Things You Just Shouldn't Say Even If You Mean Well

I'm speaking from experience, people, having had most of these lobbed at me one time or another. Please feel free to add to the list in the comments section.

1. "When is the baby due?"
I'm not pregnant, you douchebag. I'm fat. If I were pregnant, I'd probably be prancing around telling everyone and her goddamn sister about it because that's what we do in our society. Or, if I were pregnant, and afraid I might lose the baby, maybe I wouldn't want to talk about it. In any case, if I were pregnant, and you haven't heard about it yet, wait for me to talk to you about it. Otherwise, STFU. Now move out of my way and let me at the food in the buffet line, because I am so going to need more chocolate after your insensitive remarks. Oh yeah, DON'T follow up with, " looked pregnant..."

2. "Wow! You've lost so much weight! You look GREAT!"
Yes, you douchebag. I've lost weight because I've been SERIOUSLY ILL for the last year and unable to eat almost anything. But thanks. I appreciate your comments and sure, I'd be happy to share my miracle migraine diet with you. It goes like this: First, have a stroke. Next, start having debilitating migraines every two to three days. Lose your job. Become unable to eat anything containing peanuts, yoghurt, bananas, chocolate, and the least trace of onion or onion powder (including ketchup). Try every preventative medicine in the pharmacy, and experience a fascinating and alarming array of side effects. Keep this up for one to three years. You, too, will lose thirty pounds like magic! If that doesn't work, try cancer.

3. "When are you/you two going to get pregnant?"
When Mr. Z and I lived in Kansas, we used to get harassed ALL THE TIME by the neighbors on our street about when were we gonna reproduce. I mean, it was vigilant social nagging to have babies. We were one of only two couples on the street without kids, and the only couple who had not expressed a desire to have kids. Finally, one day, when there were a bunch of us in a circle out on our front lawn hanging out, and the "you ought to have kids" crap started up again, I just said, "Did you ever think, when you tell people that they ought to have kids, that maybe some people don't have kids because they can't have kids?" They STFU and never bothered me again. Mr. Z and I never actively wanted to have kids, though if we had gotten pregnant we would not have been upset about it. I just can't imagine how I would have felt with that incessant nagging if we had actually been trying and not able to conceive. I hope to hell those idiots will think twice before they start in on other women who have "failed" to pop out babies on a socially acceptable timetable but who knows how long the lesson lasted. DON'T BE THOSE PEOPLE!

4. "You are SO LUCKY to get to stay home all the time!"
Thanks, moron. I am sure you work your ass off at your job and would love to have a break. I feel your pain. So take a goddamned vacation already. But please - do not distance yourself from your fear of what happened to me by telling yourself that it was really a lucky break that I had a stroke and lost my job and "get" to stay home all the time. Seriously.

5. "Everything happens for a reason."
In the same vein, please do not tell me that it was God's mysterious will that I have a stroke and lose my job so that I would be available to provide care for my mother just at the time when she needs me. I am sure that is comforting to you and your world view but frankly, it makes me want to blow chunks on your shoes. Maybe God could have sent me a winning lottery ticket instead, so that I could just be independently wealthy and not need to work - and then I could take you out to dinner, too! I think that would have been a lot nicer and more thoughtful of God than sending me a stroke, but what do I know.

6. "So, was it the high blood pressure, or the high cholesterol?"
I can't tell you how many times people I barely know have probed me for the moral failing that caused my stroke - even after I have told them that it was caused by a migraine. When I tell these nosy douchehounds that I had neither, they reward me with looks of disbelief. Surely I must have been a bad person in some way, to have earned such misfortune (despite it having been God's will, see #5 above).

People - really - you have got to stop this kind of talk. Bad crap happens for no good reason. Peoples' bodies are their own business. Repress the urge to comment on their appearance and what they are or are not doing with them. Stick to things like "hi, how are you doing?" and then actually listen to the answer. Please. For the sake of my sanity.

Thank you. That is all.

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Thanks for posting these! :) As a cancer survivor, I'd made an entire list of "stupid hair comments" that I can't remember right now--and that was just about hair, never mind everything else. I hear ya Zuska.

Aw yes, I have heard 1-5. Add to this the host of comments from butt-in-ski's you felt compelled to question and/or advise me when I breastfed, homeschooled, chose to quit graduate school, chose to go BACK to graduate school 20 years later, haven't married my significant other. etc. etc. etc. Let's let each other run our lives in peace. Thanks for posting!

100% agree.

What she said.

"You are SO LUCKY to get to stay home all the time!"


Ahem. Pardon my lack of eloquence.

