Group Therapy is a relationship advice column to which readers contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: On our first weekend at our new cottage last summer, some neighbours invited us over for a glass of wine. The next day they offered our children a boat ride. We were thrilled to have such friendly neighbours, and the kids all liked each other. But then they began dropping by every weekend to "hang out" or invite us over, one time staying all afternoon when we had our own friends visiting, despite me saying it wasn't a good time. I then e-mailed and explained in a friendly but firm way that we're not "drop-in" types. They did start calling first, but often dropped by if we didn't answer. How can we end this harassment?
Not all concrete-and-smog types are well-suited to cottage life, where cultural norms are different than in the city. Friendliness and dropping in are part of the way of life. You'll appreciate it when you need help pulling a dock out of the water or when a tree falls through your cottage roof while you are away. That is not to say you have to spend as much time with your neighbours as it appears they would like. It sounds like they are receptive to boundaries. Invite yourself over and talk it out with them. In cottage country, e-mailing people who are just a few metres down the lake is just creepy.
Sue Gillespie, Wellington County, Ont.
Talk to them
Sounds like the Cable Guy met his dream girl! The only way to tackle this is a face-to-face meeting (without kids). E-mails don't have the same effect as eye contact. Invite them over for a drink and get straight to the point. You enjoy their friendship, and want to have a long-lasting relationship. However, part of the reason that you have a cottage is to enjoy some privacy. You're happy to get together, but you need the opportunity to say no. Therefore, please call ahead before dropping by. If necessary, bring up the time you had guests and explain how awkward it was.
Steve Saunders, Calgary
If you are interested in keeping good relations but want to control visits, try pre-empting your neighbours. Let them know you will be busy entertaining friends but would love to fit in some time with them. Extend an invitation with specific start and end times then wish them a wonderful balance of weekend. Do this on a regular basis.
Darby Brown, Kitchener, Ont.
The final word
Okay, I did this too. My mother-in-law lives next door. In earlier years, I took advantage of this situation. If I was ever short on groceries, I knew where to go. My kids called her house "the store next door.' Sometimes, I pilfered entire meals. Eventually common sense, and a few tart conversations from my sister-in-law, helped me realize that just because the door is open, doesn't mean you can just walk through.
I understand Sue's sentiment that cottagers have different cultural norms than city slickers, but some people are just denser than others. I would know. Your overfriendly neighbour may not realize what "it's not a good time" means. After all, you still let them in and everyone had a lovely afternoon. So how upset could you really be? This sends mixed signals. We overfriendly stalkers respond better to consistency. Next time they come over unannounced, speak kindly to them about being busy and not being able to host them at that moment. And don't feel guilty, it's not like they drove all night to be with you.
Steve's idea is a great one. Now step away from the computer and go have a heart-to-heart with your neighbours, who sound like nice people. I myself am not evil, just a little self-absorbed. And acknowledge how happy you are to have such gracious people living next door who are kind enough to share wine and boat rides. Use the classic line, "it's not you, it's me! I feel we should see other cottagers and not be in an exclusive relationship." Let them think you're the weird ones.
And follow up with Darby's advice with an invitation about when they can visit next so they don't feel that you're shutting them out. It's best to keep good relationships with one's neighbours. You never know when they'll come in handy.
Regina-based Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of the CBC-TV sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Next week's question
A reader writes: We have a "no shoes" policy at our house. This has caused conflict with family, so we bought my in-laws slippers for when they visit. At a holiday dinner at our house, my mother-in-law put on heels. I politely asked her to remove them, but she and my father-in-law left instead of staying for dinner with the grandkids. She now refuses to visit, saying she feels unwelcome, in addition citing a past incident when I raised my voice at her. My husband won't discuss this or let me talk to her. Any suggestions for fixing this?
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