Life

Ask Fiona: Why are our neighbours blowing hot and cold with social plans?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine answers another set of reader dilemmas...

Your neighbours likely don't mean any harm with their lack of effort
By Fiona Caine, PA

MY mum is British but married a German, and I was brought up in Germany but now live in the UK. Although she tried to raise us kids with as much awareness of our ‘Britishness’ as she could, there are still many things I have to learn.

I now realise that ‘let’s get together some time’ doesn’t necessarily mean the other person wants a get-together – but what I don’t know is the difference between a polite phrase or a genuine offer. I’m particularly confused about our new neighbours, a really nice family with four kids about the same age as my daughter.

They’ve bought the house next door as a holiday home, so we only get to see them now and then. They’ve been spending part of their summer holidays here and said we must definitely have a BBQ/play some games/go bowling etc, but they’re leaving in three days and nothing of it happened.

They said last week, several times, we should have a BBQ together on the weekend – but then asked if we’d mind to postpone due to them working in the garden! I got another text message today which said we could have some tea/cake on Friday evening before they leave on Saturday. I don’t know whether to answer it, as I’m pretty sure it won’t happen anyway, and I don’t want to cause any awkward situation.

But can you tell me why they’re doing this, please? Is that a way of trying to be polite, or do they really want a get-together and are just unreliable? I mean, it’s not that they’ve been overly busy. They sat in their garden the other night, and we sat in our garden right next door with just a low wooden fence in between. We could hear each other, so it was weird because it would have been easy to ask over the fence, ‘Would you like to come over for a beer?’ – if they’d really want us to. But no, nothing, whereas we had offered MANY times to just come over to us.

I thought to myself, ‘OK, I get the message’, but then they send this text, asking again for a meet-up. I’m very confused and have no idea how to react. Sorry for the long message but I wouldn’t know whom else to ask

SV

FIONA SAYS: If I had said this to you and had been met with enthusiasm, I personally would then suggest sorting out a date for it to happen. Everyone is different though and, like you, I have on numerous occasions heard people say ‘we need to get together’ and then never heard from them. Without a fixed date or plan, it’s just words and no action – that doesn’t mean they’re being unfriendly; it’s just they are busy people with busy lives.

I think they probably do want to be friendly, but suspect they’re just disorganised and possibly embarrassed because they’re running out of time. Some people certainly do use the phrase as a way of sounding polite and interested, and I need to put my hand up and say I’ve used it myself.

There are situations where you meet people and you quite like the feeling you get from them and then casually suggest a future get together. I know I haven’t always followed up on these casual invitations, although there are many times when I have and the people have become friends – in some cases, close friends.

I’d suggest you accept this limp invitation by saying something like, ‘I can’t believe how time has flown and we haven’t managed to have drinks or a barbecue yet’. Then ask for their return date and get something into the diaries, suggesting that next time they come, you will cook a barbecue or meal for them, or perhaps share a takeaway together.

I’m sure that, in no time, the awkwardness will go and you’ll have a nice time – but try not to overthink this – I suspect they, like me, are just haphazard people with good intentions.

MY TWIN SISTER’S NEW BOYFRIEND IS CONSTANTLY IN OUR HOME

I AM in a situation where advice is greatly needed, especially from a non-biased source. My identical twin sister and I have been living together for a year. We usually spend a lot of time together, such as cooking, watching tv, going out for dinner or drinks, etc. Where I need help is, she recently got a new boyfriend and they have been together for a month.

He has stayed over at our place every single night since then, and I feel like my privacy is being invaded. When he is around, she acts like I don’t exist. They are constantly together all day every day, and when she is at work, he is still at our place. I don’t understand why they can’t hang out at his place, which is a few doors down, just to give me some privacy in my home.

He does not pitch in around the house or clean up his mess. I constantly have to clean up after my sister, but I don’t mind as much because she is my twin, but now I clean up after both of them. I don’t want to just move out and leave her, but it’s starting to feel like that is the only option. She can’t pay the bills by herself, and I want to know their plan together – is he going to move in when I’m gone etc – but she won’t have an adult conversation with me.

HM

FIONA SAYS: Asking your sister what her long-term plans are with this boyfriend, after they’ve only been together for a month, will probably get you nowhere. It’s almost certainly too soon for them to have decided where their relationship is going yet. That doesn’t mean you have to put up with their behaviour though right now though, and you certainly don’t have to be the skivvy for the pair of them.

You’ve tried engaging your sister in a conversation but she’s in the first flush of love (or perhaps it’s just lust) with a new boyfriend, so she probably isn’t thinking straight!

You don’t have to have a conversation to get across how you’re feeling though. Just tell them what you’ve told me – not by trying to blame them, but by saying how you really feel.

