My neighbor is having coffee with somebody new

I see them together every morning and it's driving me crazy.


Cary Tennis
November 9, 2007 4:20PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

My neighbor and I were inseparable friends. We had morning coffee about three times a week. We had intimate, confidential conversations. We visited every day in our front yards.

Things were going along fine until I got a job. I would be getting ready for work, and I would see her strolling up the street for regular morning coffee with another neighbor. The hurt came when I realized that my neighbor had totally dumped me and had moved on to this other friend. When I was at home, she no longer had the time of day for me. Everything now was about her new friend. I felt dumped and betrayed. I am having a hard time with this, as she lives next door to me. I can't get it out of my mind. I have cried a lot of tears over the loss of this friendship. Our houses are close together and I see her often in the course of a week.

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I want to move on, but it is so hard having the person who betrayed my friendship living right next door.

What advice can you give me?

Spurned Neighbor

Dear Spurned Neighbor,

You know, what advice I'd like to give you is to just take some simple, human-kindness-type action. Simple human kindness. Get really simple. Let go of your consciousness of wrongs against you, and sit down in a corner of your house where there is some sun and just start breathing through your nose, feeling the breath come in and out, and let thoughts about your neighbor come up through your chest and out the top of your head.

Let it go, sister, is what I'm saying. Reach deep down to where all the hurt comes from and just let it go. Yeah, there is some hurt there, and there was something fine and ancient and beautiful, perhaps even spiritual, in the rhythm of daily morning coffee with a neighbor. It may have satisfied something in you that you didn't even know was there. That happens in daily life. For instance, we see a certain bus driver each morning and it's the tone of her voice, and that locket she wears, and the arrangement of the seats on the bus, and the way the early fog lifts, and the way the sleepy commuters stand like hopeful cattle waiting for release, and how the bus rocks left to right: These things we do not notice that we notice are the things we miss when they're gone. This is the underneath majesty of diurnal life. This is what we do not talk about because we'd sound like silly people.

OK, I'm going to say it: You sound a little like a silly person. I don't mind silly people. I'm a silly person. Believe me, I am wounded easily; I feel slights in the slightest things. I'm as brittle as an ice sheet; my weight is unsupportable; I crash through frequently and have to be rescued from icy waters. That's life as the one who's a little silly and a little un-grown-up. We go through pretending to be grown-up and untouched but we are just silly kids hoping for the ice-cream truck. It comes every day for a whole month in the summer and then one day it stops. What the fuck?

I'm no doctor and I'm no genius but the way I figure it when you're upset you have to know what's underneath it. If you don't know, then you're crying on the bus for no reason and people are staring. But if you know what's under there, then you recognize that quivering tune when it starts to play. You say to yourself, Oh, yeah, I'm the one with the crazy attachments. I'm the one who gets attached and doesn't show it, the one people leave behind because they don't even know I'm attached.

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And then finally by thinking it through you get to this: I'm the one who has to tell people upfront that I get attached. I'm the one who has to make it clear what's going on.

People have no idea what's going on in there. They don't know you're attached. Or maybe they do and -- what's harder to accept -- they just don't really care that much! That's possible, too. It's not the end of the world. That's just how some people are. They're not even thinking about you. They're thinking about whether they're amused or not. They're thinking about whether there'll be somebody to have coffee with. It doesn't matter who. It's just a person to have coffee with that they need.

Maybe they'd be pleased to know you get attached if it made them feel super-attractive and important. But maybe they'd feel hemmed in, like now all of a sudden you're a big, needy responsibility they didn't want. Or maybe they wouldn't care either way. Maybe if you were to say that you get attached and feel things deeply and take things hard and that friendship matters greatly to you and you find it hard to understand how other people can just walk away like that, maybe the words wouldn't even go into their head and activate brain cells. Hard to tell. Some people just flit around and it's all the same to them: You're not a person. You're just people.

I mean, you're special to me, and you're special to your mom, and you're special to yourself, but you're not special to everybody. To a lot of people you're just somebody in the neighborhood. Can you handle not being special? Sure you can! You do it all the time. In 99 percent of our interactions, we're not special. You pay your money and you get your Fast Pass. Maybe you pay your money every month and see the same gold tooth in the smile. Then one day it's a new smile. You miss the old smile with the gold tooth, but there's no formal announcement saying, "I know you were really starting to like seeing that same smile every month but I'm a new person at the counter; sorry for inflicting this tiny change in your life; I, too, wish things could go back the way they were."

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That will never happen. If it happens even once I want to hear about it.

Things change all the time. We can't do anything about it and neither can the police.

People come, people go, you adjust.

How do you adjust? You pay attention to your thing. You turn your attention from what is lost to whatever your thing is.

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So what is your thing? Your thing was having coffee with the neighbor, but you're going to have to think up a new thing. Relax your shoulders, take a deep breath, do some sitting in the corner breathing, and then find a new neighbor or a new place to have coffee.


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