Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Once upon a time, being neighborly meant stopping by the house next door and popping in for a cup of coffee or a quick chat. Showing up unannounced? No problem, we’re neighbors!

Nowadays the rules have changed. The modern-day definition of a good neighbor is someone who keeps to herself. She’ll drop off your mail if it’s delivered to the wrong house, but she won’t ask questions or pass judgment when she notices you subscribe to US Weekly and Star.

I’ll be honest, when one of my neighbors comes unexpectedly a knockin’ I’m usually not thrilled. It always seems to come at the wrong time, like when I’m sitting around in my PJs and not feeling especially fit for company. But as part of this search I’ve made it a goal to befriend—or at least become acquaintances with—someone who lives in my building.

I live in a mid-rise apartment building—we have four floors with about six to eight units per floor. It’s big enough that I don’t know most of the other residents, but small enough that it feels like a little community. So when I saw one of my neighbors at the grocery store recently, I ignored my initial urge to put my head down and gun for the produce. Instead, I approached her.

I introduced myself and we started chatting. And then I mentioned that I’d love to get lunch sometime, that I’d been wanting to meet some of the other residents in my building. So we made plans.

I’m excited about this potential relationship because while I’m not anxious to go back to the random neighborly pop-in, it would be nice to have someone close by to watch TV with or borrow an egg from.

In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam points to the decrease in neighborly visits as evidence that there’s been an overall decline in “social capital” in the U.S. But I think the old idea that you should automatically be pals with your neighbors doesn’t make much sense. After all, you moved there for the home, not for the company.

Neighbors play a very specific role. Sure, they might become friends of yours, but it’s not necessary. To me, neighbors are like freshman year roommates. They don’t need to be your BFF, they just need to be someone you can live with. Someone who you trust to keep an eye on your house while you’re away, or who you’d be willing to leave a key with in case you lock yourself out.

What do you think? Do you miss the old days, when Mr. Rogers made neighbors into friends? Or are you happier with today’s expectations of privacy, no matter whom you live next door to?

13 Comments

Filed under The Search

13 responses to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

  1. Karen A.

    I miss my old neighbors so much. They were the type that you could just drop in on, entering through the kitchen door, not the main entrance. At least once a month on a Sunday morning I would knock at the door and join the party. It seems everyone knew that Sunday morning at Bob and Roses was an open house. If the coffee pot ran low, I would just make another, if I had baked I would bring baked goods to share. Family and friends rolled in and out with ease. But it was truly a friendship based on proximity; when they moved I did not even take their forwarding address. We both knew that the secret of the friendship was the in person chatting.

    On the other hand, our neighbors on the other side of the property, in twenty years I have never been invited into their home. They are perfectly nice people and fine neighbors, but I would never even think of stopping by unannounced. My husband prefer the neighbors who rarely interact, I prefer the neighbors with the open door policy. Our third neighbors are a blend of the two; I have often been to their house, but almost always as a result of a phone call first.

    So while I like to have a heads up if someone will be stopping by, I don’t mind if you surprise me with a knock on our door.

    This does bring to mind something that happened to me years ago, shortly after my mother died. A dear friend of my mothers came to our door to surprise my mother. She and her family had driven about three hours one way to see her. To this day I feel badly for her, knowing that she had to deal with her grief during that long car ride home.

    So perhaps it is best to at least call ahead.

  2. hb

    I love it when neighbors pop in unannounced. It makes me feel special, like I’m part of big family. When I lived in a house in the suburbs, being friends with my neighbors was great….they helped with my kids when I needed it, invited me for dinner when they knew I was alone, and came around with cookies at Christmas. We had garage sales and pot luck dinners together. In the city it’s different, but it’s always good to have a friend in the building for emergencies. I’ve recently moved to a low-rise apartment building in the city and I was thrilled to find a woman my age in the building (we’re older than most of the residents.) We became friends very quickly and now watch over each other’s apartments when we are gone, and go out to dinner together when we are both here. I definitely think you should pursue the lady in your building. Being able to run upstairs for an egg in your pajamas is a huge advantage!

  3. Ana

    I agree with Karen & hb—it would be nice to have that kind of open-door friendship with a neighbor. It really indicates a level of trust & community that is often missing in our society. Why do people find it annoying if someone drops by…hell, people are sometimes shocked by a phone call these days!

    We are so afraid of “bothering” someone, because we are all so “busy” and scheduled, that a drop-in visit or phone call might throw off our whole day and throw us into a tizzy.

    I’m sure I’m yearning for a time that never existed, but the idea that you can take the time to pop over to a neighbor for a coffee & some gossip really appeals to me! Not to mention the practical aspects of having someone to watch your home, walk your pets, have a garage sale with, borrow sugar or a hammer from, etc…

    Probably its the advent of modern transportation, where we can drive to meet further away friends that led to the decline of neighborliness.

    We baked cookies for holiday gifts for our friends & co-workers and decided to wrap some up for our neighbors (that we don’t really know well). Is that creepy? Would it be even creepier to knock on their door uninvited to give them the gift?

    • I don’t think that’s creepy at all! I think it is friendly and very in keeping with the spirit of the holidays. And who knows, maybe it will be the first step to the type of neighborly relationship you are hoping to establish….

