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#601 and #602: Bodies and money and shame when you have nothing to be ashamed of.

Ahoy Captain,

I’m writing this after reading about the LW who kept getting stuck with the check.  I’m in the inverse of a similar situation, and I’m not sure of the best approach.  I’ve just started a job in an awesome place with a bunch of wonderful, appropriately friendly co-workers.  Apart from loving what I do there, this job will (slowly) get me out of a pretty grim financial situation created by student loans and intermittent work over the past two years.  For now, though, I’m on a skeleton budget and can’t afford much by way of unnecessary stuff, which is where the problem starts.  My co-workers have all worked together for a while, and they do this cool thing were they go out to lunch together a lot and take turns either paying for lunch, or collecting money from the office to run out and get food.  They invite me frequently, and once or twice have covered me for lunch on the rare occasion I forgot to pack one. I’d love to participate, but I can’t at the moment due to being behind on a lot of crucial bills.

The trouble is that it’s getting to the point were it feels really weird to be constantly opting out of these lunches, especially since we’re a small office, and the fact that I don’t volunteer to pitch in for food runs is creating some very awkward situations were I’m constantly removing myself from the rest of the group.  I know I’m coming across as either stingy or unfriendly, which concerns me because I really want to make this job a pleasant environment.  But it’s realistically going to be a few months before I can afford to do this, and I don’t want to explain my financial situation to my colleagues.  Are there any scripts or tips you and the awkward army know of to navigate this embarrassing situation?

Sincerely,

Economic Casualty

Dear Economic Casualty:

The first ever Captain Awkward reader question was about a similar topic, with friends and money and eating out. So, hey! We’ve come a long way.

You could stick with “No thanks, I prefer to bring my lunch” or “Not today, thanks!” and never give a reason why. They will eventually get the hint and stop inviting you. The trick is, when you want to start being invited, you’re going to have to expend the effort to let them know — Someone who is respectfully leaving you out isn’t going to know when to adjust that, so when and if you are ready to participate just say something without fanfare: “Can I join you all for lunch today?” In the meantime, you could still eat your lunch-from-home with them when they order in, and, since communal food sharing is part of the culture of this place, you could bake (or learn to) and bring in one-off treats occasionally. A batch of cookies once a month is vastly cheaper than fancy takeout lunch a few times a week and still sends the message that you appreciate your coworkers and want to join in. My friend K facilitates some sort of afternoon tea break at work, where coworkers get together in the break room for a few minutes to relax and have tea together. Maybe pick up a few different kinds of tea and try the same?

I understand a fierce aversion to revealing information that might make people feel sorry for you. But I think that we have to stop shaming ourselves and each other for wanting to save money, and the truth is the quickest and simplest way to diffuse this thing. Pick the nicest person, someone who seems to take the lead in organizing everything, and tell them “I’m happy to come to the break room and eat with you all when you order in, and I think it’s a great tradition! But I’m on a strict brown bag plan for now, so count me out of lunch when you go out or order in for now. I’ll let you know when that changes.” If you want, describe it as “I’m trying to save money” or “I’m being very careful with money just now” rather than “trying to catch up on old bills” Probably the weirdest thing that will happen is that the nice person will offer to spot you the money for now, especially if it is relatively a small amount of money to them, so you might have to reiterate it to them. “Thank you so much! But right now I think that would stress me out more than it would help. I’m going to keep bringing lunch for now, and I’ll jump in when I can.” See also, “It’s not in my budget right now, but I think it’s great and I will be happy to join you all in a few months.” 

There’s an outside chance that you’ll come across a mean or clueless person who responds with “Really? Who can’t even afford lunch?” This is your fear, right? Does this resemble the little voice in your head? Well, that person is telling you way more about themselves than you are revealing about yourself, and your answer can be “Wow.” orWell, me, until the novelty of having full-time work wears off and regular paychecks become mundane and boring.” And now you know who to avoid at the office from now on.

Most of your coworkers have been in exactly your same shoes one time or another. Sometimes you start a new job and it’s a chance to catch up on old bills after a period of un- or under- employment. Sometimes you need to buy expensive new clothes to even work at that job, so whatever raise you get is immediately consigned to the clearance racks of better department stores as you put together a “professional” wardrobe. Some people are saving for a house, or a trip, or a wedding. Some people just prefer to pack and eat their own food because of dietary stuff. Have you looked into the cost of childcare lately? Sit down before you do, you may need to have a good cry once you see the numbers. It’s actually a very fucked up thing about our culture that we expect people to “perform” having a certain amount of money, even to the point that they feel compelled to lie or to harm themselves by spending money they don’t have.

Fortunately, the more straightforward you are, the more people will just roll with it. The more furtive and shame-y and weird you are, the more people will find it strange. Your money history and your money anxieties are none of anyone’s business, I agree, so don’t feel like you have to apologize or explain anything. Be a good coworker by being good at your work, keep your response to lunch invitations short and simple (“Not today, thanks!“) and you’ll find what feels good and normal in time.

Dear Captain Awkward & Co., 

I hope this email finds you well. I’m the mother of an effervescent 13-month-old and am not pregnant. I would like to be pregnant sometime soon, but not at this moment. I’ve had some chronic health stuff [hypothyroidism and fibroids, details edited down] and some ongoing physical issues in the wake of the pregnancy. The resulting body changes, as well as a lot of childhood abuse and body-shaming, make me sensitive about my appearance. After being on thyroid medication for a year and a half, I’m at a weight with which I’m satisfied, though the fibroid means my stomach will never be 100% flat. Still, I would not think that anyone who looks like me is pregnant.

But approximately every other day, someone asks me if I’m pregnant, and usually explains that it’s because I look pregnant/have a “belly,” etc. Sometimes they backpedal nervously and say that THEY have “problem areas” too, which does not help. Other times they explain to me oh-so-helpfully that most women they know who gave birth worked to get rid of their “belly” long before the one-year point.

I keep deciding that I’ll snarl or maybe say something cutting to the next person who tells me I’m look pregnant, but in the moment I always freeze deer-in-the-headlights style and act very polite and diffident and hate myself afterwards (and obsess miserably over my appearance when I get home).

Do you have a script that I could use that would effectively draw a boundary and indicate to them that their question is inappropriate? These are usually people in the “warm acquaintance” category, or else total strangers.

Thanks in advance, and best wishes,

Notpregnant

Dear Notpregnant:

Readers, if you did not know, the only time to notice or talk about someone’s pregnancy is when they tell you, in words, that they are pregnant. And the thing to say to a pregnant person about their appearance is “Well, you look very nice today, that color suits you/your hair is pretty/I am glad to see you” and to NOT comment on anything about how their body looks, and then you let them take the lead on bringing up the subject of body stuff. If you need a cautionary tale to drive this home, let me tell you about the time I was in mall food court with a friend who had just miscarried at 5 months and how a stranger came up to tell her that she was “absolutely glowing” and “obviously meant to be a mother” and how “that precious baby didn’t know how lucky it was to have such a beautiful mommy!” and how “the way you’re carrying, it looks like a boy. Do you know the sex yet?” and we both froze like deer. My friend excused herself to go to the restroom because she’d forgotten to wear purple shorts under her pants today and didn’t want to Hulk out or cry in public, and after she left I babbled something at the lady like “I’m sure you meant well, but she just lost her baby, not that it’s any of her business, but pregnant strangers and their bodies are also not your business” and she fell all over herself apologizing and unfortunately science still doesn’t let you wish people into the cornfield. Moral of the story: You DON’T know what’s going on inside other people’s bodies, you DON’T know how they feel about it, so DON’T comment on their bodies.

Letter Writer, the people who are doing this to you are so far out of line that you officially do not have to coddle their feeling in the wake of this faux pas. I think you should try the simple truth: “I’m not pregnant, actually” and don’t explain further. Let the awkward silence swallow the people who would say this stuff to you, and let it get very uncomfortable.  If you want, you can follow up with one word answers:

  • Wow.
  • Huh.
  • Jeez.
  • Really?
  • Awkward.

Or short answers:

  • “I’m not pregnant. What an awkward question.”
  • “I’m not pregnant. Also, I have a real aversion to people commenting on my body.”
  • “One thing I learned when I was pregnant is that I really don’t like it when people comment on my body”
  • “I really don’t like it when people comment on my body.”
  • “The thing I miss least about being pregnant is the way people felt it was okay to comment on my body.”

If they rush to explain (and dig the hole deeper):

  • “Actually, I do not want you to explain, I want you to either change the subject or stop talking now.”
  • “I really do not want to hear about your perceived ‘problem’ areas, because it’s none of my business and I don’t comment on strangers’ bodies.”
  • “How nice for your friend. Still, I don’t enjoy commenting on other people’s bodies or feeling like mine is up for discussion.”

The people who get caught out doing this to you are going to have all kinds of weird feelings. Embarrassment. Entitlement. You are a nice person, so you probably end up managing some of those feelings. I want you to try saying how uncomfortable the topic makes you without digging deeper or trying to take care of them around their own screwup. You may not be able to teach them to behave better, in general, but you can make it very uncomfortable to do this kind of thing around you.

Moderator Note: This site does not promote dieting or weight loss. Please do not share diet and weight loss tips or links. Please do not mention specific weights,  even when describing yourself. Thank you.

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203 comments
  1. embertine said:

    Totally agree with the advice to #601 – I don’t know a single person who has never struggled, and most of us haven’t wanted to be beholden. Good tip if you want to take up the Captain’s suggestion of baking: these babies (http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/rock_cakes_03094) take 10 minutes to make, are pretty much foolproof, incredibly cheap per batch and are totally irresistible even to people like me who don’t like dried fruit.

    As to #602, it really makes me sad that people feel the need to say that. I have a belly too (uh, see above comment about rock cakes) and I’d be flabbergasted if someone said this to me. The one thing that reading CA has done for me is to recognise that if someone else is being rude (unbelievably, horrifically rude as in this case) then the social contract is broken BY THEM and it is NOT on me to try to fix it. The art of the quiet “Wow” takes some perfecting, but you will learn to relish to delicious awkward silence that ensues. Embrace it. Wallow in it. Watch with malicious glee as the horrible rudester chokes on their own stupidity.

    • I really want to perfect this look:

    • Marie said:

      I’ve wowed my coworkers twice with the following recipe for meringues:

      4 egg whites
      1 pinch of salt
      200g of white sugar

      Preheat the oven at 120 °C.
      Beat the egg whites until they’re firm.
      Add the sugar while continuing to beat the egg whites.
      Put a sheet of baking paper on an oven tray.
      Deposit heaps of meringue on the tray.
      Bake for 30-60 minutes, depending how soft you want the inside to be and how pink you want the outside to be.

      Not suitable for vegans and diabetics, of course, but otherwise delicious, cheap and impressive-looking ;-)

      • BigGreenBeacon said:

        FYI a lot of people think they know what is and is not “suitable” for diabetics, but the only person who actually has that knowledge about any diabetic person is that individual diabetic.

        • JenniferP said:

          It is known. People are the sole boss of their own food & bodies!

  2. MB said:

    LW: 602 Do people not know the rule? The only time you can ask a woman if she’s pregnant is if you actually see a baby coming out of her! Even then you shouldn’t be asking stupid questions at a time like that!

    Otherwise you never ever ever ask this. ever. ever.

    LW: 601.. I’ve been there and was too broke to buy the T-Shirt… in fact I’m still there, but almost out… almost. I’ve started a new job with nice people and there have been similar social expenses on the cards. I find that people are understanding of being broke, and that admitting to be broke might be better than just looking like you just don’t care to socialise with them.

    If you can afford to, opt in the odd time. I’ve found in the past that opting out of going for lunch can be supplemented with joining them for a coffee afterwards. So they can pop out to lunch and you have your brown bag lunch and then you join them at the cafe or restaurant 20 -30 minutes later. You can order a tea or coffee, or even not order anything at all. That way you get some of the chat and the socialising – and you’re showing you want to be involved without incurring any expenses. Most people understand this. And restaurants don’t really get too snippy if someone just joins a group who have already ordered and ate (in fact you might even slip in totally unnoticed!)

