employee talks about people’s weight, asking about salary before interviewing, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My employee talks about people’s weight

I’m a female supervisor of a small department. I’m significantly overweight. One of my direct reports has repeatedly made derogatory comments about overweight people to me during the course of conversations, such as “____is a BIG girl, I mean, she’s really big!”

I think that’s rude in general, and I also sense she’s doing this intentionally to insult me regarding my own weight in a passive aggressive way. Ironically, she’s overweight herself. Can you advise me on how to address this with her?

The nice thing about being the manager is that you have the authority to just point-blank shut this down. You could say, “Let’s not comment on people’s bodies” or “Her size isn’t relevant” or “Please don’t talk about people’s bodies that way.” If she keeps it up after that, you have standing to say, “I’ve said in the past that we don’t comment on people’s bodies here, and I want you to stop doing that.”

I’m curious about what makes you think she’s doing this intentionally to insult you. If she’s given you reason to think that (like if she’s adversarial, rude, or otherwise not reasonably civil and helpful), something odd is going on with her that as her manager you’ve got to get to the bottom of.

2. I fall asleep during car rides with coworkers

I fall asleep super easily in cars. It’s a habit picked up from years of road trips. If I’m in a car for at least about 25 minutes, I fall asleep unless I actively make an effort not to.

I intern over the summers with a federal agency in rural areas, so while I work out of an office, about every other day I shadow a coworker out in the field (literally, sometimes, a crop field). I really enjoy it! But the drives from our office can be an hour or more, and it’s usually just me and one coworker. Some of my coworkers are chatty and can keep a conversation going, so I rarely fall asleep with them. But some are more taciturn, and I’m not exactly an excellent conversationalist myself, which means I’m out like a light for half the drive after they brief me on what we’re doing.

I always feel embarrassed when I wake up in these situations, since I am technically sleeping on the job. No one’s ever said anything to me about it, but it definitely feels awkward. It’s also not like I’m shirking any work — we’re literally just driving on a highway. Should I tell my coworkers it’s just an involuntary response? Should I try better to carry the conversation and keep myself awake? Is it reflecting poorly on me, or just a quirk?

(Also, just to assuage anyone’s fears, it doesn’t happen while I’m driving! But I’m also never the one driving in these scenarios, so it doesn’t matter anyway.)

This isn’t exactly sleeping on the job — I mean, you are in a literal sense, but it’s not like you’re napping when you’re supposed to be crunching data. But I can see why you feel awkward about it.

It might indeed make sense to carry the conversation to keep yourself awake — but for all we know, some of these coworkers may prefer the silence! Given that, I’d just be up-front with people at the start of the drive: “When I’m the passenger in a car, I tend to fall asleep after a certain point unless we’re talking. But I don’t want to talk your ear off if you’d rather drive in peace. Any preference?”

3. Can I ask about salary up-front?

In college, I interned at a startup. I loved the job and the people, but they couldn’t afford to pay me a salary that would cover my student loans. So instead, I took a job at one of the highest paying (read: stressful) companies in the country, which required relocation to a high cost-of-living city.

It’s been five years, and my student loans have another 15 to go. But I’m trying to find a better work-life balance, and hoping to relocate back to the area where the startup was. This will necessarily come with a pay cut, but the cost of living is much much lower.

The startup has taken off, but I don’t know if they’re at the “competitively for the area” compensation point yet — and stock options don’t help me pay today’s bills. I told my old boss, who has continued to mentor me, that I wanted to relocate. She was really excited and sent over a job description that sounds like a dream to me. But I don’t want to waste anyone’s time if I literally cannot afford to work there. Do you have any scripts to bring up salary earlier in the hiring process / explain the bare minimum I would require?

There’s a inexplicable convention in job searching, where candidates aren’t supposed to ask about salary until you’re much later in the process — which makes no sense whatsoever, and I think to some extent is starting to change — but there are times when the context allows you to do it, like when you’re asked to invest a significant amount of time in a skills test or travel a long distance for an interview. And one of those times is when you know your interviewer well and have worked with them or been mentored by them, as is the case here.

So yes, go ahead and ask. Say it this way: “This job sounds amazing to me, and I’d be so excited to talk with you more about it. One thing that’s on my mind — I know that startup pay can really vary, so I want to be respectful of your time if we’re not aligned there. Could we touch base on the salary range before we go much further?”

4. We’re being charged PTO for a coronavirus quarantine

In light of the recent coronavirus outbreak, my company has asked all employees who are returning from Asia to self-quarantine for a week before returning to work. However, the quarantine period is considered as PTO (paid time off). We have only 10 days of PTO per year, and I don’t want to use half of my PTO when I am not sick. I don’t want to use my vacation days this way, but I also can’t go to work if my boss asked me to stay home. What would you do if you were in my shoes?

Band together with other employees who are affected and push back on it. Say you’re willing to take safety precautions for the good of the company, but you can’t afford to use half your yearly PTO to do it. Assuming you were in Asia for work, point out that you shouldn’t have to pay a penalty of half your annual PTO just for doing your job. (If any of you can work remotely, that would be one way around this, but I’m guessing that’s not the case or this wouldn’t have arisen.)

5. Starting a new job as a recent widow

My husband died by suicide 15 months ago. At the time, I moved to another part of the state to be closer to my family. I was able to stay within my company and transferred locations, but performing the same role.

After a year of therapy and healing, I’m rebuilding my life. I’ve been feeling for some time that I want to change industries, and have been applying for jobs and going to interviews. What do I do when I start a new job and my new coworkers ask me about my living situation? I’m a 38-year-old woman and I live alone with my cat and dog. I don’t feel comfortable telling people I’m divorced, as I’m not. But I’m also wary of saying I’m widowed in one of my first interactions with them, as that brings up a lot of questions due to my age. I’d also REALLY to avoid the phrase “I’m so sorry” or the Look people give widowed people. I doubt I’ll be able to avoid that. I know it’ll come out eventually, but I wish I could fast forward through the first awkward moments when several people find out for the first time. How do I handle this?

Would you be comfortable saying, “It’s just me and my dog and cat!” It’s also totally fine to say, ““Right now it’s just me” or “I was married but currently it’s just me.”

You might find, though, that people don’t ask about your living situation specifically, but rather ask if you’re married or have kids (which are typically more common questions). “It’s just me and my dog and cat!” works for those too.

{ 428 comments… read them below }

  1. RG*

    I would be pissed if I had to give up 10 days of PTO for a “self-quarantine” just because I happened to be returning from Asia – not the affected provinces, or even China, but the continent in general. Especially in the US, where 15-20 days of PTO is typical!

    1. RG*

      Ah, I misread that – 5 days out of 10 is so ridiculous though! (And so is just 10 days even with unlimited sick time but that’s a different battle).

        1. JSPA*

          Actually, “up to 14 day incubation” makes 7 day quarantines pretty pointless / an exercise in managing hysteria, vs managing any actual virus.

          1. Dragoning*

            Yeah, I read that, and was like “What is this actually helping if sick people might still be coming in?”

            Also, how many people are actually travelling, to that region, so frequently that this is a common problem at this company? Not that it should be happening to even one person, but the way the letter was phrased, sounds like this is a major issue.

            Perhaps the company could consider some other method besides travelling for a while.

            1. Asst4tW*

              It seems ridiculous to extend this to the ENTIRETY of Asia. Do the realize how large of a continent that is? Plus, there are certainly countries they could be traveling to that have less coronavirus cases than we do in the U.S. China, I understand. Elsewhere?

              It seems like over-reactionary fear mongering that definitely should not be paid out by the employee.

              1. KinderTeacher*

                Indeed, especially since the US government’s travel ban restricting entry by foreign nationals only applies to anyone who has been to *China* within 14 days of their planned entry to the US, and citizens/their direct relatives are only being subjected to mandatory 14 day quarantine if they are coming from Hubei province specifically w/ redirection to specific airports for health screenings & requests to self-quarantine at home for 14 days if they are coming from anywhere else in China. A quarantine effort like this hasn’t happened since the ’60s with smallpox, so this constitutes taking something pretty seriously and only China is being included!

            2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

              My company does that. China is declared “essential travel only” both for travel into China as well as out of it (we have several hundred employees there).
              We do lots of video conferencing, postpone meetings etc. and also do self-quarantine / work from home for returning travelers that run a fever, sneeze or cough, or appear at risk for any reason. However, we have pretty much unlimited sick leave in most locations and where sick leave is limited, self quarantine does not count against sick leave or PTO.
              This is even if a family member recently returned from the affected provinces.

          2. Evan Þ.*

            It’s not optimal. But, the average incubation period is five days, so a seven-day quarantine is more likely than not to reveal if you’ve contracted the illness.

            On the other hand, a new report says people almost certainly can’t spread the coronavirus until they’re actually displaying some symptoms, so perhaps the seven-day quarantine could be replaced by regularly checking for cough or fever?

            1. Anonapots*

              It’s spread through the sneezing/coughing, but more importantly because we’re in the early stages of the outbreak, there isn’t great information on things like mortality. Right now the only people going to the doctor are REALLY sick, so until less sick people start going to their physicians and being diagnosed, the numbers seem really high for how bad it can be and it feels a lot more dangerous than it might be.

            2. Eukomos*

              Wasn’t there a confirmed case in Germany of at least two asymptomatic people infecting others?

              1. e271828*

                No. The article authors didn’t talk to the original patient in the German “symptom-free transmission” case; they talked to her coworkers, who didn’t recall her as having symptoms. After the article was published, it turned out that indeed, she had symptoms, but the coworkers hadn’t noticed because they were mild. The authors have red faces symptomatic of sloppy work and I think the paper is retracted.

      1. Uldi*

        Forcing them to use PTO is ridiculous if they were there for work, but the 5 day quarantine isn’t. Average incubation of the virus is 5 days, but can range from 2 to 14. There just isn’t much hard information about this virus yet.

        There is also a study that shows a high probability that the virus had spread beyond Wuhan before the Chinese government quarantined Wuhan.

        1. wayward*

          Seems like if a company is really serious about self-quarantine, they’d give it as paid leave and not count it against PTO. Otherwise, seems like you’d have employees showing up, like “Sorry, can’t afford to take the time.”

          1. CheeryO*

            Yeah, my SO had two coworkers come back from Wuhan in the last few weeks, one right before the quarantine and the other a few days after. The first one went right back to work since the news hadn’t really come out yet, but the second was allowed to take a full 14 days off without having it affect his PTO. This is not a company that’s particularly generous with PTO, but they were very serious about taking whatever precautions they could take.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          It seems like a 5-day period, when the incubation can be significantly more than 5 days, isn’t going to be terribly effective. At that point, you aren’t protecting your workplace and you are punishing people.

          1. Quill*

            It is functionally a 7 day quarantine at least (because you will hit a whole weekend during it) but it’s also not at all effective at that time

            1. Dai Agnostic the Welsh doctor*

              It could actually be as much a nine days, i.e. arrive back late Friday, so you get two weekends in there, but it’s still not 14 days I agree.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          As a general rule, if companies want people to stay home for health/sickness reasons, they shouldn’t penalize them for it. Period. Whether it’s for their own sick days or for quarantines.

      2. EPLawyer*

        Asking people to give up part of their compensation package because the company wants to impose this is not acceptable. If the company is so concerned perhaps they should suspend overseas travel for the time being.

    2. Avasarala*

      I totally agree. Asia is a huge place and people should be taking precaution with travel from anywhere, especially at the height of flu season.
      And if you went there for work–how dare the company send you somewhere they obviously consider dangerous and then charge your PTO for it. You’re doing the company a favor by going under these circumstances, so they should absorb that as a cost of doing business. Same as having to book a last-minute flight to handle an emergency.

      What if an employee doesn’t have that much leave? Would they make you come in, or take that time unpaid? How will that affect morale and people’s willingness to travel for the company in the future? I don’t think they’ve thought this out.

      1. boop the first*

        I worked at a place that was mostly employees from overseas who traveled every year, and every time they were on a plane to anywhere they’d come back sick. *shrug*

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          I will get sick flying back home without fail (not so much flying out). Just my luck, maybe.

    3. Snuck*

      For those in Australia, the Government has weighed in… I’ll put the link in the next comment in case it gets held up, but if you google Fair Work Australia Corona Virus you’ll find it too.

      In Australia it’s legal to ask people to use their Annual Leave, or other forms of leave to cover this, and it recommends where possible to try to arrange a working from home arrangement as an alternative.

      1. Snuck*

        And for what it’s worth…. Australia in general is asking for a 14 day quarantine from any and all people travelling to Australia from China (not five days)… The only people allowed into the country now from China are Australian citizens/ Permanent Residents. Not even the 100.000 students due to start University next week are getting back in apparently.

        1. Kate*

          Which is beyond ridiculous. No virus depends on your passport or citizenship. Either you are contagious or you aren’t.

          1. Snuck*

            I think while they ramp up quarantine areas, and medical services… it’s reasonable to protect the people who are already in the country. It’s a horrible situation that is unfolding, but in order to best manage it long term for hte entire community we need time to ramp up. It’s a pandemic… an Act of God technically, and no one is smiling about it.

          2. Snuck*

            The other issue with this is that a person is contagious before they show symptoms and before you can show it up in a blood test.

            When they get testing clear and able to pick it up… then it will be easier to differentiate who has it.

            1. Observer*

              That actually may not be true. The main paper that made the claim actually was VERY flawed – they never actually talked to the woman who they claim spread the virus while she was asymptomatic.

              It turns out that she actually DID have symptoms, but she didn’t think it was serious and so took something for the symptoms and went to work. Oops.

              1. fposte*

                Yes, there’s a whole interesting kerfuffle around that one; Fauci, for instance, stated he still believes asymptomatic transmission might occur.

          3. Sleve McDichael*

            Yeah I think they’d lock out the citizens too if they could. Unfortunately (from the Govt’s point of view I mean) that’s illegal.

            1. Snuck*

              The citizens that are coming in on the evacuation flights are being held in ex-mining camps and ex-detention centres for 14 days for quarantine. Australia is getting pretty hard core about this… it’s … worrying.

              1. Observer*

                Well, it wouldn’t be such a big problem if they weren’t being so punitive about it. In the US, for instance, the quarantine conditions are pretty decent – they aren’t being treated like criminals.

                1. Dragoning*

                  Yeah, they’re being kept on military bases, which aren’t…great, but they also are not prisons!

                2. Observer*

                  And, they are actually being held at one of the nicer bases – apparently chosen because of that and because it’s a base that is used for handling a lot of people coming in and out so they are set up for transients.

                3. Snuck*

                  I think the reasoning behind Christmas Island was they only had hours to days to pull it together, and it was still while a LOT was unknown about what was going on… so a few thousands kilometres away from mainland Australia seemed like a good idea.

                  The conditions are simple, but fine. People will be flown to Perth from there if needed or at the end of their quarantine.

                  The newer evacuation centres are fine. All the facilities have pools and gyms and libraries, they have own bathroom to accommodation etc and they have access to outside and nature. They aren’t prisons in the American or UK sense of the word, not concrete blocks, they are single storey buildings, with come and go doors etc. The really nasty detention centres are in Sydney and just east of Perth – they are prisons.

              2. Librarian1*

                The US is doing similar. Foreign nationals are not allowed to enter the US if they’ve been to China recently, only citizens and permanent residents can, and the people who have been evacuated from Wuhan are being placed in military bases for 14 days.
                It sounds like the conditions at the bases are pretty good (they’ve been described as hotel-like), but it still sucks.

          4. Green great dragon*

            I think the assumption is that people can refrain from visiting another country, but you can’t ask people suddenly to stay abroad for an indefinite period.

          5. WellRed*

            I don’t think that’s the point. I can’t imagine being forced to stay overseas, under quarantine. I’d rather be home.

          6. Aquawoman*

            I suspect it is more of a constitutional thing–they can’t bar Australian citizens but they can bar anyone else.

          7. Is butter a carb?*

            Right, but it would be awful for a country to reject it’s own citizens from re-entering. If you don’t have a visa to stay somewhere else long term or have medical care etc, that would be REALLY bad.

          8. Working Mom*

            Yeah, I don’t understand that part. If all those returning from the affected areas are quarantined for 14 days prior to re-joining the general public, that makes sense. But the virus isn’t going to affect people based on their passports/citizenship status… so if there is not quarantine… then its totally useless.

            1. mssparks*

              It’s a numbers issue. How many people can the quarantine camps hold? I doubt there’s room for hundreds of thousands of international students and other visa holders.

