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(Svetlana Khvorostova/Getty Images/Hemera)
(Svetlana Khvorostova/Getty Images/Hemera)

My neighbours' sex life is wrecking my sleep Add to ...

The question

I moved into a new condo three weeks ago. I haven't met the couple next door, but every single night at 4 a.m., it becomes very clear that our headboards share the same wall. It goes on for about an hour and is literally impossible to sleep through it. It wakes up my dog, who thinks it's an intruder and starts barking like crazy. My mother house-sat for me recently and met my neighbours in the hall. She says they're very affectionate. Do I say something? I'm not asking them to stop the love fest, but perhaps they could rearrange their furniture?

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The answer

First, know that it could be worse.

A couple of years ago, a 48-year-old British woman named Caroline Cartwright was served with a noise abatement notice after neighbours, passers-by, and even (a detail I love) the postman complained about her "loud shouting and screaming" during her lovemaking sessions with her husband, Steve.

Neighbours described her sustained shrieking as "unnatural." They said it sounded like someone was being murdered, and it drowned out the sound of their televisions. Moreover, the sessions took place every night, and lasted between two and three hours.

Ms. Cartwright appealed the case, claiming her ululations of erotic transport were "involuntary," and that she had switched from night to day (which is obviously when the postman heard her) in order to disturb the peace less. She averred that her human rights to a private life and so forth were being violated by the neighbours (and, presumably, the postman).

The judge didn't agree. He said he was satisfied the noise constituted a "statutory nuisance," and handed down a stiff, um, fine.

Now, in a case like that, and in yours, one can't help but feel empathetic, even a little impressed, by all the erotic vim, brio, and sprezzatura on such metronomic display.

(Hubby Steve reportedly spent the whole time in court in a shame-spiral, head in hands. But it's hard to imagine his mortification wasn't silver-lined with just a soupçon of satisfaction at his wife's high-decibel reviews of his mojo-rific swordsmanship.) Genuine romantic passion is so rare, and so hard to sustain. It feels a little curmudgeonly to pooh-pooh and attempt to suppress it when you do come across it.

But pooh-pooh and attempt to suppress I shall. Because their right to boisterous copulation, IMHO, ends at the point where it impinges upon your REM cycles, leaving you feeling dazed, drugged, and dimwitted in your cubicle the next day.

And if you can hear their headboard-thumping, they can certainly hear your dog barking. So they're being doubly selfish and inconsiderate: They know they're waking you up but shag on regardless. You should definitely take action.

I think a politely worded note, slipped under their door, is the ticket here.

No direct mention of sex. Just something along the lines of: "Dear neighbours, I'm not sure if you're aware of it or not, but sometimes there's a bumping against the wall in the middle of the night and it's keeping me, and my dog, awake. Please, since I need to work in the morning, I would greatly appreciate it if you could find a way to minimize the noise. Thank you in advance. Respectfully, [your name here]"

Some people might say "talk to your neighbours" in this circumstance, and normally I'm a big proponent of face-to-face communication.

But a) if you haven't met them after three weeks, you clearly don't run into them that often; b) awkward!; and c) with a note you can make sure you get the wording just right. If you bump into them and start speaking extemporaneously, you could blurt out something that might give offence and cause the situation to escalate.

Obviously, when you eventually do run into them, even if you go the note route, it will come up. I would suggest having as brief a conversation about it as possible. Basically, just thank them - if they've quieted down - for respecting your peace and privacy.

Then don't mention it again. Change the topic, and next time you see them have a friendly conversation about something, anything (weather, mayor, movies) else.

You don't want their sex life to be the topic you mention, joke about, refer to - thus defining your relationship - every time you bump into them.

Of course, if they don't respond favourably to your request - if, say, they suggest you do to yourself what they're doing to one another every night - well, there are obviously other avenues you can pursue: a word to the condo board, even (as with Caroline Cartwright and Swordsman Steve) a noise complaint with the police.

But those are extreme measures. Best to avoid, if at all possible. Neighbour stuff can be very tense, fraught, and knotty - and last a long time. I know many people in all-out warfare with their neighbours, and so often it starts with a minor noise beef.

You don't want it to come to that. When it comes to neighbours, it's best to make peace not war. And then maybe they'll make love more quietly.

David Eddie is an author and the co-creator of the TV series The Yard, airing this summer on HBO Canada.

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