Casual touching an issue

Annie Lane

Dear Annie: I have a problem with my neighbor that I don’t know how to handle. We have been neighbors for three or four years. “Mr. Yates” has a seriously ill wife who is homebound. He does everything for her, in addition to doing all the work on the property. He has been helpful to me.

Here’s the problem: He can’t ever seem to talk to me (a woman) without touching me. It’s always on the arm or shoulder, nothing inappropriate. But I hate it, so I end up avoiding him (and his wife). I think it is a habit he has formed and he doesn’t even realize he does it. But I don’t know what I can say to him to get him to stop. Can you give me a suggestion? — Wanting to Be a Good Neighbor

Dear Wanting: Being a good neighbor does not mean being subjected to physical contact that makes you feel uncomfortable. I’m not saying that is your neighbor’s intention, but it’s the effect nonetheless, and that means it’s got to stop. Some people suggest feigning a sneeze or a cough whenever you run into a “hugger” whom you don’t want to hug. A similar trick might help prevent any unwanted contact from Mr. Yates. You could also try standing far away from him, keeping your arms folded against your chest, offering cues that you’re not open to contact.

If all else fails and you’d like to try speaking with him about the issue, I would probably step away from him when he tries to place a hand on your shoulder and say something like, “Please don’t take offense, but I’m not a touchy-feely person.”

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