    • Kade Azkyroth said:

      Eh…I could see it being worth asking, once, prior to handling potentially serious teratogens alongside/near a female-bodied colleague. That underscores the “wtf”ness of these other situations, if anything, though…

  3. I used to work in a pediatric practice as a receptionist, and this practice made us ALL wear scrubs (protip: there is NO WAY to not look pregnant wearing scrubs). I also have PCOS, with the attendant midsection weight gain (and probable infertility, so having babies was already a bit of a sore spot). When Clueless Mom of Three asked me ” when are you due?” I was deep into processing her insurance and asked blankly “due for what?”. Turns out that’s a pretty good response to make people embarrassed and apologetic. Once she stammered through apologizing and saying people ask her all the time too (so maybe…don’t do that thing people do to you?), I managed to tell her the doctor would see her shortly, and then went in the bathroom and got my weeping under control. Moral of the story: do not ask about an unconfirmed pregnancy unless someone has a baby right before your eyes.

    • In my head, you screamed this à la “Turn Down For What?!” and then danced so hard you fell through the floor, which I think would be absolutely warranted in such a situation.

  4. jens said:

    this happened to my boss. she was talking to a group of co-workers at a work function, and another female co-worker came up and basically said ‘Oh my gosh, i haven’t seen you in so long – when’s the baby due?’. after a few seconds of total awkward silence with her reply of ‘nope, not pregnant, just fat’, everyone in the circle peeled off and exited as fast as they could.

    • My coworker asked a client to recheck the waiver form she had just filled out, specifically pointing out the “are you pregnant?” to which she had already answered “no.” He asked if she was sure. *facepalm* She just sort of laughed and left and we never saw her again.

      • muse142 said:

        What?!
        WHAT??!??1
        AUGH

      • Q-chan said:

        Holy Hannah, that is ALL KINDS of clueless.

      • “You do still need sperm for that, right?”

    • Darcy Pennell said:

      when that happened to me I said exactly the same thing your boss did. “Oh wow, are you pregnant?” “No. JUST FAT.” With a deadpan stare that I did not let up until they cringed away from me. It’s only happened to me once, and I’d like to think I made the world a better place by helping that person never do it to anyone else again.

      • stellanor said:

        I love that response because it transfers all of the awkward back onto the offender (WHERE IT BELONGS THX) and just lets it sit there.

      • TyphoidMary said:

        I hat this conversation with a cab driver in Spanish! The guy pointed to my stomach and said, “Ninyo? [Child?]” I gave him a deadpan and said, “No, solo gordita.” The rest of the drive, he was silent.

    • Bottleblue said:

      That’s my go-to answer for “are you pregnant?” as well. Generally I say it in a cheery, breezy tone with a friendly smile; I work with young children and I think it’s important for them to get exposed to a fat person who loves her body*.

      *That’s completely my thing, though; just because I’ve got the spoons for it (and have perfected the why-dieting-is-a-really-bad-idea-summary-for-five-year-olds to deal with the common “then why are you so big?” followup question) doesn’t mean anyone else is obligated to do the same.

      • Oh, I work with little kids as well, and very quickly learnt that, in the eyes of a small child, none of my body was off-limits to general touching/comments. You incredibly quickly become okay about little hands tapping your boob for attention. I’ve had no end of extremely personal questions asked by little kids (we’re talking under 5s here)!

        • oh lord i remember all too well the day i made the mistake of wearing a shirt with (due to general chestiness) a comically personified sandwich on each boob and had a kid old reach up with both hands to grasp them while inquiring “what’s that?”

      • dee said:

        “have perfected the why-dieting-is-a-really-bad-idea-summary-for-five-year-olds to deal with the common “then why are you so big?” followup question”

        Ooh, would you share the summary with us? I’d love to hear it!

    • KatieJ said:

      May the flying spaghetti monster forgive me, but I actually did this to my neighbour. This is my neighbour who, to put it tactfully, is somewhat past the whole reproduction thing. And she said “No – I’m just fat!” And I wanted to amputate my own jaw at that point.

  5. Terrified Gardener said:

    #601 I second the baking idea, but if you’re not a baker or you don’t have time, a packet of biscuits or something from the supermarket is a pretty good substitute, and not much more expensive (the fact that you brought something to share seems to be the big thing, it doesn’t have to be a really fancy cake or anything, in my experience). Another idea might be if there is a nice park or something nearby you could suggest a picnic where everyone brings their own lunch and if the weather is nice you can sit out, so it feels a bit special but doesn’t cost anything :)

    • cv said:

      In one office I worked in people would sometimes bring in fruit, like strawberries if they’d gotten a big pallet of them from a roadside vendor, or something from the farmer’s market. It was a nice change of pace from the office staples of baked goods and candy, and fewer people have diet or allergy concerns than with baked goods from home. It can be pretty cheap if it’s a spur of the moment thing when you notice a really good price, subject to your region and the time of year (and the size of the office/department – we were only 6 people, so a fairly small amount was still enough for everyone.

    • Muffin said:

      I really like the picnic idea! Sometimes co-worker lunches are really just about getting away from Work!space and negotiating relationships in Friend!space. LW #601, depending on how comfortable you feel with being an organizer, you could even suggest a potluck picnic (and then bring something super cheap but filling, like a loaf of bread or potato salad). Either way, I think the picnic plan is great because (a) it moves the lunch-space into a place that’s accessible to you, and (b) it sends the message that you want to help build and be part of this little community. That way, if/when you say to one of your coworkers “Hey, I’d love to, but I’m brown bagging it for a few months” they’ll know for sure, and you’ll know they know for sure, that your brown bags aren’t personal.

    • Kade Azkyroth said:

      Err, you have the British sense of “biscuit” in mind here, right?

      • therufs said:

        Well, Terrified Gardner is obviously not a Southerner — everyone knows biscuits come from Bojangles ;D

        • espritdecorps said:

          Indeed!

    • stellanor said:

      In my city we’re having an unusually hot summer. I bought an absolutely huge box of popsicles and placed it in the office freezer. Then I told everyone there were popsicles. Total cost: $5.

      In directly related news, I am really, really popular at the moment. Also subsisting on a diet almost entirely of popsicles.

  6. Lilian said:

    LW 601: I was in a similar position for a couple of years. Especially with people I didn’t know well, I had some luck framing my no-eating-out as a personal rule or resolution: “I’d love to join you, but I’m trying to save money right now so I made a ‘No Restaurants’ resolution this month/semester/for the next six months. Can I [alternate suggestion about more viable social activity at some later point]?” I think the reason this worked for me is that it drew a bright boundary (“no restaurants”) but framed it as a resolution or a budget-keeping stunt, instead of a reflection of my own penury. It also communicates to others that eventually (i.e., after the end date of your resolution has passed) you’d be up for joining them. (I agree with the Captain that there’s no shame in saying, “Hey, not in my budget right now, thanks!” But that can also be a draining conversation, especially if you have it repeatedly.)

    • Jennifer said:

      Good idea. I was having a very hard time thinking of anything to say besides “Look, I can’t afford lunches out with you guys any time soon.” But I concur with the Captain that some things, you just have to be at least somewhat honest and blunt about and tell them. Being vague will only lead to people thinking you don’t like them/aren’t friendly, but everyone should be able to comprehend “too broke to treat everyone out for lunch every dang day.”

  7. ona555 said:

    I have a pot belly that remains even when I have dropped to an unhealthy-for-me-weight, and the first time someone asked me if I was pregnant, I was barely 13 years old (it wasn’t a genuine question. I understood right away the inference they were making). Having a cesarean section at the age of 20 didn’t help matters any, as my pants thereafter, even with belting, decided my abdominal scar was the perfect resting place. I am afraid my responses to those sorts of comments have not been the greatest. I admit I’ve countered “Oh how far along are you?” with “I’m not pregnant, I’m fat.” *lets that sink in while blankly looking the commenter directly in the eyeballs in hopes that their mortification will be everlasting*

    After I had found out I’d had a missed miscarriage, I lived for a while in fear of people commenting on my belly in such a manner. I simply couldn’t bring myself to do the stare-down because I was in too much emotional pain to explain that I had a dead fetus inside me that I was waiting to have removed and no I wasn’t very far along when it happened but I tend to show early thank you very fucking much can I stop talking to you and go be traumatized in the bathroom now. LW #602, you may borrow my ragehammer of hulksmash if you need it. People’s bodies are not for public commentary OMG why is this hard.

    LW #601, I think this is one of those occasions when honesty is the best policy. You have been under employed for a long time and you will have to catch up on some bills before you will feel comfortable treating yourself to lunch out. There’s no shame in that. Unfortunately, having worked in some small and close knit environments, I don’t think that a polite declination without explanation is going to go over very well in the long term, as it is likely to eventually be taken as “I don’t want to socialize with any of you.” It’s nosy and shouldn’t be necessary, but your co workers are probably going to need some amount of personal context to connect your bag lunches with declined invitations. If (or I should say probably when) someone offers to cover you, my own script for declining that particular sort of favor is along the lines of “Thank you, that is very kind, but I can’t bring myself to borrow any more money from people at this time.” YMMV, of course.

    • therufs said:

      “I’m not pregnant, I’m fat.”

      Begging to differ, this is totally the greatest.

      • Jake said:

        My love of that line is deep and abiding and I honestly wish people asked me if I was pregnant more often, so that I could use it more.

        • AutumnFire said:

          Especially when you give them the I’m-going-to-watch-you-squirm-and-RELISH-EVERY-EFFING-MOMENT look. This doesn’t speak well of me, but it’s the one time you can get away with non-violent revenge and enjoy the ever-loving hell outta it.

      • Wholelottalove said:

        I’ve used that one and it works very well”. But my favourite was to a colleague who put 2 and 2 together (tummy bulge and i was drinking water at a work’s party) and started rubbing my stomach and congratulating me.

        “I’m not pregnant. It’s IBS. Basically what you’re rubbing is mostly poo”.

        • ona555 said:

          Oh god that is so funny.

        • LeighTX said:

          This may be the best thing I’ve heard all day.

        • KatieJ said:

          I wish I’d seen that colleague’s face. Bet they took their hand away REALLY fast.

    • Nina said:

      I have yet to be asked if I’m pregnant when I’m not, but these days I am sporting more of a belly and have been mentally rehearsing basically the same answer: “Nope, just fat!” delivered with a cheery voice and a big smile. And I definitely hope I will be able to accompany it with the stare of everlasting mortification (instead of bursting into flame from my overheated, bright red face, which sadly strikes me as more likely). *high five* for your great comeback. I hope to emulate you if I am ever put in the same position.

    • Rocketship said:

      I’ve got a fun one! The scene: Farmer’s Market, handmade soaps booth. I am smelling the soaps for fun because I got bored with vegetables. Lady Selling Soaps is chatting me up because she is bored with selling soaps.

      She says, “Are you pregnant?”

      I respond, “Uh, whut?” Backpedaling ensues. I cheerfully follow up with “Nope, not pregnant, just chubby.” More backpedaling, something about Don’t Use Lavender Soap If You’re Having Boys because something something pheromones They’ll Turn Out Gay. I don’t even have the bandwidth to address that. I give a noncommital, that-was-crazy-but-let’s-pretend-it-wasn’t facial shrug.

      THEN SHE SAYS, “But were you pregnant recently?”

      To which I respond (truthfully) yes, in fact, I was just pregnant with my very first child ever and then I had a miscarriage and it was awful and horrific and I kind of wanted to die for several months, but I’m just starting to get over it which is why I dragged myself out of the house to get some sunshine AT THE FARMER’S MARKET and was JUST ENJOYING MYSELF by looking around at ALL THE LOVELY HANDMADE SOAPS COULD WE JUST MAYBE TALK ABOUT THE SOAP PLEASE WHAT’S THIS ONE IS IT CINNAMON?

      And now I know what a mortified facial expression looks like. And she offered me a dollar off the soap.

      • JenniferP said:

        I’m not pregnant, but I know that if I get that way, it’s nothing but lavender soap for me!

        How very very awkward that lady was.

  8. paddlepickle said:

    Is it appropriate to ask related side-questions in the comments? I’m new to the Awkwardsphere so I know not the etiquette.

    But. . .related to Letter 2, I am struggling for a similar script when people comment on my weight. I’ve been losing weight recently, and I know from prior experience (where I lost of ton of weight in an unsustainable way and gained it all back in the next 5 years, like 95% of us do) that people are going to compliment it, and I don’t want them to. Because I’m making healthy changes that are resulting in weight loss but I am struggling mightily to see weight loss as a side effect of that, not the point of it, and also I just don’t like people assessing my body especially when it’s in a tone that suggests “THANK GOD you’ve lost weight”.

    I suggested “Thank you but I prefer people don’t comment on my weight” to my therapist and she was like “Umm, do you feel thankful?” So I want something that’s nice, because a lot of these people really mean well and some are family who I don’t want to be too snappy with, but without expressing gratitude I don’t feel because they are actually being rude. Maybe, ‘I prefer not to discuss that’? Does anyone have better ideas/things they’ve used for this?