            2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

              Citizens and permanent residents are quarantined, others are not admitted to the country.
              While harsh, this makes sense to limit the spread of the disease.
              Not sure if it will work in the end and I’m also not sure if the whole affair isn’t over-hyped – look up the annual flu death figures for comparison. The coronavirus numbers pale in comparison.

              1. KinderTeacher*

                We probably won’t know for a long time if it is over-hyped or not (many people are definitely too freaked out in the US right now, there are few cases here, flu IS here, etc etc but in terms of hype as it applies to how it will play out overall). Influenza typically has a mortality rate of around 0.1% (in the US) whereas the current novel coronavirus has a mortality rate around 2%, but from what I gather, it’s too early to say that is an accurate estimate (SARS estimates started at ~3% ended at ~10%). 2% could be too high or too low. They did recently report on Chinese state media that they have found evidence of the virus in patient feces, which opens up the possibility of the fecal-oral transmission route, which would just add more ways to spread it which doesn’t affect mortality rates of course, but doesn’t make containing spread easier.

                Quarantine seems awfully difficult to do effectively in 2020 as compared to say the 1960s when the US last did a large scale quarantine during the smallpox epidemic because travel is much easier, faster, and more affordable. But quarantines are effective when well implemented so I suppose you (royal you?) just do the best you can and hope for the best, and wash your hands, and get your flu shot, b/c even though the mortality rate is lower, influenza is here now and it is sticking around.

          9. JSPA*

            From how they’ve been treating their own passport holders it’s pretty clear they’d be just as happy to keep everybody out.

            It’s an issue of the legalities of preventing citizens from returning. You can’t force your own passport holders to violate a visa or have to function as if stateless.

          10. Tina*

            I feel like the difference is that (at least in this part of the world) citizenship means you have an inalienable right to be physically present in the country of your citizenship at any time you wish, so they cannot keep you out without causing massive legal headaches and horrible precedents that they don’t want to play with down the line. They can let you in and promptly quarantine you, but they cannot keep you out if you have citizenship or residency.

        2. KinderTeacher*

          The US is doing the same, as Librarian1 notes. Foreign nationals who have been to China within 14 days of travel to the US aren’t allowed in. US citizens and their immediate family members can travel to the US. If they have been to the Hubei province within 14 days, they are placed under mandatory 14 day quarantine. If they have been anywhere else in China they are redirected to an airport to undergo a health screening (if their arrival airport is not already one of the specified airports). If they pass the screening they are allowed to go home to undergo monitored self-quarantine for up to 14 days.

      2. Lance*

        It’s not really an issue of whether this is legal or not, though; the issue is that it’s placing an unnecessary burden on the employees, especially in the OP’s case where people are getting quarantined and forced to use PTO after work travel. That’s an expense that should be on the business, not the employee.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yes. If you and your coworkers can’t get the company to change this policy, I’d suggest you collectively refuse to travel for work (to China or anywhere else) until they do, if at all possible. I don’t know if you’ll be able to convince your coworkers to band together with you on that, but I hope so.

        2. doreen*

          The OP doesn’t mention work travel – Alison’s answer starts out ” Assuming you were in Asia for work,” , but that’s an assumption. I totally agree that they shouldn’t have to use PTO if they traveled to work – but I’m not so sure I feel the same way about personal travel.

          1. Quill*

            Honestly Quarantine for any reason seems enough like an extraordinary circumstance (keeping in mind that we’re still in a period of the outbreak where people are coming back from trips they started before the outbreak became global news) that the company shouldn’t be requiring the PTO regardless. (also, 10 days is a measley amount of annual leave, but I’m preaching to the choir here.)

            Especially since this is generalized to “all of asia” like… that’s a whole continent. What about people who were in New Dehli? Siberia? Seems like the company is not thinking any aspect of this through from a disease transmission standpoint.

      3. Bagpuss*

        Interesting. In the UK I might be legal – depending on circumstances. The general rule is that an employer can require an employee to take holiday at a certain time, but has to give them the correct notice, which IIRC is twice a long as that amount of time they are required to take off.

        So if you wanted them to stay home for 5 days you would have to give 10 days notice – which might be possible by telling either before they travelled, or while they were away (depending on the length of the trip) but would not be possible if you were telling them when or just before they returned, or at least not for the initial couple of days.

        If the quarantine was compulsory due to government rules then I think you’d struggle to require someone to use their holiday but it might count as an unpaid leave, Or sick leave.

        I agree that ethically, if the employee was travelling for work the company ought to cover the cost , and equally that the employee should be willing to work from home as much as it practical.

      4. blackcat*

        Yes, but in Australia, full time workers have 4 weeks annual leave + public holidays off, if not more.
        It’s more reasonable to ask someone to take 25% of their leave than 50%. Crappy either way, but more reasonable.

        1. Snuck*

          My knee jerk defensive reaction (I’m Australian) is to say “any leave is leave, and it should be protected regardless of how much you have” and “What if someone has been saving for something specifically?” …

          But then I also look at this and think …. Yeah…. you’ve got a point. I cannot imagine how other people manage to … live!… on only a couple of weeks of leave a year, especially if they are living away from family and friends. When we couple our annual leave and the Christmas/New Years or Easter breaks together we can often get another week in for free. It’s pretty good, and allows travel to see family etc (mind you, travel here is VASTLY different to travel in the UK for example – hours on a plane!).

          I still feel the same ethical principles should apply though. If in China before the coronavirus was evident… more sympathy, if pushed to go after mid January … I have a more fixed mindset about that.

        2. Mazarin*

          But people travelling for work are NOT being told to use leave in Australia. They are being told to negotiate, but you cannot force a worker to take unpaid leave. Or you MAY be able to if you have a sickness/quarantine workplace policy in place- but most won’t, and even then it could be subject to a legal challenge From the link above: ” Where an employer directs a full-time or part-time employee not to work, the employee would ordinarily be entitled to be paid while subject to the direction. You should consider your obligations under any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees’ contracts of employment, and workplace policies.

          Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can only be stood down without pay if they can’t do useful work because of equipment break down, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which the employer can’t be held responsible. The most common scenarios are severe and inclement weather or natural disasters. Enterprise agreements and employment contracts can have different or extra rules about when an employer can stand down an employee without pay.”

    4. Sharkie*

      One of my coworker’s husband works in an office where they have teams traveling to and from china every week and if anyone in the office is showing flu-like symptoms they are not allowed to enter the building for 2 weeks. They are not being charged pto becasue of “extortionary circumstances”. That is the only fair way to do this. The moral hit to making people use pto will cost more in the long run.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        ‘They are not being charged pto becasue of “extortionary circumstances”. That is the only fair way to do this. ‘

        Yup.

        Adding that frankly, if they have flu-like symptoms already it should be paid sick leave at least while symptomatic, and not even that exceptional. Time in quarantine after the symptoms clear is different.

        Also, there is a big difference between having symptoms and merely having traveled to China.

        1. ThatGirl*

          The problem, unfortunately, is that people seem to be contagious before they show symptoms, due to a fairly long incubation. Though I otherwise agree with you.

          1. Sharkie*

            True but at this point, it is the cost of doing business. If you choose to send people to an area with a dangerous virus you should know that they will be in quarantine for 2 weeks after. You should not penalize people for your business practices.

            1. ThatGirl*

              Right, I was mostly addressing the statement that there’s a “big difference between having symptoms and merely having traveled to China” — the symptoms may not show up for a little while.

        2. Dragoning*

          If they got sick because work sent them to a disease hot zone, I would hope that sick time is also not charged as normal.

          Or at least worker’s comp.

        3. Snuck*

          I presume that the company is paying ALL the medical costs of any travel related illness too?

          That would be reasonable too.

    5. LGC*

      Honestly, I’d be upset regardless of how much PTO I had (unless it was unlimited). It’s the company’s “fault” I went to an area that’s kinda on the same side of the globe as another area suffering through an epidemic. I mean, ask me to self monitor, but don’t take my benefits at the same time for a situation y’all caused.

      (I have Extremely Strong Feelings about the self monitoring thing for going to Asia – it’s like quarantining someone after a trip to Atlanta because there’s an outbreak in New Orleans. But that’s another post.)

      1. LGC*

        Okay, I misread LW4 myself. Still…Like 90% of it still stands, except for the part that LW4 is being forced to use PTO for being sent to Asia for work.

        (As a matter of fact, they’re still being “punished” for an employer decision to overreact, in my opinion! If LW4 or one of their coworkers is – say – coming back from visiting Japan, or even Shanghai, the US isn’t forcing people to quarantine from those areas.)

        1. Kyrielle*

          Or underreact: a five-day quarantine, even if we assume it extends to 9 days because of weekends, isn’t sufficient for the longest possible latency period as far as current knowledge goes.

          Either you think they reasonably could have been exposed (in which case, 14 calendar days, covered by the company if it was work travel and ideally also if it wasn’t given the extraordinary circumstances) or you don’t (in which case, nothing unless symptoms)….

        2. Kyrielle*

          And yes, if they weren’t in China specifically, then this is doubly wrong. They may be managing to overreact and underreact at the same time, all while being lousy unkind to the employee. That’s…not the kind of impressive to aim for, folks.

          1. LGC*

            Honestly, like…it might even be unfair if they’re coming from China. China’s a big country. And while the news reports I’ve heard have said that every province has cases of 2019-NCoV, the vast majority of cases still seem to be in Hubei province. (Granted, this assumes the Chinese government is reporting accurately.)

            You’re right that it’s not doing much of anything to protect them, though!

          2. Snuck*

            Oddly Indonesia, with it’s thousands of Chinese tourists, has zero cases… none. Nada. Zero. It also has an about $10bn tourism industry at stake. Nothing to see here! (I know this sounds conspiracy theory, but hear me out a little….)

            Even though it’s taking direct flights from China up until yesterday, even though it’s got more or equal chance than many countries, and should be showing cases like Australia (more so!) or Singapore (equal chance). I’m calling shenanigans. It’s ok.. they have the reagents for 1,000 test kits… they’ll be fine!

            I don’t think the genie is in the bag anymore….

      2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        It’s more like quarantining someone for going to Queens when your office is in Manhattan because of an outbreak in Anchorage – all on the same continent, no?

    6. Mbarr*

      I was legit going to ask people about this at the free for all thread later today!
      One of our Canadian-based Chinese employees was in Shanghai for work just before coronavirus went viral (medically and through the media). He came back to Canada and immediately took a 1 week vacation (it was booked beforehand)… But after his vacation was over, supposedly he was asked not to come into the office until this “blows over.” (I’m hearing about all this second hand.) Our company has the ability to work from home, so there’s no PTO involved. It’s going on 3 weeks now and he’s still not back in the office.
      Personally, I’m annoyed they asked him to stay home. He should be able to come back in. And maybe he’s allowed to but hasn’t? Maybe he’s chilling out at home, working in his pajamas all this time? Part of me wants to reach out to HR for clarity (I don’t know if they even know he’s out or was asked to self-quarantine) but considering I’m not on his team and am just hearing gossip, I don’t feel comfortable.

      Side note: During the same time this colleague was in China, two of our caucasian VPs were at a week long sales conference. Supposedly lots of Chinese delegates were there with cold symptoms, but the VPs weren’t asked to self-quarantine when they came back…

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        This is dumb. It’s an “abundance of caution” mixed with a little bit of xenophobia.

        1. Mbarr*

          Agreed. I DID find out that one of the people who sit near the Chinese colleague has an immuno-compromised son… But again, the period of danger for the colleague has passed.

        2. To Lurk, perchance to Post*

          Completely agree! I live in the southern US. My husband does too. He’s Chinese-American. He was born in the US. He’s never even been to Asia. I’m just a typical mutt of European heritage.

          I came down with some nasty virus last weekend. I stayed home to work Monday and Tuesday just in case, so I didn’t spread it to my colleagues. If I heard one more time, “Are you sure it isn’t the coronavirus? You know, because of your husband? HAHAHAHAHA” I would have punched someone. Like people. Not every person in Asia/of Asian decent has coronavirus!

          AHHHHHHHH!

        3. Old and Don’t Care*

          We actually have no idea what “it” is, as the OP (of this sub thread) has no actual facts about the situation.

      2. ThatGirl*

        There was a story on NPR earlier this week about students at University of Illinois, which has a large Chinese student population. It definitely sounds like a little fear mixed with way too much xenophobia — yes, there are some students from Wuhan who were home fairly recently, but eyeing every Asian student with suspicion is just way too much. I know there are a lot of unknowns still with this virus, but wash your hands, stay home if you feel sick, and it’s probably not the disaster you imagine.

        1. fposte*

          It was interesting that some of the Chinese students were also eyeing people with suspicion.

          I was reading an interesting article about the likely future with this virus; the scientists were saying that this first year would likely to be the worst because nobody has antibodies, but in future years fatality rates would likely drop closer to that of the seasonal flu.

        2. Anon for this*

          To be fair… everyone is eyeing everyone over this.

          My son’s go to a school where about 15% of the class were in China for CNY… and the school started back earlier than public schools, so the school was very late making a choice about whether to quarantine (it was in that week where the Australian govt dithered and couldn’t decide and took days and days to react to anything)… the school jammed out a policy literally 12 hours before school started, the night before…

          And I left it to the “Chinese Gate Mums” (who are all very very lovely women) to know who was ‘quarantine-able’ and who was ‘safe’…. they know far more about who was where when than I do. I have a very high risk son (brittle asthma, recurrent pneumonia) and rather than get xenophobic in my actions I left it to my thoughts, and figured the mothers in the know would sort it all … They have as much interest in looking after their own children as I do for mine.

      3. tink*

        After 3 weeks he’s obviously not sick so I’m not sure why they’re keeping him out of office. That’s just ridiculous.

        1. Mbarr*

          Again, this is all second hand… And maybe he’s happy to be working from home (he doesn’t interact with most people in our office). But for now I’m choosing to be outraged till I see the whites of his eyes again.

      4. Dragoning*

        until this blows over???

        They’ve kept him past the incubation period at this point. Now it’s just racism.

        1. Mbarr*

          As I replied to someone else, this is all second hand… And maybe he’s happy to be working from home (he doesn’t interact with most people in our office). But for now I’m choosing to be outraged till I see the whites of his eyes again.

          We are a very ethnically diverse office. We have other Chinese colleagues. But none of them have been to China recently.

    7. ThatGirl*

      A lot of US workers only get 10 days of PTO, actually (though it can vary widely by company and experience level). But I currently have 5 sick days and 15 vacation days, and I’d be pretty annoyed if I had to use all of my sick time or a third of my PTO due to a quarantine.

    8. RoseMai*

      Also you can have the Coronavirus for 2 weeks without showing symptoms, so the quarantine isn’t even long enough to be useful! You’re giving up PTO for nothing!

    9. Blue Eagle*

      My question is whether the person went to Asia on vacation or on company business. If on behalf of the company, then the company should not charge your PTO. If it was personal pleasure, then I’d ask if work from home was an option for those days and if not – well, can you use sick days?

    10. Dezzi*

      Right?? My partner’s company has canceled all business travel to China, and told employees that they need to stay home for two weeks if they or anyone in their household travel to/return from China. But they’re being paid for those two weeks and it doesn’t affect their PTO. *That’s* how you do this properly!

    1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      I have someone in my outside-of-work circle who is overweight and used to make these kinds of comments all the damn time. But only ever about other women! I used to send it back. Eg: “And..?” “Sooo…?” “You’re telling me because…?”
      And what finally got her to can it for good:
      “You do realise that every time you say something like that, that you’re also confirming to me – as another woman – that my main value is in my appearance, right? Society and the media do that enough without our active participation, so please don’t make comments like that around me.”

      This was not a work situation so I had no qualms about being blunt. But I’ve also used a softer version of the last one in the workplace when the appearance-based commentary got out of hand.

    2. Anonys*

      I also hate the language about big “girls”. I know some people do use that language to refer to themselves, which is fine, but labelling grown women as girls is always so patronising, especially in the work place. And “big girl” specifically is how we often talk to 6-year olds (“you’re a big girl now, you can do x by yourself”). Obviously the main issue here is the fat-phobia and commenting on other people’s bodies though.

    3. DapperDev*

      Yeah I’m shocked that report has the gall to speak that way to her supervisor. I would totally say ‘That’s an example of a sizist comment, and as a manager I don’t feel comfortable enabling a culture of shame.”

      My sister had a sizist boss who would complain about how much she ate, when she ate trail mix no less. Some people really get a rise out of shaming others.

      1. Rock Lobster*

        I agree. In fact, and I realize that this goes against convention, I would harden the language and remove “I feel” and just directly go to “you” wording at this point. As in “This is inappropriate and you need to stop.”

