by Lisa Parks

My family has always lived in houses with more than the minimum code requirement distance between neighboring houses, so when I bought a condo in a quiet San Marcos neighborhood it took some getting used to. Home ownership is always good; HOA rules, bad. Roaming, unfenced yards—good; small patios, bad. Efficient floor plans—good; shared walls, bad. And so on.

In a small condo community your neighbors become like friends, kind of. You chat casually while getting your mail from the box, wave to each other coming and going and occasionally talk outside after work or on weekends. They know the cars of your regular visitors and happily ask how things are going the day after you were up late noisily boinking your spouse or yelling at your kids. They let you know if someone came knocking at your door while you were gone, and they sometimes ask you to water their plants or “keep an eye out” if they’re going out of town for a few days. Maybe it’s just me, but even though I’ve always been friendly with my condo neighbors I don’t consider them ‘friends’. They’re neighbors.

Last year my husband had a wonderful job opportunity in Northern California and we decided to pack it up, rent out the condo and temporarily relocate. We found reliable tenants and life moved forward. We rented a small apartment up north and spent little time or effort getting to know new neighbors. Less than a year later we were planning our move back to San Marcos. With our condo rented out we had to find another place to live. I wanted to use this opportunity to get a stand-alone house, escape from the condo situation, but renting a place sight-unseen from 600 miles away is tough. Frustrated with online searches, 2-D pictures and high prices, what ultimately caught my eye was a listing with an address only one block away from the old place. Familiar neighborhood—good. The thought of returning to the same area just felt right so we ended up in a duplex. I’ve never lived in a duplex, but I figured it was more like a house, less like a condo, with many similarities. Garage—good; landlord, bad. Backyard—good; shared fence, bad. And so on.

Somehow having a common driveway and one shared wall (beginning at the front door through the kitchen and living room and then continuing outside where it turned into a wooden plank fence) didn’t seem so bad. Their dog appeared well-behaved and the muffled noise from their t.v. or radio wasn’t bothersome.

Over time, what I’ve learned about how to peacefully co-exist with nearby neighbors, whether you become friends or not, is:

• You shouldn’t invite yourself over too often. • Do invite them over if you anticipate your BBQ or party might get too loud or last too long. • Don’t beat them at darts in their garage every time you play. • Certainly don’t drink all their beer. But in case you do drink a lot of it, by all means offer up a six-pack once in a while (or a 12-pack, whatever’s fair). • Don’t ask to borrow coffee, eggs, milk or their weed whacker more than once a month. • Watch their kids for a brief time when they’re really in a pinch, but certainly don’t offer. Proximity is a plus and sometimes you might need the same favor in return. • On trash day, roll their cans to the curb if you see they’ve forgotten, but don’t ever expect them to do the same. • Close their garage door if they’ve gone out, or to bed, and forgot to close it. • Don’t buy stuff from your neighbor’s yard sale. • Occasionally share a batch of cookies you made (lest you eat them all yourself!) • Don’t become too friendly with a neighbor of the opposite sex. • Try to ignore their nephew who rumbles in at 2 a.m. louder than a Mariachi band. • Don’t complain when their new puppy cries all night or barks all day. • Toss the soccer ball back over the fence even if it’s the 10th time this week and even if the sound of it whacking the fence pisses you off because it keeps waking up your napping baby. • Don’t discipline their kids or their dogs. • Do your best to be considerate of your own dog’s or children’s noise or other annoyances. • Close your windows when they’re fighting, and reserve calling 9-1-1 unless you hear or see something that you perceive as truly life threatening.

Neighbors can be a good source of comfort when you’re down, or alone, because let’s face it—they’re right next door. Again, proximity is a plus. But be careful not to share too much information and never get personally involved in their drama.

People feel “at home” in their houses, as well they should since it’s their own private space where they can say what they feel and do what they do without being judged. As much as you like your own privacy, it’s important to keep overheard conversations or things you see your neighbors doing to yourself. It’s definitely not cool to blab to your hair stylist or the supermarket checker about how your neighbors do or say this or that. Keep their private things private.

I guess the main thing I’ve learned is to work with them because, honestly, we’re all stuck with our neighbors, like it or not, until one of you moves. And if you’re lucky enough to become friends—it’s all good.

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