Before the coronavirus and the subsequent quarantines, my apartment complex was fabulously serene. I rarely bumped into neighbors, and when I did, there was a brief exchange of pleasant hellos, then everyone moved along and went about their business in a timely manner.
But as the shelter-in-place orders continue to extend endlessly into the future here in California, my neighbors, deprived of human contact and bored to death, have transformed our once-peaceful courtyard into a clubby, congested compound. I step out to walk my dog several times a day, and the entryway to my apartment is constantly teeming with people, seldom wearing masks and never complying with social-distancing recommendations. On my way out and on my way in, they insist that I join their incessant, apparently crucial conversations, the most recent of which revolved around a select species of birds that migrates to the Salton Sea in Southern California. I normally just nod my masked head until I find a reasonable time to make my exit, but that could take half an hour or more.
Now, I generally like my neighbors, but certainly not enough to gather together for a group sing-song session from our balconies. They seem to be nice people, though, and seeing as I live quite literally within a few feet of them, staying on their good side is in my best interest. However, being able to leave and enter my apartment in peace feels like a reasonable request, especially as I try my best to dodge the coronavirus. What the hell am I supposed to do, though? Tell them to get the fuck out of my way, commit social suicide and become known as the grump of my whole apartment complex?
As I learned in a previous piece about dealing with bad neighbors, explaining to them how their behaviors are directly impacting me could help them realize that their congregations are truly having a negative impact, something they may have never considered before. But Cara Gardenswartz, founder of Group Therapy L.A. and author of The Discomfort Zone relationship blog, says I might not even owe them that kind of honesty. “You get to always say, ‘I’m running out right now. I’m a little bit late for something.’ When you’re saying that, even if the date is with yourself — you want privacy — it’s a boundary you’re setting,” she explains. “The meeting can be with yourself. The meeting could be meditation. But you can be firm in your boundaries, and do it very kindly. The key is having boundaries, but saying it in a kind way.”
I admit, confrontation isn’t my strong suit, or else I’d have talked my way out of these conversations long, long ago. But Gardenswartz reminds me that I can always take some pressure off of myself by blaming the coronavirus for needing to rush in and out of my apartment without stopping to chat it up.
“When people aren’t following social distancing, unfortunately, they really don’t have much power,” she explains. “They haven’t listened to other people, they haven’t listened to government leaders, they haven’t been following the news, or they’re following the news, but choosing to not follow social distancing. It really doesn’t become your business to tell them what to do, so stay clear. If they approach you and they’re not following social distancing, you can say, ‘I need to be further apart. You’re not wearing a mask right now.’ If they approach you and ask you to actively engage, you get to state that. But your point isn’t to change their behavior. It’s really about accepting their behavior and deciding what actions you’re going to take to protect yourself.”
If your apartment complex has become a social zone, too, you might be inclined to take further action. And while gathering in public is technically illegal right now, calling the cops on your neighbors for hanging out in front of their apartments is arguably the pinnacle of getting the police involved in a pointless, inappropriate situation. You could ask your landlord to have a talk with them, but unless they’re doing something against the rules, talking can only do so much.
And of course, if you’re going to make a point of avoiding your neighbors, make sure you do the same in communal areas around your complex. Many apartments have already closed their recreational areas, like pools and gyms, but if you share a laundry or trash room, make sure to let anyone using them finish their business before storming in and handling yours. And since everyone in your building is relying on these areas right now, make sure to clean up after yourself.
In the end, though, if you, like me, want to avoid your neighbors and live as a recluse — which you should be doing right now, anyway — there’s really never been a better excuse than the coronavirus.