My Neighbor Thinks She's Better than Me

Dear Robin:

My neighborhood is pretty close-knit so when a new family moved in up the street last year I made an effort to get to know them as I do with all new neighbors.

They moved here from Pennsylvania so they don’t know anyone. So, I spent a lot of time especially with the wife Wendy introducing her to people, having dinners, going shopping, etc. After a “final straw” I don’t know what to do.

Basically, she is a real snob.  She makes comments about my house, clothes and car like she’s better than me. She is very focused on brands and money and even though I like her it’s become so obnoxious I want to separate myself from her.

My problem is our kids are friends now and because we live close it could be awkward.  Help!

Alicia

Dear Alicia:

Thanks for your letter and subsequent emails detailing Wendy’s condescending and insulting remarks and behavior.  

She sounds like an A-1 insufferable twatwaffle, not only because she is a blatant snob who feels superior to those around her but also because her snide comments come at times when you are showing kindness to her. I had a friend like this once.  

Chris was in my life because Chris possessed some good qualities such as generosity, a keen mind and a good sense of humor. Like you, I introduced Chris to many people here in Portland.

However, over time I became overwhelmed with standing in the pompous preening presence of pretentiousness so pronounced that even the most punctilious of people were prejudiced against Chris’ personality.

Unknown

I, along with many others, suffered for years in silence because it is difficult to criticize your friends especially when you think they may not be able to modify their behavior. That changed one night when my “final straw” was delivered unto me via chopped basil.

PlateGate: Robin, Chris, The Dinner Party, and the Fallout

I love to cook for friends and family and I devote a great deal of time, effort and resources into entertaining because it makes me happy to make other people happy.  In that respect I suppose my dinner parties are a selfish act to please my ego, but that’s another blog for another day.

Years ago I spent two days cooking a complex meal for a group of friends.  Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were served and the party was crackling.  It was a wonderful evening with good people, food, wine and conversation.

As I plated the main course in the kitchen, I felt proud of myself.  I made a braised rabbit dish that was quite difficult and it looked, smelled, and tasted delicious.  I brought the first two plates to the dining table where everyone was taking their seats.

It was then that Chris pulled a stunt remarkable in its audacity and lack of graciousness, snatching the plates off the table and marching them back into the kitchen where I was busy assembling the rest.

“Are you joking?  You can’t send plates out like this.  Where’s the garnish?  This is unacceptable, Robin.”

I stood, stunned, as Chris rummaged around in my refrigerator looking for an appropriate furbelow for my fine fare. Finding basil, Chris set to chopping it while simultaneously lecturing me on the importance of adorning one’s dishes to enhance their appearance.

This was not a good-natured jesting.  This was a serious scolding and after years of being hurt by similar words or embarrassed when Chris was snotty, condescending and pretentious around my other friends, I’d had it.  

As usual, the divorced (shocking!) Chris was the last to leave.  

I took the opportunity when we were alone to let it all out: not just the incredibly insulting behavior of that evening but the years and years of the same.  It felt good to express those feelings even as I knew it could be the end of the friendship.

Happy Ending?  Yes!  And No!

Much to my surprise, I received a handwritten letter in the mail from Chris the following week.  It was devastating in its loveliness: filled with remorse, apology, self-analysis, and promises to be a better friend.  

Chris was raised in a poor family and had worked hard to achieve success.  The letter surmised that background was likely a component of the need for constant one-upmanship and superiority over others, while simultaneously acknowledging the need to alter behavior.  I was actually moved to tears: I had no idea my friend had such depth and I felt honored to read this remarkable admission of bad behavior coupled with assurances of a coming change.

And change Chris did.  At least in my presence and for about a year, Chris acted far more like a peer than a preferable.

Sadly, that change could not be maintained.

Worse, Chris’ feelings of superiority and attitude towards others grew far worse than before.  When I purposefully wore the wrong outfit to one of Chris’ “I’ll Dictate How You Dress and Send Multiple Emails Prior to The Event Reminding You What To Wear” parties, my final gesture was made and I walked away.

Advice for Alicia

Your kids are friends and you are stuck with Wendy as a neighbor, at least until she finds a neighborhood more suitable to her station in life. Therefore, my advice is this:

  • Wait until she makes her next snotty comment. Let’s assume she says “I can’t believe you buy your kids’ clothes at Target!  We do all our shopping at Nordstrom!”
  • Respond with an immediate and direct but gentle correction highlighting the comment she just made and adding others for reference.  For example:

Wendy, I enjoy having you as a neighbor and I’m glad our kids are friends. However, I need to express how I feel when you say things like that.  The choices I make for myself and my family are my choices and you should not consider them fodder for commentary.  

Not only is it hurtful to me, but I suspect you have no concept of how your opinions are being received by others.

I’d like us to continue having a relationship but if you continually insult me that won’t be possible.  Do you understand how these comments could make people feel criticized and demeaned? Would you like to talk about why you think you do this and how we can make it better?

  • Give her another chance or two.  If she changes, please tell her to send me $100 for the favor of making her a more likable human being.
  • If she continues to be a bitch, end your social relationship with her.  You don’t need to have a blowout fight or make any big declarations: simply pull away.  

If she’s anything like Chris, she will be so busy cultivating relationships with people “more important” than you that she won’t even notice your absence.

Good luck!

“The ideal of a well-stocked mind aiming at excellence in all walks of life has been replaced by the dream of a well-stocked wine cellar, the cellar now being a specially made wine cooler strategically placed in one’s house, to be viewed by even the most unobservant visitor.”
― Dimitris Mita

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