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yeah, I had a fatphobic boss who frequently told me off for ‘overeating’ or ‘having no self control’ when in fact he’d never ever seen me eat in the office (nor had anyone else).

        I don’t accept comments about my weight anymore. It’s too triggering (I had anorexia in my teens) and even how I’m just concerned for your health because you’re overweight!’ comments can be profoundly offensive.

        So I’m noted for shutting down anyone who tries to comment on my size. It’s not related to work after all…

    4. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Agreed. I want to add I think it’s more about how employee feels about herself than how she feels about OP or anyone else. Deflecting, maybe is the word. “She’s a big girl.” Meaning I’m not as big. Or how is she successful, smart, not hiding in a hole?” This could be her coping mechanism for insecurity about weight. It’s a verbal tic. She needs to stop it, like any other irritating habit. Find some other way to deal with her weight issue. Cuz yeah, that shit needs to stop.

      1. 1234*

        I was just about to post a similar comment, that the direct report might be trying to make herself seem “less overweight” because “others are larger than me.”

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        Agreed.

        I had a boss that you could tell was insecure about her looks and tended to be overly critical via mothering towards younger female employees. Wouldn’t say a thing to older women.

        It was great hearing I was anorexic every day and that she was “concerned”. I’m not – but could you imagine actually having a disorder and being around that bullshit?

        Shut this crap down ASAP, OP. It’s none of her business, it’s in no way appropriate at all, it’s rude.

        1. Working Mom*

          Yes – as her Manager you are the BEST person to shut it down, and fast. When employees make any kind of inappropriate remarks or comments to others at work, the entire office knows it. And when it doesn’t stop or appears to go unaddressed, the rest of the office workers have the implied perception that those comments are *allowed* because they haven’t been shut down.

          Look her right in the eye and state directly, “That’s inappropriate, please don’t say that.” (Or any variations of what Alison provided.) And agree with Alison that if you have to say this more than a few times – it’s time for a sit down and make it very clear that her comments are NOT appropriate, NOT condoned, and need to stop. And if they don’t – a much more serious conversation will follow.

        2. many bells down*

          Ugh I had this happen with a woman in my office who I suspect had an eating disorder. She was very thin and never ate at work. I stopped taking depo and I immediately dropped like 15 pounds and she was vocally upset about it. And “concerned”.

      3. Marthooh*

        I thought it might be an attempt to bond with the OP, like, “We’re both disgusting fat ladies, but! we can admit our disgustingness and be disgusting together, eh?”

        And yes, she needs to shut that right down, whatever her reason is.

        1. Another Millenial*

          Ah, nothing like a bit of bonding with someone who you just implied is “disgusting.”

        2. Serin*

          Yeah, I used to have a friend who would look at another woman and say, “If I ever get that big, take me out and shoot me.” And she was that big, and so was I. It was unpleasant, and I wish I’d shut it down.

        3. Kate R*

          This was my inkling too, though less harshly. Just like, “We’re all in the club, so we can say that.” And like, nope. Shut that down. That’s not how this is going to work.

      4. Ginger*

        This was exactly my thought as well. She is projecting her own insecurities and putting others down to make herself feel better.

        OP – one angle you may not have considered, when other people hear talk like that and you DON’T tell her to stop, it makes you look bad too. Unfair, yes, but it will look like you are tolerating that type of talk.

        1. Lady Heather*

          Why is that unfair? If an employee is making inappropriate comments at work, I’d question why that was allowed and what other weird behaviours are allowed – and if it’s not allowed, what other rules and regulations are disregarded.

          1. Another Millenial*

            It’s unfair to the boss that boss would look bad when her report says these things. And it makes sense, because by not shutting it down, it makes it look to others like that kind of behavior is allowed, and if that kind of behavior is allowed then boss isn’t doing their job.

            1. Ginger*

              This is exactly what I meant. Boss is being painted as tolerant, or maybe even a participant of it, when she is not.

              OP obviously disagrees with it hence writing to an advice blog for how to handle it.

          2. MOAS*

            ehhhh I can see the unfair angle, if hypothetically let’s say the person is saying these things to other coworkers in the break room or at the water cooler. Boss isn’t around to hear it, and no one bothers to bring it to boss’s attention.

            This situation that OP presented is not that of course, but again I’m saying hypothetically. Just because someone is a boss doesn’t mean they’re omniscient.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              This is why I’m concerned with blaming boss when comments like these are made. It’s possible boss has never heard the comments and they’ve never been reported to boss. Also possible is boss has spoken to the offender, and instead of quitting offender just moved the problem out of the boss’ earshot (the old out of sight out of mind thought process).

        2. Well Then*

          It’s also important to realize that if she is saying this to her boss, she’s likely to be saying similar things to her coworkers. And if LW – who has the power to shut this down – doesn’t tell the employee to stop, then she is actually tolerating it.

      5. Easter*

        I was going to say something similar to this. I’m plus size myself and sometimes there is this weird compulsion to poke fun at your own size – like somehow if you acknowledge it first/at all, you take the power away from the other person possibly insulting you with it. I go the sense that what this person is doing may be some kind of perverse version of that – like she’s allowed to criticize “big girls” because she’s also big, she’s acknowledging she’s plus size so no need for anyone else to point it out. But then if she were doing that, I don’t know why she wouldn’t say something like “X is really big … and I would know.” So who knows. Maybe I’m feeling sympathy where it isn’t deserved and this woman really is just rude and awful, but my first instinct, at least in part, is that these dumb comments come from insecurity about her weight. (Of course, still doesn’t mean that as her manager who shouldn’t tell her to knock it off ASAP.)

  2. Patricia*

    “It’s just me and my dog/cat” has the added benefit of almost inevitably driving the conversation into pet picture territory. All follow-up questions about pet details, no follow-up questions about your own personal life.

    1. Anonyme*

      May I recommend more cats? People stop asking questions about my personal life when I say I have 3 cats in answer.

        1. SMH RN*

          I use my 2 cats as shields whenever people start asking me personal
          Life questions at work….it’s great as a deflection!

          1. Kit*

            Can confrim this works. I am over 40, never married, but when anyone asks me about my personal life i throw cat pictures at them. I also volunteer with cats so there are A LOT of cat pictures and stories.

            1. Give Me All the Kittens!*

              It would deflect some people, but I’d want to see ALL the pictures and hear ALL the stories. Tell me you have five kids and I’d likely wander away quickly but tell me you have five cats and I’m going to want to be your best friend!

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                At my house we have 5 people and 10 cats. Sorry I don’t have pictures of them all.

          2. Dasein9*

            Yes, this. If you don’t want people to ask about X, give almost-TMI about Y. They’ll stop asking.
            (Go full TMI if you must, but use this sparingly for best effects.)

            1. Down2MarsGirl*

              OP here- that’s a great tactic! Just overwhelm them with info about pets and gardening, then all the photos of the fur babies!

          3. Lady Blerd*

            “Two cats” is my standard answer for kids/relationship questions and unless I’m talking to a fellow cat person, it actually does shut down conversations.

        2. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

          I have seven, and when I share that tidbit with folks it shuts them up about literally everything else. They are left thinking, “Wow, seven? She doesn’t seem like a crazy cat lady…..” and voila! No more small talk about my personal life.

          Though I will confess I do love sharing pics of my new Maine Coon Kitten, Princess Francesca Louisa Zamboni, Frankie for short.

      1. Girl CFO*

        I have five cats. Yes, FIVE. :)
        My marriage ended when my XH tried to kill me. I prefer my co-workers don’t know that tidbit. I sat FIVE cats and receive the inevitable eye roll and muttered, “so you’re a crazy cat lady…” comment. Lol. Yup!

          1. Honoria*

            crap I’m sorry that was supposed to be nested under the Australian quarantine comment I’m so sorry

            Best to you and your cats.

        1. Super Admin*

          I have three cats. I definitely talk about them way more than my husband, and as such some people assume I am a crazy cat lady (not remotely a bad thing in my opinion) and have no idea I’m married. Glad that works in your favour – animal distraction FTW.

          Also, pff, your co-workers’ response should be an enthusiastic ‘Five cats!? Pics please!’, not an eye roll. I recommend new co-workers immediately :D If you worked in my company I would demand the immediate set-up of a Yammer channel for us to share cat photos.

          1. Cinnamon*

            I traveled to another state with my cat and sent a coworker so many photos of her! She photoshopped them into post it notes for me to use at work. I love it!

        2. Quill*

          One of my best friends has seven cats… part of a “rescue one, get six kittens” deal. So you’re not even the craziest cat lady.

      2. Jenn*

        I was once being buttonholed by a senior guy talking to my chest. Got rid of him when he asked if I had family and I cheerily replied “I have cats”. Loved it!

      3. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

        May I recommend more cats?
        LOL, this should be a go-to response for any tricky problem!
        I commonly use a version of that “memes” at the end :-)

      4. Dontforgettobreathe*

        Hehe, so very true. I am a 35 year old woman. When I get asked about my family situation I just reply in a very cheerful tone, it’s me, my cat and my folding bike.

        Which gives me enough space to geek out on either. I thinks it’s the cheerful tone that does it. I am not sad about it, so you should’t either.
        People generally don’t push for more information, that would be rude.

        I like the suggestion of more cats though. I don’t think my cat would appreciate it, I would Love to live in a 3 cat household. So yeah, join the catclub we are awesome. ( and I am sorry you had to through such a hard time)

        1. Veronica Mars*

          I think the cheerful tone is key. If you sound sad about it (even though, in this case its totally warranted), people tend to want to go into “problem solving” mode and ask more questions. If you sound perfectly pleased with your current situation, it’s more obviously rude/weird for them to question your life on meeting one.

          1. Sparrow*

            This is what I do. 35, never married, no kids, no pets. When I get asked if I have a partner/kids/pets, I typically just cheerily say, “Nope!” and turn the conversation back to them. It’s not often that people ask follow up questions.

            And OP, there are a couple of women in my social circle who I knew for years before learning they had been married at some point in the past. Whenever something like this comes up, they just give a vague reply (usually about their pets!) and ask the person a follow up question to turn the attention off themselves. In their cases, it was divorce, but they don’t like discussing it and it’s no one else’s business.

            1. twig*

              After being here for 10 years, I (and most of my coworkers) learned that my grandboss had once been married — this was at her retirement party. We all knew about her dogs, but nothing about this former husband.

              Her explanation was “yeah, that was before I figured out that I prefer to live alone”

            2. Vemasi*

              I think when you have been married, especially for a long time, you start to view that as the default since it’s such a pervasive part of your life. Not necessarily to the point where you start to ignore the existence of single people (although that does happen as well), but where you get into the mindset of “of course I’m married,” or in this case “of course I have been married, and people will ask about it.” When generally, if you just say you aren’t or gloss over the details, people will follow your lead.

              It goes the other way too–I am often thrown for a loop when new acquaintances ask if I am married, because “of course I’m single, isn’t it obvious?”

        2. Not So NewReader*

          It was helpful to me to think of the question as, “This person is trying to make friendly conversation.” From there it was not a huge leap to think of things that would be light and cause more conversation to happen.
          I think people can be really great about not wanting the heavy details rather they are just trying to find a subject in common to chat about.

          I am happy on my own. People seem to really respect my thoughts on that. I do think that it helps that my walk matches my talk. Even though my home is modest, I have very happy with the house and I love living here. So I talk about that. I have a dog who fills up the lulls in my days, I enjoy the heck out of him and I let that show. Since I am showing signs of being settled and being content, people are less apt to get involved in the details of what happened to my husband and other related discussions.

          It could be just my experience but I think the first year was the worst with people acting rocked by the idea that I was widowed young. You are 15 months out, perhaps more by the time your letter was published, so I think you are on the downhill side of this problem.

          A couple suggestions:
          Try to keep in mind that their shock is due in part to the recognition of THEIR own vulnerability. No one likes to think about losing a SO or other key people out of their life. A couple people told me point blank that they were watching me to see what they could figure out for themselves if they were faced with the same situation. I said that I may not be the best example. I have concerns that they do not have and in some ways I had assets that they do not have. But the reverse is true, I am not jumping THEIR hurdles and they have different assets to draw on to pull themselves through. It’s possible that they could have an easier time with something that was a real struggle for me.
          So some of it is about their own fears. This is good to know because it means the longer you go along the less and less fear you will see. That is because they can see that you are indeed managing and that can translate to them as, “And I will some how manage, also.”

          My second suggestion is to deliberately have a short list of bland life stuff that you use as go-tos for light conversation. And this can be anything. It can be your new pup, your friend’s new baby, the weather, a hobby type activity or anything. It does not have to be anything of major substance. Keep it short.
          “Oh I moved here to be with my family and I am still adjusting to how extremely [hot/cold] it is here” Then chuckle.
          “Well there’s me and my pet. But my best friend just had a baby so now I am an auntie and I am kind of excited about that.” [Let your smile show.]
          I met one person briefly and when I mentioned family, he said to me, “Oh, it’s just me on my own now.” I could see he did not want to explain that. You can kinda pick up on the people you can say this to and know they will drop it. I did drop it right away.

          And last. It’s really hard to prevent people from expressing regret for your loss. It’s good to plan how you want to handle that. You can say, “thank you” and just let the conversation hang in thin air for a moment. Or you can say, “It was a while ago and now I am focusing on building new things into my life.” This type of statement helps to steer the conversation. You have just given a huge cue that they need to move to present time when talking with you.
          I do recommend planning out something to say. Life is too hard to begin with and to add in worry about people talking about History just seems to be needless complexity in an already difficult situation. I started saying “it was a while ago” around the 8 month mark. It felt like a lie to me because in my mind/emotions it was YESTERDAY. However, I found that by saying it was in the distant past I was able to get out of the topic sooner.

          On a happier note, it’s been my experience that when I start a new job my new cohorts seem more focused on themselves and their workplace than they ever were on me and my setting. This can work to your advantage.

          1. Important Moi*

            I call them scripts. They are very helpful.

            I think it feels rude to some people to not have an authentic conversation where they are telling the truth to every question that is asked. It’s OK not to do that. I call it boundaries.

            1. Working Mom*

              Yes, exactly! You can still be authentic and not share every detail of your life. It’s completely reasonable and appropriate to decide in advance which parts of your life you wish to share, and to be prepared to expand on the parts your comfortable with. Cats, bike riding, getting acclimated to a new environment (could be weather, shopping, real estate, grocery stores, sports teams, etc.).

              Also, take comfort in knowing that at least in the interview – your interview should NOT be asking you questions about whether or not you are married, if you have kids, etc. They may ask you a broad question like, “So what made you decide to move to Kansas?” but they should never follow up with more detailed questions about your family situation. Best of luck to you!! :)

          2. alienor*

            “And last. It’s really hard to prevent people from expressing regret for your loss. It’s good to plan how you want to handle that.”

            Also, be ready to keep handling it for a long, long time. I’ve been widowed for almost 14 years and it doesn’t come up very often anymore, but when it does, people still respond with “I’m so sorry.” It’s almost more awkward than in the beginning because my first impulse is to say “It’s OK,” which makes it sound like I don’t care (I do care, but it’s also more or less OK at this point, which is hard to explain unless you’ve lived it), so mostly I say “It was a long time ago” and leave it at that.

            1. Vemasi*

              I’m an overthinker and started having a lot of anxiety about proper ways to address and respond to things in conversation when I was younger, when I started talking to adults as an adult. I mitigated a lot of this when I realized I don’t have to manage other people’s emotions surrounding matters of form (or anything, really, but this is Step 1). So I stopped trying to be effusive and show the “correct” emotion when I was congratulated, for example, or reassure people if they offered me condolences. I coached myself to be okay with just saying, “Thank you,” smiling, and moving on. Maybe sometimes it comes off as cold, but that is not my concern.

            2. Editor*

              It has been ten years since my husband died, and like alienor, I really prefer not to go into great depth about being widowed. I eventually figured out that (most) people are much happier not having an extended discussion. A grieving person is entitled to grieve, but they’re also entitled to privacy, and the bewildered solicitousness of other people does not mean you have to bare your emotions to them.

              In my case, I found the second year on my own was much harder than the first, then things started improving. Grieving comes and goes. People find out about your situation and don’t know what to say so they say they’re sorry because they don’t want to sound indifferent.

              I found that if I give my now stock answer — “I am really grateful for the wonderful grief support group I found.” — it kind of reassures them that I am all right while not making them face how grueling the grief was at times. Even if I am struggling, mostly I don’t want strangers to know, so I haven’t cared if on some days the script is basically a coverup. Find a script and use it on those occasions when the pet defense falls short.

          3. Connie-Lynne*

            OP5, my husband died from suicide while I was unemployed, so I had to start a new job two months after his passing!

