are held accountable for that.

11 “What can I do about a neighbour that calls me a pervert and tells me to stay away from his kids.”

YIKES.

Some possibilities:

  • You’re being targeted by bigots. Are you some variety of queer and your neighbors are big ol’ homophobes, by chance? Or are you neurodivergent in some way and your neighbors are being ableist bullies? Sadly not unheard of, and the query has the ring of that going on.
  • There’s some other neighbor hostility thing going on (lawn care, parking, trash bins, noise complaints, they leave their dog out in all weather and you called animal control on them, or, your dog constantly poops in their yard, idk what it is, but if you think about it you probably do) and it’s escalated to nuclear levels with this kind of accusation,
  • You’re doing something creepy that is making your neighbor reasonably concerned about your behavior (if this is the case you almost certainly know what it is, so, stop it and get some help please).

Mentally I’m moving forward with “the neighbors are the problem here and the person searching for this is not the bad guy” scenario, here are some possible smart moves that don’t actually depend on knowing exactly what’s happening.

Mandatory: Have zero further interaction with these neighbors, especially the kids. Leave them be. There’s not one thing you could say to anyone in that house that would de-escalate such a risky and high-stakes situation. Don’t apologize, explain, clarify. Don’t even wave to them. Give them no ammunition. If one of the kids kicks a ball into your yard, the parents can come get it or it can rot there, not your problem.

This is incredibly not fair especially if you’ve done nothing wrong, but sometimes protecting yourself means disengaging and de-escalating from people who are bad for you. Plus being able to truthfully say “Once they made it clear how they felt about me, I never contacted them again” can be a shield down the road if things get even worse.

Additional Possible Steps: 

Document your interactions with these neighbors. This can be brief: Dates, times, who was there, what happened, what was said. When did this start? Was there some kind of inciting incident? Is this really about something else? If this thing escalates you’ll want this record. Screencap any texts, emails, or messages you’ve exchanged, the NextDoor thread where it all went awry, anything that shows the history of the relationship with these people.

Tell people close to you what’s going on. This is an incredibly stressful situation, right? Again, through the frame of “the neighbors are the problem,” if you’re being harassed by a bigot or bully to this degree, what else might these people do?

This whole kind of thing thrives on secrecy and shame, so telling people ‘Look, my horrible neighbors accused me of some gross stuff and it’s incredibly humiliating and scary but I don’t want it to be a secret ’cause I need your help and support, especially if this all escalates,’ is one way to fight back. Make your friends aware of the situation and the history with these neighbors. Lean on people: Counselors, community, friends, family.

Heck, if you’re friendly with other neighbors, make the ones you trust at least basically aware of the situation – “Just so you know, I’ve been having a strange conflict with ______, they called me _______, I’m trying to give them a wide berth and hoping it all dies down, but if you hear some weird stuff, that’s why.” The rumor mill is gonna do what it’s gonna do anyway, if you’ve done nothing wrong you don’t have to flee or hide from it.

I’ve been watching a lot of Killing Eve lately and one thing I’ve noticed about Eve’s character is that, for a supposedly bright and perceptive lady, she is EXTREMELY BAD at informing people around her about necessary information and DANGEROUSLY OVERCONFIDENT in her ability to handle situations by herself. “I just don’t want to burden anyone else with my secret problems” is TV logic, the kind that creates plots like “I have a mutual crush on a terrifying assassin, how can this all be as dangerous and messy as possible?” vs. helpful real-life logic, which is what you need. Resist the impulse to hide and keep this all secret with everything you’ve got.

Tighten up your privacy and security. This is where you Google yourself from a private browsing window and think about the truly awful question, “How could an extremely hostile person who knows where I live possibly use this information against me?” This is where you lock your social feeds down, this is where possibly you quickly search for your neighbor’s social profiles (adults only, probably do not search for their children by name under any circumstances) and specifically block those people from accessing any of your feeds (Facebook, etc.) This sucks so bad and it’s completely unfair but it’s the smart thing to do so I’m telling you about it. Also consider blocking/locking out any mutuals you share if those people are not completely trustworthy.

This is also where you think about physical security and safety. Doors. Locks. Gates. Pets (don’t let your pets go where these people can have access to them). Cars. Packages. Lights. Motion-sensors. Window blinds/drapes/shades. Routines. Who has keys? Maybe nobody but you should have keys for now.

If this escalates at all, seek expert legal advice where you live. If your neighbor is unfairly harassing you with accusations like this, and you sense they might escalate things, get an expert, tell them everything that’s been going on, and let them help you. A lawyer can talk you through scenarios like, well what happens if they involve law enforcement or try to get you fired at work or do other harassing things? Trust your gut if you think these are people who will never let a grudge go or have a pattern of escalating conflicts.