This is the last thing a chronically underemployed, chronically-ill person (especially one who is a caregiver, to boot) needs to hear.

That, and the illness-as-moral-failing thing, are among my biggest peeves. Also, the "we're all tired at the end of the day, too--what makes you so special?" bit that so many pull out when you need to alter your activities to pace yourself.

Can we add "you look tired" to the list? I know it's usually meant as some sort of backhanded expression of concern, but seriously--no one wants to hear that the bags under their eyes are looking especially plump.

Great list, reminds me of Calpernia Adams: Bad Questions to Ask a Transsexual.

What's the verdict on the question, "Are you feeling alright?" As someone who suffers from depression I know people mean well, but when you say, "I'm fine" and it's obvious you're lying, but don't want to get into it and folks get offended. I understand that people are concerned, but they usually aren't prepared for what's really going on and if that's the case they really should refrain from asking. It seems sometimes like a shorthand of going around telling people to smile.

By Treespeed (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

Hear, hear on the "it's for a reason," or worse yet, "It's all part of God's plan." You mean you believe there's an omnipotent creator of everything who couldn't come up with a better plan than THIS? I want to add, "Count your blessings -- other people have it worse." I fail to see how someone else's misery should comfort me. And if anyone, ANYONE starts in with the whole "your attitude manifests itself in your life & draws things to you" woo, I will personally rip their head from shoulders and stuff a copy of "The Secret" down their still-pulsing gullet - the hardback edition.

Toward the end of a pregnancy, I was consigned to bed rest on my left side. For two months. (I know a lot of people have it worse.) As I was leaving my job before I'd planned to in order to follow doctors' orders, I can't tell you how many people said some variation of "Geez, must be nice! I wish someone would tell me I had to lie down for eight weeks! Ha! Ha!"

People are idjits.

"Count your blessings -- other people have it worse."

Oh my yes!

I also want to add the corollary: "others who have it as bad or worse do much better with what they have". For example, you'd be surprised how many folks I've met who know somebody who has the same diagnosis as I do, and earned two Ph.D.s! And is a former model and currently practicing attorney! *sprains eyes from rolling*

"Geez, must be nice! I wish someone would tell me I had to lie down for eight weeks! Ha! Ha!"

I tend to respond to this one with an icy "That can be arranged." Possibly accompanied by a 2x4 to the middle of the back, if the subtlety appears to be too much for them.

What I always hate are the "you should have ..." comments. My rejoinder (mental only, because I'm Canadian and therefore wimpy) is either (1) "So it's my fault, eh? If only I were smart or worked hard enough at it, like you, I'd never be in this fix, is that it?" or (2) "Maybe you should call my doctor; she really needs your good advice." Translate that, as "I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation!"

Ooh, very sorry to hear all this.

I've been asked if I was pregnant when I wasn't. Sigh. And I get these awful migranes. Big sigh.

Wow, Zuska - those are all outrageously intrusive and ignorant questions and assumptions, and I'm sorry that you've been subjected to any of them. I've only been approached with #3, and that's annoying enough. Just because I like children, sometimes babysit my friends' children, and fill in at work when colleagues have childcare issues, I am not fair game for question #3. Nor to I have any cosmic duty to produce a rational, educated, liberal Quiverfull.

An appropriate response to questions #1, 3, or 6 might be Ann Landers' suggestion of "I can't imagine why you would ask me that question." Another tack is a friend's strategy that starts with "Of all the topics that you could find intriguing, you chose X. Now, why is X so intriguing for you?" If the intrusive questioner backs down, you persist with the questions. Unless the individual has some sort of personality disorder, ze will retreat in embarrassment, and not ask such intrusive questions again. Though I have a colleague for whom X = my personal finances, and ze repeats this line of questioning, even though I've turned the questions around on hir. I've even asked hir "Do you think that people with children should be paid more, for the same job, than people who don't have children?"

Some people have no shame. Or perhaps fundamentalist religiosity *is* a sort of personality disorder.

On coming back from your maternity leave:

"How was your vacation?!"

Look, my job does not entitle me to vacation, I don't take it, I feel guilty for a weekend away. Do you have any idea how stressful those 6 weeks were, even without you heaping on X-tra guilt?

(Possibly, this was well intentioned. Possibly, it was the result of poor intuitive vocabulary. Possibly, it was really subtly diabolical. Just don't say it.)

A Unitarian chaplain who counseled patients at a hospital in LA said that about 80% of his clients, who all had terrible illnesses, asserted that "everything happens for a reason". For one terminal cancer patient, it was reconciliation with her father; for another, finding his faith.