            I found that talking about where I lived (“oh, I’m in West Portal”) or why I lived where I live, (“I just bought a house six blocks away from my sister!”) was useful at dodging the “single” questions.

            I also figured out that when telling stories about him, to just say “my late husband used to blah blah” and get on with the key point of the story. If I barreled past the statement, it signaled to folks that it wasn’t the important part of the story.

            1. Editor*

              Yes, barreling past the mention of the “late husband” is another way to derail the whole comforting-the-bereaved small talk ritual.

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          I’d jump on this. “Tell me all about your kitties!”

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I think “I’m single” is fine too. It better than saying you’re divorced because it not a lie in that you are single right now.

      “Single except for my pets” is also great because I do think many people want to hear about pets and you can definitely make small talk about your pets.

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        I’d go for “happily single” – unless you think you may be open for a new relationship. Some people might interpret a simple “single” as an invitation to a deeper conversation, or even to hit on you.

    3. Chiens et chats*

      I am also a widow due to suicide, and went through this a couple years ago when I started a new job. I can confirm the conversations about pets (2 dogs and 4 cats here) and occasional chat about niece and nephew seemed to satisfy talk about my personal life. I did tell my supervisor what happened, but I had issues with PTSD and thought someone should know in the event I found something triggering. As time went by, and I got to know some of my colleagues better, I learned who I could trust with that information and it’s been fine. Sending good vibes to you as you push ahead.

  3. Jaybeetee*

    LW5: yeah, this is one of those things where people tend to not be as focused on it as you’d think. Most people won’t ask, or will just pick it up from context cues as you talk about your life generally. For example, I rarely spell out to colleagues, “I’m single”, but just in the course of talking about my life, probably most people I work with know that I am single and living alone.

    I do get a sense from your letter that you might be worried about people perceiving you as never-married, or that you don’t want to erase your marriage by just referring to yourself as “single”. But once you’re past that initial getting-to-know-people phase, you can probably drop an occasional reference to your late husband, without having to make A Thing about it. At that point, most people will take their cues from you. If you mention it lightly and breeze by it, people will follow your lead. You might still get the occasfinal “I’m sorry for your loss”, but it’ll be more… polite, less emotive.

    1. Blarg*

      I think it’s a bonus here that OP moved to be closer to family. As a single woman who recently relocated … just cause I wanted to and without a job, it does tend to get questions… assuming I moved here with a spouse. Nope. Family in the area. No. Whyyyy? People are fascinated by just picking up and moving sometimes. But they’ll readily accept family in the area without further explanation.

    2. Renata Ricotta*

      Agree. I’m a young divorcee and feel awkward telling people that in a professional context (it seems kind of drama llama or something? I dunno what my hang up is). I just started a new job and have been surprised that almost nobody has asked about my “living situation.” Most people put two and two together (like the absence of a ring and the fact I’m not referencing a partner in casual conversation) which is also what I do when meeting new people at the company. If they say something to indicate they are partnered I draw that conclusion, otherwise I assume they are single. Which is a pretty common default state for many people (although it may take some time to acclimate to that if you were partnered for a long time).

      Sending good vibes to you, OP 5.

    3. Anonys*

      I kind of got the sense that OP5 thinks her living alone at 38 and not mentioning a partner will sound weird to people and prompt follow up questions? Or am I off base here?

      Might be different where the OP is based, but in the city I live in many people at 38 are unmarried and live alone, or even with platonic roommates! Also, I don’t think that most people will ask follow up questions about your relationship status when you just say “I live in x area with my cats and dog!”

      Also, if someone asks if you are married directly, you can either just say “No, I’m not”, which is true at the moment, or “I used to be married” (maybe followed by a chance of topic or redirection towards your pets to make clear you don’t want to elaborate), which is ambiguous as to whether you got divorced, widowed, or got an annulment. Most people will just assume you are divorced due to your age, but it won’t be weird when you elaborate later-on and tell them you are widowed. Don’t say you are divorced, as it’s not true and will create confusion.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        I’m 38 and live alone. I’ve never been married, and I don’t even have any pets. (I wish I could have cats, but my apartment is tiny and no pets.) It isn’t all that unusual where I live either.

        1. Leisel*

          My housemate and I are both mid-30s and single. We live in an expensive city and no one bats an eye when I tell them we’ve shared a house for 8 years now. It’s not at all uncommon where I live, either.

      2. Smithy*

        My mom’s recently widowed and during the time of work holiday parties she mentioned how she could never imagine going to such a party single. When I replied that I do that and honestly can’t imagine wanting to go to my holiday work holiday parties with a partner. It was a real “oh” moment for her.

        While I’m sure this is still a huge reality in the OP’s life, it’s rarely the ambition of new employee office chit chat to know your relationship status.

      3. Willis*

        Yes, it sounds like she thinks people will expect a reason for her singleness. As a late 30s person who lives alone and was never married – they won’t! I sometimes get asked if I’m married or have kids and just say no, and the conversation moves along. I may mention my niece or nephew…that’s a good transition after the kids question. But I can’t say I ever remember being asked directly about a living situation or for any background about why I’m living alone.

        1. Sternoblaze*

          I’m 38 and just got divorced in 2018. When I meet new people, I get a brief “Are you married/have kids” question and I either just say no or mention that I’m divorced, no kids. It moves on pretty quickly after that.

      4. GS*

        If there’s something you really do like talking about you can often very openly redirect:

        “Are you married?”

        “No, and honestly my knife throwing hobby takes up most of my attention right now. I’ve just worked up to hitting the bullseye six times in a row!” People will either be interested and run with it, or change the topic themselves.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          Or in the case of this particular example, back away slowly. Which I personally would also consider a win.

    4. Chaordic One*

      I agree with Jaybeetee that most people are not as focused on it as you’d think. When you avoid talking about it you make people suspicious and it looks like you’re hiding something. While it’s none of their business, I would recommend getting it out there, but then shutting it down by not going into the details. If nosy people want to know details, tell them it is too painful to discuss and then hold your ground.

    5. LQ*

      I’ve never had anyone at my current job ask me directly if I’m married, single, or dating. People mostly ask indirect questions that may ache for you but you can plan for.

      “You have anyone special in your life?”
      “I get to see my niece and nephew next weekend and I’m super excited about it!”

      “Anything fun planned for valentine’s day?”
      “I’m negotiating a multimillion dollar contract and then going to sleep for a month!”

      “My spouse and I are getting together for his family this year, ugh, I hate the trade off thing.”
      “I love a hot cocoa and quiet and snow on Christmas.”

      Nearly everyone will take queues from you. I’m guessing this is far more inside your head, which is really understandable and very hard. I think trying to prepare yourself now will help with the heartbreak of those moments later. I’m very sorry for your loss.

      1. Smithy*

        This is a really kind and wonderful answer. There are lots of questions that can be personal reminders of the reality but don’t entirely reflect coworkers looking to pry.

        Questions like where you live, what you do on the weekend, any plans you have for birthdays, holidays, vacations – most of the time people really do just want to make friendly conversation. So it may be helpful to just have some boiler plate answers or talking points that feel comfortable for now. If for a year your coworkers just know you as someone with pets who loves Disney+, that’s still bonding and getting to know your coworkers.

      2. Mama Bear*

        I like this. And most people will get that you have a line in the sand. One of my former coworkers kept his personal life close to his vest. To this day I have no idea if he lived alone, had pets, or had a significant other. He declined to divulge or gave non-answers. And we moved on.

    6. JSPA*

      “I moved to be closer to family, and I’m currently entirely in family and pet mode.”

      This is also the answer to, “are you single?” and even “So, is there a Mister OP#5?” (Though if someone’s being pushy, a flat, “There was.” and turn away, is also excusable and effective).

      Frankly it’s situational. If an official form requires you to check a box, you may have to dig, as to whether they really need to distinguish between single, divorced, widowed. If someone’s just wondering whether the standard phrase on Monday morning will be, how are the kids, how’s the spouse, how’s your mom, any new grandnephew pictures or do you have cute pet pictures, they really just need that answer. If someone’s the self – appointed office matchmaker (gag) they only need to know that you’re not looking for their services.

      If people are honestly trying to get to know you better you can always say “my life took a painful shock a couple of years ago. I moved closer to family, and am rediscovering X, Y, and Z, but also finding so many new potential things to do. Do you happen to know [minimally – related broad request for information]?” (Group hikes, reading groups, new restaurant opening / old one closing).

    7. Down2MarsGirl*

      OP here- thank you. I think getting used to my new reality and going through all of this makes me feel like I’m under a microscope, so it’s a good reminder that most people aren’t going to care that much.
      And it’s true, I don’t want to erase my marriage. So the deflection to pets or hobbies is a good idea.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Alienor makes a good point. That sympathy face is so awful. Tuesday is the three year anniversary for me and I’m still like “thanks, but let’s get back to the story.”

        For direct questions, I didn’t like the assumption that I was single or divorced, but I’m also a very blunt person, so I’d literally say things like “No, he’s dead, but that’s not the important part of my story…” and continue on.

  4. Blarg*

    #5 — so sorry for your loss. If people ask about family or whatever, you can avoid the question by over answering: “I’m pretty new to the area. I have a dog named Fido and he’s a 7 year old setter mix rescue, and then my 10 year old cat Furball who I should have named Hairball. What about you?” And since they won’t want to hear about your animals anymore, they’ll happily talk about themselves or just change the subject. If and when you do share more of your story, you can.

    Best wishes to you.

    1. Anblick*

      I think this is a really great, elegant answer. And just ALL of the good energy and love to you, LW5, I hope you find a lot of healing and recovery.

    2. Ali G*

      Yeah, i think we forget sometimes that we don’t have to answer the exact question! Bring out your inner politician and spin that question to your talking point and deflect back to the asker.
      Also, OP, if you are in the US (this may be typical for other countries too), you can put your wedding ring on your right hand as a social cue that you are a widow. Not everyone will connect the dots, but if I saw a youngish woman with a wedding band on her right ring finger and she told me “oh it’s just me and my pets right now!” I would get the hint and ask you about your pets, not your family.

      1. JSPA*

        I might recognize “two of same ring on one finger” but not “oh, that ring on the right looks like a wedding – specific ring.” I’m also in the US. So this is probably culturally or geographically YMMV.

      2. noahwynn*

        Wouldn’t work in my family/friend circle since I grew up in the Greek orthodox church, and many people wear their wedding rings on their right hands.

    3. CoveredInBees*

      Although I’d probably want to talk more about pets, I like this approach. I used it in a super-gossipy office. I overshared on stuff I didn’t care about discussing, so no one ever thought to pry into other areas.

  5. tommy*

    #5 — I’m also a widow, and I lost my husband the same way (though much longer ago). Sending solidarity.

    1. LegallyRed*

      I lost my dad to suicide. I remember shortly after it happened — after the funeral and the public grieving — I entered this phase where it was difficult to talk about it and also difficult to NOT talk about it, because it felt like I was erasing him and a significant even in my life. I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be for a spouse. I’m so sorry for both your losses, and wishing LW5 the best as she moves forward.

    2. Clawfoot*

      Me, too.

      The awkwardness never really goes away entirely, though, I’ve found, though it’s more background nuisance than anything else. I’ve been widowed 17 years now, and I started a new job almost 2 years ago, and on one hand, marital status just doesn’t come up all that often or naturally, but on the other hand, you’ll sometimes get people who are shocked (or even offended!) that they’ve known you for over a year and never knew you were a widow! I’ve sometimes wondered what these people expected me to do — introduce myself first thing as “Clawfoot, your new Teapot Design Expert and widow of 17 years!”

      Now I’ve learned to reference my “late husband” in friendly, funny anecdotes sometime within the first few months. You’ll sometimes get people asking about it (which OMG WHY DO PEOPLE DO THAT), but more often than not it’s just a quirk of an eyebrow as they register what I’ve said and then they accept it and move on.

      1. Ms. Pessimistic*

        I lost a brother and continue to be SHOCKED when people ask how he died (drug overdose). I would never ask someone that!!!

    3. AnonEMoose*

      My DH lost his first wife at a very young age. A good friend of ours lost her spouse last year, also to suicide. She says that seeing me and DH helps remind her that she won’t necessarily always be alone.

      Mostly, OP5, I just wanted to send solidarity and many good thoughts for you. For what it’s worth, I think whatever answer you decide is most comfortable for you is fine. Most people are just trying to get to know you a bit, and will take their cues from you.

    4. Free Meercats*

      I was widowed at 39, 24 years ago in 2 weeks. I think you’ll find if you say that you are single, or even that you are widowed, people don’t care as much as you think they would. There will likely be a followup question or two, I recommend coming up with a reply that says what you are comfortable sharing and redirects the conversation. Then practice it.

      Cyber hugs.

  6. not that kind of Karen*

    I also tend to fall asleep when I’m a passenger on long car trips and for a while I was regularly taking long trips for work. To make things worse, half the time they were early morning – we’d head to site first thing Monday, leaving around 5am, head home saturday afternoon around 2pm then do it again the next week for anything from 6 to 12 weeks at a time. It was 3 hours each way and our normal approach was to stop halfway to stretch, have breakfast and swap drivers.
    I could be sharing the car with any of about 4 different people depending on the job, so I pretty quickly had to let all my coworkers know that I was a habitual car sleeper, but was generally just lightly dozing so they shouldn’t worry about waking me up if they wanted to chat or if it was my turn to drive. Luckily I was not the only car napper, so it wouldn’t surprise me if some of your coworkers are too if they’re all used to long drives.
    What was against our driving culture was for the passenger to put in headphones or read a book (unless there were three of you and you were in the backseat by yourself) – that was seen as more of an issue than napping, I think maybe because it appeared to be more actively ignoring the driver. Generally speaking driver got to set the tone for the trip – i.e. are we chatting or quiet, which radio station are we listening too, which road house do we stop at and so on

    1. Avasarala*

      Great breakdown. In my roadtrip experience it’s more acceptable to sleep (or “accidentally” fall asleep) in the back, rather than the passenger seat, who is usually the “right/left hand man” in terms of fighting with the GPS, digging out change for highway tolls, keeping the driver company, etc.

    2. WellRed*

      That sounds horrible. You were only home for one day a week and we’re nit allowed even the tiniest bit of recreation during the commute?

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      I used to be a car sleeper – it was actually a symptom of motion sickness. *If* you want to stay awake, you might try things that help with that. Easy ones are cracking the car window and focusing on the horizon instead of inside the car, but of course your co-workers may not love the window.

      I wouldn’t see it as a big thing, but I’m chatty so I might never see it.

      1. CJ Record*

        I was going to say this – if I’m not driving, I get motion sick in cars pretty easy. Back seats are a nightmare. What helps is to close my eyes…and well, it’s all over at that point. That may or may not be true for you, but it’s so common among people I know that it doesn’t surprise me at all when someone conks out in the passenger seat.

  7. Observer*

    #4 – Where in Asia were you? If you weren’t in China, then you might want to point out that you are being penalized for someones paranoia.

    Also, I agree with Alison – there is no way it is reasonable or fair to penalize you for doing your jobs!

    But this does speak to the issue of the poster with an employee that didn’t want to travel to Bangkok. Could you imagine him coming back and someone at the home office deciding that he needs to be quarantined, and not be willing to pay his salary?

    1. Snuck*

      I feel like if it’s a work trip then the quarantine period should be paid leave not out of any other bucket – set up working from home if you can.

      If it was a holiday, and you left any time after about the 10th of January and landed in China… then it is kind of not a surprise you might be quarantined. News was out loud and proud about this by then, and Insurance companies in Australia at least would have refunded your travel if you cancelled past a certain date (20 Jan? Earlier?)

      1. Observer*

        Mostly true. As I said, if this was work travel it’s just totally out of line.

        But, even if it’s vacation travel, if you were in India, or Indonesia etc. this is just ridiculous. To be honest, I was being too nice – it’s not just paranoia it’s flat out racism.

    2. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

      If this was a work trip you should still be paid, not charged PTO, especially if you only get 10 days. What if your flight was cancelled due to weather? They wouldn’t change you vacation time, right?

    3. .*

      There are 11 countries now with suspected coronavirus cases, many in Asia. It really isn’t just China now.

      1. Liddy*

        It’s actually 28 countries with confirmed cases and only half of them are in Asia. China is the only country with uncontrolled transmission and the only country where travel should be avoided.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        And many not in Asia. Or should we be quarantining people traveling from the United States, too?

          1. Quill*

            “If you’ve been to disney world, there’s a chance you’ve been in contact with unvaccinated children, so we’re going to need you to be in quarantine…”

      3. fposte*

        Twenty-six countries, according to WaPo. But China has 28,000 cases and the country with the most next to it is Japan, which has 45, so it’s a pretty considerable difference.

