How do I dissuade an annoying neighbor?
May 31, 2006 8:52 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop someone from bothering me and my housemates when we're on the front porch?

We refer to the porch as the living room because we spend so much time out there, but we've resorted to barricading ourselves inside whenever we see David coming. David is a mentally handicapped man in his twenties who is very sweet, but he has no concept of personal space and he is extremely loud and repetitive. It's impossible to have any kind of conversation when he's around, and much effort is expended avoiding his extremely sweaty and malodorous hugs. My housemate told him recently that we were having a "girl's night" and he needed to leave, and now when he spots a male on the porch (which is almost every night) he immediately joins us. We've tried other excuses, but I feel like it's disrespectful to him to make up lies. What's an honest, respectful way to dissuade him from coming over that will spare his feelings and pride as much as possible?
posted by cilantro to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Create a rule or an expectation for him. Only on sundays, only before 6pm, something that you can live with and he can respect.
posted by maxpower at 8:55 AM on May 31, 2006

I think your best bet is talking to David's parents/guardian/caregiver. People like David have little capacity to understand when they are being inappropriate or overbearing. You are in no position to teach David that lesson yourself, since you make it clear that you do not want to hurt him. I think that if you can locate one of the aforementioned people, and discuss your boundary concerns with them, they should be able to help, since they will certainly know the best way to convey your wishes to him.
posted by msali at 8:57 AM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming that he's outside on your street about as much as you are...

I had a neighbor who would do this all the time - what was worse was that he would literally not stop talking for hours (I mean it - one time is was 4 hours!) about inane things I didn't care about (like his black-belt status in whatever martial art, or random networking firmware he wrote before he dropped out of graduate school... etc.). To make maters even worse he would become quite offended when I said things like "hey, my dinner is on the grill, I have to go make sure it's not burnt and then eat - I'll talk to you some other time?"

Eventually, my strategy was to ignore that he was offended I had better things to do than talk to him for hours (especially since it was a one-way street as far as conversation was concerned) and just continued to do what I was doing outside (e.g., yardwork, beer drinking, talking on my phone, whatever...) while still being polite. Eventually he got the message and stopped coming over so often, but it didn't hurt my relationship with him as far as I can tell.

As far as David is concerned, it might be hard for him to grasp the meaning of non-verbal behavior (depending on his handicap), so maxpower's suggestion is good - make it easy. Another thing to do is explain, very clearly, that you all like him, but that he has his own porch to be on.

One of my friends has mild disability and would not understand that one cannot invite oneself along to other people's activities. Once I clearly explained the situation he was very relieved; he thought our non-verbal communication (being awkward when he tagged along) was an indication of our dislike for him. After simply explaining the situation and how he was violating what the group of us thought were common social norms we were all much relieved. (It's weird, but everyone I have met - more than 12 people - from the San Francisco area does the exact same thing! This tendency has led one of my friends, a New Englander, to proclaim that everyone from California is a freak - a bit harsh!)
posted by sablazo at 9:14 AM on May 31, 2006

Be honest. "David, it's time for you to go home. This is a private event on private property and you were not invited. Bye."
posted by pracowity at 11:03 AM on May 31, 2006

I second talking to his caregiver. They know him and know what what will and won't hurt his feelings.
posted by clh at 11:13 AM on May 31, 2006

I have that neighbor too, only ours is stealthy. He'll walk right in the house if the garage is open or he sees someone in the laundry room, then stand behind you for a bit before speaking. I swear he's taken years off my life.

We did the 'pretend to be really busy' thing for a few years before I finally sat down with him and explained that I'd rather he not come into our house or garage un-invited anymore. I was much more uncomfortable with the conversation than he was; I think sublazo's explaination fits our situation as well.
posted by Mamapotomus at 11:46 AM on May 31, 2006

If he has a caretaker, I'd agree with that route. If not, here's my alternative suggestion:

Try inviting him over one night. Make sure it's on a night where it's a big event, a lot of people, maybe a cookout or something. I know it will be awkward that night, but if it helps in the long run(read the rest), it's worth it right?

After that event, the next time he shows up just politely explain that you've invited a specific group over(lie if you have to, say it's a discussion group or a book club), and that the group isn't really comfortable with other people coming over to listen in. Explain to him that the next time it's an event he can come to, you'll invite him.

If he shows up again, repeat this, with the emphasis that you'll invite him, and also include that you won't forget and that if he hasn't been invited, he should assume it's one of the private events.

Keep in mind that this is only going to work in the long run if you do at least sometimes invite him over to hang out, even if it's just for a little while before you head back inside for the night.

