Author Topic: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor  (Read 4609 times)

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runnermom71

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Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« on: June 28, 2013, 11:52:40 AM »
Good Morning Ehellions,

I'm hoping to get some advice for dealing kindly and politely with with my next door neighbor, who has become increasingly needy and negative over the five years we've lived next to her. Just as BG, the neighbor in question, I'll call her Nancy, is somewhere in her 70's and raised five kids on our street. Her husband, also in his 70's, owns a business and still works seven days a week, often staying in his shop overnight. One of their adult children lives at home, the others are scattered across the country. Nancy has a couple friends she talks about socializing with a few times a month, but seems generally pretty lonely. When the weather is warm she spends a good bit of the day sitting on her porch.

I was a SAHM for the first three years we lived here and spent a lot of time outside with my two small children, either playing with them or working in my front yard, which I've redone. Nancy would often be on her porch and I got in the habit of stopping to chat about general things. There were times when she'd be talking to me when I was trying to interact with the kids or work, but overall the situation was manageable. Over time, however, the topics she picks have become increasingly negative and repetitive. She complains about almost everyone on the street for one reason or another--where they park their cars, their landscaping and porch decorating choices, and any real or imagined slights they've dealt her. She also tells me stories about her family life, most of which are about the way she has been mistreated. I have a certain amount of sympathy for her, but all of this is exhausting, and I'm often at a loss for how to respond. Not that she lets me get many words in anyway.  ::)

For the last two years I've been working from home, and I have less time for yard work. My kids are older and involved in more activities, so the time I'm outside with them has decreased. Basically now if I'm out in the front it's to take care of things like watering and weeding. I can't spare as much time to chat, which is infinitely less appealing anyway. I've been clear about having less time to talk. Meanwhile, she won't leave her porch and my hearing isn't the best, so when she starts talking to me I feel obligated to stop what I'm doing and walk over to her, at which point she'll start talking and not stop, even when I say things like "I really need to get back to my watering" or whatever. There are times when I've been "prisoner" for 30 minutes or more and have finally had to resort to telling her I hear my timer, or one of my kids, which I hate to do. I'm also at the point where I check for her before I go out to work, and dread the sound of her front door if I'm already out there.

Any suggestions for setting some boundaries with her without being downright rude? When I tell her I need to get back to whatever I was in the middle of she either pretends she hasn't heard or will acknowledge what I've said but keep talking.

Oh, and wearing headphones doesn't work.

Thanks in advance!





MrTango

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #1 on: June 28, 2013, 12:02:43 PM »
I feel obligated to stop what I'm doing and walk over to her, at which point she'll start talking and not stop, even when I say things like "I really need to get back to my watering" or whatever. There are times when I've been "prisoner" for 30 minutes or more and have finally had to resort to telling her I hear my timer, or one of my kids, which I hate to do. I'm also at the point where I check for her before I go out to work, and dread the sound of her front door if I'm already out there.

There is no obligation for you to stop what you're doing and walk over there.  If you can't hear what she's saying from her porch, just don't respond at all.  Do what you need to do and then go about your business.

If you want, on the occasions when she calls out to you, you could pause for a moment to say "Hi, Neighbor" and then immediately go back to whatever you were doing.

Fixed a typo.

cwm

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #2 on: June 28, 2013, 12:07:16 PM »
I can't spare as much time to chat, which is infinitely less appealing anyway. I've been clear about having less time to talk. Meanwhile, she won't leave her porch and my hearing isn't the best, so when she starts talking to me I feel obligated to stop what I'm doing and walk over to her, at which point she'll start talking and not stop, even when I say things like "I really need to get back to my watering" or whatever. There are times when I've been "prisoner" for 30 minutes or more and have finally had to resort to telling her I hear my timer, or one of my kids, which I hate to do. I'm also at the point where I check for her before I go out to work, and dread the sound of her front door if I'm already out there.

<snip>

Oh, and wearing headphones doesn't work.

Why wouldn't wearing headphones work? Your hearing isn't what it used to be. Even with headphones, you can't hear her from your porch. Ignore her. Make it clear from your actions that unless you have the time and the inclination, you won't be going out of your way to go to her porch to listen to her. Why do you feel obligated to go listen to her? She doesn't feel obligated to let you do whatever it is you were doing.

I would wear headphones. Big bulky ones. Ones that can be seen from down the block. And just don't plug any music into them, if you don't want to. That way you can hear if she's trying to talk to you, but you can still ignore it. And when you're done with your yardwork and look up to see her, give her a smile and friendly wave as you head back inside. If she really wants your attention so badly that she can't go without talking to you, she'll make the effort to come to YOU rather than try to draw you in.

And if she does that, you can always politely say that now isn't a good time for you to have company, you're terribly busy, maybe some other time.

lowspark

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #3 on: June 28, 2013, 12:10:30 PM »
You keep watering (or whatever) and just say "Hi, Sorry! No time to chat today."
Most importantly, don't stop what you're doing.