        1. Blarg*

          And Japan’s cases are mostly on that cruise ship so they aren’t really IN Japan. They are on a boat next to Japan. (Also the way that is being handled is awful).

          1. Snuck*

            That whole situation is horrifying.

            As is the other ship that’s doing circles in the ocean waiting for a port to agree to accept them.

            Horrifying.

      4. Annony*

        But there are already confirmed cases in the US. Quarantine after going to china is in line with official recommendations. Quarantine when traveling from other asian countries is not. If they want to quarantine everyone who has traveled to a country with confirmed cases of coronavirus, domestic travel counts as well which is obviously ridiculous. If they pay for it they can be as ridiculous as they want. But shifting the costs to the employees is not justifiable.

        1. ThatGirl*

          There are, but so far they’ve all been traveling from China or the spouse of someone who did. There hasn’t been widespread person-to-person transmission in the US.

          (I agree that shifting the costs to employees is not justifiable.)

    4. Frustrated Chinese-American Student*

      Honestly if you weren’t in Hubei then I feel you are being penalized for paranoia. That’s where the vast majority of cases are and anywhere else your risk of exposure is so low that being asked to self quarantine is frankly just exile to make uninformed people feel better.

      The racism this outbreak has triggered is astounding.

  8. Nee Attitude*

    #1, I had a fellow employee negatively talk about my weight constantly, however she was my manager. It plummeted my level of respect for her. It took about 1.5 years before she was asked to resign for behavior/conduct issues. With you being in the driver seat of authority, it’s up to you too refocus the topic of the conversation away from weight and size, Or any topic that promotes harassment, even if it’s from other big people.

    By the way, a family member has been extremely overweight for my entire life and she would constantly make snide comments about other people’s weight with statements such as, “am I as big as [that person] is?”. I had to put a stop to it because it was very juvenile and, really, the only person that looked bad was her.

    1. Anonymous Poster*

      This might be more of an open thread question, but how did you put a stop to it? I have a similar relative: everyone is either too little or too big and she just has to say it. I’ve tried everything short of telling her to STFU.

          1. irene adler*

            Yeah.
            For some folks: pointing out that such comments say more about the speaker of such comments than about the person being commented upon. And not in a positive way.

            Might get them to curb things as they reflect on that concept.

      1. Quill*

        My mom use to have comments on people’s weight and eventually I found some scientific studies that convinced her a) it was actively harmful to talk that way, especially around children or people currently struggling with weight stigma, b) that judging other people’s bodies lessens your own self image.

        But that’s what works on my mom, dunno how to do that with a supervisor.

        1. Anonymous Poster*

          Yeah, I don’t think that could be done with the LW’s supervisor. It also might not help my relative, who’s not scientifically literate, but a well-written summary of legit studies might… Will look later.

        2. JimmyJab*

          I had this conversation recently, as a woman in my 30s, with my mom and sister. I think because they love me and my husband (both overweight) they “forget” or don’t notice that we look like the people I’ve heard them criticize my whole life. My mom was kinda shocked and super apologetic as she didn’t realize the impact it had on me, especially as a kid. I also have no clue how I’d handle that with a boss though.

        3. Third or Nothing!*

          Oooh, share your sources! They might be helpful when I try to convince my mom to stop talking about her body in a negative way, especially in front of my daughter.

      2. Nee Attitude*

        That’s exactly what you have to say. In my case, I said, “you look worse.” I think the shame and embarrassment she felt meant that I never had to hear another comment from her again.

        It was harsher than usual, but it really drove the point through. I have had it with unsolicited comments on people’s size!

    2. Filosofickle*

      Actually, I’ve had good luck with just calling it out. My grandmother was very fat phobic and often commented on weight. She’s the type who would say, out loud, in public, about a total stranger, “My she’s hefty!”

      Well into adulthood she and I were talking and weight came up. (Was it my weight? My mom’s? Fatness in general? I don’t remember.) I stopped her and told her that it’s hurtful to me when she talks like that and it is not at all motivating. She seemed genuinely surprised that fat shaming was not helpful.

      The last time I was out with her before the dementia set in, she did that at a restaurant. Tired, I looked at her and said: “Did that need to be said?” She said “No, I suppose not.”

      I wish I’d known I could do that decades ago. It might have changed the course of our relationship. Not sure if it changed her, but I sure felt better and stronger for pushing back.

      1. Is Butter a Carb?*

        I’m glad she responded positively. You brought up a point, she thought about it and could understand you. Obviously it was still her go-to habit, but she didn’t say “you’re too sensitive” or whatever.

        1. Filosofickle*

          It was the best I could have hoped for, honestly! Her insults seemed to come from a place of thoughtlessness and insensitivity more than straight meanness. That’s easier to redirect.

  9. linger*

    OP1: Does she make these comments to everyone, or just to you? If the latter, is it possible that, rather than trying to insult you, this is an (ill-judged) attempt at building solidarity between you? But either way, Alison’s script still stands.

    1. Doug Judy*

      Or they could have been trying to make OP feel better by indicating whomever she was talking about was larger than OP. Either way, what to stay still stands and needs to be shut down.

    2. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

      I’m thinking that if she’s this comfortable bashing “big girls” to her supervisor, she’s probably REALLY mouthing off to her peers and junior colleagues. No one’s got time for that it’s gotta stop.

  10. lyonite*

    OP2: I can’t speak for your coworkers, but as a non-chatty person, I would be thrilled (or at least moderately relieved) to discover the stranger I had to share a long car ride with had fallen asleep. I agree with giving a heads-up at the beginning, but unless they indicate another preference, I say snooze away with a clear conscience.

    1. Puggles*

      Yep. I once sat next to an opposite-sex coworker in a 2 seat row on a very long flight. I told him I was going to take a nap but that if I started snoring too loud just nudge me (actually I said just throw a shoe at me).

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      This. I regard my commute as quiet time to myself. I think about my writing, planning how to put the various thoughts together in a coherent whole. A sleeping passenger would be fine. Chatting not because there is anything to talk about, but out of a sense of social obligation? Hideous. And a waste of perfectly good quiet time.

  11. Julia*

    OP1, my mother is kinda like your employee. She is bigger herself, but she abhors other big people. She tells me I am too fat (when I lost weight I was too skinny…), and all I know about her co-workers is whether they are fat or skinny, and whether they are fat because they eat too much or despite not eating a lot, same for skinny people. I think with her, it’s an obsession, because people must have commented on her weight a lot when she was young, and instead of breaking the cycle, like with so many other things, she repeats it, but refuses to gain awareness even when it’s pointed out to her.

    Since this is your employee, as Alison said, you can shut this down. You might also tell her that she is not to comment on people’s weight even when you’re not around, and even when it’s to call someone thin instead of fat. People’s weights are irrelevant to their jobs (unless the jobs are divided into weight classes like in sports, which I assume is probably not the case in your office), and even if they were, they don’t need to be brought up randomly.

    1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

      Oh, I’m like your mom. I’m fat, and I judge other fat people horribly. But only internally. I’d never bring it up as a topic of conversation!

        1. TreenaKravm*

          Can’t answer for NewHere, but this is so incredibly common. It’s textbook internalized fatphobia.

          1. mcfizzle*

            Yes this. I totally get it – the person hates him/herself and won’t admit it, so they project that hate onto others. Which then becomes the no-win, since either the other person is fat or “too skinny”.

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yep. It is.

            I do it internally too, and I am trying to stop.

            I have been fat shamed both personally and by the culture/media for so long that it is lodged deep in my psyche. I have been fat since puberty, and diets and exercise don’t touch it (and seem to make it worse). Fat shaming doesn’t help me lose weight, and often has made it worse.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          Because humans internalize the dialogs around them. How we talk about things impacts the people who hear us.

          (Being *so* careful with this around my 12yo, kids are frickin’ sponges)

        3. Not So NewReader*

          It’s human nature to be annoyed when people have the same annoying traits/habits that we ourselves have.

          It’s not lost on me when a family member who can NEVER be on time complains if I am five minutes late. I almost wanna say, “You talkin’ to me or are you talkin’ to yourself.”
          We tend to pick up in others what we dislike in our own selves.

          I was late pre-teen. One day my father and I had yet another argument. Later, I went back in on it and I told him, “Most of our arguments boil down to ‘don’t be like ME, stop it, I hate that in me and it looks even worse on you’.” His jaw dropped. He knew I had nailed this one.

        4. Elizabeth Proctor*

          “isms” and phobias and misogyny are like smog. We all breathe them in and internalize them.

        5. Another Millenial*

          In my case it was definitely because everyone around me was always making comments about my body when I was growing up, and I grew to think that it was not only normal but expected. That this was a part of Socializing. And then, after much internal examination and therapy, I matured.

        6. Is Butter a Carb?*

          I am like this too and I feel awful about it. It was actually worse when I was much thinner because I suffered from an eating disorder. Being fat was my worst fear at the time, and so I couldn’t understand people NOT taking awful extreme measures to lose weight.

          Luckily, I am heavier but so much happier now, but still….would so much like to be thinner and do NOT think I look good at all, I just am not as obsessed with it. I still think I judge people for their size, and I think partially it is frustration with myself. One of my best friends is overweight and she got married very late in life and I always blamed it on her weight (internally). This obviously makes me feel so much shame and like a terrible person. It is because I don’t think anyone could ever find me attractive at this size – I hold this out to be a truth.

          Sorry for the therapy session there, but I wanted to just share some background to that mindset.

          1. 1234*

            There are guys out there who prefer plus-sized women. Or, they are so in love with your personality they’re not concerned with size.

            I watch a lot of My 600 lb Life and some of those contestants are married.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        Re judging fat ppl if you are fat.
        I learned to judge fat ppl at my mothers knee. It was a constant refrain of lazy, stupid, overeating, whatever, if you could find a way to degrade or blame, she did it. And she felt herself to be fat (Looking at the picks from that time, she was not).
        Anyway, its in my head, that inner voice that judges. And I am overweight and I see in myself all those things my mom said. I really am overweight bc I eat the junk on offer at work and buy things I should not. If I stop being “lazy” and eat healthy I lose weight. So I really am at fault – her voice is my inner dialog. I judge myself and others. I work on getting rid of that voice and know it is all wrong, but it is really in there!

        1. Put the Blame on Edamame*

          It takes work to get there, but I really hope you do manage to reframe this in your mind – something I found helpful was the old CBT trick of asking myself, “would I say this about someone I loved? If not, then why am I saying it to myself?” Also, when I caught myself judging someone’s appearance I would stop and mentally compliment them, in the most earnest way I could, and (this sounds cheesy but…) send “love” in their direction. Between that and stopping my habit of reading toxic gossip blogs, I really chipped away at my own inner voice, with all it’s “shoulds” and “bads”. Sending you love!

        2. Third or Nothing!*

          Here’s a phrase you might find helpful in combating that inner voice: Your body is an instrument, not an ornament. Basically, your body is how you experience life – it’s how you feel the sunshine on your face, how you smell the fragrance of a rose, how you just straight up DO stuff. You’re not a piece of art on display for everyone to look at and admire (or not, I guess).

          I’ve learned to love my body mainly through exercise. I took up running and weightlifting a few years ago and I can’t tell you how empowering it is to add more weight to the dead lift bar, run a new distance, or set a new personal pace record. I look at my wall full of medals and remember the grit and hard work it took to earn them and it just makes me feel so strong and capable and like I can DO AWESOME STUFF. And I forget to care how other people see me and enjoy just being.

  12. Not Australian*

    OP2: it might help if you were to frame it as a compliment to the driver. Nobody falls asleep if they feel unsafe or are constantly clutching the seat/dashboard for reassurance, after all, but only if they’re really relaxed and confident about their surroundings. Having travelled a lot with people who fall asleep, I can assure you that it’s generally seen as being a sign that they feel completely comfortable and safe. Mention this to the driver beforehand and you’ll be fine!

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I’m a terrible passenger so I sleep in cars as a defense, specifically so I’m NOT giving everyone else around me the wiggins with my reactions :) (but I certainly wouldn’t tell a coworker that – I’m way more likely to offer to do all the driving if that’s an option.)

      1. 7310*

        Glad it is not just me…going to sleep is so much kinder than my grandma’s habit of stomping a hole in the floor when she thinks you should be braking…

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I don’t do that, thank heaven, or even say anything, but I death-grip onto my seat belt and kind of shrink down into the seat and breathe firmly through my nose. :P Luckily, the people I live with hate to drive (and I have the most comfortable car anyway), so I’m just the default driver in my crowd at this point.

    2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “Nobody falls asleep if they feel unsafe or are constantly clutching the seat/dashboard for reassurance,”

      Well, that’s true in general and a good point. But there are exceptions. In college I had to travel a lot in a van with a bad driver at the wheel while on a sports team, and often slept because I was tired. Often traveling in snowy conditions (it was a winter sport).

      One time I woke up to screaming because the car was sliding somewhat sideways on the highway….. Good times. Good times.

    3. Pommette!*

      For what it’s worth, I’m a habitual car dozer, and have fallen asleep in some truly scary situations. (Which is a blessing: better that than spending the time panicking while powerless!).

  13. London Lass*

    #1 – Have you considered the possibility that your employee’s comments have more to do with her than with you? Of course if you are overweight, it’s natural to assume that any comments she makes related to the topic are targeted in your direction. However, we all (myself included) tend to see things from the angle of our own concerns, and she is more likely to be thinking about herself when she makes these observations. If she struggles with her own weight, this might be an effort to make herself feel better by assuring herself that other people are bigger than she is.

    That doesn’t make her behaviour acceptable, of course. But if you can reframe it more sympathetically in your own mind, it may help you to take it less personally and respond in a more measured way.

    1. Birch*

      This is my take too. I think she’s trying to make a team with you and her against other big people because in her mind you’re like her, and that makes her feel better about being not them. It definitely comes from her discomfort about herself and is not in any way about you, but you’re absolutely right to shut it down. That kind of talk has no place at work no matter what the motivation.

    2. Important Moi*

      Thinking about yourself might be clouding your perspective. I remember telling a friend I don’t like wearing glasses, as I didn’t think they flattered my face. Her immediate response was “What do you think about me? I wear glasses.” I wasn’t thinking about her at all.

      There are 2 different issues here. “Employee should not be talking about anyone’s size” is not the same as saying “She’s calling me fat. ” Both are wrong and different.

      Finally, I”m fat. I have no problem saying it to describe myself. I no longer see the word fat as pejorative, but know and respect that far too many do. I don’t use the term with at or with other people. I’ve had many people offer that me looking “thin” in an outfit as a compliment.

      1. 1234*

        I’m surprised your friend with the glasses reacted the way that she did. I also don’t like wearing glasses for the same reason you don’t (and therefore only have contacts) but by no means do I think “as a whole, glasses make everyone look ugly.”

  14. Kisses*

    Op1,
    I used to be a lot more of an inconsiderate person in the past. I was talking with my sister in law at some point, and made a joke about a large character in a movie. She laughed, but on the way home I realized how rude it seemed.
    It’s possible the employee is doing the same and she doesn’t realize how hurtful those things can be. I myself am infinitely sorry and guilty because of some of the insensitivities I had in the past.
    It takes growing up and being in others shoes.
    I hope she gets there too one day.

  15. Lady Heather*

    It’s so odd to me that if a company forces you to need a quarantine (by virtue of work travel) it is then legal for them not to pay you. I mean, if you get hurt on the job by heavy machinery they’d have to pay you, so why not now?

    (Using limited PTO days, by the way, doesn’t count as ‘the company paying’ because the employee is paying in vacation days.)

    Frustrating.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Excellent point. It’s a ridiculous oversight that worker’s comp laws don’t include quarantine expenses.

    2. blackcat*

      “I mean, if you get hurt on the job by heavy machinery they’d have to pay you, so why not now?”

      Uh, not true in the US. You can apply for workers compensation in the US, but, for many people, an on the job injury that results in the temporary inability to do their job does, in fact, result in a loss of income. There are ways to recoup some, but very often the various forms of compensation do not add up to someone’s regular pay.

  16. Chewy*

    #2 – CHEW GUM! I was falling asleep on the train constantly…something about the motion just retires my brain. But when I’m chewing gum (politely of course, no popping or mouth open) it helps me stay awake.

    1. Fieldpoppy*

      As a person with misophonia who can’t stand even the most discrete gym chewing, as a driver I’d ask you to please spit that out. So check on the gym chewing with the driver :-)

        1. Laura H.*

          Needs to be a conversational exchange.

