I fought with my husband’s coworker over their affair, asking a coworker not to eat onions, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. I got into a fight with my husband’s coworker over their affair

My husband works at a restaurant, I caught that he was having an affair with one of his coworkers. I saw the all their text messages and confirmed some of it from their friends. Though I don’t know if they have a sexual relationship, I do know that they were hiding it from me and the coworker’s husband (part of the messages were “delete this conversation” or “you can’t text me right now because I’m at home”). I confronted my husband.

After three days, the girl texted me saying she was sorry, but of course I replied angrily and told her was going to tell her husband, to which she replied that if I wanted to fight, she’s down and she’ll be waiting for me at the restaurant. I told the business owner, but he did not do anything about it. I was pregnant at that time. After sometime, I went to the restaurant to eat and drink a little. We got into an argument outside and she pulled my hair and I pulled hers as well.

Can my husband be terminated because of that? It was his day off that day, and he was not there. Can she file charges against me because she’s saying I provoked her? Or can I file charges against her because I am still a customer when I was there and not just an employee’s wife?

Yes, your husband can be fired for that, and the restaurant manager might reasonably decide that she doesn’t want this kind of drama brought to work. It doesn’t matter that you were there as a customer. (And really, you can’t really credibly claim that you were just there as a customer when you’d already tried to bring the business owner into the situation anyway.)

Drop the idea about filing charges — which would be more drama — and stay away from your husband’s workplace. This is between you and him, not you and his coworkers.


2. How to politely ask a coworker not to eat onions in the office

We have recently added a new member to the team on the floor I work on. We mostly work in the typical open cubicle format, with only a few offices, and she happens to sit in the row of cubicles directly next to mine. She brings in strong smelling food several times a week — bacon in the morning, and often onions around lunchtime. I’m normally pretty tolerant of smells, even smelly things, as long as it doesn’t linger too long.

The problem is I’m pregnant (with number 4), and the smells absolutely make we want to vomit. I’ve had this issue with all of my pregnancies, and I know it will last a while longer. It’s so bad I have to leave my desk and go into the hallway to breathe. I’ve been dealing with this for several weeks now, and quite a few other people in the office dislike the smells as well, but won’t say anything to her. I have yet to disclose to my manager that I’m expecting, as I want to get past week 12, but I do not think I can tolerate the onion smell much longer. My husband suggested I talk to my manager or her manager about it, but I feel it is generally best practice to talk to people directly.

Is there some sort of polite script you might recommend about the onions? I don’t work with her or her group too frequently, though everyone in the office is on a fairly cordial basis.

“I’m so sorry to ask you this and I realize it’s an inconvenience, but I have a temporary medical condition that’s making me really sensitive to certain smells. Bacon and onions are particularly rough on me — they’re making me nauseous to the point that I have to leave my desk. Is there any way you’d be willing to hold off on bringing those into our cubicle area for the next couple of months? It won’t be forever — but it would really help me get through this period.”

If she’s someone who tends to be defensive or prickly, one trick to keep in mind: With people like that, often the more you can make it about asking them for a favor — a generous favor that you’d be so grateful for, rather than implying there’s any obligation on their part (even though there should be) — the happier they are to oblige.


3. Returning to an old company where I was a jerk to people

After a bit of a job search, I have just accepted a role to return to a company I last worked at a few years ago. It’s a new role working directly with a team that I supported the last time around. While my job performance there was undeniable, I was also undeniably kind of a jerk to some of my former colleagues. As a result, they have expressed their concerns to my manager-to-be about my candidacy. My new manager is moving forward with me for the position, but he made it clear that he wants me to mend any/all relationships that may be less than stellar from my last time in the office.

As it happens, I would really like to do that, too! I think that when I worked there, I was a jerk. While I never did anything that crossed an HR line (so no harassment, discrimination, bullying, etc.), I was picky, difficult to work with, temperamental, and generally unpleasant. I feel like I have really improved as a person since I have last been there, and I want to make a sincere effort to show them that.