    • Muffin said:

      Depending on whether or not the following are true, you might try:

      “Thanks. I liked the way I looked before I lost weight, too.”
      “I’m actually focusing on my fitness, not my weight, right now.”
      “Yes, I do look different now than I used to, but I actually still prefer not to discuss my body with others.”

      …all of which have been useful to me / some of my buddies.

      I think the Captain’s advice to LW #602 also applies, because it’s good, solid advice: strangers don’t have the right to comment on your body, and it’s okay to make them feel weird about that. So I think it’s fine, if you feel okay doing it, to say: “I appreciate that you meant that kindly, but comments about my body feel invasive to me and make me uncomfortable. Please don’t comment on my body.”

      One last thought: the toxic diet culture we’re swimming in tells us that complimenting others on weight loss (usually other women, though you didn’t mention your gender) is an acceptable form of bonding. If you get the sense that people are trying to do this to bond with you, and it’s worth it to you to try to stay friends with them, then you might try a slightly gentler, longer explanation:

      “Hey, since we’re still new to one another, there’s something I’d like to tell you about myself. I actually find talking about my body really upsetting / uncomfortable / [adjective that is true for you]. I know that as my friend, you want to encourage me and make me feel good about my body, so here’s how you can do that.” [Follow with a script about comments / conversations that are safe for you: let's talk about our fitness regimes, let's talk about fashion, let's talk about nail polish, let's talk about meditation / spirituality...]

      I hope this helps!

      • paddlepickle said:

        Thanks, those are all great! Yeah, I think it feels a little more complicated than the pregnancy comments because while there is a pretty basic etiquette rule about not suggesting someone’s pregnant unless they tell you, many people have no idea that comments about weight loss might not be welcome. And a lot of people who would make the comments are kind of. . .in between strangers and good friends, people who I don’t necessarily want to tell all about my reasons for everything but don’t want to snap at, either. “I appreciate that you meant that kindly” is a perfect opener, I think.

        I used to go jogging at a certain park and I would jog past this really sweet older couple almost every morning, and they would always cheer ‘you look great, you’re losing weight!’ at me and it was all I could do to refrain from yelling “I’M NOT TRYING TO LOSE WEIGHT YOU OLD BAG’. Sigh, society.

        • ona555 said:

          Re: older couple: Oh I hate this. It’s why I don’t like going to the gym, all the people who seem to think it’s fine for them to come give that chubby chick patronizing and personal space invading rah-rah’s when I am in the middle of sweating my face off. Alternately, the people who think I am probably really soon to be dying because of how red my face gets with even the most minor exertion and they are SO CONCERNED about my wellbeing don’t I think I am overdoing it? Nope, that’s just my face, no, I do not feel like explaining that again today.

          Re: Comments about weight: My FIL’s wife (the English language really needs a word for this relationship) used to have a terrible habit of commenting on my size every time I saw her, whether it had changed or not. My go-to response with her (helped that I didn’t like her much at the time) was to cock my head, take a long pause, and say, “Huh.” Super non committal like. Then wait for her or someone else to get so discomforted that they changed the subject. It took quite a few exchanges but eventually she stopped because the consequence of her weight policing behavior was mild personal discomfort on her part without any buy-in on mine. We spent a whole four days with her and FIL last summer and she never commented on my size even once, which had to be really difficult for her since I was in a bathing suit more than half the time. *cackles*

          • wondering said:

            RE: at the gym

            Oh my, are you me? My face gets so red and stays that way for hours. It’s just the way I am.

            And a corollary: I really hate people telling me how to lift weights.

            Guy (cause it’s always a guy): “Oh honey, that’s probably too heavy for you. That’s how much *I* lift. You should lower the weight and do more reps.”

            Me: “200 reps isn’t enough?”

          • KellyK said:

            Stepmother-in-law?

        • Laughing Giraffe said:

          I dunno – I can’t personally recall whether this was expressly explained to me or whether I just puzzled it out on my own in my many moments of Thinking Too Hard About Crap People Say, but I’d always been under the impression that someone saying, “Have you lost weight?” is massively rude. What’s wrong with, “You look amazing!”?

          • attica said:

            I have more than once replied to ‘You’ve lost weight’ with some version of a distracted “Oh, I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. I’ll find it by noon, I bet.” And then changing the subject. It’s fun watching faces try to figure out what just happened.

          • Guava said:

            Yes. A former male acquaintance used to greet me every single time with: “You look great! Have you lost weight?!?” He stopped this abruptly after the time I shouted back, “You look great too! Have you lost hair?”

          • Erin said:

            Only that a lot of people telling me that I look great after I lost weight is also depressing because the one implies the other. I do think “You look great.” is better than the alternative, but I don’t like it that much in that context.

          • Laughing Giraffe said:

            What I meant was, never say, “Have you lost weight?” ever at all. If you think someone looks good, for whatever reason, just say, “Wow, you look great!” (Possibly “What an awesome dress” or “I like your hairstyle” if necessary.)

          • queen of scarves said:

            @laughing giraffe: I get what you’re saying, but sometimes it’s really obvious that “you look great” is code for “you’ve lost weight and I think that’s a good and significant thing”, even though the weight is never mentioned at all. I suppose the difference between that and your scenario might be in how insistent one is about gushing over how great the person looks. Basically, say it once, enthusiastically but not too much so, and move on.

        • oh my godddddd hulk rage – people saying (ike it was a compliment) “You’re looking so thin!” to my friend with an eating disorder

          • ChrisB said:

            I recently saw a lot of family members for the first time after losing some weight, and EVERYONE complimented me on it. Since I don’t like to talk about weight in any way, I felt awkward and on the spot. In large groups I simply said, “thanks,” and let the conversation quickly move on, but in smaller groups/one-on-one I told people, truthfully, that it was a drug side effect. It had the nice effect of making people visibly think about the fact that they were assuming a lot about my body and my life, and realize that it’s not always a good thing to have lost weight and people may not always want it pointed out.

          • Uncommon Hussy said:

            I once lost a lot of weight in a very short time because of an abusive work/living situation, where my access to food was restricted and I was in such a state of constant panic that even when I had food I could rarely bring myself to eat it. Once I got out, one of the first things that made me realize just how bad the situation had been was the shock of seeing the numbers of just how much weight I had lost in that time. It was so uncomfortable and upsetting for me when people would compliment me on my weight loss after that, because as well-meaning as they might have been, the only thing I could think was “THANKS FOR REMINDING ME OF HOW SHITTY THE LAST FEW MONTHS WERE, JERKFACE, I REALLY APPRECIATE THAT SO MUCH, I’M GLAD LIVING IN MISERY HAS MADE ME MORE ATTRACTIVE TO YOU.”

            Eventually I just started responding with, “I know, isn’t that fucked up?” or “Yeah, I’m doing my best to gain some of it back” or “Yes, it’s very unhealthy,” which at least got them to shut up about it and gave me the satisfaction of seeing them look uncomfortable for a minute.

          • paddlepickle said:

            Uuuuugh yes. One of my first ‘aha’ moments on the road to fat acceptance was when I first lost a ton of weight and was basking in all of the compliments. Then, there was this friend who I had had a giant crush on all throughout high school but always assumed there was no way he could reciprocate because I was so fat and terrible (literally, he once asked me to make out with him but I said no because I thought he had to be joking), and my brother told me he had said to him “Whoa, did Pickle get mono or something?” Suddenly I realized A. I was fine before and he thought I was fine and WE COULD HAVE DATED B. Everyone else was being a giant jerk by assuming that losing weight was automatically a Good Healthy Thing.

          • Molly Grue said:

            AUUUGGGHHH. That can be really, really painful.

            This also reminds me of a friend of a friend, who when complimented on her weight loss, replied with pointed cheerfulness, “Yes, it’s the chemotherapy diet!” That tended to shut people up right quick, but it’s not a reply that’s generally available. Still, people really need to think, don’t they, about commenting on other people’s bodies.

          • Rowan said:

            A couple of years back I really wasn’t coping with life, mental health-wise, and lost tons of weight. My mother kept commenting on how “slim and healthy” I looked. Yeah, I was sleeping 3 hours a night, living on crackers and wine, spending half my time either crying or struggling with the urge to self-harm … SO HEALTHY!

            I’ve now put all the weight back on with SuperBonusExtraPounds. But I no longer wish I could vanish from the world so I consider that a win, frankly.

        • queen of scarves said:

          There was a really great post & discussion about diet/body talk as female bonding ritual recently, I encourage you to check it out — I’m not managing to paste a link but it was question # 588

      • To me “appreciate” still sounds too grateful for this conversation. I know it’s not always intended to convey gratitude, but is used as a softer way to say “recognise” or “know”, but it can still convey some impression that the comment was welcome. So I would be more likely to use: “I recognise that you meant that kindly, but…”

        • the cat in the mask said:

          Yes, I was thinking something along the lines of, “I know you probably thought that was a compliment, but…”

          • trixieleitz said:

            I love this phrasing. Flies below the snark-dar :)

        • Cari said:

          “Acknowledge” may be a better ‘a’ word to go for also (if conveying slight grattitude is not what is intended).

          • trixieleitz said:

            Acknowledge is great! Or maybe even “get”, as it’s a nice emphatic monosyllable: “I get that you meant that kindly, but…”

    • Personal favorite: “How ’bout that local sports team?”

      Said exactly like that.

      Uses: ANY time someone grossly crosses the social norms, which commenting about weight is. (See also: pregnancy, money, racist/sexist/otherwise offensive comments/nosiness/whatevs.)

      The awkwardness is there. You’re just returning it to sender.

      • paddlepickle said:

        Haha that is an excellent plan. I’m going to start using that with my Grandma who makes uncomfortable comments on a wide range of comments ranging from my weight to stop-and-frisk.

      • thaxted said:

        “The awkwardness is there. You’re just returning it to sender.”

        GENIUS. Sampler material.

      • J. Preposterice said:

        That’s one of my all-time favorite subject-changers. Among my social circle, it’s common enough that it is generally recognized as a way to completely end a particular topic, no-harm-no-foul. The usual response is “I think they’re gonna go all the way this year!” and then it’s time for a new topic OR a shift to actually discussing a local sports team of some kind if there’s no new topic to hand.

        Among social circles where that’s not the case, it’s JUST odd enough to throw people and, as you say, return the awkwardness to sender.

      • Jen said:

        I’ve been trying to do a “return to sender” thing on my pregnancy weight, and IT’S NOT BLOODY WORKING.

        I am 5’2″, and this pregnancy has been hyper-focused on my belly region (my previous pregnancy I got big and had edema, so I was just swollen *everywhere* — still have cracks in my fingertips from how swollen they were, for example). This time around, my belly is just protruding, and various people at work (not always coworkers, sometimes just the people who work in the food court) have taken to the “whoa!” or “wow, look at you!” or “you’re so big!” type of comments — always with *that* tone (the tone that my friend things I’m misconstruing, but it’s there).

        The best I’ve come up with is saying, “Yes, please tell me how big I’ve gotten. I love hearing it!” with a semi-manic grin and eye contact, and some of them take that as an invite to in fact tell me exactly that, because they think it’s funny. Apparently I am funny to mock/poke fun at/pat on the belly (as one coworker/friend was saying, “I know you’ve said how you don’t like this, but I’m going to do it anyways because it’s me.” We’ve known each other for less than a year, and I’ve ranted to her on a number of occasions how much I dislike it, but sure. Assume you have a special pass. Fortunately she overheard me complaining to someone else and apologized and has left me alone since. But JFC.)

        Sorry about all the parentheses, I just had to rant.

        • I am so sorry, because that was my pregnancy experience (I considered writing to Captain Awkward about it but I got too stressed out to write something coherent). I don’t know if it was ye olde fibroid, or the fact that my baby ended up being off-the-charts tall, or that I was carrying low and in the front, or that the synthroid I started taking halfway through pregnancy made me shrink somewhat around my bump and create a sharper contrast, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that, starting at about five to six months, at least once a day, someone (again in the stranger-to-warm-acquaintance range) would say at least part of, “when are you DUE? You must be due any day now. Is it TWINS? You’re SOOO HUGE. It has to be TWINS, check the ultrasound. If it’s not TWINS, you’re in TROUBLE. Do you have gestational diabetes? You probably have gestational diabetes (I did NOT have gestational diabetes, by the way, but thanks strangers for contributing to my stress!). You’re too big, it’s not normal. I/my cousin/my friend/this person I know was just pregnant and I/she was smaller than you. It’s not normal. I feel sorry for YOU, haHAAA!” Etc. (Seriously about the last sentence–it happened with someone at a bus stop, with someone who claimed to work in a hospital. Bet the patients love her.)

