Hello again Humboldt! I’m back for another week of answering your questions, and the pleasure is all mine. As promised, here is the best dating advice I ever got from my mother: “When you go out with someone, always watch how they treat the server. Someday you, too, will be the last person they’re trying to impress.” I think I’m just going to leave that here as it doesn’t need much adornment. (And thanks mom, for the best advice I eventually followed.) Now: Your questions.
I am fed up with my loud neighbors! Their grandkids arrive with loud car stereos blaring, I call them and they do nothing. The grandparents get intoxicated and play loud music in the house late into the night. Again, communication with them seems largely ineffective. It seems to be attention seeking behavior. We are retired and generally love our home and neighborhood but are feeling challenged and at times sleep-deprived.
Riled in Rio Dell
Well, this is a great scenario to demonstrate why home ownership can be such a crapshoot. If you were renting I would suggest you move. Not only do you have no power to change their family dynamics or alcohol-induced deafness, it sounds as though your (hopefully polite) overtures are only making them more resistant. The way I see it, you have three options, to use exclusively or in whichever combination seems appropriate given the circumstances. First, you could play the long game of gradually building the kind of relationship with your neighbors that will give you enough power to sway their behavior. This might take a long time/may never happen/may result in a troubling codependent relationship with your loud, drunk neighbors. Second, you could call the Rio Dell Police Department every time the volume goes up. Short term, this may mean a reduction in noise but it will also deplete any social capital you have with the neighbors as well as try the patience of RPD. Third, you could invest in some earplugs, white noise machines and sound-proofing shutters or blinds to at least make the situation bearable. I’m sorry to say it, but unfortunately the only magic bullet in this situation is to move. Scotia seems lovely.
My problem is peculiar, I think. Since I have few serious problems, I sometimes have trouble commiserating appropriately with people I meet who are less fortunate, who wallow in misery, or who are buried in difficulties. Friends share their problems. I don’t mind that, in general, because sharing problems is something women do to bond, I think. But I get impatient when I hear the same whining over and over. “I’m so fat,” for example. My question is, how can I be more empathetic without lying through my teeth, when all I want to say is, “Then stop eating those desserts, Fatty.” Sometimes people’s problems are real—their health is poor or their children really are in difficulties. In that case, I just get tired of hearing about something that never gets better. That’s a different problem, but I still run out of warmth.
Sincerely, 99 Problems and None of Them Mine
Dear 99 Problems,
I think you should spend less time around other people and try to build up a reserve of warmth to buoy you through future social interactions. Aquaintanceships can be structured beautifully around transactional exchanges of niceties, gossip and common sorrow. Real friendship demands the occasional delivery of brutal honesty. It sounds as though you’re uninterested in the former and unwilling to deliver the latter. If the women attempting to bond with you think they’ve found a sympathetic ear but are in fact being received with an interior monologue of, “Stop eating desserts, Fatty,” well then they’re sadly mistaken about the character of your friendship, aren’t they? Hopefully they have other friends to commiserate with or perhaps a professional that can offer good advice. I would limit your interactions with them to a few times a month, be polite when you do see them and – if you continue to be struck down by compassion fatigue – for heaven’s sake, don’t turn on the news.
From here on out my column will run every other week. Please send me your questions! The address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Next time I’ll share my hard-won advice on how to keep your summer from being completely overscheduled by weddings and other nuisances.