When my neighbors say hi to me, I say hi back. If they stop to chat about my crazy kitties' hijinks, screeching from the window or batting at them as they walk by, I'm more than game. I gladly get dog food at the store for the lady who lives below me who has a hard time getting out of her apartment. I'll happily watch your pets when you're out of town.
I am hyper vigilant about keeping the noise down after 8 pm, the building appointed time of "quiet." (Though I'm clumsy and human, and tend to do things like drop things or sneeze as late as 9 pm, so I do sometimes get "warned." Take that as you will.) And when there's been a building issue, or tenant meeting, I participate in an appropriate way.
I really don't think I'm an awful neighbor, but then again, I guess, of course I would say that.
But somehow, in the course of the almost three years I've lived in my building, my husband and I have garnered the reputation as THOSE neighbors -- the anti social ones, the stand-offish ones, the "weirdos."
You see, we live in a very social building. Most of the tenants in our small building, about 20, have not only lived there for close to a decade, but they are all around the same age, mid 40s to late 50s. My 30-something husband and I are not only young, but are the perpetual newbies.
Come the weekends or birthdays or Wednesdays, the little courtyard in the lower level of our apartment building is usually taken over by a picnic table covered in food and drinks. My neighbors may be a little older, but they do like to party. Their carousing often goes on well past the "no noise past 8 pm" rule, and on more than one occasion I've caught myself thinking, cranky Old Man Winters-Scooby Doo style, "They're still at it? When are they going to quiet down?"
It doesn't help that we typically don't join in. We're occasionally invited, but honestly, after a long day working, my husband and I usually like to hole up in our apartment and watch trash TV. If it's the weekend, very often we actually like to leave our building and go be social with friends, so that removes us from the festivities as well.
There have been so many times that upon pulling up to our building, after picking my husband up from the university at 7 pm or so, there is a party in full swing. We used to pick our way through the courtyard to get to our apartment, sometimes grocery bags in town, politely chatting with our neighbors as we edge our way toward the stairs. They'd tell us some piece of information as to why they are socializing, "George got a raise!" (Who's George???), and invite us to celebrate with them.
We'd apologize profusely, congratulate George (Which one is George? I don't think he lives here.) and awkwardly walk ourselves to our front door.
They'd then carry on, clean up for the night, then reset the stage for the same encounter a few days later.
I stayed and got a drink with them a couple times, trying to make friends and be a "joiner." But my innate shyness combined with their total comfort and familiarity with each other left me politely (there's that word again) smiling and nodding along with jokes I didn't get. I left after what I deemed an appropriate amount of time, with the excuse that I had some more work to do that night.
Obligatory socializing repels me. I just can't do it. I'm at my very worst when I feel like all eyes are on me, the new kid, waiting for me to flop or fly.
It didn't help that on the last occasion I tried to be a "joiner" and attended a mid-week taco party (because tacos), the first thing one of my neighbors did was hunker down next to me and ask, "So what's your secret? How did you get so skinny?" Heads turned, people listened, I said, "I have a disease."
So that was the end of that.
Now, I feel like I have to traverse an obstacle course to get home at night. If I see a gathering is in full swing upon pulling into my parking lot, I immediately start planning the quickest, least conspicuous route to my apartment. It doesn't help that my front door is situated right above the courtyard.
I'm sure they see me. Clumsily grabbing my junk from my car, and trying to scurry up the back stairs under the cover of night until the motion sensor light goes on and betrays me.
I realized that I was starting to feel guilty JUST GOING HOME. Who was I to want to remove my pants at the end of the day and sit around in my underwear watching "Law & Order: SVU" and eating tater tots? WHO WAS I?
But Frankie got new license plates! Jenna is going to Kansas! Jamie -- who doesn't live here but likes to hang here? -- bought a corkscrew! (By the way, none of these are the real names of my neighbors.)
I get this awful feeling that they think that I think that I'm better than them. But that's not it at all! I'm just a neurotic, shy, and lazy homebody!
When I'm working from home, as soon as I hear their leader singing 90s boy band music while she pulls out the cooler (A relatively sane adult can only hear "I Want it That Way" sung so many times in a day before fantasizing about the wood chipper scene in "Fargo"), I begin planning my escape route for when I need to vacate the premises.
And yet I still feel guilty.
I'm a people pleaser. I've been willing to curb it away from unhealthy proportions over the years, but my knee-jerk reaction in most situations is, "I want you to like me!"
So I can't help but feel like a supreme asshole for being the building's resident loner.
I wondered if my paranoia was all in my head, as it often is, until I overheard this comment from their leader (I live right above her and my bedroom window overlooks her patio):
"Oh they're real anti-social up there. They just run to their apartment. They don't want to have fun with us. They just want to sit on their couch. I don't know…they're kind of weird."
My husband had to hold me back from peeling back our screen and screaming, "I CAN HEAR YOU!"
But really, what's wrong with wanting to be home at night? Especially on the week days? My couch is awesome! When you have parties on any random day that you deem "party worthy," why am I obligated to celebrate? And am I a bad neighbor for staying away?
If parties were mandatory, they should have detailed that when we signed the lease. Being neighborly is all well and good, and I in no way begrudge the pleasantries that must come when you share tight quarters, but does my building have to be my social life?
And yes, I realize living in a building like this can have its perks. Everybody knows the comings and goings in the building, so we all look out for each other. For that I am grateful. But does it have to be all or nothing?
As I type this, I can hear rumblings from below. Apparently somebody, I think I heard the name Toby, is coming over tonight, and somebody's going to make margaritas. My curtains are drawn, and I keep silent in my apartment. I have to leave, and eventually return, to my apartment tonight, and I'm already making tactical choices in my head.
I'll happily feed your cat, or help you carry your groceries, but please, don't make me be friends with Toby.
Are any of you the anti-social weirdos of your building? Is your building a "party building"? How do you escape?