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a neighbor from hell

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I learned a valuable lesson last year: be careful about befriending your neighbors. To be clear, I’m talking about becoming close friends with a neighbor. Having a friendly, acquaintance-level relationship with your neighbors can be beneficial—especially for women living alone. But when it comes to developing a BFF level of friendship, you may want to look elsewhere besides your next-door (or downstairs) neighbor. Or, at the very least, you may want to take things so slowly. I became close with a neighbor in my building, eventually realized that I did not want to be close with her, and then I didn’t feel at home in my own home. I knew that several times I day I would run into her in the driveway. It made me feel on edge. She has since moved, thank goodness, but you may not be as lucky. Here’s how to handle a clingy neighbor who wants to be BFFs.


Don’t say yes to the first invite

A neighbor who is eager for a BFF wants to find someone who is pretty available. If you say yes the first time she invites you to hang out, you set up a precedent—because then, if you say no the second time, she’ll be disappointed. But, that first time she asks you to hang, you have no established dynamic. Just say you can’t make this one, to prepare her for the understanding that you’re not that available friend she hoped for.


Establish that you are busy

When this neighbor asks what you’re doing, give her a laundry list. Even if you aren’t up to much, never say that. She’ll see that as an opening. Tell her you’re doing this errand then have that meeting then are seeing a friend at this time.


Really, move with haste

This type of neighbor might hang out outside the building, just hoping to run into you. When she does, if you give her even an inch, she’ll take a mile. So when you’re outside of your place, move with haste. Rapidly load the car. Speed walk to your front door. Make it obvious through body language that you can’t get pulled into a half-hour conversation about neighborhood gossip or her most recent drama.


Hang in groups

Sometimes, hanging with this neighbor will be inevitable. But hang in groups. If you really feel pressure to make some effort, invite her to something like a party, concert, or festival where there will be tons of people. Don’t give her the chance to talk your ear off.


Even if she tries to hang one-on-one

If she tries to get a one-on-one hang going and you can tell it will just be her treating you like a therapist the whole time, invite someone else. Don’t ask if it’s okay. Just say, “I invited my other friend to join us for drinks you’ll love her!’


Don’t take emotional bait

My eager neighbor truly just needed a therapist. I was her crisis friend. She was one of those friends who felt everything was about her, and all of her updates were critical. She rarely asked me about me. If you have such a neighbor, you may have to be a slight bitch. What I mean is, sometimes, you’ll ask, to be polite, “How are you?” and she’ll say, “Not good.” You don’t have to get dragged into a half-hour therapy session you hadn’t planned for. You don’t need to ask for specifics. You can say, “I’m sorry to hear that. Hope you feel better” and go on about your day. You can set boundaries.


Pace out those dog walks

If you both have pets that need walking, she may try to suggest you coordinate those walks. But that is one-on-one time during which an emotionally draining type of person will exhaust you. You’ll step out for what was meant to be a nice little break from work and somehow feel drained and depressed after because your neighbor talked your ear off. Tell her it’s inconvenient for you to coordinate dog walks with someone else because your schedule is unpredictable.


Do not go over at a moment’s notice

There may be times she tries to text you and say she just had some recent drama (a fight with her mom? A coworker?) and really needs to talk. She’ll ask if you can come over, right then. Don’t go. Don’t set up a precedent by which she feels at any time she can demand you come over. You can’t have that kind of pressure on you from someone who lives literally fifty feet away. It will get out of hand.


Force her to schedule your time

Overly-clingy friends will try to force their way into your life spontaneously—whenever they suddenly feel they need someone to talk to. Make her schedule your time. You can tell her, “I am busy right now but if you want to catch up I can do so…next Wednesday between 6 and 7pm.” By that time, her dramatic whim will be long gone.


Withhold personal information

Don’t share too much, too early, with neighbors. Remember that you cannot escape them unless you move. And some people perceive your sharing personal information as you inviting a deep friendship. You don’t need to tell this clingy neighbor about your personal family drama or trials and tribulations.


Limit interactions to outside

Try to limit how much this neighbor is in your home. If there is a block party and she suggests meeting in your place for a drink before, say you can’t do it. Your home is your personal space—once you set a precedent by which she can just come hang, it’s hard to undo that.


Set up ground rules around your place

You need your space. You need to know that nobody is just going to knock on your door at any given moment to try to chat or hang out. If the neighbor does this once, explain to her that you keep odd hours and work from home, so you may be asleep or in the middle of work at any time. She must call or text before knocking on your door.


Easy on those event invitations

Maybe you have an event you want to promote—your painting is in an art gallery exhibit or your short film is screening at a local theater. Though you want to fill those seats, always be wary about asking a favor of somebody you’d never want to be indebted to—like this neighbor. If you invite her and she goes (which she will) she’ll expect you at her next event.


Be helpful but not too helpful

This neighbor might try to ask for favors from you, some of which will be too much. You don’t need to be taking this neighbor to the airport at 4am. That’s what Uber is for. You don’t need to run errands for her when she’s sick. That’s what Postmates is for. If she needs to borrow something you already have at home, fine. If she needs you to run her dog out for her, fine. But there’s a slippery slope from being a good neighbor to being someone’s personal, unpaid assistant.


You’ll reach a balance

Eventually, this neighbor will get the friendly hint that the codependent friendship she was hoping for won’t be coming from you. None of this is meant to be antisocial, but you have to understand that dealing with a clingy person with codependency issues is always hard enough. Now put that person living on your block and things get ten times harder. You have to set boundaries early.

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