Keep living your life. I’m hoping that as horrible as this is it was a passing, “Classic Unoriginal Rote Bigotry” sort of remark and not something more specifically and violently targeted, but who the hell even knows right now. (Holy crap is that a depressing collection of words.) This got pretty long for a drive-by query but I’d rather see someone take something like this very seriously and implement some filters and precautions and not need them if the alternative is leaving themselves open to more harassment and danger.

Moderation Note: We’re not Internet Detectives and can’t possibly solve this situation for what’s actually happening or give people legal advice in absentia. If you’ve been the target of something like this from bigoted/homophobic neighbors in the past and have practical tips to share, that would be useful. I’d ask people to not try to exhaustively detail all the possibilities.

12 “How to invite yourself to stay at someone’s house out of state.”

This is one of those areas where, either you know that you have that kind of relationship with the person, where “I’m coming to your area on [dates], is there any chance I can take advantage of your guest room or sofa for a few days?” is a perfectly appropriate question and everybody knows that “nope, sorry, that won’t work” is a perfectly appropriate answer or you don’t.

The wording of the request matters less than the strength and nature of the relationship. “Mind if I crash at your place during [week]?” vs. “Is your guest room open to visitors next month” vs. “Will trade some free babysitting and chef skills for space on your basement sectional” vs. “Hey Grandpa do you still keep the key to the lake house in the mouth of the fish? Mind if I head up that way this weekend?” matters less than whether you feel comfortable asking this person about this in the first place. Ask or don’t, consider also that you won’t lose anything by making a plan B for if they say “no.”

13 “How to handle jealous husband as female musician.” 

How stressful! Possible script if this were a scene in a movie:

“Dude, being a performer means that sometimes I get attention from people who want to flirt or who have crushes on me. I try to have good boundaries about that and be friendly without encouraging people or crossing any lines, but engaging with fans, even really enthusiastic ones, is part of the job and it’s not going away. Their feelings about me are not my fault or my problem to manage, nor are they something I need to apologize to you about or account for. And yeah, sometimes I’m going to wear ‘sexy’ outfits on stage or for photo shoots. It’s part of the brand, plus I like wearing them.

You knew what this was when we got together, I’ve never cheated on you and I don’t plan to change that, but it’s time for you to accept me and my job. You either trust me not to cheat on you or you don’t. If you trust me, stop [describe the behaviors – hovering/accusing me of cheating/being a jerk to my bandmates/being a giant hostile weirdo about it]. If you don’t trust me, we should think seriously about ending our marriage. I’ll hate to lose you but I can’t keep living with you being so mean and suspicious all the time. I’m not submitting to surveillance or constant checkups or soothing your feelings every time another dude looks my way.

Please think about it, talk it over with friends/a therapist/people you trust and tell me what you want to do. Just know that I’m not having this fight with you ever again. We have to put this to rest.”

Jealousy happens, not always rational, not always controllable. It’s the behaviors and reactions to that jealousy that are under our control, and it’s okay to ask people to get those under control if the alternative is living your life around their unfounded fears!

14 “I hate last-minute invitations.”

Don’t accept them. In the moment you can say “That sounds awesome, but I can’t join you. If you give me a little more notice next time, I’ll see what I can do. Have fun!” 

Tell people who are close to you who you hang out with a lot what’s up: “Hey, I’m a planner and I like to schedule things in advance/I need a lot of notice so I can get the night off from work/find a babysitter/budget my introvert energies/get a ride/set aside enough $, so I can’t always say yes to last-minute invites even when I’d like to see you. Thanks!” 

15 “I dreamt my ex invited me and his ex girlfriend in his house and had sex with us at different intervals what does it mean.”

Are you joking? Your true destiny has been revealed! Call them at once!

Or, just possibly, your brain’s hard drive was sorting through some old footage the other night and decided to show your sleeping self a movie that would push a couple of buttons real hard (maybe the ones marked “horniness” and “emotional stuff”?) and the dream isn’t necessarily meaningful in itself.