  4. I hope it works out with your neighbor! Those are great friends to have. I befriended a few neighbors in my first Chicago apartment. It was a low-rise – 3 floors with 4 units each, and we all shared back porches, so it was pretty easy to meet and interact with them. Now I live in a 2 flat with a coach house, and I talk to my neighbors all the time. Heck, my dog is even friends with the downstairs neighbors’ dogs! And since you mention it, just last night our neighbor in the coach house texted my boyfriend to ask if he could borrow an egg. Seriously, not making that up. So that could be you any day!

  5. Suzannah

    I think having an open door policy with neighbours is not that difficult….to me the secret, is always be mindful of boundaries…if the person feels the neighbour will not be offended & understand ,when the mood is not right or privacy is needed…I think people pull back when they assume the other neighbour doesn’t understand a ” good ” time to stop by and the right amount of time to stay…no matter what ,when you first meet a new neighbour ….Never stay more than 20 mins…do that and you will have a neighbour that is happy to let you in….stay an hour and that neighbour will always be way to busy to stop and talk ….
    Just my opinion….but I do think most people want a neighborly feeling to their community.

  6. Lorrie Paige

    Being friendly with neighbors is all fine and good but what if you have a falling out? It may be pretty uncomfortable then having to see them still on a regular basis because they practically live with you, living in the same building or next door.

    Unless it’s “love at first sight”, the kind of true story you sometimes read about in Best Friends books where you both just know from the start you are meant to be friends…(You know, we’ve all read those kind of stories before)., I think it’s a very bad idea to make real friends with the neighbors. Nice acquaintances–yes. Friends–no. Same goes for at work.

    Home and work are the two places most people are at in their entire lives. IMO, you better be damn sure you can always get along with them as long as you stay at both places, because if you become enemies–or “frememies”….well you can imagine the issues that may arise…..

    Keep both places a safe haven for you.

  7. Anonymous

    I don’ t like unannounced visits either! I have three kids, and I’m not one of those ‘Supermoms’. My house is usually in some sort of dissarray, sometimes my youngest is trying to nap, sometimes one or more of us is sick, sometimes we’re still lounging in our pajamas at noon, sometimes I’m busy with writing, sometimes after a long day I’m just thoroughly exhausted. At none of these times do I feel like entertaining guests. I don’t mind getting a phone call or text asking if someone can drop by in an hour – then I have the option of saying no if we’re busy or sick. Or I can finish what I’m doing, get the house in order, and prepare myself for a visit. But I really dislike when people just show up unannounced.

    • Jess

      Oops, I meant to leave that comment under my name. I also wanted to say that I think people’s tolerance for the unannounced visit also depends on their personality. My mom loves unexpected visitors – but her house is always spotless too, and she usually has some sort of snack or meal ready to offer. I’m just not that on top of things, I guess.

  8. I have to say I fall in the “unannounced visitors are fine” category, but my parents would NOT have been in that category, which may be why I am such a fan of it. I always loved the idea of having people stop by, of our home being the center of hubbub and activity and people feeling welcomed and a part of a larger community. I never had that as a child growing up and found myself dating guys whose families WERE like that, just so I could get a piece of it. I loved the fact that these families were so open and comfortable with themselves that they never made anyone feel as though they were intruding on the family.

    In college, my boyfriend (now husband) would have friends dropping in and out all the time – to play video games, do laundry, whatever. I loved that and we both miss it a lot now that we’re adults and live in a condo. Fortunately, our next door neighbors are pretty awesome, and while we wouldn’t just stop by unannounced, we’ve been invited to their holiday party, can say hi while we’re both outside and invite them over to watch a game a few minutes later, and feel comfortable enough giving them a key for when we lock ourselves out (happens more than it should). In fact, they were even kind enough to let me sleep on their couch one time when I locked myself out and my husband was out of town until the next morning. I think there’s definitely something to be said for a friendly relationship with a neighbor – if for no other reason than it’s often much more convenient to get together with someone when they’re right next door – which can make it easier to maintain the friendship.

  9. I have a great neighborhood. When I tell people about how great the people are on my street, they liken it to something from the 1950’s. You can drop by unannounced and we have many nights where we hang out. It’s the primary reason why our adjustment into a new city and state has been easier.

  10. JenD

    I think it was different back in the days when women, for the most part, stayed home and kept house (meaning their homes were ALWAYS clean and presentable) and they dressed themselves every single day (even if in a simple frock; hair, lipstick and eyebrows were always ‘done’). And though we’re much more casual (unapologetically sloppy, even) these days, between everyone having to work outside the home and our habitual electronic social outlets, we’ve become more hermetic and, therefore, thoroughly spastic at the thought of the ‘pop-in’. We’re totally fine interacting with several other people while in our PJs, so long as they’re only thumbnail avatars. But a whole, live person standing in our living room? EEK!

  11. Laura

    I think living in the city makes it more difficult to know your neighbors—people move in and out of apartments fairly regularly. Currently, I know who some of my neighbors are in passing—hold doors, say hello, but that’s about it. It’d be nice to be friends with someone, but I haven’t encountered anyone I click with. Across the hall (where I’d love to have my Chandler and Joey) has been a succession of annoying Chad and Trixie-types with constant friends coming by, buzzing my aparment by accident, loud talking in hallway and cigarette smoke wafting into my open windows in summer. Yeah, we’re not going to be friends.

    I wish my building was more like the one in Singles where everyone was friends. Campbell Scott, Bridget Fonda, they could be my neighbors.

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