Alice, Am I a Jerk If I Don't Help My Elderly Neighbor Carry Groceries Up 5 Flights of Stairs?

Alice, Am I a Jerk If I Don't Help My Elderly Neighbor Carry Groceries Up 5 Flights of Stairs?

Ask Alice
Nov 10, 2015
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Allard Laban)

Dear Alice,

I’m a 40-year-old single man living in NYC in a building with no elevator and I live on the 4th floor. While some days all the steps can be daunting, I got used to it pretty quickly, and now I’d don’t think much about it. A few months ago, the woman who lives in the apartment above me (5th floor) was making her way up the steps with her shopping cart. I would guess she’s in her late 60’s and was clearly struggling, so I offered and carried it up for her. She doesn’t speak English, so she just said, “Gracias, Papi!” and I went on my way feeling like I had done a good deed.

About a week later, this scenario played itself out again, and again I helped her out. And now…it’s happening about once or twice a week, and I don’t know what to do.

My problem is that now every time she sees me, she just expects me to carry her cart for her. If I’m coming home, I don’t really mind. I mean…what’s one extra flight of stairs? But when I run into her in the lobby on my way out, the last thing I want to do is go back up five flights of stairs and then back down again. And sometimes I find her sitting on the landing on the 2nd or 3rd floor taking a break in her journey up and I feel like a dick just walking past her, so of course I help her.

It’s not like I’m 17. I’m 40 years old. And while I’m in good shape, I have kind of crappy knees, and I work construction, so the stairs can already be cumbersome some days without adding 10 extra flights. Also I have a dog, so I have to make this trek at least 4 times a day already.

What do I do? The language barrier makes it nearly impossible to communicate, but I feel like I’ve sort of dug my own grave with this. I’m at the point now where if I’m getting ready to leave, and I hear her making her way up, I’ll stay in my apartment 'til she passes. Childish, I know, but I feel like she’s kind of taking advantage of my generosity and instead of feeling like a good samaritan, I feel like her personal bell hop.

Obviously, these are first world problems. There are worse things in the world. I like to be a helpful person. I do. And I'm thankful I am physically able to help her. I really am. But some days I just want to NOT help, you know?

The Oldest Bellhop

Dear Bellhop,
As I see it, here are your options:

  1. Ignore her. When she sees you approaching, throw up your hands or point at your pretend watch as if to say, "Sorry, lady, I'm in a hurry! No can do!"
  2. Hide from her. Continue to try avoiding her as much as possible either by adjusting your schedule or hiding in your apartment when you hear her in the stairwell. If you are unsuccessful, see option #1.
  3. Grin and bear it.
  4. Move.

Your problem is you're a nice guy. And the curse of being a nice guy (or gal) is you can't resist being a helpful do-gooder. To be anything else will pain you. I don't think there's a magic answer to your quandary—you already know the right thing to do and, I think, you already know what you are going to do. You're going to keep doing option #3 (maybe, in a pinch, with a little #2 thrown in).

Being a nice guy, I just don't think #1 is truly an option for you. What you can do to improve the situation is reframe how you think about it. You didn't ask for this, but decide that you are going to do it and that you are going to be okay with it. Deciding how you're going to feel about something is powerful. And once the decision is made you're not going to waste time feeling grumpy because you've already decided you're okay with it. I suggest coming up with a mantra to remind yourself. When you see your neighbor struggling with her cart say to yourself, "It's Good Guy time" and help her.


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