Dear Carolyn: I'm wondering how to make amends with a neighbor who's aloof and distant. She moved in four years ago. Soon afterward, there was a misunderstanding about my friend parking in front of her driveway, and she was unnecessarily harsh about it, especially since I was seven months pregnant at the time. It really upset me, and my husband went over to tell her off, but it didn't go well. He ended up reporting her big, vicious dog to a friend in animal control. Animal control reported back that she and the dog were both ex-military and the dog was trained and under control, so no lasting trouble came of it. After that, most of the neighbors took my side and avoided her.
Eventually, it all blew over since she is quiet, keeps her house in good shape and even takes care of the elderly woman next door, mowing the lawn and shoveling snow for her. Also, the dog goes everywhere with her and does seem very well behaved. But somehow we never really started speaking again.
I have invited her to the block parties and the neighborhood Christmas party that I organize, but she never shows up.
Last week, I was working in my garden and saw her come home from what was obviously a funeral, and she looked so sad I wanted to offer my condolences but wasn't sure it would be welcome. I haven't seen her boyfriend since then, and I'm worried he died and none of us neighbors even knew. We're a close-knit, supportive group on this street, but she's missing out. I want to fix this but don't know how. What can I try that I haven't already done?
— Trying to Befriend My Neighbor
Trying to Befriend My Neighbor: Oh, you've done plenty.
You made her the bad guy when your friend blocked her driveway, yes? You sicced your temper-challenged spouse on her, who then reported her dog as "vicious" with zero facts and an abundance of spite; you turned the entire neighborhood against her; you made no attempts to apologize even as four years of accrued evidence of her fundamental decency towered over her original offense of being "unnecessarily harsh" — about your friend's screw-up; you did no 2-plus-2 on the possibility that her past service and relocation might equal a recent separation from the military and the stress that entails, which might explain a one-time "harsh" response to a careless neighbor; you had the high nerve to describe her as "aloof and distant" and "missing out" on your "close-knit" and "supportive" neighborhood when her being thus traces directly to the self-righteous shunning you subjected her to.
Invitations to the block party? As anyone's idea of a gosh-I've-tried-everything answer to four years of your neighborhood's idea of inclusion?
The answer was to drop by four years ago, the moment tempers cooled, to apologize for losing your mind over a driveway spat and to invite her and her nice trained dog over for a pleased-to-meet-you do-over.
Now, the answer is genuine remorse. And pumpkin bread. Bake some and leave it for her with a note apologizing, in full, for the shocking chain of unneighborly events that you — you — set in motion. Say you hope this is the year she joins you at the Christmas party.
Then don't hold your breath.