I never want to say that dreams aren’t important. I am a meticulous, vivid, immersive dreamer and I often remember my dreams upon waking. I can tell I’m anxious about something when I spend my nights waiting tables in a restaurant where suddenly I’m the only one working and a bus full of old people has just pulled up and I can’t stop until every one of them is satisfied, or I’m taking the final exam for a class I never signed up for but am unable to drop, or worse I’m TEACHING a class where I am totally unprepared and have no idea what the topic even is but the room is full of students looking expectantly at me and there is something on the white board that might help but try as I might I can’t read what it says. I have had recurring bad dreams about seemingly innocuous people from my life who turned out to be unsafe down the road enough times that I know to pay attention or at least ask why a person is suddenly showing up in my brain as the Devil. Those I’ve loved and lost visit me in dreams all the time, sometimes it’s Beadie, full of purrs and intense stares, and my childhood pets show up too, and we all walk together through a vast forest. Sometimes it’s my Grandma, red-nosed from drinking her single glass of rosé, destroying me at Rummy. And yup, sometimes I’m back in one of those situations, pressed close against some hot and confusing person in an encounter that I thought I’d deleted from the directory long ago but I clearly didn’t empty the Trash folder since my dream brain’s impressions are shockingly faithful to actual events.

My dreaming self isn’t the boss of me, she’s more of an observer, so if I happen to carry a strong memory of the night’s jumble of images forward into the day I always find it interesting but not necessarily instructive, in a “data isn’t the same thing as information” sense.

What do you think this dream means, if anything, and where is it pointing you in terms of what you need and desire? That’s probably what it means.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

Last year, my neighbor and I helped to rescue a small dog from a bad situation (owner got divorced and for whatever reason, just stuck him in her dog-hating father’s backyard, where he may have been abused. I should note that I live in Cancun right now, and he was there for two months with no shelter or love). When I found out, I offered to foster him, and by that time he had a disease from ticks. He ended up staying with me for months, until I started talking about finding him a home. She then adopted him as her own. (I have reasons for not being able to adopt him)

Anyway, all was well and she was very attentive and caring to him and her other pets (extremely attentive) until her husband left her. Not long after that, she told me she had to work a lot for a couple of weeks. I agreed to take him back for that time. Well, two weeks became a month became three months, only one of which she provided some food for him. The rest, I paid for his food and other needs, including the Revolution for ticks. I noticed that she began dressing a lot nicer and wearing make up, causing me to believe that she had started dating again. I don’t judge her for this at all, but she could have been honest with me. I suspect she wasn’t because she knew I’d be upset that she was ignoring her dog so that she could date freely.

He had to go back to her when I recently went on a week’s vacation, and not long before that she told me that her “work” was coming to an end and she could also look after my dog – she was pushy about it, in fact. She also finally fessed up to having a boyfriend, but insisted she’d have the time. I went with my instincts and instead paid for boarding at a vet’s office where the staff are all very fond of my dog and vice versa. I should note that due to the initial arrangement during the rescue, she’s had a key to my house. While I was away, a friend was feeding my cats and called to let me know that little dude was back at the house for a day. This upset me and leads me to believe she only offered to “take care” of my dog so that she could have an excuse to keep him here too.

Well, after my return I gave limits as to when he could be here. She agreed, but I came home from work last Thursday to find him in my living room. When doing my customary post-walk “tick check” on both dogs, I found that he was covered in them. To say I was pissed doesn’t cover it. I ended up paying for a night of boarding and a bath as he couldn’t stay in the house, obviously. When I picked him up the next day, I was told he should see a vet as he was covered in red marks all over his body, only revealed with the hair cut. Yeah, he has yet another tick disease in less than a year. Turns out when he couldn’t stay with me, she sent him to a friend’s house – a house infested with ticks – and she was aware of this when she brought him to my house. I’m extra pissed now.

She is aware that he’s sick again (and yes, I paid about $90 for the vet visit and will need to pay even more for 21 days of pills) yet she hasn’t visited or checked on him. I suspect that she is so wrapped up in this new romance with a guy that seems to not like dogs, that she is putting everything else aside. She was even planning on sending him back to the friend’s tick infested house for her upcoming vacation!

I had the lock changed today, so the key issue is solved. But I’m wondering how to deal with this. I’m planning on telling her that until she has time to properly care for him, he’s staying with me, screw what I said about Monday to Friday. I don’t know if that’s considered pet-napping or not, and if she insists, I’ll probably have to give him back. But hopefully she at least lets him heal before, you know, farming him out to a tick-filled house again. Or maybe she’ll just be relieved that she doesn’t have to fuss with him and can enjoy dating.

I don’t know the state of her other dogs (five indoors and one outdoors that seems mostly OK) but there is little I can do about that. I do know (by her own admission) that her large outdoor dog hasn’t been walked for a long time, possibly two months. And that dog seems desperate for attention when I walk by.

