Can we talk? I mean, really talk? As talkative as I might be, sometimes I don’t know what to say. I know, shocking, right? This weekend was one of the more recent times. A ten minute conversation with a complete stranger left me utterly gobsmacked. Shaking my head. And had me heading to the nearest phone to tell a friend or two how crazy I think people are. Seriously.
I was dropping off something to be fixed. The guy (who I think is the owner of the shop) surprised me by starting to fix it right away. A pleasant surprise. He made a comment about me not smiling. I’m doing errands, a To Do list a mile long. This isn’t dinner and a movie. “What’s the matter, husband giving you a hard time?” No husband. “The kids giving you a hard time?” Kids are with the ex. “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone.” Yes, because that surely is the only thing that could possibly make me happy. “Why did you separate? What happened?” I kid you not. At this point, I had been in the store maybe six minutes. That’s being generous. Do I give off an “ask me anything” vibe? I might be friendly, but I’m fairly certain that’s not the vibe. By the time I had left (a grand total of ten minutes), he had written his number on a business card and handed it to me. Into the trash at my next stop. But seriously, what makes people, complete strangers, think that they can ask you anything? Particularly deeply personal questions? A friend said that it’s easier to ask a stranger a prying question because it doesn’t matter how they judge you. I don’t disagree, but still … people need boundaries. Sometimes I think it’s easier to just lie and say I’m married. It ends some things right away.
Over the past several months, when people find out that The Husband and I separated, I have been a little surprised at the things people say. It’s like people have no filter. Or they think they might be close enough to me that anything goes. Neither is necessarily good. I’m actually fine with no filter, since I think I tend to operate that way too. The only difference, and it’s an important one at that, is having boundaries. I might say what I think, but I still respect certain lines.
Separately, knowing that I myself don’t always know the appropriate thing to say, I totally get that too. It’s hard to know the right thing to say. The thing to say to make it all better. And the topic doesn’t have to just be about someone’s marriage ending. This isn’t all about me. The scenarios can run the gamut. A miscarriage. Someone losing their job. Someone dying suddenly. You name it, these types of situations are hard to navigate. I know. I’m right there with you. There’s a reason Emily Post has been around since 1946.
- Follow cues and respect boundaries. I actually stopped using a contractor a few months ago because he didn’t have the appropriate boundaries when asking questions. He had done work in our old house. When he first came to the new house, within minutes of walking in the door, he asked me quite pointedly if “everyone made the move.” Seriously! I might be friendly, but there is a line. Respect it. Don’t pry. If I share on my own, that’s one thing. Otherwise, I’m sorry, but it’s not your business. And even more so in professional situations.
- Be careful with the jokes. Someone jokingly told me that I was lucky. He and his wife had been arguing, and he meant it in the context that at least I didn’t have to deal with arguing with someone. Even though that conversation happened last year (and has actually happened more than once with more than one person), it’s still fresh enough that I don’t think it’s a joking matter. Can I make a joke or two about the situation? Sure. Some days. Of course, he didn’t mean it to offend, but you get my drift. Just be sensitive.
- Don’t cut yourself off because you don’t know what to say. Support, in any situation, is important. Don’t disappear because the topic of what happened makes you uncomfortable. That might be the time that your support is needed the most. It’s ok to not know what to say. Just say that. It’s honest. “I heard the news. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say.” That works in so many situations. I’ve said the same thing myself to others. Follow their cues after that.
- Don’t pry. Typically I’m a very private person to begin with. Even more so with something personal. Unless we’re uber-close, don’t ask me why it happened. If I want to tell you, I will.
I actually wrote parts of this post back in December, and it’s been sitting in my queue, unedited, since then. I hesitated to publish it because I don’t want it to read as a vent. It’s not. I also don’t want it to be me, me, me. This is about me. About you. About everyone. Before you say something, take a beat. There’s a person, a real person, about to hear what you have to say. Some situations call for humor. Some, sensitivity. Some, much seriousness. But above all, the situation involves people. Real people.
I spied this in our backyard this morning. Apparently it has served as a Squirrel Snack Bar as of late.