My problem is a complex one, I fear, and I am in desperate need of both sensible and sensitive advice.
One of my closest neighbors in our yishuv is also one of my closest friends – and therein lays my dilemma. I guess you can say that my husband and I are more of the private stay-at-home type. We visit others only occasionally and even limit phone conversations.
This friend and her husband, on the other hand, are our polar opposites: They seem happiest to be in the company of others (ours especially), whenever the mood strikes them (practically every day of the week). With all due respect (and recognizing that a person’s upbringing will affect how s/he feels towards his or her relationship with others), it is simply out of place to constantly be dropping in, whether it’s to chat, to bring an item of clothing over for show and tell, or to drop off some homemade dish ” prepared with you in mind.”
I feel my tension building and get flustered to no end as I am made to hold court with my drop-in visitor while some of my children, who have just gotten off the bus, vie for my attention, my toddler tugs at my skirt and I am trying to listen for the baby who is almost overdue for a feeding – all at the same time!
Why not pick up a phone and call to see if it is a good time to come over, instead of literally walking into my house with barely a light knock and with a tendency to catch me in the midst of diapering my infant, or trying to feed my clan, or rushing rambunctious rascals up to the shower! To top it off, my neighbor thinks nothing of bringing along his own brood of boys, making it that much harder to keep mine in line.
The hardest are Friday nights, especially when we are having in-house company. That these friends with their children will be over before the night is done is a given. Now, that’s okay – we are far from anti-social – if it were for a short while, but… not when I just lit the Shabbat candles and eagerly look forward to a bit of relaxation; not for hours that extend into the wee morning as I barely can keep my eyes open, and when my husband has already excused himself and gone to retire for the night.
I must confess that much of my discomfort stems from the fact that most of the schmoozing and “visiting” is on the husband’s part. Doesn’t the Torah say “Al tarbeh sichah im ha’isha” (do not converse at length with a woman)? Much too often I find myself alone in the kitchen with the husband who talks and talks non-stop, about anything and everything, while I squirm in my skin just wishing for the conversation to be done and for him to get going.
Even more disconcerting is getting caught in the midst of trying to feed my baby – by his well-meaning drop-off of “something for Shabbat,” or a food item that “we just knew you’d enjoy ” (This really makes my husband feel strange.)
So why, you might be asking, has this issue not been discussed openly? Because my neighbor is of a sensitive nature, and I do not wish to hurt her… So why has my husband not broached the matter with her husband? Needless to say, he feels uncomfortable doing so.
Please understand, incredible as it may sound, that these are really nice and good people (which further complicates the situation). For the record, there have never been any unseemly overtures or off-color topics by the husband when he “keeps me company,” and these neighbors have been most neighborly from day one. (Overdoing it a bit, perhaps?)
It’s gotten so that we hardly get to spend any time with just our family, let alone one another’s company, when our children are asleep. And it would be nice if we could enjoy our sleepover guests WITHOUT having to share our space and our private life with our do-good neighbors who are in our face day in and day out, night after night….
How do we draw the curtains, so to speak? How do we close the door on a friend who seems to always want to please us, to bring us, to provide us with anything they imagine (picking up clues from casual conversations) that we would want? How can we let them know that we need some breathing room as well as some privacy without creating hard and hurt feelings?
I am at my wit’s end, and my husband – the “nice guy” who can’t stand to hurt a fly – can’t bring himself to G-d forbid offend his friendly neighbor.
You once ran a column on hachnassat orchim and I recall being inspired by your response. If my memory serves me well, you wrote of how Shabbat is a time for bonding with loved ones and spending quality time with our families. People really need to hear it can you possibly run that column again?
Thanks so much!
Help us, please!
Response to follow…
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