Diary of a Marriage: Me, My Husband, and the Neighbors

They say fences make good neighbors, and I agree. But when J. and I lost two neighbors without even realizing it, we started to wonder: Are we the odd guys out?

Diary of a Marriage: Me, My Husband, and the Neighbors


To say that I have a storied relationship with my neighbors is an understatement. It started, if I think about it, back in middle school with Fran Croft, the 900-year-old cat lady who’d pay me to feed her assorted felines while she was away. Then she accused me of stealing her silver, which made things awkward. It wasn’t until she died that her silver was discovered in her own oven, where she apparently hid it and then promptly forgot about it.

And then there was the issue of our next-door neighbors who left their Christmas lights strung on their bushes through June. The lights shined annoyingly through my bedroom window. They’d probably still be up there now, a decade later, but my high school friends and I sneaked over under the cover of darkness and snipped them with kitchen shears. I’m not proud of it but if I’m being really honest, I’d do it again. I hate gaudy Christmas lights, especially in June.

After getting married, J. and I moved into a quiet townhome community in the suburbs. We were instantly welcomed by the lifers as the new young couple on the block. We reminded them of their kids, their grandkids. They loved us. They invited us over for wine, and they slid block-party invitations in our door handle. I’d never had neighbor friends, and suddenly people wanted to say hi as I rolled the trashcan to the end of the driveway. The kids next door knocked on our door and handed us pictures they drew and flowers they picked. This was small-town life. It was cute. And then it was annoying. We liked our neighbors; we just didn’t want to be friends.

There are a few exceptions. Greg and Jackie, a couple from Canada, who live two doors down. He smokes cigars outside and talks Eagles with J. He helps us shovel in the winter; we collect their mail when they go away. I gave him paint suggestions when they redecorated their living room. And there’s Linda, our next-door neighbor, a lovely grandmother who bowled every Tuesday and gambled with her girlfriends in AC. We loved Linda. J. welled up when he found out a few days ago that she’d passed away. “She was a nice lady,” was all he said, really, really quietly. I didn’t press the issue, but I was surprised at his reaction. J. never cries.

Then there are the people who we always seem to run into when we’re running late, or when we desperately have to pee, or when we just don’t feel like talking. The Incubus Make-Out Couple, for example, named for that time J. caught them making out in their car to Incubus. Incubus. They’re a pair of friendly Jewish grandparents who are forever heading off to a bris or bat mitzvah. He paints his toenails weird colors, like blue and orange. They’re lovely people. Just not standing in your driveway.

J. keeps me up to date on the neighborhood happenings. Of the two of us, he is the nice one. In fact, I guarantee that’s how they refer to him. “That’s the nice one, who lives over there. He’s a teacher.” I imagine them watching me as I pull into the driveway late at night, hours after J. has returned home. They probably shake their heads in dismay as they watch me shuffle shopping bags around and then hide some in my trunk. They probably see me load crazy furniture and weird mannequins into the house when J.’s not home. (I do this sometimes.) Most of them act surprised that I actually exist. “He tells us he’s married, but we never see you around!” they say. And then we all laugh, although I know J. is itching to get inside just as much as I am.

When we discovered our other next-door neighbors moved out with not even a word, we started to wonder if maybe it was us. Had we become the unfriendly people on the block? The young couple that was too wrapped up in their own lives to even bother to say hi?

“All I’m saying is that maybe we should make more of an effort,” I said to J. the other night. He was balking at my idea of hosting an open house for all the neighbors. “I mean, Linda died and we didn’t know, a freaking family of six moved out from under our noses. What if we both died in our sleep? No one would even know to look for us! This is a safety thing.”

But it was also an us thing: We’re nice people, but we’re also slightly hermitic. We like our space, our quiet, our little carved-out part of the world where we can hide out and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. A few weeks ago, J. even said that his friend quota was filled. “Same here,” our friend Todd said. “We have enough trouble keeping in touch with the friends that we do have.” I started to wonder: Was this it? If we stop letting people into our lives, are we being smart—not wearing ourselves too thin and all—or are we just assholes?

There’s a young couple that lives a few streets away from us. They invited us over for drinks one night last year. We went, and we had a great conversation. And then we just—poof—fell out of touch. She texted me back in April, joking that the four of us had been terrible about getting together. Two young couples, no kids, no grandkids, in the same tiny townhome community. Why wouldn’t we be friends? But then work got in the way, and family stuff, and … nothing happened.

When you get married, it can be easy to stop actively trying to meet other people. And even, I guess, at least in our case, to actively avoid other people. It’s like dating all over again. You’ve got to put yourself out there, and work a bit at it.  I’m not hosting an open house for our neighbors. (Who am I kidding? That would be terrible.) But I am going to text that cute young couple back. We could use some friends in our neighborhood. Especially ones who don’t live right next door.

Do you find that you and your groom don’t get out and meet new people the way you used to? Have you ever made an effort to change it?

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