To me, "everything happens for a reason" sounds more like #6, in the mode of Job's comforters: it must be your fault, so what did you do wrong? But no, apparently one is to regard one's approaching death as a mark of God's special favor. Perhaps the idea that one is the victim of a random accident is too terrifying to contemplate.

I got that "Wow! You've lost so much weight! You look GREAT!" when I dropped 40 pounds. It only made me aware of how awful I look under normal circumstances. Then they always asked how I did it.

"You know that divorce diet? The widow diet is much more effective."

And now that I've gained that weight back, I don't have anyone telling me how great I look anymore. Sigh.

Honestly, people have no clue what anyone else is going through, but they might try thinking before speaking. I told my kids if they ever learned to engage the brain before opening the mouth, my job will be done.

Regarding the "god's will" business: if someone wants to use this as their own coping strategy, I have no problem with it. That is, if they find comfort by understanding their own misfortune as part of some grand plan that has a larger meaning, that is their own right. Whatever gets you through the night. When people start going around telling OTHER people that their misfortune is really a great gift from god that has a larger divine purpose, that is what I object to.

I think I wouldn't even mind if they wanted to understand my misfortune as part of god's great plan if they would just keep that information to themselves and not feel compelled to share it with me and urge me to feel grateful for god's great gift to me.

I once had to field the "Are you sure you're not pregnant? ...Really?.. Are you sure? You really look pregnant.Lather, rinse, repeat from a casual acquaintance two days after I had a miscarriage. I suppose she was lucky I was too depressed to become violent.

How hard is it to realize that this can be a hot button topic for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons? Just don't say anything unless the Mom-to-be starts it.

All announcements of pregnancy should be met with Congratulations! Maybe When is the baby due? For a very close friend How are you feeling? That's all. I don't understand people who think it's OK to quiz the Mom on whether she is likely to get child support, does she know who the Dad is or whether her husband is happy to have child # 6.

I wish the concepts of privacy and a personal life could come back into fashion.

The nuns at my high school drilled into us that you never, ever, no matter what, say anything about a person's medical condition unless they bring it up first. Because you just plain never know what is really going on unless they tell you.

I hate the illness = moral failing people. When they get sick, I snicker unashamedly.

By Helen Huntingdon (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

My sister snotted off that my miscarriages "were probably for the best" and I think only sheer force of will kept me from popping her one.

I haven't really talked to her much since. I can't really get behind how she thought her tone and words could have been anything but jackassery.

Add to the list of "ignorant things people say": a friend of mine (seriously ill with a chronic conditioned, in a wheelchair with no prospect of recovery) was told repeatedly by her college roommate how lucky she was to have so many parking places!

Would "get well soon" be okay?

as a chronically unemployed scientist with bipolar disorder who has struggled to simply stay housed for the past five and a half years, i was abandoned by my colleagues ("unemployment is contageous, right?") and locked out of science altgether, abandoned by my so-called friends ("you need to develop a positive attitude"), i can only say that i agree wholeheartedly. stating my experiences and feelings to those who offered their lameass "advice" only served to make them tell me that my situation is all my fault.

yeah, right, asshole. just as it was my fault that i was born to crazy, abusive parents who abandoned me when i was a kid.

One of the most heartwarming and encouraging moments of my life was related to #3, actually.

This was working for BP, the first time BP ever sent me out to to a North Sea rig. It was the end of my shift and I was with the group waiting in the "lounge" for the helicopter pickup to go back onshore, and was chatting with the other guys (was, in fact, the only female in the group). When it came up in the conversation that I was married, one of the older guys was shocked. "Why are you out here?" he demanded. "Why aren't you back onshore taking care of your husband? ...Don't you want kids? Shouldn't you be trying to get pregnant if you're just married?"

The heartwarming part is that the other 6 guys in the lounge immediately jumped down his throat and told him off -- they were all over it, were shouting at him just how out of line that was, how incredibly offensive, and none of his damn business to boot. And they meant it. I hadn't expected that.

Regarding the list, though, yeah.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 13 Jan 2010 #permalink

That's a big old wad of stupidity in there. I have my own peeves. My personal favorite (began after the first son, became more acute after #s 2 and 3 and I still get it (with four boys and a spouse with a vasectomy ;-)) as a "will you..." is "You must be trying for a girl."

"Oh yes, I'm so ignorant of basic probability that I would get pregnant just so I could have a 50-50 shot at a child whose gender wasn't a terrible disappointment to me ;-)."

Or about my autistic son...."You are so brave and wonderful to take care of him. Obviously, he's meant to teach you something about love."

"Well, I thought about leaving him in the dumpster, but then I realized just how awesomely selfless I'll look if I take care of him, and that was the clincher."

