A few days ago, I met my next-door neighbor for the first time. She was having a pizza delivered, and my puppy—who was just coming back from a walk—casually waltzed into her apartment (clearly, she has no respect for personal space). “Enjoy this free puppy with your pizza!” I said. She laughed. I grabbed my wandering dog, said good-bye, and returned home.
Did I mention that she and I have been neighbors for a year?
As someone who has a tendency to realize halfway into cooking something that she’s missing a crucial ingredient, I know first-hand how important neighbors can be. So how was it possible that I had lived next to this person for an entire lease cycle and never said a word to her until a few days ago?
I actually wasn’t always such a shoddy recluse of a neighbor. In fact, over the years I’ve made friends with plenty of them. So, from someone who’s been on both ends of the spectrum, here are some ways to cultivate good relationships with your neighbors—and keep awkward interactions like mine from happening to you ever again.
The way our lives are structured today, it’s all too easy to share walls with people and never learn their names. So, whether you’re the newbie or you just watched your neighbor move in, take the first step and stop by to say hello and introduce yourself. Bring over a batch of your famous cookies, help her haul her stuff into her new place, or just shake her hand—it takes just a second, and you might even make a new friend.
If you’re meeting after a considerable amount of time living next to each other, it doesn’t have to be as awkward as it was for me—just throw in a joke about how ridiculous it is you’ve never met.
Don’t Get Too Neighborly
That said, even if you get friendly with your neighbors, it’s important to make sure important boundaries are not crossed. Read: Don’t come knocking at her door at 10 PM asking for a drink, don’t invite yourself in whenever you see that she’s home, and always show up properly clothed (unless you’re locked out in your bathrobe and she has your spare key). Remember that she chose to live next to you, not with you, so respect her private time and space.
And what about romantic relationships? Dating a neighbor is good in theory (you don’t even have to go outside!), but bad in practice (nothing like breaking up and then seeing that person’s face every day). It’s the same rationale that goes behind passing on office romances—at the root of a good neighbor-neighbor relationship is civility, and you’ll be amazed how fast that disappears if you start seeing each other and it goes south. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.
Respect Their Space
My last year living in Chicago, I referred to the man who lived in the apartment above mine as “The Human Migraine.” He often got home around two in the morning and proceeded to stomp around for hours in steel-toed boots (details are speculative), creating a constant boom that never failed to wake me up with a pounding headache. Of course, once I brought it up, he made an effort to be quieter—but I would always think of him as a slightly-less-than-ideal neighbor.
How can you keep from being a migraine yourself? Respect your apartment complex’s quiet hours, ask the people who live above and below you if there’s anything you do that’s too loud, and if you’re planning on having a large get-together, let your neighbors know ahead of time that it might be noisy. Also remember that respecting your neighbors’ space goes beyond keeping it reasonably quiet. If you have any shared living space—hallways, BBQ areas, lawns—keep them clean.
Speak Up When You Need To
Living in such close proximity to another person—especially a relative stranger—means that there’s a high possibility that she’ll do something that bothers you. And, yes, confrontation can be uncomfortable—but so is having a neighbor who you quietly resent for letting her drunk friends run around the halls or stealing your newspaper. So, if you have an issue with a neighbor, it’s up to you to be vocal about it. Be nice, but let her know. Many people will be very receptive to any issue you bring up if you present it politely.
But if they aren’t, and it’s actually serious, it’s totally within your rights as a tenant to find someone with more authority who can help you out: the building’s front desk attendant or management company, a landlord, or, in dangerous or illegal situations, the police. After my current upstairs neighbor dumped his dirty mop water off his balcony (and directly on to mine), I went and knocked on his door to ask him to please stop. He proceeded to pretend he wasn’t home, and my knocking went unanswered. So, I went down to the front desk and let them know what happened. They sent somebody up to talk to him—and my balcony has been free of his used cleaning fluids ever since.
You don’t have to best friends with your neighbors, but you do have to live under the same roof (or at least pretty close). So, be a good neighbor, and it’ll make your living situation better for everyone. And hey, you might even make a friend or two!