My questions are the following: first, am I wrong to want to insist that little dude stays with me until she sorts her shit out and two, is it inappropriate to somehow bring up the fact that since she started dating again (sorry…working a lot, as she’s again insisting on now that I’m back from vacation) she’s providing sub-par care for little dude (at the very least) and seems to just be farming him to to wherever is convenient. I find her attitude hypocritical as she was very angry at his former owner. Even the vets office has noticed her declining care of her pets and it’s been mentioned more than once that they assumed he was my dog now. Fortunately, they know me and my dog well, so they are letting me make the decisions regarding his care.

I also want to possibly broach the subject of rehoming him, if she is really this uninterested in his well-being and may continue to be if she stays with this guy. I mean, I hate to say this, but I kind of hope this romance doesn’t work out so that she has to give her head a shake and learn for next time about balancing fun and responsibilities. As it stands now, she’s planning on moving to a different city with him, where the dogs will not be allowed in the house. She is Ok with this, which is miles away from how she used to regard her pets.

I should add that the reason my house is a convenient option is that both little dude and my dog have disk degeneration, so my living room is already arranged in such a way that they can’t access the stairs or furniture. Her argument for him not staying at her house has always been that he has to stay in the kitchen when she isn’t there, and he hates solitude (this part is true, he gets sad). Still, it’s all about balance.

I know this may seem like a minor issue, but despite her over-stepping several times (she even borrowed my fan without permission during my vacation) I don’t want to be hurtful or over-step myself. Do you have any scripts or advice for how to handle this? I know a new romance can be powerful, but she is definitely old enough to know better. (she’s at least in her late 40s).

Oh, and while I’d love to get the money back for the vet costs, I know realistically, I probably will not. Since my main concern now is the dog, I’m reluctantly accepting of this. Oddly, when I mentioned him being sick again, she had the nerve to ask what vet I took him to, as she only trusts one vet who is notoriously difficult to get in to see due to her skill. Blood tests were done, so I know the vet I went to (in the same office as the highly skilled one) isn’t just guessing. But her not really caring yet still questioning my choice of vet is very irritating. I suspect she knows that I’ll step up, so she feels liberated from worrying. Ugh.

Signed,
Confused and concerned animal lover/annoyed neighbor

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Hi, Captain Awkward,

My Beloved and I bought a house around three years ago, which shares a driveway with another neighbor (the property line literally goes right down the center of the drive).  We were very optimistic about this, initially, as she seemed a very charming and outgoing lady.  For the most part, our relationship with her has been amicable.

This is our first stab at home ownership, we both work full time (opposite shifts from each other), and have three amazing spawn that we’re working at guiding into responsible human-ness.  We’re having a bit of a harder time than we anticipated with staying on top of all the home owner-ship demands in addition to parenting and working, but I don’t think we’re too horribly awful at it.

We came  home from a family vacation very recently to find our driveway blocked off because our neighbor had decided, unilaterally, that it was time to re-seal it.  In and of itself not a horrible thing, except that we arrived home at 4 am* and it is illegal for us to park on the street during the night.  We discovered later that day (after the sun rose) that she had also decided to take it upon herself to make changes to our lawn vegetation (not actually the first time- she also decided to cut back my rose bush one day about four weeks ago! **), rearrange some of our property on our lawn, etc. I was rather upset about this, feeling like my space was invaded without warning.

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Hey Captain Awkward.

I love your column. I think I found it through a link at Feministe (???)in the comments. Anyhoo, here is my problem that I will try to explain as simply as possible:

I have had a couple of very rough years. My partner of 15+ years  had a horrible legal battle against his former business partners, which left him with what seems to be Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He became very emotionally abusive, depressed, and is now barely able to function in any aspect of his life. We have separated, but this cast a giant shadow over my life, as you can probably imagine. I was left doubly traumatised by the awfulness of his legal situation, and by his increasingly hostile aggression towards me, especially as I had been very supportive of him throughout the legal battles, and never doubted that he was being wronged. He is now on his third therapist, who does not seem to be helping him at all. I sought counseling and support through a clinic for domestic violence, which helped me. Throughout this time I had reached out to people that I thought were my friends. One by one I discovered that their underlying attitude towards me, after I had disclosed the abuse, was that somehow I was responsible for letting this abuse happen to me ! I was told by one friend that “I wouldn’t let someone talk to me this way”. I was told by another, after she talked to him and me separately that “she and B. both noticed that I seemed to have lost my confidence”(who wouldn’t after being yelled at for months about things that weren’t my fault that pertained to his case after it was settled out of court?). Another claimed that I was “enabling” his abuse towards me ! No one seemed to “get” the dynamics of emotional abuse, or how messed up he had become. It really shook me how unsupportive my so called friends were, which added to my anguish and isolation.

