When Your Neighbors Suck at Neighboring

Kristi Keller

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Photo by Tom Thain on Unsplash

The people of suburbia act like they're afraid of each other.

Now approaching a full year of isolation, I’ve taken special notice of how the people in my condo building have behaved throughout the pandemic. The sad truth is that their neighboring skills haven’t changed one bit. They still rank very poorly on the social-meter.

When I used to watch the news and see all those other apartment buildings singing and banging pots and pans on their balconies, I was jealous.

My neighbors suck.

Before isolation I rarely, if ever, saw a neighbor because I worked opposite shifts to the rest of the world. In three and a half years here I’ve only met one guy who always says hello. He would be going out to walk his dog late at night when I’m returning from work.

I’ve put an honest effort into trying to be nice and neighborly but the people who live here just aren’t having it. They stand in the elevators with their heads down, purposely scrolling through their phones so they don’t have to make eye contact.

The man I share a living room wall with is the weirdest one of all. He has the worst social skills of anyone I’ve ever (not) met. I know who he is because his balcony is six feet away from mine and I’ve seen him out there using his barbecue. But he won’t talk to me.

Out here in the burbs we have a lot of green space. My condo backs onto a wide-open field of nothingness so we see plenty of wildlife out there. One day recently, a whole herd of deer were wandering past so I went out on my balcony to capture it on video.

My neighbor was also out watching the deer, so me being ‘pleasant me’ tried to strike up a conversation, as I’ve done many times. He immediately retreated back inside his condo. I’m like, dude…we live so near each other that I can hear you clearing your throat when the windows are open.

Same guy, different story on another night many months ago. I was returning home around 10 pm on a blustery winter night. When the elevator door opened to my floor he was standing there waiting to get on. I had just driven home in the blizzard so I said, “Drive safe out there, the roads are atrocious!”

He muttered a single word while lowering his head and avoiding eye contact. He didn’t say thank you, he just said, “Yea.”

This dude is married. I’ve seen his wife. How does one even get a wife if they can’t say hello? And how am I still single being all Miss Congeniality over here?

The other neighbor I share a wall with — well, I think she’s dead. Her car is parked right beside mine in the garage downstairs and there’s several months worth of dust piled up on it. Her car hasn’t left the underground parking since before isolation. Doesn’t she need groceries?

During isolation, I would have thought things could change. The weather has warmed up and here we are stuck in this building. We’re together, yet it feels like we’re so far apart.

I spend a lot of time sitting on my balcony either reading, enjoying the scenery, or just breathing the fresh air of the outdoors.

I’ve not seen ONE single neighbor outside on their balconies and this is a huge building. I’m on the top floor so I can look right, left, and down at all the other balconies. Not a single person is out there.

Behind me is a row of large homes across the field. Houses so big they all have either double or triple decks and balconies. I have yet to see even one person out there. Someone I could possibly wave at from afar.

We’re all stuck at home. Where the hell is everyone?

I live on the western tip of the city and our community has the best view of the Rocky Mountains and the sunset. Now that I’m not at work I’m outside every single evening enjoying that view, but no one else is.

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Image by K. Keller

The other day I had a video chat with a fellow writer. She’s more of a neighbor than anyone in my own building. She said the same thing about her neighbors. She has stood in her window frantically waving at people in windows across her street, yet not a single one has waved back.

It’s weird though, right? Aren’t we supposed to be coming together in this time of uncertainty?

I find it unfortunate that I’ve had more invitations to get together from online acquaintances thousands of miles away than I have from my own neighbors. People who live nowhere near me are more interested in inviting me over for coffee than someone on the other side of a wall.

When I flew to Vancouver in December of 2019 another online friend made a point of leaving her home to come to my hotel and spend an hour over coffee. Yet my neighbors can’t come out on their balconies and have a conversation.

To finish this story on a positive note — that dead neighbor of mine? I saw her on the road yesterday while out for my daily walk. It was nice to see she’s still alive so I asked her how she’s doing during all of this, knowing she also lives alone. I told her I’d noticed her car hasn’t moved in months.

She went on to tell me that the car broke down and she hasn’t been able to afford to fix it. So I took the opportunity to let her know that if she ever needs anything from the store to please reach out and ask. I have a functioning car and I’m usually bored.

I guess what I’m trying to say is make the effort to check in on people. Be neighborly. It doesn’t cost you a dime and it can make a big difference.

When you check in on someone it could be coming at exactly the right time to make a positive impact.

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I'm an old school travel writer who's been flung into another writing world through life experience. I have a compassionate eye, a different opinion, and strong words for this world we live in. I also know a thing or two.

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