Sense & Sensitivity

Take Neighbor's Comments in Stride

DEAR HARRIETTE: I see a man who lives in my building almost every morning when I go out for my morning walk. He is standing at the gate when I leave and standing right there when I return. I always greet him, which is fine. The other day it was a little weird. He told me he has noticed me doing my exercise and that I’m looking good. That was nice, but then he pointed at my belly and told me if I keep on walking, I will lose that too.

I didn’t ask for his comments and really thought he crossed the line. He does nothing all day but stand and watch. Never mind that he is grossly overweight. And he’s standing there watching and judging me. I didn’t like that. I didn’t say anything because I had no idea what to say. If he makes a comment like that again, what should I do? -- Crossing the Line, Bronx, New York

DEAR CROSSING THE LINE: This man is living vicariously through you. As inappropriate and awkward as it may be for you to have to see him each day and endure his watchful eye and comments, it would be great if you could brush it off. For whatever reason, he is not moving his body, and you are. You are improving your health, and he is a bystander watching you transform yourself. Take it in stride. If he talks about your body again, either ignore him or tell him in a lighthearted tone that you would prefer it if he would keep the comments to himself.


DEAR HARRIETTE: My family reunion is coming up, and I don’t want to go. The past year has been a mess for me. My wife left me. I lost my job, and I’ve been temping for the past six months. I have no good news to contribute, and I don’t feel like answering a whole bunch of questions.

I know my family means well, but when you are in my position, the last thing you want to do is talk about your misery. Or at least that’s true for me. My mother is getting up in age, and she is set on having me pick her up and take her to the reunion. I’m not sure what to do. I don’t want to disappoint her, but I don’t want to have to talk to people, either. -- Keeping My Distance, Roanoke, Virginia

DEAR KEEPING MY DISTANCE: I want to remind you that most people like to talk about themselves, including your family members. You can likely go to the reunion, help your mother and divert most conversations back to the person talking. When asked how you are doing, you can say “OK,” and ask about them. Ask about their children, jobs and lives.

Most people get caught up in their own stories and don’t notice that you haven’t told your own. If you are asked where your wife is, just say she didn’t come. In time, you can let others know what’s going on with you, if you choose. What’s essential is that your mother must agree not to talk about your circumstances. Otherwise, it won’t work.

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