Walk into the room and firmly say, ‘I need to talk to you both’, and then tell them that you don’t feel welcome in your home any more. Tell them you feel like you no longer have any privacy and that you would like some time and space in your own home, so if it can’t be with them around then you will have to move out.

It might be tempting to say that you feel it is unfair of them to put you in the position of having to clear up after them, but by making accusations like that, you’ll be putting them on the defensive. If they ask you what you want, then tell them you would like some time alone with your sister, but if that’s not possible, then you’d like them to spend some time at his place.

Whatever you do, try to keep things amicable – this could be the love of your sister’s life and you might have to cope with him for the long term, perhaps even as a brother-in-law one day. As a twin, you and your sister are obviously much closer than friends who are sharing a flat normally are, but you are two different people with two distinct personalities. Sooner or later, the two of you were going to have to take separate paths and perhaps now is the time for that to happen.

Don’t worry too much about whether your sister can afford the bills without you, she is old enough to work things like that out for herself. If things don’t work out for her with this new boyfriend, she can probably find herself a new flatmate to share the costs with.

I LOST MY RAG AND THREW AN ORNAMENT AT MY HUSBAND

I DON’T know what to do about my husband. We both married late in life, and I suppose are both set in our ways.

The problem is that he won’t say what’s on his mind; he hates any sort of disagreement and sometimes I’ve screamed at him in frustration when he won’t tell me what’s bothering him. All he does is retreat to his music until the problem goes away.

I really can’t cope with this, and last week I completely lost my rag and threw an ornament at him. I didn’t mean to hurt him, but it caught the side of his head and cut him badly above the eye. I don’t know who was the more shocked, but all he did what press a towel to his head and ask me to drive him to the hospital.

Now I’m frightened that I’ve gone too far and will become some sort of husband batterer. I really didn’t mean to hurt him and don’t want him to leave me, but he hasn’t spoken to me since the incident. What can I do?

GY

FIONA SAYS: I can understand that you might find your husband’s behaviour frustrating but resorting to violence is – as I’m sure you now realise – completely wrong.

If you haven’t already done so an apology may go some way to at least opening a dialogue again, but I imagine he was deeply shocked by what happened.

He sounds like a very shy man who has got used to keeping himself to himself and not making a fuss about anything or sharing how he feels. While he needs to learn how to open up to you and share his feelings, perhaps you also need to learn to respect his silences. This may not be easy for either of you, but some sessions with a counsellor would probably help. I suggest you contact Relate (relate.org.uk) for help and advice.

I would also encourage you to consider an anger-management course of some kind too; there are many therapists who can help you with this. As to whether you’re turning into a husband-batterer or not, I can’t say but I hope, for your husband’s sake, that you can learn to control yourself better in future.

If you were to get some emotional feedback from your husband, perhaps your anger and frustration would disappear, but I don’t think you should assume this. Domestic abuse that targets men may not be as well-known but it very much exists, and were your husband to be writing to me, I would be encouraging him to seek support.

At present, the two of you have moved some way apart, but I hope that, if you can only talk to one another and with the appropriate support, you will be able to work out a way back to resolve your problems.

WHY WON’T MY HUSBAND HAVE A BABY RIGHT AWAY?

I HAVE been married for a year and am desperate to have a baby. The problem is my husband, who says that we can’t possibly afford to do this until we are earning more money and have a place of our own. We currently live with his parents, who think like me and can’t see why we don’t start a family straight away.

My husband has talked it through with me many times and each time the logical half of my brain says, ‘Yes, you’re probably right’, but the emotional side says, ‘But I can’t wait any longer’.

I’m 24 and have heard that having first babies after 25 is much more dangerous, so why can’t my husband see this?

WA

FIONA SAYS: At 24, you are still very young, and women are happily and successfully having babies in their 40s, so please stop listening to people who are trying to scare you.

It’s not something you need to rush into yet, and while you love the idea of having a child, it’s a huge responsibility. Your husband is not alone in thinking that bringing a child into the world before you are emotionally and financially able to support one is irresponsible.

Making the decision to start a family should be joint one, and whilst you may feel ready, he clearly doesn’t – so if you were to try to force this, it could lead to feelings of anger and resentment.

You are living with his parents, and while they might be dead set on becoming grandparents, their feelings really aren’t relevant. Your husband hasn’t said he doesn’t want children, merely that he doesn’t want children just yet.

I think you need to concentrate on the fact that you are not giving up on parenthood for good, merely postponing it – so think of ways in which you can bring that day nearer.

That will mean purposeful saving for a home of your own and improving your job prospects so you can improve your income.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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