Dear June, What should I do about my nosy neighbor?

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By June O'Connor


Dear June,

I am a private person with a very “curious” (nosy) neighbor. Without fail, whenever I have a service or repair truck in my driveway, she questions me as to what work I had done. How do I diplomatically, but also firmly, put an end to her questioning? I find it very unpleasant to live next door to her for this reason. Yet I cannot avoid her because she does not drive and I give her a ride to church every Sunday.

- IN A QUANDARY IN THE NORTHEAST

Your desire to be both diplomatic and firm sounds doable to me. I suggest that you tell your friend that you notice she asks a lot of questions about comings and goings in your home and that since you tend to be a “private person,” you will appreciate her not asking in the future. Then wait and see how she responds.

She may understand immediately. She might even express an apology. Or she may become a tad defensive and accuse you of being unreasonable or overly sensitive. Do not allow yourself to express anger even if you are feeling angry. Just remain descriptive, as you have done in this letter to me.

By remaining “descriptive,” I simply mean that you would be wise to be clear in mind and heart and word that when neighbors ask questions about your home life, you feel intruded upon. “That is just the way it is,” you might say, since you are a rather “private person.” She’ll get the message. If she continues, then you can decide how to respond in the future. One possibility is to deflect her question by introducing another topic of conversation — the weather, what programs the church is offering, what holidays are approaching. A change in topic will help her remember this earlier exchange.

You may also offer a vague answer, such as, “Oh, you know, home ownership requires home maintenance. Like the laundry, it never ends, does it?” Leave it on a light note and then introduce a new topic for conversation.

For all of us reading your question, I think it important to notice that these differences between you and your neighbor are matters of preference, not matters of moral right and wrong. Surely some people would appreciate the neighbor’s interest in their lives and use her questions as an opening for conversation, as a chance to compare notes and gain tips about nearby repair services, trustworthy vendors, effective ways of meeting household needs and chores. For some, the woman’s questions open the possibility of friendship. They might even enjoy letting the neighbor “take a look” at this or that home enhancement and in this way share life more fully. Others, like you, prefer to protect their privacy and discourage neighbors from becoming too curious.

These are not matters of right and wrong; they are matters of personal preference. Since we are all so different, the chief way we learn about such differences is through conversation marked by both candor and kindness. Sharing cues and picking up clues help us to know what those preferences are. Then, if we are wise, we will honor the preferences we discover.  CD

Ph.D June O'Connor

If you have a problem for Dr. June O’Connor, write to: Dear June, Catholic Digest, P.O. Box 6015, New London, CT 06320 or email her.