If you don't want him to come over again, ever, there's really no alternate method that's going to hurt his feelings less than just letting him know you and your friends aren't comfortable with an older/younger/person from outside the group hanging out.
posted by ElfWord at 11:47 AM on May 31, 2006

How disabled is he? There are quite a few different strategies you could use, but how you implement them depends on the level of support he needs to understand social norms and signals. First, I'd suggest speaking with the people he lives with (family or support staff, or his flatmates) and letting them know that you aren't comfortable with his hugs or the amount of time he is spending with you. Be specific and honest when you tell them how you feel and the effect his behaviour is having on your household. But also be gentle and nice - you sound from your question as though you enjoy his company for short periods and/or occasionally, so let them know that. See if they have any suggestions - perhaps they have the same issues and have devised a plan to support him to change his behaviour? Link in with them if you can - at least enlist their support and work out a plan for if he *won't* leave when you ask him to.

Then tell David what you told them. Is he aware at all that his behaviour is making you uncomfortable? Tell him about the two different issues separately - focus on the hugging first, and then the coming over. Tell him honestly that he is sweaty, and that when he hugs you it makes you feel gross. Tell him simply and directly that you need some time alone with your friends, and that he can only come over at certain times. Always, be nice - also tell him that when he doesn't hug you, and when he comes over when he is invited, you like to be around him and talk to him. Make consequences - tell him that you won't like having him around if he continues to hug you and come over when he's not invited, and he won't be allowed to come over at all if he doesn't stop.

You also need to back up what you say with action. Deflect his arms and push him away (gently!) when he moves to hug you. Say, clearly and calmly, "No, David. We talked about this, do you remember? Please don't hug me, or you'll have to leave." Make a certain time when he can come over, and reinforce it with a visual signal - hang a hat or other object on the porch (clearly visible) when he is invited. When he's walking past you when the hat's not on the porch, tell him he can wave and say hello but he has to keep walking. Ask him to leave if he tries to join you, and be calm and firm and nice when you do so, reminding him he can only come over when the hat's on the porch, and that now he can only wave, say hello and keep walking.

You could also try reinforcers - find out what he likes (chocolate, magazines, CDs, toy cars etc - small and cheap) and give one to him before he leaves when he has visited with you and behaved appropriately. Tell him that you enjoyed his company, he was funny (or whatever), and that he didn't try to hug you and he came over when he was invited, which meant you enjoyed his visit. Remind him he can come over again when the hat's on the porch.

If he needs quite a lot of support (and his behaviour is really annoying), you might also try a story book (easily made with ms word and a colour printer) talking about what you like and don't like when he visits. I find stapled or bound A5, with a large, relevant picture (clipart, or photos) and one simple sentence on each page (David goes to cilantro's house. He is funny. cilantro likes it when David talks to her. cilantro doesn't like it when david hugs her. Hugs are sweaty and gross. PU! When David hugs cilantro he will have to leave and go home. etc etc) to be an effective format. Read it through with him a few times, then give it to him to take home.

He will learn after a few times of trying to come over uninvited or hug you - just be persistent, consistent, fair and nice. It really helps if all of your household can agree to use the same strategies. Good luck!
posted by goo at 12:16 PM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

You sound like you want to be compassionate, which is nice. David needs to learn a lesson about respecting privacy. So present it to him as a lesson. David, sometimes we want to hang out on our porch, but we don't want other people to join us. So, when you come by, please ask "Hi guys, is this a good time to visit?"

And, David, it's good to learn not to overstay your visit. So sometimes, when you're visiting, we might tell you it's time to go home. We still like you, but we're done visiting with you for that day.

Once in a while, allow him to visit for a while. Depending on his level of development, you may have to repeat the lesson quite a bit. Some people are quite mean to retarded people, or treat them as if they won't hear or notice what's said. He will do better if you are direct. He's probably lonely, and you're nice to him, so he has good cause to keep coming back. When he's not so overwhelming, you might enjoy a visit or 2.
posted by theora55 at 5:53 PM on May 31, 2006

I feel like it's disrespectful to him to make up lies

Yeah, that's your problem right there. You either have to lie or be rude to folks like that, in my experience. He has no conception of boundaries, so you have to break the normal rules a bit and talk about where the lines are - something you usually don't have to do with "polite" people. If it's any consolation, the folks I've dealt with in this situation don't seem to get easily offended when you cut them off quickly, in ways that might seem rude to folks with more typical socialization.

Otherwise, get used to being taken advantage of and made uncomfortable.
posted by mediareport at 8:42 PM on May 31, 2006

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