My question is: how exactly do I do that? I’m wary of trying to force anything on them. If they don’t want to talk to me, I feel like I should respect that. I won’t actually be working with the people that do not like me. My new role means there will be zero overlap, so there won’t be opportunities to just demonstrate how I am different through my work.

The most convincing way to show it is indeed by just demonstrating it by being noticeably different. But if there won’t be opportunities for them to see that — and especially since your boss is telling you that you need to mend those relationships — I’d go with a very direct, very humble apology. As in, “I want to apologize to you for my behavior the last time we worked together. I was unreasonable, unpleasant to work with, and frankly at times a real jerk. I’ve thought about that a lot since I left, and I’ve worked to change. I hope you’ll see those changes in me, and I wanted to let you know how sorry I am for behaving that way.” Depending on the specifics of your behavior with each person, there may be more you need to add, but that’s the core of what you should say.

Do this right away. If you wait a couple of weeks after starting, it might seem less sincere — at that point, they could figure that you’re only doing it because you’ve seen that their dislike of you is causing problems for you. Frankly, it still might not seem totally sincere (it might seem like you’re only apologizing because you kind of need to now that you’re coming back), but hopefully they’ll see over time that you do indeed mean it.


4. How can I avoid a boorish coworker on my bus route?

I share the same bus route with a coworker for roughly an hour long journey in. We used to work in the same department, though I now work in a different area of the company. I don’t like this person, though he is entirely unaware of this. I find him extremely boorish: he mansplains, constantly turns the conversation onto himself, and feels compelling to offer unsolicited career advice that is either dubious or incredibly obvious. Conversation with him is a chore, and I like my commutes to be spent alone, listening to music and either reading or playing a handheld video game. When I’m not able to do this, it starts my day off with on a sour note.

This is complicated though by the fact that we share a circle of friends who like him for some reason, so I’m not able to freeze him out without making things very awkward elsewhere. I’ve tried shifting my commute times around, sometimes significantly, but like a bad penny, he always reappears. Is there any reasonably polite way to rebuff him and take back my alone time? Or should I just grin and bear it?

No, don’t grin and bear it! It’s reasonable to simply explain that you prefer to use your commute time for other things. You just need to be willing to be assertive about saying, “I’m going to read now” or “I’ve started listening to podcasts on my way in so can’t chat” or “I like to zone out/decompress on my commute, so I’ll see you at work!”


{ 272 comments… read them below }

  1. Ava*

    For what its wortg, if a youngish woman told me she had a temporary medical condition that made her sensitive to smells, i would absolutely assume she was pregnant. I wouldnt say anything, of course, but other people dont always seem to follow that rule, so if your goal is to not share that information, you may want to be aware of that

    1. Sylvan*


      None of my business, wouldn’t say anything, but that’s also what I would think. This is an old letter and OP’s kid might be in elementary school now, so I can’t exactly give advice… Just telling people that the smell is bothering you without an explanation might be better than giving an oddly cagey explanation.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, I don’t think there’s a way to say this without someone very easily guessing the reason why. But if you’re about to puke at work, you probably do need to out yourself early.

    3. Lilo*

      I’ll just add I also personally had an aversion to cooked onions in my first trimester too (this only lasted maybe a month personally). So if a woman specifically asked me to stop eating cooked onions, I’d definitely guess what’s up.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        Ugh, cooked onions were the worst for me as well. My bus stop on the way to work was near a community centre that was cooking breakfast at that time of day, so I couldn’t even avoid them when I was outside. I still cringe a little even now, and my kid is 11!

    4. Emmy Noether*

      Yeah, I’m pretty sure a woman of childbearing age saying the word “nauseous” will make people think she’s pregnant, even though it may plausibly be another cause. Although, presenting it as a “medical condition” may actually make that less likely. A lot of people don’t think of pregnancy as a medical condition, even though it is one of course.