          I reacted in the same way as I did to the people who have been saying that I look pregnant, unfortunately. It got so that I didn’t want to go outside, because this would even happen if I went for a quick walk around the block. It tapered off somewhat when I was about seven and a half months along and I started wearing maxi dresses and cultivating a really forbidding default expression, and then I mostly just got compliments about “looking great.” Maybe the maxi dresses distracted them, but I would never think that it’s my responsibility to circumvent these rude questions and comments, or even that it’s within my power to prevent them in the first place.

          I’ve been fantasizing about (if there is a next time) making signs (my mind runs to paper plates and popsicle sticks with jaunty retro lettering, but I guess I’m weird that way) that I point to while smiling beatifically, and that say things like, “It’s not twins, [profane insult].” “My appearance is not up for discussion and you are very rude.” Etc. Actually, come to think of it, this might apply in this current situation, though I would prefer to use my words in the ways suggested by the Captain and other commenters.

    • Jane said:

      There is only one person I have successfully trained not to talk about my weight, and that is my mom. I was not nice about it. I think I snapped, “I don’t want to talk about my weight” in the meanest tone possible several times, I brought up how I don’t want to talk about weight several times (in relation to her talking about other people’s weights), and basically I just made it really unpleasant for her to talk about it with me. I’m not sure this method works with most people? It works with my mom because we otherwise have a very close relationship and lots of stuff to talk about, so having one disagreement or one topic we avoid isn’t super noticeable.

      • Jen said:

        My mom told me that “I get really prickly” when she brings up my weight, and said she wasn’t going to do it anymore (though loves to make the comments about how “once this pregnancy is over, you can really focus on getting the weight off, since most people think after the first kid, “Oh, what’s the point in working hard, I’m just going to go through this again…”).

        She told me, “If I were to say to you, “you look like you’ve put on weight, what are you going to do about that?” you’d bite my head off!”

        My head just about exploded with how she couldn’t see how that phrasing would be upsetting. I did point out to her, “Look at how you asked that! If you were to say “X”, it wouldn’t have been so bad…” She and I are close, but this is one of those topics that sometimes I wish she’d just leave alone — because then suddenly I find myself policing my food intake around her, and it’s annoying.

        • dee said:

          If my mom said that to me I’d be like, yes, I would bite your head off. Take this as a sign not to do it.

          One specific benefit of mothers saying weight shit to you while your pregnant, though, is that if they get to you too much, you may be able to hold them off with Grandbaby Sanctions.

    • Devin said:

      Maybe just tell them what you’re telling yourself? “Oh! Yeah, I’ve been kicking a lot of ass and I guess it just happened.” That does little to teach them to stop commenting on strangers’ bodies, but educating the world is not always our job. I think if you sound upbeat about it they will take it as agreement and acceptance and a judo-like redirect, rather than as a contradiction or rebuff.

      If you’re doing something that isn’t going to be confused with a diet and you want to talk about it, you could follow up with details, but I think it’d be fine to just give a vague answer if asked and change the subject.

    • Penguin said:

      I had to deal with this recently a few times, since I stopped exercising much and replaced it with overeating last winter, and then switched to marathon training and trying to eat things that make me feel good in the spring. Most recently it was from my boss, who insisted on commenting that I’ve lost weight when I was sitting next to her at a work social function and unable to escape. I responded that I’ve been running a lot more, and tried to guide the conversation in that direction and away from weight. I mean, I don’t even have a scale so weight loss is kind of intangible for me, plus I share your discomfort with talking about that kind of thing.

      If this happens again, I’ll definitely stick with that approach. So maybe if you don’t want to say thank you (I know I didn’t) but just saying “I don’t want to talk about this” feels too confrontational (not that it should, it’s a perfectly reasonable preference, but I personally would not feel comfortable saying that), you could politely mention some of the healthy choices you have been making and NOT talk about weight yourself. Like, I’m proud that I’m running more and getting faster etc., so I’ll happily talk about that with someone, whereas I don’t think my weight is something that ANYONE should talk about unless I bring it up first.

    • Leonine said:

      Here’s my go-to:

      Them: Oh, you’ve lost weight!
      Me: Damn it! I hate it when I lose stuff.
      Them: Uh . . .
      Me: [cheerfully] Well, it’s gotta be around here somewhere. It’ll turn up sooner or later!

      At this point, they usually get it, and if not, there are options like getting mad and telling them to mind their own business or just asking simply, “Can we talk about something else?” Having an unrelated, non-personal topic to segue to can help here: “Can we talk about something else? Did you hear that all the traffic signals on Main Street will be solar by 2016? Amazing, right?!”

      This works because it conveys that you don’t appreciate the “compliment” and that you don’t want to talk about it. (Quick story: I once ran into an acquaintance whom I had not seen in about a year. He came up and said, “I just want to say congratulations!” I said, “Thank you” (how you do) and tried to think of what I was being congratulated on. Since I had last seen him, I had finished my Master’s thesis, graduated with my MA, started working in my field, and given birth to my first child. There was a lot he could have been congratulating me on, but I wasn’t sure how he would have known any of that. But before I could ask, he went on: “It’s so great that you were able to lose the weight*!” I had lost some weight. I had been exercising a lot and had lost some weight. I was astonished. There were some things I had accomplished that I was very proud of, but losing weight was not one of them. (I totally get that it is for some people–mazel tov!–it just wasn’t for me.) So I feigned irritation and deployed the script above. Dude got a very sour look on his face; I guess I was supposed to fall all over myself and lick his boots in gratitude for the “compliment.” His sourness let me be cold, so I coldly excused myself and have had the pleasure of treating him coldly ever since.)

      *Re “the weight”: In my experience, anyone who refers to what they consider to be excess adipose tissue as “the weight” has a problematic and dehumanizing view of whatever body they’re talking about. This is especially true if they speaker is a medical professional.

      • paddlepickle said:

        I love this so much, that is DEFINITELY what I’m going to say from now on. “Oh god, it probably fell behind the bed with my keys again!”

        And, yeah, exactly: I wouldn’t mind these compliments quite so much if they weren’t said in the same tone of voice as “Oh my god, you survived breast cancer!” (although it’s as if you overcame a terminal illness but also as if that terminal illness was your fault and your responsibility to overcome through hard work)

        • solecism said:

          Actually, that same wrong-headed attitude can apply to breast cancer just as much as body size–a positive attitude and healthy choices and hard work will cure you (subtext: poor choices probably caused your cancer in the first place)! Both are horrible and inappropriate.

    • TR said:

      I’ve been dropping a little weight lately, unintentionally, and people keep on commenting on it- seriously, it’s an insanely small percentage of my body weight; how can it be THAT noticeable – and I just adopt a bored tone and say something like, “Have I? I’ve been forced to walk a lot more lately/eat more green stuff/whatever excuse is handy, so I guess that’s why.” I’ll say thank you if they compliment me, but for the most part, I try to give the impression that my weight is not an important subject to me at all, which seems to keep the conversations short.

      (For some people, and in some situations, I’ll just state that I don’t want to talk about my weight, but I’ve found an uninterested tone of voice usually has the same effect without getting into the whole “I was just trying to compliment you!” dealio.)

    • red tonic said:

      Nothing to add, just wanted to say that I am with you on the unhealthy loss and return of weight. Solidarity!

      • Ditto. Compliment I *did* like, after I put weight back on: “You’re looking so healthy”

    • boutet said:

      It might not work for you, depending on your situation, but my standard response to “have you lost weight?!” Is “No.” And then staring at them blankly until they change the subject or go away. If they push the “oh well it looks like you have, you look so good!” They get “huh.” or “oh.” And more staring.
      “No” is my answer whether or not there has been any weight loss/gain. I used it on my mother for the better part of a year before she stopped commenting on weight. It’s just such a dead end comment to make. Not a blushing self-concious “no” or whatever, just a blank, solid “No.” It offers very little to the person to continue the topic with.

      • That’s awesome. It’s not like you’re answering the question with the word “No” it’s like “No” is your response to that entire conversation. I like it.

    • charmed.omega said:

      Like you, I started improving my strength and shrunk in the process: not by very much, but apparently lots of my work-acquaintances noticed. I’d respond by trying to make a face like they’ve told me I’ve styled my hair so it reminds them of purple helicopters. “Uhhhhm… I guess I did. Thanks? That’s not really what I was going for.” Some people just care about the most bizarre and random things.
      (It was especially odd because I hadn’t lost any weight at all, just become more dense.)

      I also sometimes responded with “Awww, I’ve been trying to gain weight”, which throws people for such a loop.

    • My go-to line for this when I was going through my own health-revolution was, “Oh, it’s not really about that for me. But I *did* [run a mile in 10/complete a 5k/bench press my body weight/proud fitness moment here] last week!”

      Treating the weight part like the non-sequitur it is and redirecting the conversation to things I actually felt proud of not only prevented people from commenting on my weight thereafter, it also helped me keep sight of my actual goals, rather than getting mired in the wholly human thirst for flattery.

      If they persisted, I would say, “I appreciate that you’re trying to compliment me, but I don’t think my weight is relevant, thanks.” And, failing that, the ever-popular: “Please stop talking about my weight, it makes me uncomfortable.”

    • LadyK said:

      I am struggling with this too. I’m finally getting something like a handle on my chronic pain, and doing so requires an amount of careful exercise that is having the side effect of some noticeable change of shape. The primary effect of being able to stand and walk without pain is the point and the thing I’m really loving/hopeful/working on.

      For people who mean well and I have only a casual relationship, I’m trying variants of “Thanks, I’m really enjoying my body these days.” My current work is centered around self care and self love and doing what is good and comfortable for me. I’m trying to end my life long war with and hatred of my body.

      I get more flummoxed by questions about what I’m eating, but I usually just answer those honestly. “What did you have for dinner last night?” “Chimichanga with extra queso, I’m really enjoying my body these days.” (Or “How much weight have you lost?” “No idea, I don’t weigh myself.”) I’m pretty shameless, so brutal and complete honesty usually is more uncomfortable for other people than me.

  9. LW #601 said, “…collecting money from the office to run out and get food.”

    I’d offer the suggestion, that if it’s a get food and eat collectively in the kitchen thing you could join them. Just because you’re eating from home doesn’t mean you can’t share the table. If everyone’s eating at their desk, than you’re not missing out on a communal experience.

  10. Jill said:

    #602…I feel your pain, having had a potbelly my whole life. My best scripts are to say with a very confused look on your face and with an inquisitive tone to the following variations on this annoying theme:
    “When are you due?”…..”Due for what?”
    “Oh~ You’re pregnant!”……..”What makes you think I’m pregnant?”
    “What are you having?”………”Nothing now. I had lunch an hour ago”
    “So is it a boy or a girl”…….Look around yourself in confusion then pick something. I usually hold up my bag and say, “It’s my purse” while looking even more confused at the question.

    Most people will begin to reply then realize they are horribly mistaken. They’ll either cut themselves off, stammer, or skulk away. None of which you need to feel bad about.

    Unfortunately some people are total clods, still won’t get it, and may reply with, “Well, you LOOK pregnant” to which you can reply (with a sharp tone and an icy look on your face) “Well, you LOOK well mannered” Always works for me.

    • Oh my goodness I love that last one. Hahaha “why are you asking about this inanimate object, strange person?”

    • paddlepickle said:

      These are amazing. It would also be pretty great to look kind of horrified, start counting backwards on your fingers and yell “OH SHIT I NEED TO GET TO THE DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY”.

    • jdrives said:

      “Well, you LOOK well mannered.”

      Amazing!!

    • ona555 said:

      I love the clueless and blunt approach, and if you don’t mind, every one of these scripts is going into my shirt pocket for later use.

    • matryoshka_core said:

      Those are golden. And if someone asks whether you’re having a boy or a girl, the baby-eating joke just writes itself.

    • garlicknitter said:

      For “What are you having?” how about “I’ll take a gin and tonic, thanks.” (Or beverage of your choice.)

  11. caryatis said:

    I disagree with the advice to #601. It seems like having lunch with coworkers would be a fun, relatively cheap thing which could improve your whole work experience and perhaps career. Can you cut back on other expenses in order to afford it?

