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?
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.” or “Well, 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,
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:
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.