Every week, Ask Laura features responses to your questions about religion, relationships, and the mess they often create. You can submit questions to Laura anonymously at this form, or via Twitter (@lkoturner) or email ([email protected]).
My husband and I recently moved into a new apartment in a university town. Not long after we moved in, our neighbor came by during the day (I work from home) to tell me that he wanted to measure the electromagnetic force around our house. He said his measurements were off the charts, but I’m not sure what that means. We drive a hybrid plug-in vehicle, and plug it in in the open carport underneath our apartment. The situation has escalated to the point that I hear from him multiple times a day (in person and via email) with requests not to plug in our car, or only during certain hours, because he has terrible headaches from the electromagnetic field produced by our car. Oh, and he doesn’t want to get the landlord involved.
I don’t know what to do, but I am tired of running interference with someone who is invasive and, frankly, is giving me headaches. What should I do?
Wired in Silicon Valley
This is a situation that screams out for boundaries. And a little internet research, but we’ll get to that in a second. You sound like a nice person, which is usually a good thing to be, but every nice person needs a bitchy friend for situations like this. You came to the right place.
Your home is sacred. It is the one place where you should always feel safe, and good neighbors know that. The person you are dealing with is not a good neighbor. There are a lot of threads contributing to this particular ball of stress, though, so let’s take a look at them one by one.
First of all, and most pressing, is the frequency and nature of your neighbor’s communiqués. We live in an age where many people decry our separated state, but this situation sounds much too close for comfort. I am going to take a guess at what you are feeling, and you can tell me if I’m wrong: You are really frustrated, but you also feel like you can’t say “no” to your neighbor, especially in person. You feel the need to respond to him, whether via email or by answering the door when he knocks, then find yourself wondering how you got drawn into these lengthy conversations. Maybe you even sneak around the house to keep quiet so he won’t know you’re there. Am I close?
This is the time to stop. To take a deep breath and remind yourself that you don’t owe him anything. If he wanted to get away from electromagnetic fields — well, I don’t know where he should have moved, but Silicon Valley seems like exactly the wrong place for him.
The next thing you need to do is get your landlord involved. Not involving your landlord is an incredibly manipulative tactic on the part of your neighbor, and he does it because he thinks he’s less likely to get his way if there is another reasonable person involved. Tell your neighbor that, from now on, you will be cc-ing your landlord on all email communications. Make a rule that you will not respond to any emails that don’t include the landlord, and stick to it. It’s unfortunate that you have to build such unshakeable boundaries to feel comfortable in your own home, but I don’t see any other way. Don’t answer the door when he knocks. Or, if you feel like you have to, or if he sees through your window that you are home, answer and tell him that you don’t have time to talk. He is like a child trying to wear you out until you give in. He doesn’t get that power over you.
If you can come to a compromise regarding your car that is convenient for both of you, great. But I’m guessing that won’t be easy. So give yourself a deadline of, say, the end of December to engage in this back-and-forth, and suggest a sit-down conversation with your landlord if you’re feeling generous. Once that has happened and you’ve come to a common understanding, the conversation is over. There is no need to revisit it, and no reason why your neighbor should talk to you about anything other than the weather.
Finally, and not that your neighbor will be convinced by this, but you can always refer back to the website of the World Health Organization. In its section on electromagnetic fields, WHO says:
“Some members of the public have attributed a diffuse collection of symptoms to low levels of exposure to electromagnetic fields at home. . . . To date, scientific evidence does not support a link between these symptoms and exposure to electromagnetic fields. At least some of these health problems may be caused by noise or other factors in the environment, or by anxiety related to the presence of new technologies.”
What do you wish you and your husband had done differently during dating and engagement?
This is a difficult question to answer! Especially because it seems to require I tell you what my husband and I did do during our dating and engagement, and then offer different possible scenarios. So, for now, I’ll tell you about the things I’m glad we did.
We got engaged when we were 23 and 24, which seems very young now as I type it. But we had dated for four years when we got engaged. We started dating in college and weathered the post-college job-seeking years, in which time we got to see how the other handled uncertainty and stress outside of the cocoon of a liberal arts college on a hill in southern California. We got to know each other’s families and had plenty of discussions about what we learned from them and what we would do differently. We prayed together and talked about the way what we believed would influence our daily lives, which, it turns out, is a lot easier to talk about than to live.
When we went through difficult times, we had great friends to walk us through. There was a time we broke up, right after I graduated college, and I was not in the best place. I needed someone to tell me how to own up to what was my responsibility, and a friend of mine did that for me — even though it was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had. Our friends knew us individually and as a couple and were quick to ask good questions.
One of the most important things, I suppose, is that we became friends. Zack and I were friends before we dated, although I always hoped for a romantic relationship. But even while we were dating, our friendship was always at the deepest foundation of our relationship. It was where we learned to make each other laugh, to take each other seriously, and to hold each other to high standards. It still is. So that’s what I’m glad for. For now, that’s my story.