    If not, please don’t use the cold, robotic “Not today, thanks” line. You say you like the coworkers, and they’re not doing anything wrong here–your goal is to preserve the relationship, not just to get them to go away, so come up with a friendlier response. Just say you’re trying to save money. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. If they offer to pay, say you’d prefer to join them later, when you can afford it. The answer to “who can’t even afford lunch” is “a frugal person.”

    • Sienna said:

      I’m sorry, but what about the LW saying they can’t afford to eat out suggests to you that they can somehow magically afford to do so? I just don’t think that’s helpful advice. Let’s take the LW at their word about their financial situation. I do, however, agree with you that using friendlier responses will be better in the long run if you want to have good relationships with your coworkers and participate in future lunches.

    • muse142 said:

      I don’t think “Not today, thanks” is necessarily cold and robotic. I mean, you could deliver it that way – or you could deliver it with a cheerful tone and a smile just as easily!

    • GERTI said:

      The LW has said they can’t afford to go out to lunch, and we should take them at their word. Sometimes “I can’t afford it” can also mean “sure, I could, but I’d rather spend my extra $5 for the week on new nail polish/eating out with non-work friends/put into savings for new bicycle.” The LW shouldn’t feel obligated to eat lunch out with these people if it’s not how they want to spend their limited income.

      I don’t think “not today, thanks” is cold or unfriendly at all, especially not when delivered with a smile an pleasant tone, coming from a pleasant person who is otherwise agreeable and easy to work with. There are lots of ways to foster goodwill in an office besides getting lunch out several times a week. If the LW has an otherwise good rapport with their coworkers, not going out to lunch several times a week won’t negatively affect their career.

      • caryatis said:

        It’s the lack of explanation that I object to with the “not today, thanks.” That will give people the impression you don’t want to eat lunch with them, ever, period–whereas an explanation would make it clear the LW is open to lunch, just not right now.

        “Can’t afford it” isn’t immutable–LW can’t afford it given everything else she wants to do with her income, which may be reasonable, but I suggest seeing if it’s feasible to shuffle the money around, spend less on X in exchange for lunch.

        • caryatis said:

          In other words, “I can’t afford it” really means “It’s not a priority, given my limited resources.” LW gets to set her own priorities, not me, but since she says she’d “love to participate”, I suggest not being overly rigid about the allocation of her money.

          • JenniferP said:

            I know you mean well, and I understood what you meant, but sometimes “can’t afford it” is “buying this fun work lunch means it’s the only food I eat all day.” The first year I lived in Chicago I had a $40/week budget that had to cover both food and public transit, and I when I walked the 3 miles home at night on a nice night it wasn’t for the exercise. When the Letter Writer says they can’t afford it, the respectful thing is to take their word for it and not imply that they could afford it if they really wanted to. You’re setting the LW up to have to come up in here and have to justify their spending or say “Nope, I’m really that poor” which is what they want to avoid. We need to take people’s word for their own financial boundaries.

          • I expect that if she’d love to participate she’s probably already looked at her budget to see whether she can afford it, and doesn’t need a stranger to suggest she does so.

        • Kade Azkyroth said:

          Yeah, I could easily see someone reading “Not today, thanks,” especially on several consecutive days, as having the same sort of subtext as “I’m not looking for a relationship right now” (as discussed in many other entries) even if it’s not meant that way.

          As for the quibbling about whether it’s affordable, I agree with the captain below.

      • stayce said:

        I think the only problem with “not today” is that well-meaning people will ask again tomorrow! If the LW’s office culture places a lot of emphasis on voluntary bonding time (and even if the office is full of nice people, I empathize) then maybe it’s a good idea to use the Captain’s scripts and just set everyone’s expectations about how to interact with the LW around lunch and office gifts and such.

    • garlicknitter said:

      Several other options were offered in the advice beyond “Not today, thanks,” and I thought they were all good. What’s wrong with sharing in other ways than spending money on lunch?

      • There’s nothing wrong with sharing in other ways.

    • ReanaZ said:

      I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with “Not today, thanks.” (and also think your first paragraph is unnecessarily rude and dismissive.)

      Not exactly comparable, but my coworkers have an ongoing coffee habit. I’ve had this issue at both workplaces in my current country, which have a stronger coffee culture than my home country (and I’ve had jobs with much higher salaries that allow for a daily coffee habit, not a luxury people in my past jobs have had). This a big area where the friendly/non-work/building relationships stuff happens.

      And… I have a medical condition that makes me extremely intolerant to caffeine , which means no coffee, no chocolate, no black or green tea, and, for related reasons, very little sugar. As a result, I pretty much can’t have any hot drinks except herbal tea, which I bring to the office myself (it’s rare for coffee shops to have herbal tea, particularly stuff other than chamomile, which I can’t stand). I don’t really want to tell people constantly about my medical condition (and find most people–even my good friends–don’t remember consistently anyway). I’ve had no problems with a cheerful, “No thanks!” People do still frequently ask me, I say “No thanks!”, and they move on without much fuss. I show interest in being a friendly coworker in other ways.

      Few people are offended by a polite “No thanks!” Some people might ask a few “Are you sure?”s out of their own sense of politeness. But it’s a pretty well-established way to turn down something politely.

    • You’re not just disagreeing with the advice, you’re disagreeing with LW 601’s own assessment of their situation.

      Yes, they say they’d love to; they also say they can’t, and realistically it’s going to be a few months before they can. Respect their judgment, yeh?

  12. sam said:

    (apologies if this gets posted twice – I wasn’t logged in and my first comment didn’t appear).

    #602 – as a plus-sized gal who has never been pregnant, I’ve been there, too many times to count. My reaction these days, I just very politely but firmly respond, with a dead-eyed stare “I’m not pregnant, I’m just fat”. and then continue to stare at them as they backpedal furiously in the silence. Let them be the ones who are embarrassed and red-faced.

    • Yeine said:

      After the first time I was asked when I’m due, I rehearsed saying ‘I’m not pregnant, I’m just fat!’ so that the other times it’s happened it’s just come out automatically. I like to say it aggressively cheerfully, and watch as they shrivel into themselves and secretly decide never to speak to me again (which is just fine since it’s always strangers who say it).

  13. Megan M. said:

    Oh, Captain. I almost cried reading that story about your friend at the mall! I’m so glad you were with her and she didn’t get confronted like that when she was alone.

    People can just be so thoughtless in general with their comments. It’s almost worse when they think they’re being nice. I’d also like to offer that just as you never assume someone is pregnant, you never assume that you know why a person or couple is childless. I have an aunt who I’d always thought just didn’t want children, and then after she heard that I had had a miscarriage, she told me that she herself had suffered five miscarriages before she and my uncle just decided not to try anymore. Five. You just never know what people have gone through.

    #602, hugs to you. I’ve had someone ask me when I was due when I wasn’t pregnant, and it was very unpleasant. I can’t imagine how hard it is for you to get that comment as a regular occurrence. Totally make it weird and awkward for people and glare at them while they flounder in it. These people need to learn!

    #601, I feel for you. I am broke, broke, broke and I would be in the same boat if this were the lunch culture at my job. I like the idea of bringing in a treat to share every once in a while. If homemade is your thing, there are lots of simple recipes out there, and if not, box mixes or pre-made are great too! Your coworkers are already getting takeout, it’s not like they can judge you for not baking. ;)

  14. Hannah C said:

    The advice for #602 and reader’s comments was really helpful for me to read right now. Due to a particular combination of medications I’ve gained a lot of weight in a short amount of time, all on my belly and I’ve been really self-conscious about it. Reading the scripts for people who make uninvited comments on weight has made me feel a lot more able to cope. Thanks!

  15. TR said:

    LW #602 – I have never dealt with the “are you pregnant” questions (and I’m sorry anyone has to! that’s so intrusive and rude!) but my go-to response when anyone starts suggesting, indirectly or directly, that part of my body is a “problem area” is to look them dead in the eye and either very levelly or very confusedly (depending on how kind I’m feeling toward them) state “But I like my [body part].”

    Unless they incredibly rude or mean (or close relatives, sometimes), my experience is that people usually say something like “of course!” or “they’re pretty/nice” and change the subject as fast as they can.

  16. PucksMuse said:

    Re: 602

    That sucks and I’m so sorry. People need to learn 1) not to assume and 2) not to voice those assumptions. But for some reason, when they screw up in this fashion, they seem to want to compound the error by justifying their assumption and then blaming YOU for not responding in a polite way to their blunder.

    A couple of years ago, I attended a friend’s wedding and in the receiving line, her mother (whom i’ve never gotten along with) commented on my (absent) children and then patted my stomach and said, “And it looks like you have another on the way any minute now!” Now, I am more than six feet tall and at the time, was overweight. The mother of the bride is tiny and takes pride in being tiny.

    I remember my face sort of “melting” from an excited, happy smile to a stone-cold resting bitch face as I told her, “No, actually, I’m not.” and moved to greet the father of the bride. The mother GRABBED my arm and started babbling about how I’d gained a bit of weight since she’d last saw me, and I’d always been so “big,” how was she to know? It was an honest mistake, blah blah blah, all the while I’m dragging her petite, delicate frame in my giant wake. Finally, she huffed, “Well, you don’t have to take it PERSONALLY.”

    Uh, yeah, I do, actually. When someone says something classless and rude, I don’t have to make them feel better about doing it.

    • stayce said:

      I coldly arch my eyebrow and say “WOW” in solidarity, PucksMuse. That is deeply not okay!
      My favorite awkward burn/topic changer is if someone says something really rude/mean/etc, I look them dead in the eye and say calmly, “Well. That is certainly a thing one could say.”
      Note I didn’t call it a good thing.

    • Myrin said:

      How else were you supposed to take it but personally? She directed this terribly rude behaviour at you personally so there’s really no other way to take it. *shakes head*

  17. Louise said:

    Re #602. I am another woman of reproductive age (umm…12 to 55??…kind of a span there), who carries weight in such a way that I often get asked if I’m pregnant. One former coworker I ran into once actually touched my belly while squealing about my pregnancy. I told her, “I’m not pregnant, but I did have spaghetti for lunch”. She continued to insist that I was pregnant and I was just joking around. Ugh, I finally said, “Nope, this is just what my body looks like”, which has pretty much become my go-to line.

    • twomoogles said:

      Oh wow, I love “I’m not pregnant, but I did have spaghetti for lunch.” I am stealing that if this ever happens to me (only a matter of time, I carry my weight in belly/boobs, so…)

  18. VG said:

    #601, if it’s not totally out of reach, maybe compromise by bringing lunch Monday–Thursday, and then joining the group on Fridays? There used to be a guy in my regular lunch group at work who did that, and no one thought twice about it (if anything, we all felt like we should have been doing the same thing, since we were each spending upward of $50 per week on lunches). We just made our own plans during the week and knew to include him when Friday rolled around.

    • caryatis said:

      Good compromise!

      • Courtney said:

        The LW has said that it’s not in her budget right now. If it were in her budget to buy lunch once per week, she would have asked for scripts on how to set the boundary at once per week. Whether you believe it or not, sometimes people really are so broke/behind on bills that eating out even once per week is too expensive.

        When I moved to my current town, it took me 10 months to find a job. I lived with friends, and paid for room and board by planning and cooking all the meals for their family of 3, and keeping the kitchen cleaned. (We split the other household chores in a roommately fashion.) I went through all of my savings on other bills during that time period. When I finally got a job, I was so broke that I had to borrow from my friends to pay for the gas to get to work for the first month until my paycheck came. It was months before I could afford a lunch out. You should step off on this issue and focus on the LW’s actual question.

        • MamaCheshire said:

          ^^^^^^^^^ THIS.

          I’m digging out from a horrible Catastrophic Money Failure, and part of that had to include dialing the boundaries all the way back to “nope, NOT going out to do money-costing things anywhere with anyone right now.” And I’m well aware of the opportunity costs involved in that, believe me. But it beats the hell out of having my power shut off in the middle of a heat wave, being unable to keep my car in legally-driveable condition, being unable to pay for my psych meds that don’t exist in generic form yet, or cutting what may on the surface seem like “luxuries” that are an absolute necessity to my children’s mental health (e.g., they go to what is one of the least expensive Catholic schools in the area because FirstKid was assaulted at the public school here and the administration could not seem to get their act together to get the attack child to stop attacking people – her continued ability to go to a school she feels safe in > my ability to have a fancy business lunch).

