Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It's Hard, Living With Other People

I don't mean living with other people as in having, say roommates, because I don't and I won't and never again, despite the fact that I was mostly pretty lucky in my roommate choices (although the last roommate I ever had had hair all the way down to her ass and, apparently, no idea that it was a good idea to clear the shower drain -- but see this is why I don't have roommates, because I'm telling that story as if she is a jerk, but, in fact, when I asked her to start taking her hair out of the drain she was super nice and apologetic about it).

I mean existing in the world with other people. Particularly on my mind is the whole apartment building living phenomenon. On my mind in part because Miss Manners once again is taking on the most urgent issues of our time with a column in which she advises someone who doesn't know what the protocol is for opening the locked door to a complex when someone else is standing right behind you. Do you allow them to follow you? Do you attempt to slam the door in their face?

Miss Manners, with her usual common sense, advises not allowing other people to pass through, but instead making the face indicating regret at doing so and the sad necessity of following the rules (the apartment complex in question has a sign that asks residents not to allow strangers in). This is probably sound advice; I am too much of a moral coward to follow it. I would spend the next two hours worrying that the person following me hates me for not letting them in.

Mostly my problem in sharing space with other people is a sense that I don't know what their expectations are. I would be happy (more or less) to do the right thing, I just don't know what that is. Take the communal laundry room, usually with a limited number of washing machines. I come down to do my wash, and discover that all the machines are full, although all of them have already run their course. Do you move somebody else's laundry to the dryer? Do you pile it, damp, atop the washing machine? Do you sneak away, and come back later and hope they've picked it up?

If it were my laundry sitting their in the washing machines, I would hope that other people would feel gleeful and confident in moving it somewhere. I do not want to have to time my laundry to the minute, which I would feel obliged to do if laundry could not be moved out of the way. But I have friends who have expressed discomfort with the idea of strangers pawing through their laundry.

This is a little bit of a made-up dilemma, because the obvious answer is that I support moving the laundry to the dryer -- I am not really so eager to get along with my neighbors that I'll skulk around the laundry room until they voluntarily decide to move their wash. But what's real in it is that I feel a vague sense of unease as I'm doing so, a fear that somebody will come in as I am putting a heaping armful of their underwear into the dryer, and that their wrath will be terrible.

Other things: sometimes I listen to music late at night or early in the morning. I don't think my neighbors can hear, but sometimes I worry that they can, that it's too loud. How friendly to be going through the building. Whether it's bad when I let the front door slam.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that we so often think of living with other people as hard because of actual conflicts, straight up differences of opinion and/or bad behavior. But sometimes living with other people is hard because of the constant low level desire to avoid situations where potential conflicts become real.


Noko Marie said...

This door business is a big everyday problem for me. The Miss Manners answer is reasonable, but I share your sense that it's not that helpful in reality.

There you are at the door. Someone is just enough behind you that if you do nothing, they will catch the door and come through. Do you hold the door? Do you slam it closed behind you, in their face, so they can't come in? What if they're struggling with lots of packages? What if they're using a cane? What if it's minus 10 degrees out? What if there are children?

I think the puzzlement of this shows that not every case is one of just laying down a rule everyone could follow. Because even if the rule is, "never hold the door," you're going to feel awful and angry when you're carrying the bags, leading the kids, in freezing weather, and someone slams the door in your face.

The simmering conflict here is built in no matter what the rules say, I think.

Octopus Grigori said...

One thing that helps: it's never minus 10 degrees out here in L.A.