If she keeps talking just smile at her and continue what you're doing. If she gets annoyed that you're not replying, just keep repeating, "Sorry, I don't have time to chat. I have to get my chores done." or something similar.

MrTango

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2013, 12:17:22 PM »
Why wouldn't wearing headphones work? Your hearing isn't what it used to be. Even with headphones, you can't hear her from your porch. Ignore her.

This is also a good idea.  I've had many situations where I've used headphones (sometimes not even plugged in) to make it appear that I wouldn't be able to hear someone interrupting me.

EllenS

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #5 on: June 28, 2013, 12:43:18 PM »
I agree, the problem is getting drawn in to chat.

A smile and wave from a distance is perfectly polite and kind.  "Good morning!  Gotta run!"

If you want to make time on limited occasions to give her your full attention, make sure they are occasions that work for you - that would be extra kind, but not a requirement.
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runnermom71

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #6 on: June 28, 2013, 02:40:57 PM »
Thank you all for the thoughtful replies. I am not sure why I feel so obligated to her. Maybe because initially I had more time and now feel guilty about changing up the terms of our relationship, even though it's natural given the changes in my schedule, and frankly, the toxic turn her conversations have taken. Too, I guess that graciousness to neighbors, especially elderly neighbors, was drilled into my sister and me by our parents, and I like the idea of it. In theory. At the same time, I need to get yard work done or my unsightly yard will become a different kind of rudeness!

When I've worn the headphones before she just keeps talking at me until I pull them out. I guess the trick is not to pull them out...

EllenS

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #7 on: June 28, 2013, 02:47:46 PM »
In my experience, feeling like you CAN set boundaries, and choose what to give, actually gives you room to be more generous and gracious...because it is a gift, not an obligation.
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runnermom71

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #8 on: June 28, 2013, 02:50:43 PM »
Ellen, that's a very good point!

Zizi-K

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #9 on: June 28, 2013, 03:47:28 PM »
If you feel like it would be a nice thing to do, you could try scheduling an hour for coffee or tea with her once a week, and then if she tries to talk to you, you could say - "Sorry, can't talk now, but I look forward to catching up Thursday!" Be sure to having something immediately following, which will allow you to say at the end of the hour, "So nice to chat with you, but I've got to be going now to the chiropractor!"

TootsNYC

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #10 on: June 28, 2013, 04:24:34 PM »
Quote
the toxic turn her conversations have taken

I think this is part of it--that you feel bad for her. (Do you suppose her negativity is the cause or the result of her husband's apparent total absence from his home except to eat and sleep? Probably a vicious circle.)

I sometimes wonder if you could say, "You seem so unhappy lately--it seems like our conversations are full of all the things you're unhappy about. Are you OK? Have you considered finding someone to talk to? Can you find some interesting things to do? Have you thought about volunteering somewhere? It would get you out of the house and give you different people to interact with, and something positive to think about."

I would wish that there was some sort of elder advocacy group that you could surreptitiously "sic" on her, get them to send her invites to activities, volunteer opportunities, or even just send someone once a month to drop in on her.

Maybe she needs a pet.

but for you, I like the idea of just never walking over there--wave w/a  smile and say, "sorry--can't talk! gotta finish this weeding."

runnermom71

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #11 on: June 28, 2013, 06:47:51 PM »
Toots, I think that's right, too.

I think there's always been a background thrum of bitterness. It is my understanding that her husband unilaterally decided to start his own business, was therefore never around to help with five kids, and because he is generous to a fault they are still pretty poor. But maybe her health is failing a bit lately and since she feels poorly, she's negative. She does still have a sense of generosity.  If I've ever mentioned a problem she always tells me she lights candles for my family etc., and she drives infirm people to the hairdresser and grocery store. Ethically, I feel like I have a duty to see her as a flawed but worthy human being, and not blow her off because she can be unpleasant. What if she were my own mother? But, these dang time constraints! And the fact that I have a million things to worry about myself and limited time and energy...

*inviteseller

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #12 on: June 28, 2013, 06:56:02 PM »
She could be starting a decline into dementia which can cause changes in personality, although you said this was just below the surface.  My elderly neighbor was getting like this..we used to sit on my porch and chit chat but she was getting paranoid and argumentative so I was hiding from her.  I felt bad but I couldn't take our conversations.  I would suggest you decide what day and for how long you want to talk, so your not completely ignoring her, but not getting sucked in.  Set your alarm on your cell phone with a ringtone, set the alarm to go off and use that as an excuse to leave.  The rest of the time, just wave and say sorry, I'm busy I will see you on X day.

JoyinVirginia

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #13 on: June 29, 2013, 12:14:28 AM »
Its not rude to be in your yard and just smile, wave, when you can't understand her point to your ears and shout you can't so to talk right now. When you walk over, look at your watch or phone and say you have to go check something, then walk pdf even if she is still talking. Wave and say bye gotta go and talk over her.

bopper

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Re: Setting Boundaries with Needy, Negative Neighbor
« Reply #14 on: June 30, 2013, 01:35:57 PM »
"I can't hear you from there. If you want to help me weed, bring your gloves over."