Miss Conduct

Advice: The Bible says love thy neighbor, but I’m feeling used

How far must we go in helping out the people next door?

My neighbor’s son is in a wheelchair and cannot vocalize. I have allowed them to use my pool for several years now and help the caregiver lift the son into the pool. The mother and the caregiver discuss politics, knowing my political affiliation differs from theirs; they are generally critical and negative. The mother stores pool equipment at our place — I have hinted that she should take it with her, but she insists on storing it here. When we had to replace the liner, she was very upset that a contractor was working on the pool for two days. Two years ago, I decorated with Christmas lights so her son could enjoy them. Last year I couldn’t, due to Christmas activities at our church, and she e-mailed me asking why the lights weren’t up. I understand what the Bible says about loving your neighbors. But how much bad behavior must we endure to make someone happy?

N.G. / Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Loving our neighbors is all well and good, but neither the Bible nor any other sacred text I am aware of commands us to provide a bloody amusement park for them, complete with seasonal light shows. Time to show thy neighbor some tough love! However, adding lots of new rules and complications in the final round only works for game-show hosts. You may as well start fresh next summer. Now is a good time to unload the equipment you’ve been storing for her, though. Stop hinting — oh, heck, simply tell her that you’re cleaning up pool stuff on whatever date and she can come and get her things before then or else you’ll drop them off at her house.

Decorate for the holidays however you like. If she e-mails you demanding an explanation, delete the e-mail. (It may feel rude, but one can’t answer every impertinent question that comes over the cybertransom or else one might eventually feel obliged to give that Nigerian prince one’s bank account number and mother’s maiden name, since he took the trouble to write.) If she asks in person, laugh with mild amazement at her presumption and reply: “Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t.” Don’t offer excuses or apologize. You aren’t some scrub underling explaining why the TPS reports were late.


Figure out what will make pool-sharing more pleasant for you next summer, and ready yourself to have that conversation. Start with declaring the pool a no-politics zone. There’s not much you can do about the overall negativity; it’s easier to ban topics than attitudes.

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You might also want to talk to someone in your church about the situation and to figure out how and where you can set boundaries and still be the kind of Christian you want to be. I can’t advise you about that, though I do know that if you feel guilty about setting boundaries, you’ll never be able to make them stick. Get settled with your conscience before talking to your neighbor. On a worldly note, make an appointment with your insurance agent before next summer to discuss your homeowner’s coverage. Pools are a liability, and your neighbor has already shown herself to be aggressive and entitled, not the kind of person to be reasonable and forgiving in the case of an accident. Make sure you’re protected in case of the worst.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

IS A NEIGHBOR TESTING YOUR  BOUNDARIES? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at