          Rider: I fall asleep on long rides, may I chew gum? Helps me stay awake.

          Driver: Yes or no as they deem fit.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            I like this. I don’t have misophonia, but I do have a nausea response to the scent of cinnamon in close quarters, like a car. My mom would always chew Big Red gum to keep herself awake on long car trips, and I would feel so sick! Giving me the option to ask what *kind* of gum would be the best!

        2. NDC*

          Lots of people feel like they can’t say something, so will just sit there and stew. If that weren’t the case, Alison wouldn’t get nearly so many letters!

          So definitely ask before you start chewing gum, and definitely phrase the question so that the driver is as comfortable as possible with saying no

      1. CheeryO*

        I have to be honest, it would never occur to me that someone would be able to hear the sound of gum chewing through a closed mouth in a moving car. I can barely hear people when they talk in the car sometimes.

      2. Important Moi*

        I think you should mention that you have misophonia before a person has to ride in the car with you. Maybe they could make other arrangements. :-)

  17. Mommy.MD*

    So sorry for the loss of your husband. My husband died fairly young three years ago and no one really asks about my situation. I just say it’s me and the kids. Good luck.

  18. Mommy.MD*

    I think employee is weirdly trying to bond with you with her “she’s so big” remarks. Like “we are big too” but she’s “really big”.

  19. Mommy.MD*

    “I have a habit of falling asleep when I’m a passenger in a car. Please don’t mind if I drop off”.

    It’s not really a big deal. Just approach it casually.

    1. UKDancer*

      Agreed, I fall asleep in cars as a passenger, on trains and on planes. There’s something about the motion and vibration that just makes me go to sleep. I have no problem staying awake otherwise. If I’m travelling with colleagues I would normally say something like “I can never stay awake when I’m in a car / on a plane / on the Eurostar. If we need to talk about work can we do it before we go or at a stopping point.”

      I’ve never had any problems with this approach.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        fyi, this is probably a symptom of motion sickness. Motion sickness shows up more commonly as nausea, but can also show up as sleepiness. If you care to change it, the things that help with motion sickness will probably help with this.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Yep, my husband actually sleeps in the car because that keeps him from feeling the nausea from his motion sickness. (And see how I cleverly dodged the fact that I can never remember how to correctly use the word “nauseous”? Heh.)

        1. B**** in the corner of the poster*

          Same. it’s impossible for me to stay awake if I’m in a car or plane!

    2. Random Commenter*

      And hope you don’t end up snuggling with the person next to you :)
      (This happened to me when a stranger next to me on the bus fell asleep)

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I agree. I travel a lot by car for work and one of the folks I drive with racks out the minute we go into gear if he is the passenger. He told me he did this when we were first scheduled to travel together. My only concern was if listening to the radio/podcasts would bother him, so I asked (it didn’t), and we went on our merry way.

    4. T. Boone Pickens*

      Ahh the good ol days of work roadtrips. I never minded if the passenger fell asleep as long as they realized that once they were out I was turning up the radio/flipping on a podcast that was of interest to me.

  20. Mommy.MD*

    “What is the salary range? I need to run the numbers to see if it’s feasible”. It’s ok to ask.

    1. Working Mom*

      Yes, absolutely! This is actually much easier because you’re still in contact with your previous manager, who advised you of the available roles. No one wants to invest a bunch of time and get excited about a candidate only to find out at the last stage that you’re worlds apart in compensation. Phrasing like, “These roles look exciting to me – I’d love to speak with you about them in more detail. Can you give me a range as to what compensation looks like? I want to make sure we’re on the same page before we invest our time.”

  21. V*

    #5

    You’re always going to get an expression of sympathy, that’s how we’re wired. But you can move on from that quickly with a topic change to avoid people dwelling on it, just like Alison has recommended in other scenarios.

    I wonder if the commentariat has other good ways to bring this up though. I’m thinking something like: “I lost my husband X months/years ago but I have a lot of support from family in the area.” followed by talking about the area the company is active in or pivoting to asking about the demographics of potential colleagues.

    1. Rainy*

      Like any other thing, I have always just let it fall into conversation if appropriate, and not if not. I find that if you are matter of fact about it, people will take their tone from you.

      I’d also like to say, though, that in general people may ask “are you married” as a way to get to know you, but it’s usually not genuine curiosity, just perfunctory. I daresay most people who know me professionally have no idea that I had a first husband, or that he died. It’s just not a thing that comes up as much as one tends to be afraid it will when one would really prefer not to talk about it.

      1. Down2MarsGirl*

        Thank you. I’m going to practice the redirects and maybe just go with lots of pet and nieces/ nephews stories.
        Moving to a small town where everyone knows my family made it so I didn’t really have to explain to many people my marital status. So having a big group of new people find out for the first time really got in my head.
        I also have taken up gardening, so people will be getting lots of pictures of my fur and plant babies shown to them.

  22. Delta Delta*

    #4 It seems like it makes sense to ask about salary range fairly early on. That way if it’s too low you can withdraw your application before either side invests a lot of time in the interview process. You have $50k in mind. They say they can pay you 3 meatballs per day. You can say, thanks for your time.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, interviewing candidates who’d never take the job at the salary they offer is a waste of the company’s time too, and I wish they’d realize it.

      1. LW 3*

        I think I’m feeling guilty about getting them (and myself) excited about a job that I likely won’t be able to afford. I know that message won’t get better with time, but I also hate to jump right into a conversation about how they can’t afford me. I can’t get around the way it feels like I’m accusing them of not paying enough – when really, I have abnormally high student loans for the area where the startup is, which is why I had to move elsewhere to cover them after college.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Ah, but then can you see how much better it really is to cover the salary up front? You don’t want to get more information, get more excited, and only at the end realize you can’t swing it!

        2. Oh No She Di'int*

          You’re not accusing them of not paying enough, but you might indeed end up letting them know they can’t pay YOU enough. So what? You need a certain amount of income to support your needs. That is not a crime and nothing to apologize for. Either they can meet that or they can’t. There’s nothing personal about this. This is about money. Full stop.

        3. Grits McGee*

          LW 3, this is a little outside the scope of your question, but I’d also encourage you to avoid as much as possible framing your pay, for this or any other company, in terms of your student loan burden. In a functional company,pay should be a reflection of the value of your work, not your personal circumstances. If it comes to it, I think you’ll be a lot more effective at negotiating salary if you say “My current salary is $X, and I can’t justify leaving my current position for less than $Y*” rather than “$Y is the salary I need in order to make my student loan payment.”

          *Y can be more or less than your current salary, if that’s what you want

          1. LW 3*

            This is definitely something I struggle with. I know its better to focus on what value I can deliver than what I “need” (since that’s really not my company’s problem). But I also know that no matter how valuable my skills are, they might not be able to afford it. And I don’t want them to think I’m taking that personally.
            Its so hard when ‘market value’ depends on what area of the country I’m in. What they were paying when I left was slightly below average for the area. What I make now is slightly above average in my current area, but easily top 5% of the startup’s area – so I knew that relocating would take a lot of trial and error to find a company willing to pay very well.

            1. Oh No She Di'int*

              Can you perhaps clarify the problem me/us? It seems clear that at some point you will have to discuss salary, correct? The only question is whether to do that now or later. You need/want/deserve a certain amount of money (and I actually agree with Grits McGee’s way of framing it). Whether you discuss the issue now or later will have zero effect on what their budget is. I just cannot see an argument for delaying this conversation.

              1. LW 3*

                I definitely believe in having the conversation now! I guess my question is, how do I frame it without focusing on what I “need” or implying that there’s something wrong if they can’t afford the salary I need. Basically, I don’t want to come across as unreasonable.

                I do think Grit’s script made a lot of sense! I think its the least emotional way to frame an issue that for some reason, I’m feeling quite emotional about.

                1. Atalanta0jess*

                  Well….what you need is not the companies problem, except that, whether you take the job hinges on that. The interview process is ALL about needs. What they need, and what you need. If the job required 90 hours per week, that would not meet your needs, and you’d appreciate knowing that early in the process. This isn’t any different.

                  They won’t take it personally or feel like you’re criticizing, everyone knows there are a range of salaries out there and that most people have a range in which they are comfortable.

                  I think this is waaaaaaay less of a big deal than it’s feeling like to you. It’s 1000% a normal part of deciding about a job opportunity, and everybody understands that.

            2. EnfysNest*

              I think you should try to look at this in a more formal/transactional way, rather than as an emotional/social thing. You’re not going to hurt anyone’s feelings and they’re not going to think you’re taking something personal. This is just a business question. Think of it the same way you would if you were buying a car – you need a car with price X, they need to sell this specific car at price Y, and you both just need to find out if X and Y are close to each other or not before you can even think about what color you want and looking at special features. You’re not asking for a favor and they didn’t post a job opening to just make friends – you both have business reasons for what you need and you’re just checking if you’re on the same page or not. I know it feels personal, especially since you’ve worked with them before, but I think it will help you to just be matter of fact about it all, because it really is a very normal / understandable thing to need to check on.

              1. feministbookworm*

                Yes this!! It’s totally understandable that you’re feeling an emotional investment in this, especially since start ups are the kind of work culture where the boundaries between work and personal life get blurred and there’s external and self-imposed pressure to feel like the organization’s problems or concerns are your own personal responsibility (ask me how I know this…). However, taking on that kind of emotional responsibility is not sustainable (again, ask me how I know…)

                If this start up is a functional organization, your contact there will not take offense you asking about salary expectations. Just ask! And also, if you do end up going through the hiring process and deciding to take the job, make sure you identify some sustainable work/life boundaries, and stick to them.

            3. New Jack Karyn*

              You say the cost of living is lower there. Try this: get the average of 3-5 apartments in the area similar to how you live now. Take other expenses and multiply by the difference in cost of living. Add in your student loan payments. Adjust as needed (car vs mass transit, for example), but it doesn’t have to be exact.
              This number should be lower than your current monthly expenses. Use that number as your ballpark range when talking salary with the grownup startup.

      2. Jdc*

        The best phone interview I ever had was a woman who right off the bat said “I just want to make sure this salary range would work for you”. Interviewing goes both ways and from the get go she made it clear she actually had respect for my time as well as hers.

        1. Delta Delta*

          I had one of those, too. I thought it was great to do right up front for the same reasons you mentioned.

        2. Banker chick*

          Many years ago I applied for a position that had a laundry list of requirements, which I just happened to have. Three in person interviews later, I am told the position paid 10 cents above minimum wage, and there was no negotiating. I was so angry they had wasted my time for a position that I would have never have been able to take.

  23. zaracat*

    #2 As a point of interest, some people manifest motion sickness as sleepiness (for further info google sopite syndrome). This can come across really badly in some work contexts – I did one of my elective terms during medical school in Australia with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, a coveted and hard to get placement, and had the problem of falling asleep in the plane every single time we flew out to a clinic or patient pickup no matter how well rested I was. It gave the impression I was either uninterested or had been out partying hard every night and that I was ungrateful for the opportunity I’d been given. It wasn’t until years later as a RAAF doctor learning about aviation medicine that I discovered this was an actual medical phenomenon (LOL out of all the bad career choices for someone with this problem). Unfortunately there’s no real fix for it as the drugs used to counteract motion sickness tend to also cause drowsiness. Staying mentally engaged helps to a certain extent, but is no guarantee you’ll be able to stop yourself falling asleep.

    I’d just be upfront with the driver that you might fall asleep, and if you get the impression that this is perceived badly it might be worth having a discrete chat to your supervisor about it, particularly in a setting such as internship where your behaviour is more closely scrutinised.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      yes this – this is how my motion sickness presented until I was in my mid-20s. Two caveats, based on my experience (so others’ mileage may vary, pun intended):
      1) There’s non-drug actions you can take – you can’t open a window on a plane, but you can watch the horizon, chew gum as suggested above, and I’ve had luck with mild hyperventilation. Regularly sipping very cold water helped too.
      2) Sometimes people who have odd symptoms also have odd reactions to the standard drugs. Dramamine made me very alert, the opposite of the normal side effects.

      For OP2, it doesn’t seem like a big issue to me – they stay awake when the driver’s chatty. My suggestions are only for people who might want to change.

      1. 8DaysAWeek*

        This is interesting! I was going to suggest sipping a drink. That keeps me awake too.
        I also sometimes do weird math problems in my head. If I see a truck that says “Earn 50 cents/mile driving with us” I try to figure out weird things like how many miles and how much money could you possibly earn in a year knowing that you can only drive a max of 65mph (state dependent) and are required to take regular breaks. LOL

        Or NPR. I like a good debate.

    2. anon24*

      This is actually very interesting. I have always struggled with motion sickness and as a kid would get extremely nauseated on car rides that were only 5 minutes. Now I’m an EMT and the first few months I used to get so sick riding in the back providing patient care. I’ve since gotten over the nausea except if it’s really hot out or if I’m already not feeling well, but on long trips I get so incredibly sleepy back there and never could figure out why. I’ve never heard of this and it makes so much sense! As soon as we get to our destination and I’m out walking I feel awake and fine again! (And yes, what is it with those of us with motion sickness that we go into the part of the medical field that requires us to provide care in moving vehicles?
      Terrible life choices haha)

    3. Newly named*

      Wow, I didn’t know there was a term for this! This used to be me, plus I would get nauseous if I forced myself to stay awake, unless I had a sugary drink to sip. I explained it to myself as “since motion sickness is caused by conflicting signals from the eyes and ears, my brain’s response is to just shut both of them down.”

      Weirdly, getting diagnosed and treated for PCOS got rid of the motion sickness too.

      1. OP2*

        Hi, I’m the sleepy intern – reading through the comments, I think the motion sickness explanation definitely applies to me! I definitely think to myself “Ooh, feeling a little sick, better close my eyes.” I’ll try the window and the drinks when I’m back for the summer, just to see if it works!

        Also, curiously enough, I also have PCOS! My case is pretty mild, so I’m not taking anything, but I’ll ask my doctor if they could be related!

        1. Newly named*

          It wasn’t on any official list of symptoms back when I was diagnosed, but that was over a decade ago, so maybe medical science has advanced in that area.

          I’ll mention the downside of PCOS treatment– I was warned that I might have dizziness or nausea for the first couple weeks. It was actually a few weeks, and severe at times. I could get a wave of motion sickness just from turning my head too quickly. That was definitely something getting rewired in my brain, because once it cleared up, my usual motion sickness was gone too.

          It might be more than you’d want to go through if your PCOS is mild. (Then again, for a mild case you might be on a lower dosage than I’m getting.)

  24. Self-quarantine team*

    Also in self-quarantine* here! I just returned from China (not one of the heavily impacted provinces) to see family over Chinese New Year. My company is pretty small and has several pregnant people and people with compromised immune systems, so there were concerns about whether I could be a carrier even if I was asymptomatic. I said I was happy to work from home for two weeks – and my team has been really proactive about using zoom and other ways to loop me in. Maybe pushing this option, with support of peers, could work?

    It’s a very awkward situation and some people can get really worked up about it, so for me it was important to present information clearly, be reassuring that I am monitoring my health, and give clear recommendations on how working from home would go. Best of luck!

    *my country has not enacted quarantine measures so by ‘self quarantine’ I really mean working from home, and limiting extended contact with people outside my household, for two weeks but still going out to buy groceries and what not. And of course checking in with myself about how I’m feeling!

    1. Lora*

      My sympathies. Hopefully you have a lot in your Netflix queue to get through.

      Was in quarantine for work reasons more than once (used to work with the nasty biohazards, spills/exposures happen), and the hardest part by far was the isolation from…not even people, just everything. You can have groceries and food dropped off on the doorstep, there’s talking to people on the phone and IM, there’s the internet, but sometimes you just really really REALLY need to go for a walk outside and see a human in real life, and it becomes this weird craving. Like I just HAD to take a dog for a walk and look at a tree and smell fresh air after a rain, sort of thing, as fiercely as I have ever wanted food or water or caffeine. It’s different when you’re actually so sick you don’t want to get out of bed except to crawl to the bathroom (then you don’t care), it’s the time when you’re not sick at all or only slightly ill that you go bananas.

      1. Self-quarantine team*

        Thank you! Fortunately working from home has kept me busy but I definitely didn’t realise the toll of just being inside all day! When I finish work I keep finding excuses to go out like picking up milk or going to grab a coffee. Right now I’m not confined to my house, just trying to limit contact, but even that’s been a bit frustrating.

  25. Jand*

    Let 2: Alison’s advice around framing is good, but there is one additional thing I’d do as an intern at a public agency- make a point of either handling the gas (assuming the car had a charge card) or washing the windows when you stop for gas, depending on which role they claim – don’t just sit in the car. This, combined with the framing Alison offers and generally matching level of chattiness to the driver should more than cancel out any potential perception issues from the napping.

