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Oh Those Visitors Who Just Drop In - Will They Ever Learn to Call Before They Visit?

Updated on August 12, 2013
My living room will never look as tidy as the one at Graceland.
My living room will never look as tidy as the one at Graceland. | Source

Probably not...

Most of the time, I love visitors.

But not if they ring my doorbell when I'm not ready for them. Unfortunately, experience proves that this is exactly when unexpected visitors will show up.

They come when I've slept late and am still in my PJ's. They visit when the wash is piled in the armchair because I postponed folding last night's dryer load until this morning, and then again until this afternoon. They ring the doorbell in that gap between solving a writing problem and writing the corrected version down.

They know when I have dishes in the sink, when I'm in the middle of sorting papers and have stacks all over the living room, when the timer has gone off and I'm about to rinse the dye from my hair.

Visitors show up as if they receive notification emails about my undone chores.

I've considered the only real solution - keeping myself and my house spotless and ready to receive visitors at all times - but I know that for me that's unrealistic.

I've been aware that this is a universal problem since early childhood; I was raised in a small town where everybody knew everybody else. Nobody locked their doors, and everybody dropped in whenever they felt like visiting. Close friends and family usually didn't even knock before they walked into the house.

I know that people exist who actually enjoy having company at any time, who are genuinely glad to see visitors whenever they choose to show up. But as a child I didn't seem to know any of those people; extroverts did not live in my hometown.

Everyone I knew hated to have people drop by without a phone call first. Everyone complained about never having any true privacy, and everyone had horror stories about visitors walking into the house without knocking. (Some of those stories were town favorites, but not because the person who had been invaded told them.)

However, when it was time for us to visit someone else, did we pick up the phone to see if that person was ready for visitors? Did we assume that someone might want time to pick up the living room or to read the newspaper, and that it would be nice of us to call and confirm that we were welcome?

What happens when the shoe is on the other foot?

We most certainly did not. While we were a God-fearing town, the old adage, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." did not apply in this situation. Not only did we visitors not give warning of our impending visit, but if someone wasn't dressed when we showed up at 9 a.m., or had both a pile of unfolded wash and a messy coffee table in the living room, we were content.

Some of us were content simply because it was very nice to know that we weren't alone in our messiness. We were gracious guests and didn't tell a soul later what we'd seen during our visit.

However, others of us felt contentment for very different reasons. We smiled and licked our paws like a cat in a window; we had news to tell. The phone wires strung from house to house heated up to the proper temperature for good gossip, and within hours the parts of town that would consider this news relevant had heard about the mess. Of course, with repeated retelling, the little bit of clutter on the coffee table and a load of clean clothes in the armchair had multiplied into messes all over the place; some of it had even grown animal hair and other, more disturbing things.

Though visitors in my town didn't always talk about a visit, a certain buoyancy accompanied the tales we did tell. If the town knew of one failure in cleanliness behind a closed door, you were condemned from that point on to be ready at all hours and to have a perfect house for the rest of your life. After you were reported that first time, if you had the wrong drop-in visitor when your living room wasn't picked up, the previous incident floated to the surface, and you were suddenly developing a reputation for not being very tidy.

It wouldn't matter if the two visits that caught you off-guard were years apart; people in small towns never forget. Some devotees in my hometown could tell you not only what was out of place the first time you weren't ready for visitors, but what date it was out of place and what day of the week. Those of us who have been raised in a small town know that this kind of information is highly valued in some quarters, along with the more generally appreciated children's birthdays, when every dead person died and who was seen with whom where.

Did I mention that, while the reputation itself was of interest to everyone, the actual toxic visitor who gave birth to someone else's reputation usually came from a specific caste of females? This was because men envied other men for their ability to be messy whenever they wanted, and both bachelors and widowers were neat or not, as they were so inclined.

Then I left my hometown

When I left my hometown and saw how the wider world operated, everything associated with visiting, being a visitor and receiving guests changed for me. I also found that the coiled spring inside my chest was relaxing, as if I had been a hunted animal and suddenly all of the predators were gone.

For the first time in my life, my home was my sanctuary. I could admit or refuse admission as I pleased. If anybody showed up at my door without calling first, it was rare and they were very apologetic. When I first saw that apologetic look, I was amazed. People out in the larger world were not only actually aware that they were intruding, but they cared! And I could apologize back to them and tell them I was in the middle of something, without giving offense. I was going to enjoy this living away from home.

Then I moved to New York. Until that time, I had never considered myself an introvert. But, as I slowly realized that nobody visited me without prior notice, I began to feel that I had moved to paradise. I couldn't have been happier. I could set the parameters for visitors. When somebody said it would be nice to get together, I was not out of line if I opened my appointment book and we agreed on a date. I could even suggest that we meet at a restaurant or a park. The only people who rang my doorbell without calling first were the postal carrier and UPS. I had privacy!

How do you feel about unexpected visitors:

Do you prefer that people call before they visit you?

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And Now?

But now, after many years in the same town, I've begun to feel that I'm slipping backward toward some variation on the small town rules of my childhood; I am coming full circle. I now have friends and neighbors who show up without calling first. (Some of them are early risers, too.) I can't complain, because I also occasionally visit them without calling first. Sometimes it's just handy to drop something off while you're in that part of town.

After the cell phone became popular I had the mistaken impression that the problem of showing up at someone's door unexpectedly had been eliminated, that one of a cell phone's uses would be calling ahead when anyone was stricken with a sudden need to visit. But it's not true. I've even answered my door to find an unexpected visitor talking on a cell phone - but not to me.

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