  19. My bus ride to campus used to take me past a hospital, and I once had a really awful encounter on a crowded bus with a man who insisted I’d had an ultrasound at the hospital and demanded to know whether “it was a boy or a girl”. When I said “I’m not pregnant” he argued with me and then hit on me. It was the worst one-two combo instance of harassment I’ve ever experienced.

    • Katamari said:

      Oh God! This is the worst!

      • I checked with all my colleagues when I got to campus and while the awesome velvet coat I was wearing did make my already substantial boobage look outrageous, I in no way had anything that might be mistaken for a bump. So either he was just outrageously rude or the ultrasound was pretext for the on-hitting.

    • Not pregnant, but if I ever am I plan to change up my responses to strangers asking “Boy or girl?” or, better, “What are you having?” I’m most excited to try out, “Oh, they think it’s a velociraptor, but the scan wasn’t very clear.” Also, “Puppies,” said completely nonchalantly.

      I think this could also be a possible tactic for the LW’s situation.

      • embertine said:

        “Oh, they think it’s a velociraptor, but the scan wasn’t very clear.”

        That is beautiful and I almost want to get pregnant so that I can use it.

      • olivia0330 said:

        Ooh, I like, “Puppies.”

        “Kittens.” might have to be my answer, since “to have kittens” is slang for “to pitch a fit/rant/rage/whatever.” :)

      • mintylime said:

        When I was pregnant, Mr mintylime and I had decided not to tell anyone what the gender was. I TOTALLY used these lines (as previously suggested on CA):

        – Well, we’re not sure but we’re hoping for kittens
        – But it might be a velociraptor
        – *quizzical look* A baaaaaabbyyy

  20. hypersquare said:

    Once at school sports day, the mother of one of my pupils said “Ah, Ms _, you’re expecting!” I looked confused, looked down, and answered “Er, no. Didn’t realise these trousers were so unflattering.” She immediately backpedalled, and said it wasn’t because I *looked* pregnant, but that she’d heard I was. From her son. I thought that was rather unfair to blame the kid for her own terrible manners, and he was quite close by, so I called him over and said “I hear you’ve been gossiping about me and telling your mum I’m pregnant?” He said “No! Uh, Mum, what you talking about?!” She had the decency to look properly shamefaced, and immediately recalled somewhere else she needed to be.

    Like most people, I tend to go in and out a bit – and hate it when people ‘compliment’ me on slight shrinking (after periods of being able to exercise more). Because they tend to word it as ‘You’ve lost weight’, I can say, usually truthfully, ‘No, I weigh myself regularly* and definitely haven’t. In fact, I’ve put on a kilo or so of muscle. Swimming is great!’

    * have to monitor for medical reasons

  21. Mandragora said:

    #602 UGH the pregnancy questions.
    I also have a potbelly and I vividly remember every single time someone has asked me if/has suggested I’m pregnant (or some variations of “your belly looks big in this piece of clothing” THAT’S BECAUSE IT IS BIG). Last time, it happened at a friend’s birthday party about a year ago and I still think about it at least once a week. Having gained a lot of weight in the last two years, I’m especially self-conscious about my body and that really drove the point home. It was so very awkward. She even wanted to see my belly to make sure it was just my dress that “misled” her and… I let her. That annoys me most. I always get so apologetic, blubbering things like “Haha yeah I gained so much weight it’s crazy and I’m very concerned about it” when I actually know that:
    – They’re in the wrong.
    – My body is not theirs to comment on.
    – Being fat and gaining weight is nothing to be ashamed of.
    – It’s my body and my body is awesome HOW DARE THEY?
    So yeah, I’m kinda torn between A) hoping this never happens to me again and B) teach the next person that asks me that kind of question the error of their ways by making it so, so awkward. Now I have a few more scripts for B).

    • Megan M. said:

      She ASKED to see your belly for proof?????? That’s completely outrageous! O.o
      I’m so sorry that happened to you. I hope you’ve never had to see that rude woman again.

  22. Dear LW 601:

    It’s seems easier to say “not today thanks” because that gives away do little information. I’m with the Captain and the other folks who recommend saying that your budget won’t stretch to buying lunch, but you’d like to sit in when people eat in. Also, cupcakes. Really popular. :)

    Dear LW 602:

    Damn, but some people are rude! All I can suggest, “nope, not pregnant” with a side of “I get very uncomfortable when people comment on my body, so please don’t.”

    And hugs to you both if you want them

  23. misspiggy said:

    When I started my first job twenty years ago, one or two women in the office were pregnant at any one time, and you were expected to notice and comment on it, particularly if you were female. One criticised me for not noticing and not congratulating her. I don’t know whether some pregnancy-commenters are trying to meet some outdated notion of politeness, but perhaps it’s possible?

    In any case, people need to be told that discusing others’ bodies is not currently, and hopefully will never be, socially acceptable – but just thought I would throw that in if anyone is thinking, ‘why on earth does this happen?!?!’

    • monologue said:

      Yeah, around me it is sometimes a thing if you don’t notice or don’t comment. You hear people saying, “whoops, sorry I didn’t notice.” I try to help combat this by being vocal about the fact that you wouldn’t want to mistakenly congratulate someone and that it’s kind of a personal thing to be commenting on if the pregnant person doesn’t raise the topic first.

      Even when people I know are very obviously pregnant and about to deliver in like 2 weeks, I usually still do not say anything. Sometimes I feel like I’m ignoring the elephant in the room, but when they do say something about it then I’ll say, “yeah, congratulations!” and ask how things are going. I’m hoping that way pregnant people will only share what they’re comfortable sharing instead of sharing really personal info out of obligation. (But I think I do come across to some people as indifferent or uncaring.)

    • Legacy of silence said:

      I had to deal with someone get upset with me when I didn’t comment on their pregnancy belly. The script I used was, “I wanted to let you have the chance to announce it” and left off that I didn’t want to assume something about their body! Dunno if that would help if you’re in that situation again.

  24. JfC said:

    I often get nauseous in the morning due to anxiety. I often blame the nausea for being out of sorts/having to step away for a while because of the mental illness stigma. That’s brought on a lot of coworkers asking if I’m pregnant. I answer “I hope not.” Maybe that’s too candid.

    • tawg said:

      I had basically the exact same thing! (Upset anxiety-tum and all.) And when I replied with “No” they’d say “Ah, you never know!” Actually, yes. I do know. I avoided “I hope not” because I didn’t want to encourage them – I work with a lot of parents who assume that eventually I’ll get the urge or meet the right person and suddenly want babies. I’ve spent way too much time explaining that no, I never want kids. I have never wanted kids. I work very hard to make sure I’m not going to conceive kids. This is not going to change. Stop assuming you know more about this than I do. Shhhhhhh go away.

      • boutet said:

        I had a nervous stomach in the morning thing for years (still do sometimes) and people would tell me maybe I was pregnant. I was first: single, and second: not interested in guys at the time. My response at the time was, “Not unless a god is involved, and I think they generally let you know.”

      • Blue Meeple said:

        Argh, I really hate the whole “oh, you’ll change your mind!” routine. No. I have never wanted kids. I have know since I was 6 years old that I did not want kids. Ask my friends who have known me for years and my family who has known me forever and they’ll tell you the same. The people who say this are always people who known me for like two seconds, and they really think they know me better than that? Stuff their patronizing crap!

    • I’ve been nauseous for over two years now (Woo! My stomach does not stomach!) and may I just say: people, do not make this joke. I spent months being all ‘ahaha I hope not’ and frantically calculating probabilities. Now I just tell people I guess I’m gestating an elephant, then. But oh god the panic was terrible.

      • twomoogles said:

        Yeah, I was once sent into a weeklong “might be pregnant” anxiety flareup based on a coworker making this joke. (combination of anxiety and bus-sick in my case). She didn’t even phrase it as a *joke*, just as “this is obviously what is happening, you are clearly pregnant”.

    • jenfullmoon said:

      As a born night owl, I frequently feel sick and crappy in the mornings. Not nauseous, but ah, the other reason why one might spend quality time with Mr. Toilet (sometimes waking up too early brings that on), as well as generally wanting to quietly sit still in a corner and not speak. BOY, is that last one not okay at my job. But I can never say I feel bad in the morning and only in the morning (not bad enough to waste a sick day) because well…people are gonna at least wonder.

    • Travis Brand said:

      Mine was always “As I have not yet seen a star in the East, no.” But I’m perfectly happy to overshare.

  25. Anyanka said:

    A couple of years ago, a loved one of mine had a tumor rapidly growing in her abdomen that made her look like she had a hard, round belly. Naturally, whenever we would go to Target (or out of the house, really) people would endlessly come up and congratulate her, asking ‘Oh, when’s it due?’
    And every time, she would flatly deadpan, “I’m not pregnant, I have cancer.”
    To this day, I have never in my entire life seen anyone more embarrassed of their own social conduct than those people.

    • Tapetum said:

      We have the reverse, but for similar reasons. My husband has lost about 60 pounds in the last six months. Lots and lots of people commented on it, usually with a side of “You look great! What’s your secret?” The secret is that it’s really easy to lose weight when you have stage IV cancer. What’s most bewildering to me is that people will then persist, saying things like “Well, at least you have one benefit!” It’s insanely aggravating.

      • G said:

        OMG, someone actually said that’s a BENEFIT?!?

        -another person who has cancer

        • Tapetum said:

          At least three someones so far – one of them a “lifestyle councilor” from our health insurance company. My husband takes it better than I do, he usually just gives them a pause followed by “I don’t recommend the diet plan.” Whereas it makes me want to rip their arms off and beat them with them.

          • RR said:

            Oh god I hear you. I have a chronic pain condition that makes eating very complicated and have had periods of extreme wait loss. I was explaining this to someone who said, to effect, “oh, I wish I had that! You lose so much weight!”

          • sam said:

            gah. I have a friend who has lived with crohn’s disease for many years, and when she was in one of her “good” periods, she would intentionally pack on as much weight as possible because it was actually a buffer against the debilitating weight loss she would suffer when she was having a flareup. She’d much rather be “fat”.

            There’s nothing like a chronic wasting disease to bring out the stupid in people.

      • Myrin said:

        Oh my goodness, that’s so horrible and I’m so sorry!

        I was at a concert at my old school a few months ago and noticed that a former teacher of mine, one of my favourites, incidentally, has lost weight (not tremendously much, but you could see it) and that it suited him. However, I immediately reigned my thoughts in and didn’t say anything at all to him about it (not even a “You’re looking good!”) because as long as I’ve known him he’d been on the heavier side and I was afraid he probably suffered from an illness which prompted him to lose weight.

        So I absolutely can’t understand people who say they can’t help blurting out stuff like this, I understand the impulse but please keep yourself in check.

      • annejumps said:

        Oh my god, noooooo *flies away with the power of secondhand embarrassment*

  26. syrens said:

    RE: #601: Cripes. That thing about *performing* having a certain amount of money? That is so sucktastically true! :-(
    That being said: Hang out in the break room and eat your brown-bag lunch while enjoying everyone’s company? Great idea. And bringing in home-made drop cookies or a big vat of chick pea salad (bonus points to both for being dirt cheap!) to share every now and then will totally send the message that you’re into sharing food (and therefore bonding) with your coworkers. If you can do that once or twice a month, it will go a long way. :-)

  27. Tyrannosaurus Vex said:

    I once had a guy come up to me at an office function and say “Congratulations! When is your baby due?” And I responded with “I’m not sure, but at least ten months from now.” Watching the look on his face change from confusion to understanding to horrific embarrassment might just be the most fun I’ve ever had at an office function.

    • Megan M. said:

      That is awesome and hilarious!

    • ona555 said:

      Clever!

      I can almost never be witty like that on the fly. Blunt, yes, witty, no.

  28. machetko said:

    The “never ask a woman if she’s pregnant” advice is utter common sense to me and I feel like it’s something I was raised with. But I’ve noticed in the last few years (had noted it before reading this post) that there’s been a kind of backlash against this mentality, as if prohibiting yourself from ever asking a woman if she was pregnant was ludicrous and hopelessly old-fashioned. Only uncool people would ever make such a ridiculous rule for themselves, I remember there was a line in a J.S. Foer short story about it. Where in the world could this be coming from??? It’s not like there’s some horrible shortage of things to talk about. We’ll always have the weather.

    • Kade Azkyroth said:

      Now I wonder…the one time I can recall as an adult that I inferred a person was pregnant without being told was when I “congratulations”ed the (also somewhat “showing” but I wasn’t sure before) then-manager of my apartment complex upon seeing a clearly fetal ultrasound photo somewhat prominently displayed at her desk. I now hope that wasn’t inappropriate. x.x

    • jenfullmoon said:

      My mom gave me crap once because I was getting my hair done and she asked if the hairdresser was pregnant. I said, “She’s wearing a giant black cape and standing behind me. How the hell should I know? But I wouldn’t ask anyway.” (She was.) But yeah, I fear it is more socially acceptable to assume/ask than it should be.