    5. JSPA*

      Onions is 100% classic for pregnancy smell sensitivity. I’d make up a treatment / tell a white lie (blame, dunno, steroid shots for a bad knee or something?) or mention its a migraine trigger (this is fairly common!) and that you’re on a temporary medical regimen that’s putting you close to your migraine threshold.

      You may get, “hunh, are you sure you’re not pregnant?” in return, all the same; “if I am, you’ll be the first person here that I tell” is a workable response.

    6. smol might*

      For this reason alone I would be tempted to try a dab of menthol under my nose or something before speaking up (having been in a very similar situation, but my smell aversion was to rice of all stupid things – and I did manage to get through it for a few more weeks until I decided to disclose my pregnancy anyway). People do make assumptions and people do blab.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        I know someone who has a permanent aversion to the smell of cooking rice (male, so not pregnant). It’s one of those smells most people don’t notice that much, but is actually pretty distinctive, and not very pleasant (except if you really like rice and associate it with the taste I guess).

        My aversion was eggs. No nausea (or I should say, no increase in the permanent low-level nausea), they just made me want to go be somewhere else.

    7. Just a girl*

      Yeah, every time I read advice like this I think, why not just tattoo I’m pregnant on your forehead?

    8. Michelle Smith*

      I guess I’m oblivious then. I’m 35 and this is the first time I’ve ever heard that this is a sign of pregnancy.

      1. Seashell*

        I’ve given birth more than once, and I’ve never heard of smelling onions specifically being a problem for pregnant women. I would probably come to the conclusion that a woman was pregnant if she was nauseous on an ongoing basis, especially if she said it would resolve in a few months.

    9. irene adler*

      Good point. Maybe get out in front of this with “a course of medical treatment I’m on” is resulting in nausea issues with the bacon & onions.

      (And sure, this might result in the assumption of a cancer treatment taking place)

    10. Deb*

      Agreed. I would actually flip it and say I had a medical condition that temporarily made me sensitive to the smell of onions. It’s true because it won’t bother her the entire pregnancy. And it’s less of a big flashy neon sign about pregnancy.

    11. COHikerGirl*

      I had exactly zero triggers for my all day sickness while pregnant (existing was enough…3 months), but in random waves of non-pregnancy weirdness, popcorn makes me nauseated! I’ve had 4 periods of time with that issue in the last 16 years (it started post-pregnancy). And bananas for a super long while.

      Since I wasn’t pregnant, I never thought they might be related. I wonder how many people who I mentioned this to thought I was pregnant! Or maybe it helped check assumptions when I never ended up with another!

    12. GammaGirl1908*

      I don’t see the big deal. The reason for pacing your pregnancy announcement isn’t so that nobody on the planet ever determines a pregnancy before the 13-week mark. People may well guess the news, and that’s not the end of the world. Let them guess, as long as they then mind their business about it until you announce.

      1. LadyVet*

        I think the problem is that too many people *don’t* mind their business.

        If you aren’t ready to announce something like a pregnancy, for whatever reason, you aren’t ready to announce it.

    13. allathian*

      Yeah. I had to disclose my pregnancy at work earlier than I wanted to, because my manager found me asleep at my desk. At the time, I had my own office, now I share with a coworker (when I go in, that is, I’m still mostly WFH).

      I also had to avoid the break room, because my absolutely favorite smell in the whole world, fresh coffee, was giving me nausea. I didn’t have morning sickness, I had slight nausea all day that some smells exacerbated, but I never vomited during my entire pregnancy.

      I did have a super nose, though, I could smell the licorice in my coworker’s desk drawer when I walked past her office door. I couldn’t have any licorice during my pregnancy because of BP issues. I was slightly envious of a mom friend whose BP was too low during her entire pregnancy to the point that she was at risk of fainting when she stood up. Her ob/gyn “prescribed” a handful of licorice every day. But when she was pregnant, she loved the smell of gasoline. She even joked that she would’ve liked to work as a gas station attendant so she could pump gas all day. Sadly for her, manned gas stations are the exception rather than the rule here, and even when you can pay cash at the counter, you have to fill up yourself.

