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How to Break Up: The Annoying Neighbor

Ensure your relationship with the guy on the other side of the fence starts and ends with a neighborly wave

Claiming your independence from some people in your life is easy. That childhood friend who wants to keep up with you on Facebook? Unfollow and delete their number. Unhappy with your barber? Go to a different shop. But other people in your life can be more difficult. For example…

Your boundary-oblivious neighbor: Sure, it’s nice that he’s friendly, but what if he’s too friendly? Uninvited pop-ins, requests for favors, constantly borrowing stuff, relentlessly inviting you to poker nights with his equally irritating friends. Sometimes, you just want to live somewhere without having to be BFFs with the person adjacent to you.

If your neighbor turns on you, though, you could experience decades’ worth of awkwardness, so for guidance on ridding yourself of the pest without the fallout, we turned to Shasta Nelson, a friendship expert and author of Frientimacy and Friendships Don’t Just Happen!

She warns that if you want your relationship with your neighbor to be courteous but not overly familiar, it requires a bit of finesse. With relationships like this, she explains, “We can’t entirely break up with them. It’s like going through a divorce if you have kids — you still have something holding you together. Ultimately, what we’re trying to get to is a positive relationship with good boundaries.”

As the poet Robert Frost wisely wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” But while he knew that boundaries are important, bad neighbors never seem to understand this. Nelson recommends creating clearer boundaries by both decreasing the amount of time you spend with them, and limiting your interaction — especially in terms of what you share about yourself.

Instead, she says, keep things polite but firm. If they show up on your doorstep for no good reason, it’s easy and acceptable to say, “Sorry, now’s not a good time.” It helps to follow this with a positive comment, like letting them know that “it’s great to have a friendly neighbor,” before offering up an alternative: Tell them that it works better for you if they text or email you first next time, rather than showing up unannounced. Their behavior won’t change overnight, but if you repeat the message often enough — and do it consistently — they’ll come to respect your privacy without taking it as a personal snub.

It’s also vital to remember the five-to-one relationship ratio. “We know from research that all healthy relationships have a ratio of five positive [interactions] to one negative,” Nelson says. “When that ratio starts falling, things get amplified.” So a wave, a smile, a hello, a “Nice lawn, man!” are all positives that don’t require much, and they add up quickly and easily, making your negative one — creating some distance between you — easier to swallow.

It’ll be a tricky relationship to maintain at first, but it’s worth it. And anything’s easier than moving, right?