"Are all those children (four, we aren't the Duggars) really yours?"

I have a range of responses, but my personal favorite was my husband's comment "Yes, but I've got two more wives back at the compound."

But my absolute favorite is the one my husband gets *all the time* because we split the care of our four kids equally, while we split the care of our car unequally (ie, I work from home, so he drives around more with the kids). Inevitably when people see him going to parent teacher meetings, taking the kids grocery shopping, to the library or the playground, and don't see me, eventually they ask:
"What days does your wife have custody?"

"What do you mean, wife? I'm proud to say that all of them have different mamas, and a full set of court ordered visitation plans!"

I'm really sorry you have to deal with so much suckage. You are not, however, alone.


But my absolute favorite is the one my husband gets *all the time* because we split the care of our four kids equally, while we split the care of our car unequally (ie, I work from home, so he drives around more with the kids). Inevitably when people see him going to parent teacher meetings, taking the kids grocery shopping, to the library or the playground, and don't see me, eventually they ask:
"What days does your wife have custody?"

Well that right there says a whole great big mouthful about gender role norms and expectations in U.S. society, much more succinctly and eloquently that I ever could...

Wow! Completely agree w/this post.

I would have thought that #1 was an obvious no - I believe they even made fun of it on Seinfeld (a long time ago!).

Speaking of sitcoms, #4 reminds me of a line from Will & Grace, uttered by the incomparable Karen: "Handicapped people are so lucky - they get all the best parking spaces."

Comments made after someone has lost a loved one, and is grieving, annoy me. One of my coworkers told a dental hygienist that her father had just died, and that person launched into a discussion about some minor celebrity who had just died, tuning out the grieving patient in the chair. Other annoying comments involve the "things happen for a reason," "attitude is everything," "God must have needed an angel in heaven," "something good will come out of this," etc. Better not to say anything........just listen!

Would "get well soon" be okay?

Please don't, unless you are certain that the illness is the sort of thing ones shakes completely (a cold, a basic sprained ankle in a healthy person).

There are many of us who never get well, you see. We live with chronic illness. Hearing "get well soon" is pretty depressing, as though all the work we've done to get as well as possible is not enough.

#6 (and #5) are because terrible, terrible things happen randomly. And we are so afraid as individuals that something awful will happen to us. We'd like to think we can control it somehow. So when we see someone for whom something terrible has happened, we try to rationalize in that they have some behavior we do not. That there is a formula to avoiding these random events. Naturally why people want to believe in "God's will" or believe that your shortcomings led to the event so they don't have to worry about the same if they just avoid those things.

After having 2 very large kids and ruining my abdominal muscles, I get #1 all the time. Part of me feels compelled to undergo reconstructive surgery just to make people stop asking, the more sane part of me had a T-shirt made that reads: "The bun is out of the oven... these are leftovers!" Anyone interested can get one here:

Thank you! And I'm sorry to read of the stroke, and have total empathy for your migraines.

I have chronic migraine, and experience a lot of the (*cough*) supportive comments you list. Can we add to the list the people who say "you just need to exercise/stop eating X/start taking Y [herbal/new medicine miracle woo]/tough it out" ones. (My boss gave me "tough it out, I take Excedrin and power through!"; I was having a migraine right then and stopped fighting the nausea. Managed to barf in her garbage can. Wasn't brave enough to go for her feet; I needed the health insurance.)

On a side note, I got the opposite effect of the "migraine diet". Despite a year of near-constant N&V, the preventative meds put 70 pounds on me. I nearly threw something at a doc who told me that I need to diet and exercise because being "overweight causes migraines." I find that vomiting and dizziness inhibit my use of the stair-climber machine. Or walking.

When my nutjob religious realtives tell me "it happened for a reason" or "it was God's will", I mention that the idea of a "loving" god bestowing this joy of chronic pain on anyone is....disturbing. And that if I weren't an agnostic already, I'd damn well be rethinking my belief system.

I'm amazed at the civilization of some of us; those comments should be enough to allow a legal "freebie" for decking someone.

By OldeanderTea (not verified) on 13 Jan 2010 #permalink

About "powering through": that kind of thinking is exactly what lots of people with chronic conditions need NOT to indulge (everyone is different, of course). Chronic illness is a marathon, not a sprint, and what used to be "powering through" when we were healthy turns to "crashing out" pretty fast post-diagnosis. Living smart with a chronic condition may well involve learning when not to attempt a power-through. Then, we are called weak or lazy for our discipline. And it is discipline--it's very difficult to overcome that "just bust through it" mindset.