  2. nnn*

    OMG. So way back when I was a teenager working in fast food, one of my co-workers (an even younger teenager) kept asking me to prep the onions. “How about you prep the onions and I’ll watch the front counter for you?”

    This seemed super weird to me, because prep was specifically her job and not mine, and the front counter was specifically my job and not hers. It didn’t make any sense but I felt vaguely like she was trying to trick me (it wasn’t uncommon for my co-workers to try to trick me into doing gross things), so I said no.

    So letter #2 made me wonder if she was pregnant at the time. So I googled her (she has a very distinctive name), and it turns out she was in fact pregnant at the time!! (Or, at least, she has a daughter who is precisely the right age to have been a fetus at that time.)

    Teenage me just was not equipped to read between the lines! My apologies to that co-worker!

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I don’t think teenage you did anything wrong. You were asked for favour that you didn’t feel like granting.

      1. smol might*

        Not wrong, but a lot of us would feel more like granting the favour if we knew the person was really struggling rather than just trying to mess with us or get out of a boring task.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          Yep, but I don’t think not reading the possible subtext was a failing on their part.

      2. ferrina*

        Agree- teenage you did nothing wrong. It’s not oblivious to not automatically assume someone is pregnant- in fact, I’d argue it’s better to not assume someone’s medical status. And it’s not uncommon in certain job environments for there to be ulterior motives for having the new person/young person do less savory tasks when it’s not actually their job. I’ve fallen for that one.

        1. Rose*

          Yea, this is just tough. Teenagers asking each other “will you do the shittier parts of my job” is not going to be pregnancy the vast majority of the time. It stinks because I’m sure she had good reason for not wanting to share, but you had good reason for pushing back too! Don’t feel bad OP! Everyone was doing what made the most sense with the information they had.

      3. tamarack and fireweed*

        Not “did wrong” but “was wrong”. If teenage-her had had all the information (or simply more accumulated life experience) she would have made a different decision. There’s such a thing as reality, and it trumps our theoretical knowledge state.

        It is worth learning from the example that if someone asks you for a favor that you don’t feel like granting it may be worth ensuring you completely understand where the request is coming from because you may feel different about it in this case. It’s not just about hthe rights we have (eg. the right of refusing a favor) but what we actually do (actually granting/refusing the favor).

    2. Giant Kitty*

      I’m AFAB in my mid fifties who has no kids on purpose and a lots of similarly aged friends who also don’t have kids (both by choice & by chance) and it wouldn’t occur to me either that someone who was made nauseous by certain strong smells might be pregnant.
      When I had Covid, my sense of smell became EXTREMELY over sensitive instead of deadened – I could smell the chlorine in our tap water & the plastic bags our groceries were delivered in, among other usually not noticeable things- so at this point I’d be more likely to assume it was a lingering side effect of Covid than pregnancy.

  3. Sylvan*

    After three days, the girl texted me saying she was sorry, but of course I replied angrily and told her was going to tell her husband, to which she replied that if I wanted to fight, she’s down and she’ll be waiting for me at the restaurant.

    After sometime, I went to the restaurant to eat and drink a little. We got into an argument outside and she pulled my hair and I pulled hers as well.

    I don’t think LW went there for food lol.

    1. Observer*

      Neither does anyone else, I think. If you notice, Allison calls it out.

      I hope that the OP is in a better place. And not just with her husband.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        The whole time I read that letter, I was just shaking my head and going, “…what?” I don’t know how someone could have written all of this out and then thought that her husband’s job was the biggest problem on her plate. I really hope that LW has moved on from this type of drama.

    2. Lilo*

      That text message alone is pretty clear there was basically a mutual agreement to fight. Meaning if the LW or other tried to make a complaint to the police (the whole “file charges” thing is not really a thing, a prosecutor is the person who makes a filing decision) it’s unlikely to go anywhere.

      But everyone in this scenario can get fired.