    Car sleeping happens. I’ve been on both sides. If it’s part of a pattern of a person checking out it will look very different then it would in someone who’s generally engaged with their surroundings and job.

    1. Lady Heather*

      Now I’m curious – what do you mean by washing the windows? (Or if you mean it literally – why would you wash the windows when stopping for gas?)

      1. Amy Sly*

        Most American gas stations have a combination sponge/squeegee tool in a reservoir of window wash fluid near each pump so that folks can wash their windows while the gas is pumping. It’s especially handy if you’ve got a big smear of bug guts across the windshield. Is this not a thing other places?

          1. Amy Sly*

            Doh. Living in the South makes you forget about such things, but yeah … I had several cars with cracked windshield washer fluid reservoirs, and I would sometimes stop into a station just to rinse the salt residue. It’s especially bad when there’s just enough moisture in the spray that it smears before evaporating, leaving the salt.

        1. Lady Heather*

          I haven’t seen it here in Europe (disclaimer: I don’t drive and don’t usually pump gas, so I might not have noticed it.). Most gas stations do have a stand to inflate your tires, and quite a few have a ‘garage’ that you can borrow to handwash your car. (And some have an automated car wash where you remain in the car and go through a tunnel and don’t have to do anything else except enjoy the look of plus-size brushes appearing to crush you.)

          Though we have a button on the car to spray window-cleaner on the windshield and then you can wipe that off with your windshield wiper.

          1. Amy Sly*

            We have that too, but sometime the bug guts (not so much the salt) really need a better scrubbing that what the wipers can do. Sometimes all the wipers manage is to smear the mess around, especially if it’s a 10 cm katydid.

          2. ThatGirl*

            Oh, sure, US cars all have a “wash” feature that sprays wiper fluid, and then runs the wipers — but it doesn’t always get everything, or sometimes you run out, or just want to give it a good scrub.

        1. Quill*

          Tallest person is often on debugging duty if it’s a large car. Otherwise you can’t get the juicy ex-grasshopper that’s right in the middle of the windshield.

    2. Chriama*

      It seems really weird to me to handle the gas if you’re not the driver. I’ve never been in a situation, personal or professional, where someone would pull into a gas station and a passenger gets out to fill the gas. The release for the tank cover is on the driver’s side, too! It would be going out of your way to virtue signal and may even come across as obsequious.

      Washing the windows may be helpful, but that really depends on if they’re actually dirty and if it’s common practice (aka if you’ve seen the driver do it at previous pit stops). Many people don’t bother, so if you do it apropos of nothing, people are just as likely to think “Weird. That’s helpful, I guess…” than “Oh, this person is finding ways to be helpful. I like their gumption!”

      My bottom line is, falling asleep in a moving car is incredibly common and nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t imply any sort of moral failing or lack of character. You shouldn’t feel obligated to come up with a pretext for acting “helpful” Judy so people don’t think you’re slacking off.

        1. Chriama*

          Yes, but the release switch is on the driver’s side, and I’m assuming the driver would have the payment card. So you’d need to ask them to do all this prep work so that you could then do them the favour of pumping the gas. It just seems too contrived. Excessive politeness can be as grating as outright rudeness.

  26. foxinabox*

    LW 1: Ugh, that’s frustrating. I’ve run into this and similar situations a lot, and what I’ve found is pretty much what Alison says: if you respond immediately to the offense by saying, no-nonsense but not combatively, “This is harmful, so please refrain from using that language,” and then moving on to the next topic, it often shuts things down pretty effectively. And this is not necessarily even with reports! Plus if you’re very matter of fact about the fact that it’s not okay and don’t belabor the point, it’s pretty easy to keep doing this as many times as it comes up without anyone holding your “attitude” (or whatever) against you. I know that weight in particular is often tied up with a lot of complicated internal stuff and people’s reasons for saying nasty things about size come from a lot of difficult, messy, personal places, but I think it’s worth very calmly standing your ground.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      I have to wonder where #1 is that it’s so uncommon for people to be overweight that anyone would actually comment on it. Coming from the upper Midwest, it’s so normal here that most people here don’t even comment on the size of people’s bodies, though they will sometimes act like the food police. Though the funny thing is, the very people who act like the Judgy-McJudgerson types will often be the first to take the donuts, cookies, or cake when it is offered at work, but then will judge everyone else for doing so. I wish in general that people would stop acting as though someone else’s body is their business to judge, give advice on (if they’re not that person’s doctor), or otherwise discriminate against.

      1. pamela voorhees*

        Having grown up with my parents in a state where up to 40% of folks are obese, it has nothing to do with how common it is and everything to do with how “gross” and/or “funny” it is that people exist while they’re overweight. They’re both naturally quite slim and therefore assume carrying extra weight is a choice / being lazy and so it’s totally fine to mock/judge/etc. As far as I can tell, from their perspective, it’s like everyone else around them is wearing full clown costumes all the time — they might have accepted it as the new norm, but that doesn’t make it any less “hilarious”. As their child who’s been overweight since puberty, it’s been … a lot.

        1. foxinabox*

          Yeah, my family are all from areas where fatness is very common, and a lot of my family are fat, and my thin parents still both worry and joke about weight. It’s really insidious and awful! And people really hate to hear that it’s not as unhealthy/dangerous/gross as they are taught to believe, so it’s pretty hard to fight back. I think most of the time the best you can do is reject their stance and move on before they can argue.

    2. NeonFireworks*

      Yeah, this. I tend to raise an eyebrow and say, “There’s no way for this not to be saying ‘her body is wrong,’ and that’s kind of awful, so let’s not.”

      I once had a situation where a manager lateral to mine had two employees who hated each other, “Mark” and “Barbara.” Barbara was absolutely the more difficult to get along with, but Mark was the one who said nastier things in private. At one point I lightly told him that he’d made me feel sorry for Barbara. Mark looked stunned, but gathered his composure and told me he’d had a terrible time with her and couldn’t believe that anything made me want to take her side, etc. I let him finish his mini-rant and then I said. “Sure, but I always feel bad when someone’s getting picked on for their body.” Mark sort of scoffed and changed the subject, but guess what, I’ve never heard him say a fatphobic thing since.

  27. J*

    LW 5: As a 34-year-old who lives alone with my cat, I can attest to the fact that no one pushes much further or thinks it’s weird.

  28. blackcatlady*

    Remember you are not obligated to give out your personal life details to anyone. Just me and the cat is fine. As you settle into your job you may offer was married but not now. Or husband died suddenly. Please feel free to shut down any push for details. As in ‘it was painful and I’d rather not discuss it’ type response. I can’t imagine the hurdles you have over come and best of luck moving forward.

  29. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

    OP 2 – This is very, very normal. When I worked for the USDA in college, this happened all the time. Especially in the summer. Working out in the field + getting into a nice, cool car for sometimes 45 minutes to an hour = many passengers falling asleep. From my experience, no one thought less of anyone who did it, because at one point or another, we all had done it.

  30. Put the Blame on Edamame*

    For OP2, this is maybe a daft idea but would a fidget spinner (or similar hands-on thing, like doodling or a stress ball) work? Not that I think it’s a big deal – if I had a colleague nod off after a long day, I wouldn’t worry…unless they were driving.

  31. MicroManagered*

    OP5 I am your age and went through a divorce over the last 2 years. I work with a few really nosy, judgy women who looooove to gossip about things like whether a woman is married, single, has kids or not, etc. I learned a really valuable lesson through this experience: I don’t have to talk about my personal life at work! I always had this thing where, I felt like if someone asked me a personal question, I was somehow obligated to answer or elaborate. I’ve also noticed I tend to pick up tons of details about women I work with, but know virtually nothing about the personal lives of the men I work with.

    If a coworker asks “are you married? boyfriend? girlfriend?” you can just say “no” or even “oh gosh! lots of personal questions!” and then quickly change the subject. You are allowed to not answer those questions and let it be weird for the person who pried. People will get over it and hopefully learn to quit asking.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      I was also thinking a simple “I’m single” should suffice. You might get some questions about whether you want to date (the dreaded setups!!!) or whatnot but can easily deflect that for a little while by saying that you are still working things out with the move/are overwhelmed with the new job and need to focus/etc…

  32. Dust Bunny*

    LW5 I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked specifically about my living situation. I understand why you wouldn’t want to share this information with people, especially people you don’t know well, but I think it’s much less likely to come up than you expect. If you find that some of your new coworkers are unreasonably nosy or gossipy . . . fib, or at least fib by omission. You don’t owe untrustworthy people the full truth.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I live with my parents and two cats (I’m in my forties, never married). Whether the cats are mine or not is ambiguous–one definitely is but the other, even though I found and raised her, would probably cause a custody battle with my father if I tried to move her out.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Whether the cats are mine or not is ambiguous

        This is more about the nature of cats than your living situation. :o)~

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Oh, I am the Cat Goddess. Cats love me. Cats who won’t give other people the time of day will let me pet their tummies. The cat in question would easily transfer her full allegiance to me if my dad weren’t there to protest.

          1. MicroManagered*

            A cat-bender with tummy touch ability?! Use your powers for good, not evil. Don’t steal anyone’s kitty away! LOL

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Dogs like me, but I’m more the disciplinarian parent, rather than the fun parent, with them.

              Well, I guess I am with the cats, too, but the distinction is less obvious when dealing with cats.

            2. smoke tree*

              I am also some kind of dog magnet. Strange dogs will often be drawn to my presence, even if I’m part of a larger group, and not doing anything particularly interesting. I think it must be genetic, because my mother is an even more powerful magnet.

    2. londonedit*

      Same. Anything I know about my co-workers’ lives outside work, and anything they know about mine, has come organically from information dropped into conversations. No one has ever outright asked me whether I’m married or whether I have kids or who it is that I live with. So you can share as much or as little information as you like – I’m not especially private and my colleagues know which area of the city I live in, they know I live by myself, and they know little details about my hobbies and my family, but there are still many many things that they don’t know and that I wouldn’t share with them!

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Exactly, but you phrased it much better, thank you. I do know stuff about my coworkers but it’s come up in the context of other conversations, not pointed questioning.

  33. CarSleeper*

    LW2–I was so happy to see your letter as I have the exact same problem. I usually make a joke about my “carcolepsy” when I know I will be riding in a car/shuttle/etc with coworkers and most people seem fine with it. It’s definitely embarrassing though! I also cannot stay awake on planes or trains either, and unfortunately people talking to me doesn’t tremendously help, which can get doubly embarrassing.

  34. Victor*

    LW2: can you print out some reading material relevant to your internship or bring a book related to your college classes and skim that to stay awake?

  35. I don’t post often*

    Op5- I had twins that passed due to pre-term labor. I think I had a full term healthy pregnancy resulting in a beautiful daughter. Many times people ask, “she’s your first?” Or “she’s your only?” I make a judgement call in the moment. Someone I anticipate getting to know much better? Then I say, “something like that,” smile and move on. They get the hint- there is more to this story but not to be told now. If someone in line at the grocery store asks, I respond with “yes” and move on. I don’t have to share details I don’t want- or throw a bomb into an otherwise pleasant conversation.
    Admittedly I do this because I just don’t want to discuss my my angel babies with everyone. It’s a self defense mechanism.
    The same thing can apply here- and you are at work. The dog and cat comment is great. It’s a line, and you can further expand some day if you feel the need. Otherwise, it’s your story to tell when you choose to tell it.

  36. Dust Bunny*

    LW1: End this. It’s a terrible habit in general but, even if you can’t get her to stop doing it in her personal time, you can insist she stop doing it at work. I’m medium-sized (there is nothing noteworthy about my size, height, weight, or body shape) and I would still very definitely not want to hear this (at all, but especially) at work.

  37. CheeryO*

    Ooh, I kind of disagree on #2, as someone who does a lot of that kind of driving for work. I think it looks pretty bad to fall asleep in the car, especially as an intern. If you’re sitting in the backseat with a bunch of people in the car, sure, but when it’s just you and the driver, the social convention is definitely to make polite conversation if the driver wants to and be there to help navigate, pump gas, maybe answer a cell phone if needed, etc. I’ve had people fall asleep as my passenger a couple times, and my first thought is honestly, “Wow, must be nice,” because highway driving isn’t exactly fun for anyone.

    I would especially try to stay awake on the way TO your fieldwork – I feel like you get a little more latitude on the way back when everyone is tired. I also really don’t have to wake you up, so hopefully you wake up naturally when the car stops.

    Why not ask the driver to pop on NPR or a podcast if they aren’t super chatty?

    1. Observer*

      I think that this is unnecessarily judgmental. Of course, if the driver wants to chat, that’s one thing. And in that case the OP says they probably would not have a problem.

      Answering phones? Who does that? I’m not being snarky, it’s just the idea that I’d let anyone that I wasn’t already pretty close with answer my cell phone is pretty out there. Either answer the phone hands free if that’s reasonable in your driving conditions or let it go to voicemail. As the AT&T hold line keeps saying “It can wait”.

      Pump gas, other help at the gas station, sure. But you can sleep in the car and still be helpful when the car stops.

      As for asking the driver to pop in an NPR podcast, that’s a real nonstarter for a number of reasons. One is that the car may not be set up for that, and the driver may not have an NPR podcast (or any podcast, for that matter) handy to “pop in”. Besides not everyone is enamored of NPR, and even people who like NPR won’t like every podcast they have. It’s really better not to go there with people you don’t know well.

    2. GS*

      I drive a lot too and would have this same reaction, but at my company we usually trade driving duties: one person drives to the field and the other drives home.

    3. OP2*

      It’s nice to have the other perspective! This is definitely what I’m worried people are thinking. Thank you for pointing out the distinction between driving TO and FROM— I think I’ll focus first on staying awake on the way TO, and then work towards staying awake FROM. One day I’ll be able to be awake for the whole trip!

  38. Greywacke Jones*

    LW 2 I work in the environmental field as well and have had many jobs that involve driving to field sites. I would say the vast majority of people I have worked with have no problem with passengers dozing in cars. I have had many nice chats with coworkers in the car, but also appreciate it when there is no pressure to converse. I’m guessing with a federal agency there are rules about who can drive the vehicles so this may not be immediately applicable, but in the future I would just make sure you’re doing your fair share of driving and otherwise who cares what the passenger is doing?

    That said, my old manager at my current company bit my co-w0rker’s head off about this so some people do care. The manager said it was important that the passenger stay awake to help keep an eye on the boat they were trailering. Personally I think this manager was a bit of jerk in general, had taken a disliking to this coworker, and was looking for any excuse to give him a hard time, but in any case it might be worth bringing up if you are worried.

    I like to chew sunflower seeds if I’m feeling a bit tired- I find the motion required to get the shell off requires just enough concentration that I stay alert, but not so much that I am distracted from driving. However I assume other people would find the shell spitting gross, so I generally just do that when I’m driving alone.

  39. Oryx*

    “Ironically, she’s overweight herself.”

    As someone who is fat and very involved in body positivity and fat positivity and HAES, I can tell you that is not at all surprising. Fatphobia permeates every layer of our society, and that includes internalized fatphobia. She could be doing it in a misguided attempt to bond, she could be doing it to make herself feel better about her own weight, she could just be super judgemental of people bigger than she is. It takes a lot of work and effort to rewire our brain when it comes to fatphobia because it’s something instilled in most of us from a very early age, and if you grow up fat or are fat it adds an extra element because then it also turns into self-hate.

    1. Stormy Weather*

      Thank you for your work with HAES. You are so right that it takes a long time to rewire your brain.

      I had (and sometimes still have) the compulsion to perform as a ‘good fat person,’ which usually means making a point of telling people I eat fish and vegetables and exercise.

      Even with all the work on body positivity, it’s still generally accepted to hate on fat people. One day it will stop. Meanwhile, the manager should shut it down like Alison says.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        OMG I know right? I often find myself saying “I’m a freaking half marathoner and I eat similar to Whole30” to justify my “right” to still be fat. I hate that I do this.

        1. Oryx*

          As a fellow fat half marathoner, I can tell you it’s really really difficult to shed the ‘good fattie’ ideology. I’ve been at this for many years and I still have those moments. It’s just so ingrained in our society.

          1. Filosofickle*

            Oh, the “good fattie”. I’m doing so much work to accept my body and release fat shame that I apply to me, and others. One of the new bits of shame is realizing how I always saw myself as the “good kind” of fat — not as big, hourglass, all that. I trip over myself to make sure people know I hike and do Pilates.