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      The only time I can ever see it being an issue is when you’re on some form of transit, and you see a person with a big belly get on. This leaves you stranded between “let hugely pregnant person stand, which runs counter to bus etiquette” and “draw attention to someone’s body shape, which is contrary to all manners anywhere ever”. (I usually go for just standing up and moving without directly offering the seat.)

      • sunshine and lollipops said:

        On the Tube in London you can get these “Baby on Board” badges to wear to indicate that you are pregnant. It’s a bit weird, but solves the whole “does that lady carry the weight in her stomach or is she pregnant?” problem.

    • twomoogles said:

      Yes, I also see the occasional person say things like “well, when I was/if I was pregnant, and nobody ever asked me about it, I would be hurt/upset and I really liked nice comments about it” which..ok, you feel how you feel, but I think it can lead people to feeling like “offend if I say something, and offend it I don’t, eek eek eek”. I feel like if someone’s going to be genuinely hurt/upset when people don’t mention a pregnancy that is, to them, obvious, they should maybe bring it up themselves first as a safe topic, or something.

    • Jen said:

      When I was pregnant with my first, my husband’s aunt asked me if she was planned. I shared this with my mom, as an example of a “wtf kind of question is THAT?” and my mom said that’s apparently a common/acceptable question.

      My response to the question, btw, was, “Does it matter?”

      (My MIL has also insisted on knowing if my daughter and my subsequent miscarriage were “vacation babies,” and trying to insist that my daughter must’ve been, even after I said that no, I had my period when we came back from our trip — “oh, but you can still have your period and be pregnant!” My body doesn’t work that way, thanks. My SIL asked me if I knew I was pregnant while we were on our trip, to which I had to explain that I wasn’t. I can’t handle his family sometimes.)

  29. Lisa M. said:

    To #601. Just as something that you might appreciate:

    There have been times when I have needed to stick to a better budget, and wanted to bring my lunch, and just been not organized enough to do it (when I was younger. I am slightly more organized now, but when I have a full-time job, there’s at least one day a week where I don’t have it together to have lunch stuff prepped.) To this day, I am always impressed when people bring their lunch and are good about it. I think it’s admirable. Also, most people are to preoccupied with their own stuff to judge others on something like that.

    As for how to handle it, I think most people have given pretty good tips – join up later, if people get things delivered you can still eat with them, and bringing in the odd treat once a month or so goes a really long way if you are able to do that. If not, that’s okay, too!

  30. Kathleen said:

    I had a middle school special ed student, a young man, insist that I had a baby in there, even after I explained that I did not. Rather than continue to debate with him, I suggested he ask his mom, when he got home, what to say to a lady who tells you she isn’t pregnant.

    The following day he told me, “I’m really really sorry for bein’ such a fool. I’m not sposed to be starin” at ladies stomachs, and I’m sure not sposed to talk about them.”

    • Oh, huh. Acknowledging your mistake, apologising unreservedly without trying to explain or make excuses, and making clear that you understand and respect where the boundary is. This guy knows how to human.

      • Kathleen said:

        Yeah. He was just a kid, and it was a teachable moment, although I did think it should be his mother to explain that he was being a chowderhead, and why. If you’re going to do something that cringe inducing, best to get it over with and learn the lesson as a thirteen year old, from a calm teacher and your own mom.

  31. enigmaticblue said:

    I tend to bring a lunch to work even when I can afford to go out, partly because I like leftovers, and partly because I dislike spending money on food when I can make something better. (See above: leftovers.) Plus, I have hypoglycemia and various food allergies, so eating out with coworkers tends to require very careful planning on my part.

    I have found that it’s not so bad to respond with, “I would love to go out, but it’s just not in my budget this week,” or “If you all order in, I’d be happy to eat with you, but I brought my lunch, and it’s really only going to be good for today.” Or, possibly, “I made a huge batch of something that’s about to go off, so I really have to eat it today, but if we could eat together, that would be great.”

    I also think that it’s 100% legit to bring in baked goods if you like to bake, or a bag of tomatoes if they were really cheap at the farmer’s market/you have a patio garden of some sort, etc. ‘Tis the season for unwanted zucchini or other produce, so if you get your hands on some, make salsa and bring a cheap bag of corn chips or a loaf of zucchini bread. That tends to buy goodwill in a big way and smooths over any ruffled feathers about not being able to buy lunch. (Although, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I just can’t afford that right now. Someday soon, I hope!”)

    LW #602: WOW. JUST WOW. Is this still a thing that people do? I just went through a round of fertility treatments and am dealing with PCOS plus other complications. IT IS ROTTEN. You have my sympathies. Someone who assumes your pregnant has initiated utmost awkwardness, so feel free to deal it back. “Well, no, I’m not pregnant, but since you’re not my doctor or my SO, I guess you couldn’t know that,” might deliver a nice blow.

  32. solecism said:

    I just got the pregnancy question about a month back from a classmate. It’s been awhile since I’ve had that one happen to me. I looked down and said, nope, just a big belly, plus no ovaries, so not really an option. It’s TMI and adds to the embarrassment. Not that I was thinking of that in the moment. I just have been very frank about cancer treatment.

    Actually, what I get all the time are questions about my compression gloves and sleeve, or the compression bandages on the rare occasions I’m in partial mummy mode away from home, or people pointing out that the gloves are “inside out” because the seams are not against the skin. So I get a lot more intrusive questions about these highly visible signs of the lymphedema. It usually turns into a brief lecture and demo of just what lymphedema is, what caused it for me, and how the lymph system works. My concern about the lack of awareness and education for cancer patients and their loved ones, especially among medical personnel on this issue, outweighs my annoyance at the personally invasive questions. Plus, it beats fielding the damn questions/comments about weight or other aspects of personal appearance.

  33. KZ said:

    #601: as CA suggested, a reference to “not in my budget” is a super way to handle it. It’s not as pity-inducing as “broke” and think it also conveys that you’re careful. That’s not a bad quality to be known for. It also helps keep people from second-guessing other things they see you spending money on.(“if she’s so broke why does she wear such nice shoes” or “why did she say she went to that nice restaurant last night?”). That’s none of their damned business but it happens. When you’ve chalked your thriftiness up to budgeting (instead of pure poverty), they are more likely to assume your spending is sensible because you have budgeted for it based on your priorities.

  34. Painted_lady said:

    LOVE everyone’s advice on both of these. LW 601, I think maybe a combination of honesty and a new offer for eating-togetherness might go a long way. “Hey guys, I would really super love to do lunch with you, but my budget isn’t allowing me to order in or eat out right now. Would anyone be willing to do a potluck on the third Friday of each month? I make a great Mac n cheese if someone would like to bring a fried chicken.” Obviously, only if it’s in your budget, and only if you’re comfortable, but at the very least people know you’re not making excuses not to eat with them as you’ve offered an alternative. Maybe even make it a themed meal? One month do Mexican, next Italian, whatever. If you’re okay with organizing something like that it might be fun. I teach, and my department chair has been in the habit of making lunch for the department each Friday. It started as a bribe to get us to attend department meetings, but then it just became something to look forward to. The food is always great, but this past school year she had a bunch of personal stuff come up that meant she didn’t have the time or energy sometimes to do lunch. So we started bringing stuff ourselves that we wanted to share, and if we couldn’t work that out, sometimes we just brought our own lunches and ate together. And of course, I love free delicious lunch (who doesn’t?) but mostly I just enjoy the time we set aside for the department as we have a lot of fun together, and changing up the system a bit made it clear that we don’t *need* the free lunch. Which also took some pressure off the department chair at a time when she needed it.

    LW 602, I have no good, witty comebacks, and I’m sorry, but I do send you a Jedi fist bump of solidarity because OH MY GODS HAVE I BEEN THERE. I have hypothyroidism, and my first few years of teaching were also quite stressful and time-consuming, which meant I was neither eating well nor exercising with any real regularity, and so I was as large as I have ever been about halfway through my second year of teaching. And it was no huge tragedy, but it did wear on me that on top of everything else, I felt like hell about the way I looked. And teenagers being teenagers, they love both scandal and conflict, so they not only decided that I was pregnant, but also decided, since they saw me regularly speaking with a male teacher (whom I couldn’t stand but taught the same subject I did) that he was the father, and since he had a girlfriend who also worked on our campus, that I was broke hearted because he wouldn’t leave her for me. So I would hear about it, and as much as I should have been above it, I wasn’t. Finally, I started responding with, “I’m sorry, that’s a rude question/comment. I’m not responding, and we’re not having this conversation ever again. Please think before you speak, because there are a number of ways questions/comments like that can be hurtful, and there are no ways that they would be welcome or even appropriate.” Sometimes I would just say, “Wow, please tell me why you think that’s any of your business?” And unfortunately, some people you just can’t shame because they don’t understand boundaries or privacy, but refusing to engage is often just infuriating enough that it’s satisfying.

  35. Myrin said:

    I kind of had the inverse of the second LW’s situation happen last year.

    For some reason, I couldn’t eat for a whole week, my mouth just wouldn’t open and I could barely bring myself to chew (I had to force myself to nibble some soup), which was especially worrying since I’m normally a huge foodie and eating is one of my favourite pastimes. I also had bouts of nausea and was kind of dizzy from time to time. I could totally understand anyone I told about this wondering if I was pregnant, I probably would have thought it myself, but there’s one problem: I’ve never had sex. Yeah, so.

    It got so bad that I was horribly afraid of the whole situation and went to the doctor’s. It was at my regular doctor’s office but not he himself took a look at me, but one of the doctors working with him who I actually didn’t really like prior to that. And she, understandably, asked if there’s a chance I am pregnant, once, and when I said no, she immediately accepted it and didn’t insist on it at all (to be fair, I had to have an ultrasound in the abdominal area later anyway because they had to look if there’s something wrong with my stomach, but I REALLY appreciated that a lot). Changed my thoughts on her immediately and effectively, because it showed that even as a doctor confronted with such a situation you can be polite and respectful.

  36. lily said:

    I got refused on a ride at HK disneyland and was confused why until I realised the guy was pointing to the no pregnant mamas sign… I just said no, I’m not pregnant, I just had a really big breakfast, it is a food baby. He was totally embarrassed but hopefully won’t do the same thing again :/

  37. Policy of Madness said:

    I find it helpful to roleplay this kind of thing, because I have that freezing-up reaction, too. Not long ago a dude (total stranger to me, of course) told me to Smile! and I did not react the way I always intend to react, and wound up staring at him (and eventually smiling because of embarrassment at how poorly I was taking this, which physically hurt me inside).

    If you have a friend you feel safe asking to play the role of Intrusive Stranger, try it! If you don’t feel comfortable asking a friend to help, try a mirror. I do occasionally manage to overcome the freezing-up response, but only by practicing over and over the real response that I really want to make. Practice over and over and over and over until you’re bored, then take a break and do it again the next day. The freezing-up response is ingrained in me, and I have to ingrain a different response if I want to use it in-the-moment.

    • Ugh the “Smile!” thing. I found that to be very common when I lived in Oregon (it is not so common now that I am living in New England), and one day I just snapped and said “I have no reason to smile, my grandfather is in the hospital,” which was the honest truth. I kept walking so I don’t know if the man tried apologizing (they thankfully didn’t try following me). I sincerely hope I made them think twice about telling people what they should be doing with their faces.

  38. ReanaZ said:

    For the lunch issue, I’ve found no issues with a “No, thanks, I brought my lunch today!” Cheerfully delivered, almost every day. I accept the very, very rare occasion, when I can afford it, when it fits my medical/dietary needs, when I feel like that kind of social. But I don’t tend to make excuses beyond, “Nope, have a lunch, thanks!” and people don’t tend to ask me for one.

  39. So, so with people on the not-actually-pregnant thing. I am a man but for reasons I don’t understand, people often seem to be unable to tell that I am and my tummy being quite round and pushed forwards because of my spinal defect apparently makes me look pregnant and therefore (in most people’s eyes) I must be a woman! *sigh* I can get away with a “What?!” or a “Seriously?!” cos my voice tends to make it obvious almost immediately that I am a man and then people assume I’m NOT pregnant. Sometimes I’ve just gone with “No, I’m not”. I’m also a fan of answering “Are you sure you’re not pregnant?” with “Let’s see, the last time I had unprotected sexual intercourse was how many months ago…” and watch the other person squirm and change the subject.