          1. wendelenn*

            In “Hamilton”, he is wearing a ponytail during the duel. If Alexander Hamilton really was, I wonder if Burr tried to pull it :)

    3. Cj*

      “Drink a little”, and then getting into a fight, sounds to me like it was alcohol she was drinking, and she was pregnant at the time. I’m not saying pregnant woman shouldn’t have a glass of wine from time to time, but the way this is worded makes me think that it was a lot more than that.

      1. Meep*

        Just want to point out that studies recently find even a glass of wine at any point in the pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. This is obviously a new study so OP couldn’t have known at the time, but no, a pregnant woman shouldn’t be having a glass of wine from time to time.

        1. ferrina*

          Studies disagree and different doctors will recommend different thing (particularly in different countries- the medical practices on this vary widely). As always, ask your doctor what they recommend for your situation (and listen to your body as well- for my first pregnancy I would sip a beer in my third trimester; for my second pregnancy, I had no desire to even touch any kind of alcohol. Later learned that I had cholestasis with the second pregnancy, so very good I listened to my body on that. Only symptom was itchy feet).

        2. Observer*

          Just want to point out that studies recently find even a glass of wine at any point in the pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome.

          Could we stop with the scare stuff and the mom shaming? Also, the concern trolling?

          Even if you were 100% and incontrovertibly correct, this would be totally irrelevant, so there is absolutely not point in bringing it up. Considering that it’s actually far from the case that this is a closed book, it’s really wild that you are bringing it up.

        3. Lenora Rose*

          Whereas the longest long term study (ie the one that looked at the results for 20 years plus and saw the kids grow up) indicated that the mothers who mostly avoided alcohol but had the very rare glass of wine, ie 1-2 per whole pregnancy, were the ones whose kids had the best outcomes as a group – equal to or in some cases better than those who were pregnancy teetotallers. And yes, I am also very aware of FASD as a concern and the message to avoid any and all. I’m just pointing out studies are not absolute.

          This particular OP sounds like they are doing a lot of stupid things – getting into a potentially violent situation while pregnant isn’t exactly good for a fetus either – and I doubt they were using good judgement as to how much to drink either. So this is not commentary on the specific case, just the general.

          (And for the record, I barely have 2 glasses of booze in 9 months when NOT pregnant, so I abstained entirely during, unless you count taking advantage of pregnancy nose to occasionally appreciate the smell of someone else’s drink. If the smell was nice, being more sensitive to it was a boon.)

      2. Sylvan*

        Huh, maybe. I think the LW was being weirdly specific about their totally-not-fighting reason to visit the restaurant. LW just wanted dinner and a soda!

      3. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*

        No, a pregnant woman should NOT have a glass of wine from time to time! Celebrate with a glass of champagne AFTER the baby is born, but NOT during pregnancy; Google “fetal alcohol syndrome” to find out exactly why.

        1. Jackalope*

          Yeah, I think everyone here knows about FAH at this point in time. The issue that people are bringing up is that the puritanical “all alcohol at all ever during pregnancy” (I have even heard some people say all alcohol for people who can get pregnant at all through menopause unless they have an IUD) must always be avoided is…. not scientifically accurate.

          There are more recent studies showing that if you’re pregnant you can have some alcohol while pregnant; the most recent study I heard said that it was a serving of alcohol every day that started being problematic and 3 per day that started really running into FAH territory. The trimester you’re in also affects it; it’s been awhile since I read the study so I don’t remember off the top of my head, but there’s one trimester where it’s a big deal and the other two where it’s less concerning.

          So if you feel most comfortable having absolutely no alcohol while pregnant, then absolutely avoid it. That’s not a problem. But a lot of the “no alcohol at all, ever, while pregnant” tends to shade into the whole “We as a society can tell pregnant people what they have to do when pregnant and can yell at them and otherwise bully them if they don’t do pregnancy exactly the way we think they should”.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Agreed. The OP knew a fight was possibly waiting for her at this particular restaurant, and she chose to go there (wide, innocent eyes, blink blink!) for dinner.

        Uh huh. