Annoying Neighbors? Strategies from a Seasoned Military Spouse
The waiting room of the housing office at our newly assigned military installation was decked out with comfy chairs and dentist office art. I looked around and thought, “If things are set up cushy like this, our first base housing experience is going to be awesome!”
I was filled with anticipation about truly joining the fabric of the military, living right in the thick of things on base.
After some basic paperwork, my husband and I were given a set of keys and an address. We pulled in the driveway of our new abode and reality hit.Oh gracious!
It looked like a forgotten doublewide from the 1950's. The grass was dormant, cobwebs covered the mailbox, and the front screen door hung on by a crooked hinge and a prayer.
“Lovely. Just lovely.” I muttered with sarcasm.
At that same moment, across the yard came a smiling neighbor lady waving to welcome us.
How great! This is just what I was hoping for! A fellow military spouse! We’ll make friends here! That will help this less than desirable housing seem way more enjoyable.
It seemed like such a good plan! Until the day I realized that the uber-friendly neighbor was just a little odd. It started with a daily ring of the doorbell by our new neighbor "Sara," eager to share neighborhood gossip.
Yes! Every. Single. Day.
The Nosy Neighbor with a Great Imagination
It was painfully obvious that most of what Sara had to say had been dreamed up as she followed the sidewalk to our front door. I didn’t know the names of the neighbors she was telling stories about, but she clearly felt I needed to know “the latest,” from her perspective.
I quickly learned to keep our chats confined to the front step, after inviting her in for coffee one morning and having her “lose track of time” and continuously talk for three solid hours! During one of our front door chats, I made the mistake of mentioning that I’d like to get to know other military spouses. I should've clarified that I would like to meet others by joining a spouses club or by volunteering with a base effort. Instead, I opened myself up to constant invitations from every spouse hosting a home business party over the course of the next three months!
Since we shared a fence, Sara would immediately want to chat when she noticed I was out in the yard. The focus of the conversation was always a concern about her health: either the tap water was giving her indigestion, the fluorescent lighting in her kitchen was making her dizzy, or the smoke created by our backyard grill was causing her to have asthma. It was like a game show prize wheel “What’s the ailment of the day?” “Spin to win!” or perhaps “Spin to whine!”
When I would explain Sara’s interesting antics to my husband, he would laugh it off, so I tried to follow his lead and let it slide. Besides, it takes all kinds of people to fill this world. But when I’d glance out our front window and see Sara watching our house from her window, that’s when it became a bit creepy.
The next time that I walked by our front window and saw Sara staring, I decided to wave at her! Caught in the act, she didn’t wave back; she left her window perch in a hurry. She later stopped by to chat. While standing in my doorway, peering into my living room, she said, “I really like where you’ve placed that framed print on your wall. From my window I can see the reflection of your TV in its glass.” I guess that explained her peeping tendencies? Although, I had been in her house and noticed they had a very nice TV of their own...
Another time, when Sara stopped by to chat, she informed me, “With the price of gas, you should make a list when you set out to drive places. Did you forget things and have to keep running back home? I saw you come and go 3 times yesterday." Rather than keeping tabs on my whereabouts, I felt as if I should find our curious neighbor a healthier hobby to occupy her time. What on earth do you do when faced with an unusual personality, especially when you are living close by each other?
Cowardly, I tried avoiding her for a while, but it was nearly impossible! So, one day when she made her daily gossip visit, I bit the bullet and invited her over for a late lunch. As we sat around the kitchen table, I tried to explain my concerns about her curious behavior. At first, she seemed apologetic and overly complimentary of how my husband and I were such great neighbors. Then, the conversation turned into a game of “My husband is better than your husband.” She began asking questions as if we were competing with each other.
“Why does your husband come home at 6 p.m.? Mine comes home at 4 p.m.”
“Why does your husband have to work weekends? Mine doesn’t, and usually can leave early on Fridays."
“Why doesn’t your husband have more leave saved up? Mine manages his leave very well, and we’ve been able to travel and see family.”
Trust me, at this point, my patience level was wearing very thin! While tidying up the dishes, I tried to wrap up the conversation and encourage her departure, all with a positive tone. But, she continued to share her life story with no apparent interest in leaving. An hour and a half later, I told a little white lie with a reason to leave the house myself, in order to get her to finally exit!
I was at my wit's end!
Help for Dealing with Difficult Neighbors
Upon the recommendation of friends, I sat down with a counselor at the installation Family Support office. The words he shared were very helpful.
- Keep it private. I had previously politely asked others around the neighborhood if they also had noticed the unusual behavior from our next-door character. But the counselor advised that doing so was not the best idea. Although others may relate, he suggested I keep those living nearby out of the situation. In a relatively small area, it's best that good neighbors do not feel like they're being put on the spot or must somehow “choose sides” when personality issues occur. Talking with other neighbors about this woman’s antics could potentially lead to more aggressive behavior from her. If/when she found out, she might become defensive and turn her curious behavior towards harassment.
- Nip it in the bud. The counselor suggested I become more upfront and open with my neighbor, explaining to her how her behavior was perceived each time that I felt uncomfortable.
- Let it go! Rather than allowing my neighbor's antics to bother me, I needed to learn to deal with her quirks with a level head, keeping feelings of frustration out of it. Although this course of action seemed increasingly difficult, I agreed to try my best!
One early summer day, a moving truck parked across the street and a new family moved in. They just happened to be from Sara’s home state. Hallelujah! This was the ticket to my “freedom”! I felt a bit bad for the new neighbor lady, who was now being overwhelmed with Sara’s constant attention. But they formed a fast friendship.
Sara ceased her daily front door visits. Instead, she would chat now and then across the backyard fence, describing the adventures she and the new neighbor were having. She seemed to find such satisfaction with her intent to make me “jealous”! I was just thankful for the newfound peace (and far less window peeping)! As the calendar rolled on, it was soon time for my husband and I to move to our next assignment. Our first base housing experience simply became one for the memory books.
If you're faced with a difficult neighbor, please know there are resources available.
- Start at your installation Family Support office. That office is available to assist you with improving your quality of life, no matter what the circumstances may be.
- Research the supportive websites the Family Support office may share with you. There's helpful information available online for military families, and it's completely free.
- If the issues are serious, be aware of the installation regulations. Check in with the military housing office or check local neighborhood ordinances. Most every area has laws concerning pets, noise, parking, or other topics that trigger issues.
- Express your concern to the housing authorities or your squadron/unit leadership, especially if faced with harassment and intimidation.
- Document everything. Take note of:
- What occured
- What you’ve done in response to what occurred.
- When you did it.
- What the outcome was.
- Keep a calm tone with any/all communication.