Help! My in-laws are coming! That could require a whole column of its own, but believe it or not, their imminent arrival is only the backdrop for the situation I’m writing about. Our family has a three-bedroom house where husband, me and four kids live. It goes without saying that there is not an extra inch of guest space in our home.
Oh, and it’s important to keep in mind that we’re Orthodox. That means that since my in-laws are coming for the holidays, they must stay within walking distance so that they can have easy access to us and the synagogue (We don’t drive on the Sabbath or holidays).
So, I figured, picking up the phone, what are friends for?
“Hi, Esther, it’s Ilana, … do you, by any chance, have room for my in-laws when they join us for Sukkot?”
Her answer surprised me. She hemmed and hawed, and then proceeded to make it abundantly clear that she didn’t really want to lend out her room – even though she hires full-time cleaning help and plans to be away for the holiday.
“It’s really hard for me to prepare my house for guests when we’re in the middle of packing and preparing for our trip. So, I won’t be able to clean it; you’ll have to take it as is. But, yes, uh, I suppose, they can come.”
Her reaction made me extremely uncomfortable, and if I hadn’t been desperate, I would have just thanked her anyway and found another place.
“Oh, thank you so much,” I gushed, swallowing my pride. “I’m so grateful!”
Two days later, another neighbor told me she was going away and generously offered the use of her house if we had overflow company coming. Her guest room was pristine and homey, and she was happy to do me the favor!
“Thank you, G-d,” I whispered, gratefully accepting her offer. Then I reached for the phone.
“Thank you, anyway,” I told Esther, “but something else worked out. So, now you can take that worry off your head.”
“Oh,” she huffed, “well, if you like her accommodations better, that’s fine. I asked my cleaning lady to come an extra day to get the room ready, but now that won’t be necessary. I guess she can help me pack.”
Once again, her reaction took me by surprise, as I thought she would greet my news with relief.
“I’ll pay for the extra cleaning help,” I offered, trying to make amends.
“That won’t be necessary,” Esther assured me. “But I do wish you had told me earlier that your plans had changed.”
“I just found out…” Puzzled, I shook my head. “Thank you again.”
Now I feel like a punctured balloon. Did I just ruin our friendship? Any suggestions on what I could have done differently? But I suppose it’s too late, so what’s the difference?
Dear Utterly Befuddled,
What a frustrating encounter! People can be difficult and complex.
I don’t think you did anything wrong. In the observant community, it is very common to ask friends and neighbors for guest space, so it’s not like your request was outlandish. Part of doing someone a favor is showing a good attitude, exuding warmth and a smile. And if a person can’t or doesn’t want to do a certain kindness for any number of reasons, let her explain nicely that it won’t work for her at this time.
Agreeing to help someone, while concurrently complaining about the difficulties involved, leaves a bad taste for the beneficiary. Neighbor number two would have been my choice, too!
However, we never really know what someone else has going on behind closed doors. Maybe Esther is going through a difficult situation, just heard bad news.
That doesn’t justify her behavior, but it can help you be empathetic.
Regardless, the scenario has played out and Esther is upset, even though her reaction seems unjustified. Is there anything you can do?
Here’s my thought. Even though you were not at fault, what about writing Esther a nice note of appreciation? Send her some flowers or cookies accompanied by a warm thank you for her willingness to extend herself. I think it could soothe her hurt and hopefully mend the tear in your relationship.
A little warmth can go a long way.
Best of luck, Ilana!