On the Lighter Side

Things People Say: Social Niceties Edition

1. “You’ve lost weight!” This is basically informing me that you thought I looked fat before. And it’s super awkward if I haven’t actually lost weight, or am not currently trying to lose weight. (This one is fair game among friends if we have discussed the topic of weight/fat/dieting etc. before. “You’ve lost weight” is mostly a problem when coming from random acquaintances who may or may not remember my name, but who for some reason have no trouble remembering that I used to look a bit more chunky.)

2. “You look nice today.” It’s the “today” that’s the problem, people. Compliments with strings attached are no bueno. When you say I look nice today, all I’m hearing is that I looked like garbage yesterday.

3. “You look tired.” Of all the crazy-making things that people say off the cuff, this one causes me the most utter consternation. Why, oh, why would you ever say this? Unlike #1 and #2 above, there’s no possible way this one can be construed as a compliment.

Not only that, but it puts me in a bad light no matter what my situation is. If I really am tired, chances are I’m trying to get my mind off it, put my best foot forward, etc. and you’re reminding me that I’m failing at that. If I’m not tired, then I’m thinking, gee, I thought I was looking good today, but I guess not… and now you’ve dealt a blow to my confidence.

4. “Does anyone want the last cookie/piece of cake/serving of mashed potatoes/etc.?” A show of false generosity, usually proffered while the asker’s hand is poised in midair with the cookie halfway to their mouth, or as they are in the act of scooping the last serving on to their plate. At this point, there’s really no sense in asking if someone else wants the last whatever-it-may-be. What are they supposed to say? If you want it, just take it.

5. “Let me know if you need anything.” The most innocuous item on this list, and I really do believe it’s said with the best of intentions. However, be aware that if you’re saying this to someone who is suffering a major illness or has just had a death in the family, they’re probably overwhelmed. They’re not likely to tell you if they need something, but believe me, they do need things! This is where you want to take a little initiative. Take them a meal or ask them when is a good time for you to watch their kids or run errands for them. Don’t wait for them to ask you. If you feel you need to ask, say, “What can I do that would really help you?” This allows them to give you an honest answer without feeling like they’re imposing.

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