My personal favourite are the ones who tell you that your problems would all get better with God/positive thinking/magic supplement. Probably more of an issue for mental health issues, but my mother gets it a surprising amount too.

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 13 Jan 2010 #permalink

Everything happens for a reason.

I utterly loathe that sentiment. I realize (as you do) that it's a coping strategy for some, but there's a nasty, backhanded implication there that one has done something to somehow deserve the ration of crap one has been handed.

It's not as invidious as The Secret, but it's a cousin.

Not only are men exempt from a direct question #1 (obviously) - they seldom have to justify or explain weight gain. In US society, overweight or obese men are usually not as readily subject to criticisms about lifestyle choices, or unsolicited advice about diet and exercise, as are women; in many cases, obesity in men is considered "cute" and "cuddly", and if an overweight man initiates weight loss, he may be told "not to change a thing - you're sexy/gorgeous/adorable just as you are." Stephen Fry is a celebrity example of this.

SKM said "Living smart with a chronic condition may well involve learning when not to attempt a power-through."

Exactly. One of the hardest things I had to learn was that I have a right to do less than humanly possible. Which was brought home the last time I 'powered through' and was flat on my back for three days afterwards, with more pain than usual. But try explaining that to the "bootstrappers" out there.

By OleanderTeak (not verified) on 14 Jan 2010 #permalink

Right on, Barn Owl. And we get fed a steady diet of tv shows starring portly balding d00ds married to hawt mamas, with nary a glimpse of the reverse scenario. Imagine a version of "Roseanne" with Dan played by a Brad Pitt look-alike. Now imagine a spate of sitcoms all featuring couples like that. No? Not in your lifetime???

OleanderTeak and SKM, you are exactly right about the NOT powering through. Have learned this lesson the hard way so many times. Sometimes I just have to do it (when I am doing stuff for mom) and I ALWAYS pay the price afterwards. Fighting our own tendency to want to do too much is more than problem, rather than being lazy, thank you very much.

OldeanderTea #39, congratulations for getting some much-deserved revenge on someone that says the stuff on this list.

I can kinda understand if people say #2 without knowing that you've been terribly ill, but it seems like it's mostly coming from people that should know better!

I'm sorry to say that I said the "I hope you get better" to an old man that was having trouble walking very far, and I felt like a right idiot when I realised what I'd said >_<

By Katherine (not verified) on 14 Jan 2010 #permalink

5 made me laugh out loud. I have long maintained that god should send me a winning lotto ticket, also.

Aside from that, people are idiots and need to be kicked in the head sometimes. Jeez. I've only experienced the "When are you going to have kids" ("You'll change your mind when you're older!") but the rest sounds like a giant pile of fail too.

I got that "Wow! You've lost so much weight! You look GREAT!" when I dropped 40 pounds. It only made me aware of how awful I look under normal circumstances. Then they always asked how I did it.

"You know that divorce diet? The widow diet is much more effective."

You, too, Misscellania? Amazing how it just PLUMMETS under those circumstances. And then comes back, and MORE of it.

Oh, but our weight is TOTALLY under our conscious control. I must have just been lazy and eating 5 Big Macs a day while I was doing heavy physical labor to support my kid and it still crept back on.


Unfortunately the "exercise more," "eat the right foods," extends to all sorts of fun things. Going off on a dissertation about how mental illness doesn't exist it is just the effects of not engaging in some sort of woo, is something I am less and less tolerant of as I get older. No, it is not something that I can just "work through." My brain works rather differently - medication makes some of the negative effects of that less obtrusive so I can function. I spent thirty some years not taking these medications and I fucked up about as badly as a person can, losing my home - not just my home but the roof over my children's heads.

I am so tired of assholes who want to suggest that there is something wrong with taking psych meds - or that "it is all in my head." Tell that to my kids, who as a result of my neurology and that of their mother, live ten hours away, until I am ready to transfer my degree out to Portland and their mother has the money to move back there too. Taking meds is making things work.

The bastard cousin of that, of course, is the brightening that comes into some people's eyes when they hear I am on psych drugs and ask if I am "on anything good." Though as someone who has also dealt with substance abuse issues, much of his life, I am more understanding of that one.

Re: #4

"Further, just because *I* occasionally make light of my situation (chronic illness that has left me unable to work) by saying that it's nice to have time to read a book or watch a movie, does NOT make it okay for YOU to make light of my situation by insinuating that I'm a lucky girl. Sure, the first 3 or 4 months of being stuck at home were fun. The 15 years or so after that, not so much."

By Jennifer Starkman (not verified) on 29 Jun 2010 #permalink