Ask Amy: Kindness toward neighbor backfires

November 5, 2013

DEAR AMY: We have a neighbor we have known for about two years. We have helped her in many ways — with friendship, taking her shopping, bringing over baked treats, and stepping in, in emergency situations.

This neighbor now seems to think we (mainly me) are her go-to people for everything. She has a son who lives nearby, but he seems to not show up much.

I blew up a few weeks ago when I was dealing with my own problems and told her I can’t be everything to everyone. She apologized and said she understood. But it hasn’t stopped and I have had it.

My husband doesn’t really deal with her on the same level and now he makes me feel guilty when I can’t tolerate being her problem-solver anymore.

The stress from her gives me headaches. She had a very good and interesting job, traveled the world, and yet has not an ounce of common sense. -- Not My Neighbor’s Keeper

DEAR KEEPER: Your kindness has conditioned your needy neighbor to rely on you for everyday — and emergency — help.

Blowing up suddenly because you feel used will not retrain your neighbor. It will only make her think that you are volatile (especially if, as you say, she lacks common sense).

I assume you think you don’t owe her anything further, but you do owe her a respectful and rational explanation, along with some guidelines to which you will adhere, even if she doesn’t.

You tell her, “I can’t do the things for you that I used to do. You’re going to have to find other ways to get what you need, day-to-day.” Research options for elder transportation or services in your area. But unless she is unusually impaired, it will be her responsibility to follow through. You should also follow up with her son (if possible) to let him know that you are backing off.

If she calls you with a non-emergency matter, you should tell her, “I’m sorry, I can’t help out today.” Stepping back might give you more energy (and renewed kindness) to step in as the world’s greatest neighbor with assistance when she really needs you.

If your husband lays guilt on you about this, tell him he should step up more.

DEAR AMY: I would like to date my sister’s sister-in-law.

When I expressed my romantic interest to her, she said that our families were too close and she would not want any resentment if our relationship didn’t work out.

I’ve tried the platonic approach but the friendship wasn’t reciprocated. Any advice, ideas or suggestions? -- Crushed Sibling

DEAR CRUSHED: If you express romantic interest in someone and she rebuffs you, then you need to back off.

If you express platonic friendship interest in someone and she doesn’t reciprocate, then you have a definitive answer: She is not at all into you.

DEAR AMY: Your recent advice regarding the emotional distress caused by surprises in wills made me think of my recently departed mother.

While she was in good health more than a decade ago, she sat down with me and my three siblings to share her final wishes, neatly organized in a three-ring binder which she updated annually. Her current will, Do Not Resuscitate document, bank/investment statements and insurance policies were included, as were her wishes for her funeral.

Everything from the dress she saved to be buried in to the readings and music were included, and she did so with humor. (Example: “Anyone who shows up for my funeral deserves a hot meal. Don’t skimp on a catered lunch or I’ll come back to haunt you.”)

Her pre-planning and the transparency of her final wishes made things incredibly easy on us, and — despite the sadness of her passing — we were able to draw strength, comfort and even chuckles from the notes she left for us, allowing us to truly celebrate her life while we mourned her death.

As a result, the four of us have all created our own binders patterned after hers and peppered with fond memories and anecdotes to help our survivors cope in similar fashion. -- Grateful

DEAR GRATEFUL: This is a fantastic idea. Thank you!

Amy’s column appears seven days a week at www.washingtonpost.com/advice. Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

by the Chicago Tribune

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