My husband and I have a friendly, though not close, relationship with our upstairs neighbors. Occasionally they get into very loud fights — screaming and storming around, though no physical violence. Sometimes it goes on for 10 minutes or more, and often their young child is also crying. It is stressful and distracting. But we also worry about them and wonder if there is a point at which we should check in to make sure they are OK, either during the argument or after. What should concerned neighbors do?
A.K. / Boston
Bystander intervention is crucial, I’d never suggest otherwise. But nothing in the facts or overall tone of your letter suggest you and your spouse are witnessing abuse. If the screaming were one-sided, or if you could clearly hear threats or derogatory language, that would be different.
It sounds like what’s happening is ordinary human imperfection, unfortunately pitched at a decibel level you can hear. Ten minutes of yelling may seem an eon to you, but honestly, that’s a fairly short fight.
Unless the tenor of the arguments gets much worse, continue to give your neighbors the illusion of privacy, that blessed illusion that allows unacquainted adults to share living space without shame. If you want to tactfully signal “We can hear that” during a dispute, turn your music up when they start and down when they stop. (This technique can also be used when one’s neighbors are generating, er, affectionate noises as well as antagonistic ones.)
If you truly want to help the neighbors out, offer to be a quick dumping ground for the kid. You may not want to do this, and I’m by no means saying it’s an ethical obligation. But dang, that would be the kind of help stressed-out apartment-dwelling parents would truly appreciate. Drop the suggestion after one of their arguments: “Hey, if you two ever need to drop Caden off for 20 minutes or so to run an errand or take care of grown-up stuff, just call, we’re happy to have her play down here for a while.” That way, she wouldn’t have to witness her parents fighting, and you will have registered your awareness of the situation with them.
My sister has invited herself and friends with my husband and me on a cruise. We want to go alone, newly married. Help?
Anonymous / Boston
What the — is this a thing now? Family inviting themselves on honeymoons? Because about six months ago someone wrote me about a friend whose in-laws did the exact same thing. Honestly, people!
Tell your sister no! I can only give you permission to do this. You have to make it happen. If you cannot tell your sister no, can you back out of the cruise without telling her and go on a different one? She’s already got friends to go with, so you wouldn’t be abandoning her. If you can neither be honest with your sister nor execute a ruse to avoid her, resign yourself to the fact you are apparently now on a ladies’ getaway with your husband tagging along, and attempt to enjoy the cruise on that basis.
I really hope you can tell your sister no.Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.