            It was my defense against totally hating myself. It’s so awful! And I’m truly only seeing it now because I’ve gained weight and lost my “but I’m not fat fat” defense. Man, I have a lot of work to do.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I hear this. I’m still trying to rewire my brain from all the internalized fatphobia/size hate.

      It’s actually helpful to me to see friends and others push back against fat shaming on line.

      Essentially, the repeated idea that it’s not okay helps counter the repeated fat shaming.

    3. anon for this*

      There is something so toxic about fatphobia–maybe because it’s perceived to be something we should all be able to control. I consider myself something of a connoisseur of internalized stigma, and it’s a hard one to shake, that’s for sure.

  40. blink14*

    OP #1 – hard to say without knowing more if she is making these comments as a direct insult to you, or perhaps more likely, commenting on someone’s weight is so pervasive in our society that she grew up with this kind of talk and doesn’t even realize a) how insulting it is and b) how much she’s doing it. Nearly every person has made rude or demeaning comments in their life, and a woman’s weight has been the subject of millions of comments over hundreds of years, it’s unfortunately ingrained in many cultures. I try to take flippant comments on the subject with a grain of salt and put into cultural perspective.

    I think certainly it’s appropriate to ask her to not make such comments and gossip in such a way at work. To me, it sounds like the overarching problem is that she’s gossiping in general.

  41. Phony Genius*

    On #5, I was taught that it is impolite to ask another person about their living situation. They can volunteer it, but you shouldn’t ask. So I never ask. I am rarely ever asked, so this seems to be the norm around here. Is this the norm, or am I out of touch?

    1. stefanielaine*

      I do think it’s a fairly normal question to ask when getting to know someone new (I’ve lived in the Midwest, East Coast, and Western US). Maybe not “living situation” very specifically like “how many bedrooms does your house have” or “do you share a bathroom with anyone” but I think it’s very common to ask people if they’re married, if they have kids or pets, what their hobbies are, etc. as a way to get to know someone. It’s the kind of small talk that gets a little personal as a means of building (work-appropriate, friendly, collegial) intimacy. I also think it’s very common for someone like OP5 whose honest answer to those questions is very difficult to give a politely not-entirely-honest question along the lines of “I used to be married but it’s just me and the dog” as Alison suggested.

    2. Heidi*

      Whenever I moved for work, people would often ask, “Do you have family in the area?” I thought that was fine – not too intrusive, but then again it’s not specifically about the living situation. I think that most people were making friendly conversation. Others wanted to make sure I had somewhere to go for Thanksgiving and such (I have very friendly coworkers).

  42. Gina*

    I’m the person who asked about my direct report commenting on the weight of others and mentioned that she and I are also overweight. The reason I questioned whether she might be doing so passive aggressively is because Ive had issues with her in the past with passive aggressive behavior, (I’ve addressed it with her and have involved my Director and HR at one point). She has improved significantly, but I still wonder, because this tends to be an issue with her. I’m going to take Alison’s advice and address it in the moment, the next time it happens, with a comment such as Alison suggested. I want to keep my tone light, but get the message across that we shouldn’t be commenting on other people’s bodies…. If it continues, then I’ll make it a bit more formal by asking her to come to my office, then discuss it with her. I’d prefer to not have to do that, because she tends to get pouty and passive aggressive when reprimanded. I think an “in the moment ” light comment can get the job done while avoiding the passive aggressive response. Just to mention, over all, she does a good job, knows her job, has great attendance. etc.
    Thanks for all the comments and suggestions!

    1. Heidi*

      This coworker sounds obnoxious and I’m sorry you have to work with her. It’s hard to confront behavior when you know they’re going to turn it into thing whole unpleasant thing. But the right thing to do is to keep it about professionalism.

      Maybe something like, “Her size is not relevant to her work and we shouldn’t comment on it. It’s not like she’s being a judgmental gossip or something.” Sorry, don’t say that last bit. I instinctively deflected her passive aggressiveness and it bounced back to her.

    2. That'll happen*

      Even if someone does a great job, these comments can drive other employees away or just cause an unpleasant work environment. Someone who does good work and shows up is not a good employee if they are making insulting comments and getting an attitude when they get reprimanded.

      You are her supervisor. You are paid to have these uncomfortable conversations, so if the behavior continues you’ve got to get over your discomfort and do your job. You shouldn’t be walking on eggshells around this employee. I can’t tell you how disheartening it is to have a colleague that is awful but management won’t do anything about. It is incredibly demoralizing, and it sends the message that you can be as rude and insulting as long as you get your work done.

    3. Veronica Mars*

      I think her comments have given you insight into what her beliefs are: that overweight people are somehow less worthy or otherwise shame-able. It would be no surprise if she extended those beliefs to you, and, since she’s got a tendency toward passive aggressiveness, was trying to clue you in to how she feels about you.

      But if she’s doing it to you, she’s probably doing it to other people. And that’s not ok. As her boss, its your job to protect those other people.

      With passive-aggressiveness, I find bringing the behavior into the spotlight (by taking GREAT interest in understanding them and solving the problem) is a great tactic. It forces them to double down, or pretend they’re fine and skulk off. “Did you see how big Jane has gotten?” “What an odd question, why would you ask me that?” “It was just an observation.” “Hmm, well, what was your objective behind making a hurtful observation about someone we work with?” … next she can only possibly say “you’re right, there was no point.” (reply: please refrain from making pointlessly hurtful objections in the future) or “I don’t think big people deserve to work here” (reply: you’re fired).

    4. twig*

      My boss at an old job used to let lose with random bits of fat-phobic rambling. I was the biggest person in the office.

      Once, she, the CEO and I were in a meeting, and Burning Man came up (we’re in Northern Nevada). My boss, being on the board of a local arts nonprofit, mentioned that she and another board member had gotten day passes to visit burning man. We were discussing whether they had bicycles that they could take to the playa (bicycle is the main means of transportation at Burning Man) and she said: “Yeah, but I’m going with so-and-so. She’s pretty fat. I’d hate to see THAT on a bicycle”

      It made me wonder how she talked about me when I wasn’t in the room.

  43. KoreanDreams*

    LW #4 your company is being incredibly racist. Any part of Asia? Outside China the disease practically hasn’t spread. I live in Korea where we’d have only 23 cases (out of a population of more than 51 million!) and the number only got that high because family members got infected during self-quarantine periods. Outside China, there’s no where higher than 30, including in the rest of Asia. They need to get tid of that racist policy.
    Here people are being told to use PTO or take the days unpaid. That’s one option people can try if they can afford it.

  44. Malarkey01*

    LW4 even if you typically couldn’t work from home, would it be possible to approach it as a one-time thing where you could work on something like planning for the next year, or out of the box strategic thinking for x project or y business line? These are things that it’s hard to find time to do and could be done sitting on a couch with paper and pen if needed.

    The situation sucks and they shouldn’t take PTO, but maybe if you cam up with tasks remote work would be a compromise.

  45. Abogado Avocado*

    #2 Did your mother or father put you in the car while you were an infant to get you to fall asleep? My husband’s parents did that and today, if he’s not driving, he’s out like a light in the car. It used to bother me, but now I just laugh at this example of how the events of infancy can truly cause your brain to be wired in a particular way for particular events. So, please don’t be embarrassed. Your personal experience is illustrative of all the terrific diversity of being human.

    1. 1234*

      My friends do that with their baby! I wonder if she will grow up to instantaneously fall asleep in the car like your husband does!

    2. nym*

      I don’t think my parents ever did that – they certainly never did with my much-younger sibling – and I flat out can.not.sleep in a moving vehicle of any kind, no matter how tired I am. It’s extremely annoying on international flights. So there’s another piece of anec-data!

  46. nora*

    I fall asleep in the car easily. I used to have an exec director with whom I had to go on car rides (2-3 hours usually). If he saw me falling asleep he would drive over rumble strips to wake me up. We weren’t talking about work and he refused to turn on the radio (this was before smartphones). I really disliked him a lot.

  47. Sleepless*

    I’ve never thought harshly of anybody who fell asleep in the car! In fact, as a chronic insomniac who can never, ever fall asleep during daylight, I’m more than a little envious.

    1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      The only person I get huffy at for falling asleep in the car is my husband, and that’s only because one of his duties as spouse/copilot is to help keep me awake when I’m driving long distances. And also mad jealousy, because I’m apparently incapable of sleeping while in transit.

      Everyone else gets afforded a lot more grace.

    2. Filosofickle*

      While I’m not an insomniac, I do not fall asleep in cars/trains/planes and am super jealous of people who can. I can only think of one time in my entire life that I fell asleep in a car, and that was Dramamine-induced. Overnights on a plane still require drugs to knock me out — and even then it will only work for a couple of hours. Maybe once a year I take a nap at home, usually when I’m sick.

      I just don’t sleep during daylight or in a chair. I need a dark room, a comfy pillow, and quiet or I can’t sleep.

  48. Travel Mug*

    To the car sleeper- while I don’t think there is anything absolutely wrong with sleeping during the car ride, I would say that I don’t think its making optimal use of your internship. We have interns at my job, and I think the most impressive interns would use the opportunity of uninterrupted time alone with me to ask me questions, get career advice/guidance, discuss some recent research in the field or get my opinions on new developments, or things of that nature. I’m not saying you have to do that, but since you are shadowing these individuals, presumably there is something you can learn from them, and you could consider this an opportunity to optimize your educational experience! If I was the driver with an intern beside me, I would consider this something that would separate a great intern from an average/ok one.

    That said, if you are worried about being too chatty, you could say “I was hoping to take advantage of this time with you to get your thoughts on (people that it would be useful for me to meet at the next conference; a paper I recently read; what you consider the most important things I can achieve during my internship; etc, etc) but if you’d rather me be quiet so you can relax please let me know.”

  49. Blue Eagle*

    Regarding student loans – if you decided to work a high-paying job to repay them, remember that you can pay more than a single payment each month to avoid having the loans around for 20 years (which seems a really long time to pay off your education). Last week there was a link to an article about a FO fund – which basically suggested that you live on a student budget for your first job and either accumulate savings or pay off your student loans as soon as possible so that you are not in the position of having to make work decisions because you are drowned in debt. Yes, I realize it is easier said than done, but it is certainly something to think about.

    1. LW 3*

      Unfortunately, I took on student loans far above and beyond the ROI. At the time, I just thought I *had* to go to the best school I got into. My student loans are more than quadruple the average annual salary for my field. I pay more than 25% of my income to student loans every month. I had to push to an extended repayment (yay, paying more interest!) because I couldn’t afford the classic 10 year repayment (at ~45% of my income).

      It’s really frustrating to hear my colleagues brag about how they paid off their student loans in 5 years by “buckling down”. We live extremely modestly, and will continue to have to do so for the foreseeable future. I don’t go on vacation, don’t have cable, don’t go to bars, etc.

      I’m not really complaining – I have no one to blame but myself for making a poor decision. But I’m going to be paying the price for that poor decision for a very, very long time. And I’m just trying desperately to reduce the stress of the next 20 years by balancing my work-life balance with my income needs.

      1. anon for this*

        I hear you. I’m more than a decade out of college, making good money now. I live in a small basement apartment, buy everything secondhand, and have only a tiny luxury budget because in spite of never having been an extravagant spender, I’m still chipping away at my student loans. I had a wonderful experience at one of those namedrop-y schools, but it was never going to be one of the affordable options. Don’t blame yourself for happening to be a part of this generation. College tuition in the United States has become absurd.

      2. Blue Eagle*

        So sorry to hear about this. A friend was just commenting to me that high school counselors should do a better job of advising students about the pitfalls of borrowing money for college and to have them do a cost of education/likely salary analysis before deciding what school to go to and how much debt to incur. Sending positive energy to you that a well-paying job comes your way.

        1. LW 3*

          Yes, they definitely should, it would be so helpful!
          So many of them (in my experience) push you to ‘follow your dreams’ without having a practical conversation about what job prospects in “rare llama genetic studies” (or whatever) actually look like, and how much money you can realistically make at them.
          It doesn’t help that the more ‘prestigious’ the college you get into, the better they/the school looks. When they heard I got into FancySchool, the conversation was all about how many doors it would open for me – not whether I was actually interested in walking through any of those doors.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Or how many people drop out of the Llama genetic studies PhD program because they find out they hate either the actual job of writing llama studies grants and/or benchwork in general.

  50. Stormy Weather*

    I hope everyone who was forced to use PTO can push back and get a better solution, even if it’s just permission to work from home. You shouldn’t be penalized for something that isn’t your fault.

    I lost that battle during a snowstorm. I took commuter rail from another state to work, an the weather so bad the governor announced a travel ban and all the trains were shut down. I still had to take the PTO.

    Organizations should have a contingency fund for unusual situations like this.

  51. Self-quarantine team*

    Thank you! Considering the health of others in my office was important and I understand why some were concerned. I would hate for my team, particularly my coworkers with weaker immune systems, to be worried about getting sick for two weeks straight!

  52. Teal*

    Car Zzz: Agreeing with others, a quick heads up, ask for preference, and you’re good. I do see a comment above that also points out this could be a good opportunity to ask questions (depending on your work and other factors of course).
    I have a co-worker that almost instantaneously falls asleep once we board our hour-ish long flights. I wish I could do that!

  53. GreenDoor*

    I totally agree with Alison about pushing back. You wouldn’t have been in Asia were it not for required work. Your company should give you the quarantine time off without penalty. But also….the number of people who’ve died from the flu far exceeds those who have died from cornonavirus…is your company this buggy about the regular old seasonal flu?? If not, this is pure hysteria and I’d push back hard as group!

  54. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    LW #5 – I’m a young widow too and I while I still work for the company I did when my husband passed away, there are people at work who aren’t aware of my situation. Whenever it comes up (which isn’t that often), and I mention my husband died, I get the reflex-reaction of “I’m sorry” — but the thing is, it’s a reflex reaction so I have practiced the equally reflexive, “Thank you” and then move on to whatever I was going to say. It’s not perfect, and if you really prefer not to mention it at all, Alison’s options are good (albeit seeming to this widow a bit like erasure). But as you said, it’ll eventually come out and the awkward interactions will ensue. I think the ‘trick’ to saying you’re a widow is to say it like you’re saying anything else which could be emotionally fraught: say it relatively simply and in a matter-of-fact tone and most people will move on as quickly as you do because, by and large, people don’t want to dwell on uncomfortable topics and pick up our cues.

    To date (and it’s also been about 15 months for me) no one has ever pressed me for details or behaved in an emotionally draining way about it.

  55. From That Guy*

    Re # 5. I wholehearted concur: “It’s just me and my cat & dog”. is just fine. However, be prepared, you know how intrusive folks can be! Best wishes.

  56. Hopeful*

    I am currently very burned out with job searching. I started my search back in July 2019 and after months of submitting applications with tailored resumes and unique cover letters, I still haven’t found a new job. I was unfortunately laid off from my job in October 2019 and have been consistently submitting applications since. While I’ve gotten a couple of interviews, nothing has panned out. Has anybody dealt with an extended job search? If so, how did you manage it? I have a supportive girlfriend and a wonderful therapist, but it’s still exhausting to deal with.

    1. Stormy Weather*

      It’s an emotional roller coaster and unfortunately, the only way out is through.

      Keep trying different tactics. Go to employer’s sites instead of job boards. Contact everyone who might possibly give you a lead. Reformat your resume; make sure your format is in style (not kidding) and you have all the latest buzzwords. Use different search terms when you’re looking–sometimes the job you’re looking for has a title you didn’t expect.

      Try to get out of the house at least every other day. My last bit of unemployment meant matinee movies on Tuesdays because they were discounted.

      Good luck!

  57. Oh no*

    I made my first mistake at my new job today, and while it wasn’t an end-of-the-world one, but it’s a bit embarrassing and could have been prevented if I’d been more careful. I was overeager and didn’t listen to instructions.

    Pretty sure I won’t do that again, but darnit…

  58. Elizabeth*

    OP5, I also switched jobs not long after losing a husband to suicide (and I’m in my 30s too), so I *really* identify with your anxiety over this. People’s reactions are really varied, and sometimes very stressful even when they’re kind, and it’s enough to start a new job without needing to manage all of that.

    I think Alison’s advice is good. Two other thoughts: when you’re ready, you might want to tell one person that your husband died and let it enter the office knowledge without you needing to tell everyone individually and see their reactions. And don’t be surprised if you find other young widows, too. I did.

    All the solidarity and good wishes in the world.

  59. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #1 – I would shut it down as Alison suggested, but first would make her think about what she’s saying. If she’s not completely clueless, it may change her attitude. “Why are you always pointing out other women’s size to me?”

Comments are closed.