I had been friendly with my neighbor S. , who lives across the street from me, for six years. She is about 15 years older than me, but we had some similar backgrounds and attitudes. We would talk on the phone once in awhile, and did some social things together. I knew some very personal stuff about her, and she knew about me as well. We had been invited to Thanksgiving and Christmas at her house for the last five years, and were included in social invitations. I did not think she was my best friend, but I thought she was a good friend. She knew about my situation with B. and how bad it had become.

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Bead in a box

I'm in a box!

My good friend Major Mishap kindly took on this question about a loud cat and the neighbors who mock it.  I am mostly excited to have an excuse to spam you all with photos of my cat, who I think you’ll agree, is the world’s cutest animal.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I guess I’m apparently the most annoying neighbor ever, because this is the second time that I have to deal with something like this.

Just yesterday, I was walking up my apartment building’s stairwell when I heard what could only be mimicry of me and my cat coming from the apartment directly below mine.  My cat has a very distinctive and easily mimicked meow, and I’m certain that the neighbor was mocking various things that I usually say to her when I walk in the door every day.  My boyfriend had also preceded me up the stairs, so I’m sure the neighbor heard him up there, assumed I was with him, and was probably anticipating my normal greeting.

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The devil's orchestra!Dear Captain Awkward:

I live in a townhouse. The walls between units, despite appearing to be made of solid concrete, seem to actually amplify rather than muffle sound. The neighbor on one side of me is pretty reasonable about how much noise he makes, and when. The ones on the other side, I’ve nicknamed the Howler Monkeys, because that’s what they sound like when they have sex. Their preferred time seems to be about 4AM. They tend to have several bouts of half an hour on, half an hour off, which is just enough time for me to start to doze off, then get woken up again. Sleep deprivation is a migraine trigger for me. My partner moved in with me a month ago, and it’s driving him batty too. He has a high-stress job and if he’s not fully awake and on the ball, people can get hurt. We do want to move, but financially and logistically we can’t swing it right now.

The obvious solution would be to wear earplugs, except that every brand of earplugs I’ve tried is uncomfortable enough that they keep me awake just as effectively as the HMs do. My partner can wear earplugs comfortably, but my startle response when the HMs wake me up, wakes him up.

The next step, I suppose, would be to talk to them, which would be awkward enough if we had a friendly-neighbor relationship, but (for reasons I’ll describe) we really, really don’t. Plus this has been going on for just short of TWO YEARS so it’s extra weird to say anything now.

The reason it’s gone on so long is, at first I let it slide because it was the least bad of their behaviours. Plus the boyfriend was really large and hyper-masculine and aggressive-looking, and at the time I lived alone and frankly I didn’t feel safe confronting them directly. When their parties were too loud, and/or broke into fistfights in the parking lot, I’d call the police; when they left their empty beer cans, broken dishes, and cigarette butts in my planters or stomped around in my flowerbeds, I’d call the landlord. When they were having sex, at least I wasn’t sitting by the phone trying to decide on the threshold for calling 911 – too early and I’m a whiner, too late and I’ll need an ambulance as well as police.

She’s no longer with the asshole boyfriend whose asshole friends were the cause of the violence and property damage, but the loud sex with subsequent partners goes on. The gratitude that at least nobody is getting beat up is fading. We are getting to the end of our ropes. Something has to change.

Also some possible overthinking: Ms HM is young enough that probably porn has been the primary – maybe only – shaper of her sexuality. She may well think 90dB is normal, natural, even required. Her partner(s), being about that age too, might have that same expectation. Ms HM appears to be a dedicated patriarchy-complier. I’ve never seen her outdoors other than perfectly coiffed and made up and shaved and waxed and preened and fashionably dressed. So she’s probably living under a significant burden of pressure and shame about her body and sexuality. Being told to cut the howler monkey antics could hit her pretty hard, and not in a good way.
So Captain Awkward, what should I/we do?

Best Regards and thanks for any advice you can offer,
Sleepless in an Undisclosed Location

Dear Sleepless:

I love your letter because it’s a good example of not speaking up, letting things to on too long, and then working yourself up and worrying about other people’s feelings way more than you worry about your own quality of life. Your neighbor’s relationship with the patriarchy is not your problem. Your sleepless nights are.

Living in close quarters means maintaining courtesy and an air of plausible “no, we didn’t hear anything!” to preserve the social contract. Your neighbor took that section of the social contract and set it on fire a long time ago.