Dear Dr. Debra,
For the last four years, one of my neighbors has
hated me due to my cat biting hers. She never talks to me and goes
out of her way to avoid me. Lately, she’s been giving “healthy
chocolate” parties. I declined the first because I checked out the
product and didn’t believe the testimonials. My family is full of
diabetics, and we have to be careful. Also, I dislike Tupperware
types of parties. Yesterday, I declined another invitation because
it was my son’s birthday, and we had other plans. She gets upset if
I don’t come to her gatherings, regardless of my other obligations.
I don’t really want to cultivate a friendship with
this woman because we don’t have anything in common, and I’m not
really interested in her life. Plus, I work at home, and if we
became “friends” again, she would be over every day for hours. On
the other hand, I don’t want to be rude or become a neighborhood
outcast, and she bad-mouths everyone who crosses her.
Dear Mrs. Dilemma,
Your neighbor sounds toxic, selfish, and lacking
in boundaries. No wonder you don’t want to be friends. However, it
does sound like being on friendly terms might be important to you.
I suggest you be semi-honest with her about why
you don’t want to attend her parties, meaning tell her about the
diabetes in the family. Otherwise, she’ll just keep on inviting you.
She’ll probably still be offended, but that’s her
problem. The way you might get around her “wounded” attitude is to
sincerely wish her well in her new business. I use the following
kind of response when I have to say no to friends or acquaintances
who approach me with their products:
“I think it’s great that you found a new
product that excites you, and you’re building a wonderful new
business. I hope you have a lot of success with it. Your product
isn’t one which I can use (or I have an interest in), especially
because of the diabetes in my family. However, I’ll keep your
product in mind, and if I come across anyone who might be
interested, I’ll give them your number.”
She might still choose to bad-mouth you. However,
most of your neighbors probably know what kind of person she is and
will keep her remarks in perspective.
If you have neighbors you trust, you might
mention your choice not to attend her parties and your concern that
they might hear something negative about you. Be careful that you
don’t bad-mouth her. Be delicate in what you say, just in case it
gets back to her. I suggest:
“In case you hear anything about it…I’ve turned
down Mary’s invitation to her ‘healthy chocolate’ parties. Although
I wish her the best of success with them, I’m concerned she’ll take
my rejection personally, and then express her feelings to everyone
around here in a way that makes me look bad.”
Setting boundaries is never easy, but once you do,
you’ll feel better because you won’t have to dread the repeated
Feel free to
write me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist
who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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