Our neighbor drops by and won't leave

How can we tell him it's late and he should go home?

Published March 5, 2009 11:20AM (EST)

Hey there, folks,

Nice to be back. So finally I am ready to dive in to my next book project, which is a book full of "what happened next" stories from people who have written in for advice. We've been talking about doing this book forever. I've procrastinated a little, so it's time to begin. It's going to be really, really fun.

So here's the thing. Write to me and tell me the story of what happened after your letter was published. Did you follow the advice? Was it helpful? Did it just make things worse? What surprises occurred? How did other readers' comments affect you? Are things better now? I'm dying to know!

When you write, please include full contact information -- name, phone, street address, etc. You may remain anonymous in the book, but I will need to contact you, as I will write this book in the usual way, through conversations, e-mail correspondence and possibly personal interviews with you. Also: Send me things in the mail! Yes, send me things. Not things of value, but evocative things, things that represent you, things that are tactile, that will be interesting to put in the book, or to make a collage of for the cover, or something. Send them to me at 1966 48th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94116. We'll organize them and keep them and use them to find inspiration for your stories. Don't send anything you can't afford to lose, though; I can't promise to send this stuff back.

Oh, and one important thing: The book must contain only stories found nowhere else. If you tell your story on a blog, that's your prerogative, of course, but then I can't use it in the book. This book must contain all new information.

OK? Let's get to work on this thing! I can't wait to hear from you!

Now to today's letter.

Dear Cary,

My husband and I have a delightful neighbor who is quite entertaining. He generally comes down about three or four times a week. Mainly he comes down for company but there are many times when he comes to use our computer, eat or grab some smokes. The problem is that he mostly comes down unannounced and, call me a prude, but 9 or 10 p.m. on a weekday evening is not the most appropriate time.

To add insult to injury, he doesn't know when to leave. Even when I announce that I'm going to sleep, he'll stay and continue chatting with my husband. We don't mind providing him with use of the computer and meals because he is unemployed (although he does receive disability benefits). However, there are many times when we just want a quiet evening without having to worry about entertaining company. We don't want to lose his friendship so how do we politely tell him that we would appreciate seeing less of him?

Politely Exasperated Neighbor

Dear Politely Exasperated,

This is basically an etiquette question, and this reply to a similar question, by Betty Post (Emily Post's great-granddaughter-in-law, a director of the Emily Post Institute and the author of a lot of books, including -- and why does this sound so amusing? -- one called "Excuse Me, But I Was Next..."), covers it quite nicely, probably better than I could, if we were sticking strictly to the etiquette question.

But then, etiquette assumes he will do as you request. What happens if you ask your neighbor to call first and your neighbor nods and apologizes but keeps dropping in unannounced and never calls, but always goes, "Uh, yeah, sorry, I was going to call, but, like, you're right downstairs!"

Why should we expect him to change? Change is hard! That's where etiquette falls short: Not everybody follows the rules even when they are spelled out!

This is based partly on personal experience: I was that guy. When I was in graduate school, I had these neighbors that were cool, and they had food and drink, and stuff to smoke, and I would get so lonely and sad sitting in my room sometimes, or I would be reading my texts for hours and then I would just get up and walk out the door and pop in, not mindful of the time, and it would be, say, 10, 11 or midnight, and after a while they had to tell me not to. I didn't really get it. I was basically a child of 22. I tried. But, you know, stuff people tell you, well, you forget! You're reading and it's late and you think, wow, I wonder if they have any pot! I wonder if they're watching TV! And then you're standing there outside their door wondering why they're not answering the doorbell.

Yeah, it put a crimp in the friendship. But then, truth be told, I'm afraid that from their standpoint I was just this guy, this immature, lonely grad-student neighbor of theirs who used to drop by and bum smokes off them, and look in their fridge, and change the channel on their TV. That's kind of sad, now that I think about it. Also, OK, full disclosure, I had a tiny little thing for the guy's wife. Not a huge thing, but a thing, and I never did anything about it, but it was there. (Is it possible that this guy has a crush on you?) So, yeah, not admirable, but I'm just saying, there are people out there, charming moochers, smart, well-educated children who have no manners, who are interesting but also irritating, and will pop in and bother you until you make them go away.

Do you have a peephole in your door? If you know he's the one at your door, you might try simply not answering. He might get the message. But it's like with dogs: You have to be firm. We don't understand polite. We understand locked doors and silence. We understand, "Hmmm. They're pretending they're not home! Wow, that's weird. Oh, well."

Years later, maybe he'll look back and say to himself, "Wow, I really was a pest! But I turned out OK."

Wish I could find those folks who lived over on 11th Avenue and Cabrillo. They put up with a lot from me back in the day. Roger? Remember me? Can I buy you a pack of smokes? For old times' sake?


What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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