Some of the TV shows I’ve enjoyed the most over the years have been set in a house or apartment with a steady stream of people coming and going. After all, it wouldn’t be any fun to watch a show where the character is reading or watching a movie alone for the whole half hour would it? But even though scenes such as Kramer bursting into the room on Seinfeld are funny or interesting to me, I definitely don’t encourage people to do that to me! My home is my soothing retreat; not a set for a sitcom.
When I was in my 20s and my (now ex-) husband and I relocated here, I was just thrilled that we had bought a house, so I was full of dreams about having pets, and having close friends and family come and see us – once I got everything unpacked, of course. It didn’t enter my mind that the people in the houses around us were in any way interested in or entangled with us, but I soon found out. One day the woman directly across the street marched over to check us out. She told us all about the people who had lived in the house before us. About the woman of the family “She was OK,” but “He was STRANGE! He didn’t say much! He never came out in the front yard, so SHE ended up mowing the lawn!” Well, it was only a matter of weeks before I developed a strange aversion to our front yard too. I couldn’t go outside without loud questions being shouted over to me about what we were doing, whose car had been at our house, or anything else in the world. Any time my husband would leave his car at home and ride in with me to work, she’d call. “Is he sick? I noticed his car hasn’t moved.” Or when I went to part time work for a while so I could take some classes during the day, there she was shouting across the street to me while I got our mail. “You got the day off?” I answered simply, “Yep.” It didn’t help that my husband was a “super extrovert and all around nice-guy”, so since my answers to her were so frustratingly incomplete, she took to grilling him about our lives any time she could find him outside. And if she ever did get to corner me somewhere, she’d say about my husband, “Now HE is so NICE!” It was enough to make a young introvert shrink away entirely!
Things got much worse when our first son was born. Oh boy now she had a whole new area of expertise to question and instruct about, and I was totally miserable – even trying not to go out to get the mail or take the baby for a stroll unless I saw that her car was gone or that she had just gone in from outside. Since she’d often call before making the trek across the street, I started screening our calls. I was letting her control my life! And yep – I’m aware that it was my own fault, giving her all that power, although I still abhor people with such a pushy attitude. Eventually I got out and met people slowly – got to know people slowly – at my natural pace. And I found that the rest of the neighborhood was made up of normal, decent people! They just didn’t come barging in while we were trying to move in (or later bring home a new baby).
Fast forward a couple of decades and now my sons and I are in a different neighborhood. The people on one side of us are in their 80s, and the people on the other side are a young family who’re very busy and nice and quiet. The people across the street are about my age, and I’ve known them for about 15 years. We talk to each other when we’re out at the street or doing yard work, or we just wave as we get out of our cars. I feel very fortunate right now to have people around me who are pleasant and friendly but either don’t want to burst in like Kramer would or have enough sensitivity to realize that I don’t want anyone dropping in just any time. And if I ever have another neighbor who has all the empathy of a bull in a china shop, I hope I won’t just shrink away and let her run right over me again. I think I’ll stand my ground and say, “Nice talking to you,” whether she’s finished her interrogation or not, then walk away.
Photo credit: James Ellsworth