Hi, my name is M., and I’m an introvert.
I’m not painfully introverted, and I’m less introverted than I’ve been, but on a spectrum, I’m on the introverted side of the middle, and I suspect that will always be true for me. In my case, that mostly means I can’t really hear myself think around other people, and that sustained periods of not being able to hear myself think leave me frustrated to tears.
I have an office job, so I go somewhere surrounded by people all day long. I often go out after that with friends or because I’m compulsively overcommitted. For the purposes of this post, what you need to understand, from that, is when I go home, I feel an overwhelming sense of relief when I lock the door. I don’t make a lot of phone calls, I don’t even engage much online. I mostly listen to that voice that I can’t hear any other way.
But how it looks to the outside is that I’m not a very friendly neighbor. My former next-door neighbor had a warm and familial relationship with the people who owned my condo before I did. They apparently had keys to each others’ places, and came and went as they pleased, coming over unannounced for long chatty coffees while their animals played together. I can absolutely understand the attraction of warm neighborliness, but no thank you. My former neighbor told me much too much of everyone else’s business for me to ever let her see my place in anything less than apple-pie-order, and apple-pie-order is not really one of my many interests (I’m tidier than I’ve ever been, but I’m more for comfortably cluttered than apple-pie-order.) Also, she had ferrets and I had cats, and my cats seemed to regard her ferrets (from behind my screen door) as a fascinating and possibly tasty diversion. She literally never stepped foot in my place (not for lack of trying), in the six years we were neighbors. I tried to be as friendly as I could, short of inviting her in, but I’m not at all inclined toward sharing my life with the entire HOA.
My neighbor obviously took it personally. In fact, one day, she banged on my door while I worked from home and accused me of killing a squirrel she’d been feeding (feeding in violation of HOA guidelines, about which I said nothing). I’m the sort of person much more likely to be killed by a squirrel than to kill one (in the senior skit from my college, my major department’s professors portrayed me as the person repeatedly mauled by a bunny in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life”), so I couldn’t imagine where she was getting this thought. She explained that she saw the tail in my garden. I went out, and sure enough, there was a disembodied squirrel tail tangled in the foliage of an iris plant in my garden. Just the tail. I disposed of it, determined that the rest of the body was not in my garden, and let her know that I thought it was the work of one of the many coyotes who share our local area. Also that, if I were going to bury evidence of a heinous crime, I’d be extremely unlikely to bury it in my own garden, where I was the person most likely to have to deal with it again.
And so it goes. My former neighbor moved, the new neighbors are more my style— friendly but not that interested in private details of people who live nearby. Beyond a hello if we all happen to be outside simultaneously, I’m not going to be part of the local grapevine, I’m not going to borrow things from you or keep you chatting when you’ve got to go.
The pup, however, is teaching me a lot about neighborliness. While I feel awkward and embarrassed to encounter my neighbors as we come and go (maybe they’re in their little bubbles too!) the pup is pleased as punch to see them, and lets them know it. We stroll the neighborhood and see what’s new several times a day. I’m embarrassed to tell you that I knew about 30% of the surface area of our complex, prior to the pup. Visitors and delivery people would get lost in my complex, call me for help, and I’d have to tell them to leave the complex so I could find them and lead them to my place. (“I see carport 19. Am I close?” “Seriously, I have no idea. Go back out the way you came and tell me what street you’re on and what direction you’re facing.”) Now, we traverse most of the entirety of it several times a day. I know what people’s pets’ names are and even some of their names, I’ve admired their holiday decorations, I know some things about their comings and goings. I’m still too private to say that we’re all friends (and have invited precisely none of them in for coffee), but I’m repeatedly having the conversation “no, I actually have lived here seven years, I just recently got the dog.” And it turns out, it’s a good thing.
Robert Frost famously said “good fences make good neighbors,” and I’ve always believed it to be true. But I’m starting to think a good dog does a good fence one better.