    When people try to tell me that I’m overweight I tend to respond with “Nope, I have a twisted spine that pushes my stomach forward”, “That’s between me and my GP”, “Yes and that’s a pretty great achievement given I have an eating disorder”. “There are more interesting things to talk about than my weight” “I didn’t realise you were a doctor”.

    • A. Y. Mouse said:

      Oh, man, I’m keeping “I didn’t realize *you* were my *doctor*!” *shock and horror* in my back pocket forever.

  40. One concern I have with #601 is that it sounds like there might be some needless isolation going on. Obviously you cannot afford to go out with them when they leave the office or put in money for an order when they order in (trust me, I’m there… buying groceries is an enormous financial strain, never mind spending money on socializing). However (and I could just be reading this wrong) there shouldn’t be anything preventing you from eaten your homemade lunch WITH them when they order in, and that could be enough to foster that friendly workplace relationship without doing anything to your finances. All the suggestions to bring in some homemade or cheap goodies when feasible is also excellent. I’m not sure exactly what kind of environment you work in, but I would also suggest that if they’re going out for a special occasion and you can’t afford it but someone offers to help you out for that special event, to graciously accept in that specific circumstance (don’t go fishing for that offer, though.)

    Related to #602, I never have problems with strangers, but how do you handle it when it’s your mother who comes up, grabs your belly and sarcastically goes “oh look, it’s my grandchild” despite repeatedly refusing to engage in body talk with her. (“Eff you, you harpy” is my knee-jerk reaction but not a very productive one).

    • A. Y. Mouse said:

      Smack her hand away and say “You taught me to keep my hands to myself, Mom! I learned it from you!”?

    • Try grabbing back some loose part of her person and saying, “Oh look! One day I’ll be pulling the plug on this!”

  41. the neaked monk said:

    After living in Korea for the past 10 + years, and enduring blatant, in your face crazy insults, I’ve decided to just “own” my stomach. I’m a guy, and will more than likely not remove the revolving doughnut that possesses my mid section. Due to an anti-depressant I gained perhaps 15 pounds ( 7kg) through 6 months, and then, within the space of 2 weeks, gained an additional 7 kg due to a hospital stay after a car accident.

    “I’m pregnant with twins,” I’m able to say in Korean, which diffuses the commentator, and to the kids I teach, I’m a walking warning– I pinch my fat and say– this is the cookie I ate in 1980. Shock and horror from the kids, as well as a laugh.

    My being happy and confident then reflects self acceptance upon the other person, which is what he or she is lacking in the first place. Knowing that I could own what I thought of as insecurity empowered me in a way that I never experienced before. Transform the insecurity into armor. I wish this strength and peace of mind to all of the CA network.

    Hugs & KIttens

    ~~^^~~

  42. thegirlfrommarz said:

    LW #602 – I have SO been there. I had surgery in February to remove a 2.5kg fibroid which apparently gave me a uterus the size of a 36-week pregnancy. Luckily if people thought I was having a baby, they (mostly) kept it to themselves.

    I have recommended this approach before, but a short pause followed by “Wow, that was really rude. You must be so embarrassed.” delivered in a cheerful tone seems to discombobulate people and deflect them from all manner of rudeness.

  43. lalouve said:

    I stop eating when unhappy, which tends to lead to rapid weight loss. I really, really hate it when I am deeply unhappy and people’s reaction is to tell me how wonderful it is that I’ve lost weight – yes, at a speed of about 4 kilos a week, does that seem like a healthy situation? It’s appalling how any and all signs of unhappiness are ignored in favour of the ‘joy’ of being thinner…

  44. Bea said:

    LW #602, I hate this SO MUCH. I’m so sorry people keep hassling you. It’s so goddamn rude. I carry my weight in my belly so I’ve been asked this many times. I go with an icy, “No” and then stare at them for a moment and walk away as soon as possible. It’s always a really painful question to me because I was single for years and years and have always wanted kids. It would always make me feel awful and like I was JUST TOO FAT TO FIND A HUSBAND which I knew was ridiculous but ugh, feelings. Now that I’m married and we’re trying to have kids, I’ve had two miscarriages. STILL HAVE THE GUT THOUGH. The next person that asks if I’m pregnant? It’s gonna get real awkward REAL QUICK. And not for me because I have no trouble talking about how sad I am about recurrent miscarriages.

  45. LW # 2 here. Thanks Captain Awkward and commenters for these great suggestions! I really feel like I have a proper arsenal, as well as a prayer of working through my impulse to manage their feelings (how did you know??!) when they get uncomfortable about my response.

    It’s funny–I’ve also gotten almost as much of “wow, you look GREAT! You really lost all that baby weight! You must have been so good!” Which is also weird and inappropriate, and irrelevant since all I did was take medication for a medical condition that was there before pregnancy, not that it’s any of their business. Also, being “good” or “not good” does not enter into it at all, because the absence of food is not virtue, and food does not equal sin. (And I’m tempted to be like, “what–you think I looked so horrible before?” But I’m not interested in their potential answers.)

    It seems like it’s inconceivable to the people I wrote about that I would not try to make my lower abdomen “match” the rest of me so therefore I MUST be pregnant. Or else they suspect that I’m not actively working on the so-called “problem” area (that I don’t actually fundamentally have a problem with), so this is a snide, concern-trolling nudge to get me in the “proper” direction. But I don’t know that trying really hard to change the way I look would have much effect anyway, and besides–I’d rather just live my life and do things that I actually find *fun* in my precious few moments of free time. Like running after my son in the park, or doing art, or reading something nice, or actually eating lunch, or making time to brush my own teeth after I brush his, things like that.

  46. Enter Required Name Here said:

    LW #601: I feel you, although in my case it wasn’t debt that made me opt out of the food/coffee runs, it’s being really frugal/cheap. At my last job I did the eating out/ordering in thing for a few weeks to fit in, then realized I was spending $30-$40 a week on lunches, and that was the end of eating out for me. I say own it. Start a new trend. I don’t understand why you couldn’t sit with them and eat your own food if they order in. Don’t be ashamed of your financial situation, be proud of being a frugal badass, even if that’s not the “real” reason you’re brown-bagging. Hell, say it’s for environmentalism: “I hate waste! What else am I gonna do with these leftovers?” Who knows, maybe some of them might even follow your example! I can certainly think of better things to spend $160/month on than soggy Panera sandwiches.

  47. Dea said:

    RE: #602: This has happened to me a handful of times, and to several of my friends, too – it seems to be a golden combo of being of childbearing age + not having a thigh gap. But the frequency at which people comment – and comment wrongly – on this baffles me.

    One time, a lady stopped me at the bus stop (why?) to ask me about how my pregnancy was going (why??), and I responded with my usual go-to response for awkward questions, “why would you ask something like that?” Except – this time, this lady – she had an actual reason – I was wearing a maternity shirt she recognized. My sister had given it to me with several other shirts when I moved to the city, broke and not equipped with the right work clothes, and I wore it frequently, because it was a great color and very flattering. And a lot of times, clothes that actually flatter a woman’s body aren’t the usual department store staples, but the same kind of cuts and styles that are used all the time in maternity wear.

    I don’t know if it’s your clothing that’s prompting people to ask you invasive and inappropriate questions, and even if it is, it doesn’t excuse it by a long shot. And I’m not saying you should dress differently at all. But it’s helpful for my sanity when I get this question – and I do – to keep in mind that these people are making connections in their minds that I don’t know about, and that might not have anything to do with my weight or shape or “glow” or whatever. Could be my clothes, could be my eczema looked like their own pregnancy eczema, could be that I rubbed my stomach, but they made that connection, and opened their mouths when they shouldn’t have.

    This isn’t something that you need to think about in order to forgive the speaker, but I hope it might help you move past the gross feeling the encounters leave you with, just a little.

  48. LeighTX said:

    RE: #602: It just astounds me that so many people ask the pregnancy question. I’ve had it asked of me as well; I was wearing a fitted t-shirt and pencil skirt and my favorite heels and thought I looked amazing, and a coworker asked if I was pregnant. That’s one of the few times I have cursed out loud at work.

  49. Kára said:

    #602: That kind of bodyshaming goes deep in these waters. Growing up, we didn’t have enough food to eat and as the eldest (and sole female) among four children, I often went without or ate much less than I ought to have. As a result, I was underweight for the duration of my childhood. I also have ibs and an autoimmune endocrine disorder that didn’t get diagnosed until I was an adult. Because of this, I have ALWAYS had a visible belly.. even when I was at runway model height and weight levels. The shit I had zero control of didn’t stop my mother from telling me that I needed to learn to control my abdominal muscles and that, at ten years old, I was old enough to need to take care of the way I presented myself to others because otherwise I was going to “look pregnant”. She called me one summer frantic because she’d heard from an “unimpeachable source” that I was “sleeping and slutting around” and that my “obvious fat pregnant belly” was the proof. The news spread like wildfire and I found myself inundated with IMs from other students at my uni… even from people I hardly knew. Fuck the correlation between childbearing age, pregnancy and a visible tummy, fuck those shitty judgemental students that just wanted to gossip about the white trash girl that didn’t belong at their institution, and fuck my family of origin forever.

    • Erin said:

      Ugh, what an awful combination of shitty and judgmental people. I’m sorry.

  50. MHM said:

    #602: the weirdest coincidence of all time: I was reading the comments in this very thread, horrified by it all, while waiting for an appointment at the hospital in a gynaecology clinic. I looked over and a women, clearly ill, was walking with a man toward the reception. She was struggling, it was clear she was in pain. Another women stopped her and looked at her belly, saying, “when are you due?” And the ill woman said, “I’m not pregnant.” I’m guessing she probably had some kind of operation, or a late miscarriage, or who knows. It was awful to see her have to take time to answer this random woman’s inane question. I just was floored that this stupidity happens so often, it even happened when I was reading about it. My head just about exploded. I get a lot of “when are you going to have kids” and “do you want kids” and “are you thinking about having kids” – I cry whenever someone asks me these things and mope for days. No one thinks that maybe I’m 40ish with no kids because I can’t. People need to keep their nosy questions about our reproductive lives (and bodies) to themselves.

  51. Charlene said:

    LW 601: For some reason, in the past 20 years working has become inextricably intertwined with eating processed food, to the point that it’s not easy to find a job where you’re not confronted with the attitude that You Must Eat Communally or Else. I can imagine how difficult your position is; I had to quit one job because my co-workers would not stop harassing me about my brown-bagging. (For the record, I don’t eat in restaurants; two of my food allergies are so severe that I’ve come perilously close to death from them. No meal is worth awakening from a coma to hear a doctor discussing organ donation with your parents.)

  52. just_like_the_blues said:

    Nosy Parker: Are you pregnant/gay/a boy or a girl/here with someone/old enough to be here/etc?

    Me: …are you hitting on me?

    When I actually remember to say that instead of just blinking, oh, the faces they make…!

  53. Knayt said:

    LW 602: I don’t get people asking if I’m pregnant, but I do have a general response that can work, and has worked in similar situations. “Well that just happened.” is remarkably versatile, and pretty much fills the same niche as “Wow.” while generally coming off as less conversational.

    • Erin said:

      That one’s nice, like a resignated commentary on your life :D

  54. canomia said:

    This happens to me sometimes too. My body is just shaped that way I guess, pretty small but my belly only goes in front and I like to wear dresses with the skirt part starting right below the boobs so that only makes me look more pregnant. One time at a party a guy came up to me to tell me he was so sorry but his friends had been discussing whether or not I was pregnant for a long time now and he just wanted to ask me so they’d shut up about it. So I made a game of it. I told him I wasn’t but asked him to pretend I was and then we went a few hours pretending, talking names and stuff with them. And when I got sick of that I told them that actually I’m not pregnant at all and had a good laugh at their expense.

  55. I’ve been in an exceptionally no money situation this summer, and my response to anyone asking me to do something that costs money was to be totally blunt with them. “I have four dollars in my bank account. I cannot afford to go out to lunch with you.” It started as the reason why I couldn’t get up to shenanigans with my friends, but I used it as a sort of humor distraction and people learned that when they asked me to do something that I would have to pay for the response would be “well, there’s only four dollars in my bank account, so I’ll pass!”

    It’s probably not what the LW is going for, but I’ve found being overly chipper about my lack of funds tends to deflect pity feels and makes for quicker conversation turn around.

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