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?