We’ve lived in our house for about two years, but we only know our neighbors who live next to us on the right. We don’t even know the names of our neighbors on the other side of us, although we wave to each other. It’s friendly but awkward. It seems that it’s long past the time when we should have introduced ourselves. What advice do you have for ways we can break the ice with our nearby neighbors even though we let that ice thicken over the last two years?
The Elderly Aunt grew up in a family that quoted poetry the way some families quoted Ann Landers. This probably explains why her brain automatically started spouting up two snippets of Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” as soon as she began pondering how best to answer your question.
The first snippet—spoken by the poem’s dour anti-hero—is, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The second snippet—thought by the poem’s ordinary, every-person, apple-growing protagonist is:
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out…
So there you are, dear reader — the emotional complexities of neighborliness gone poetic way back in 1914. And it does seem to the Elderly Aunt that they have been mightily exacerbated by our modern compulsion to stay as busy as we possibly can and our habit of relying on our smartphones to shield us from face-to-face social interaction of any sort with non-virtual people.
Conversation is out. Social media is in. I tweet, therefore I am.
Because the Elderly Aunt is as nosy as a sit-com landlady she naturally wants to know why you suddenly wish to take Ronald Reagan’s directive to Mikhail Gorbachev and tear down the wall between you and your left-side neighbors. Naturally, she has her own theory about this, but since you did ask for advice rather than psychiatric help, she will honor your request before she goes all Lucy Van Pelt on you.
Resolve to keep it simple. March over to your left-side neighbor’s front door and give it a couple of brisk knocks. As soon as the door is opened, extend your hand and say something like, “I figured it’s about time I introduced myself.” Let things develop from there. The Elderly Aunt agrees with Charles the First of England that apologizing before you are told you’ve given offense only clutters things up. Why bring your personal doubts and struggles to your first interaction with your left-side neighbors? Much better to bring home-baked cookies! You may or may not become real friends with your left-siders, but the bothersome wall between your houses will be gone.
Okay, now that’s out of the way, the Elderly Aunt Van Pelt feels entitled to do her thing.
Long, long ago when she was a little girl with pigtails and scraped knees, the Elderly Aunt used to dream of eating nothing but sweets—adopting the opening lines of Johnny Cash’s “Sugartime” as her personal eating plan. As an adult, however, she came to realize that too much sugar left her body deeply unsatisfied, her brain fried, and was really, really not a good thing.
The Elderly Aunt finds the same to be true of her forays into obsessive busy-ness and on-screen interaction. Too much of either or both leaves her deeply unsatisfied—hunkered down behind a wall of her own making, wondering how it is possible to be so busy and feel so lonely at the same time.
Is that, perhaps, what’s going on with you, dear reader? Despite everything lovely and seemingly necessary that’s going on in your life, is some part of you starved for simple, unimportant, not-necessarily-productive, human interaction? The kind of interaction you have with neighbors while you’re both taking out the garbage or putting up your outside holiday decorations? The kind of interaction that just for a moment, leaves you feeling we humans are all in this together, and really, we’re all doing the best we can?
Five cents, please…
The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday. And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”
Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions).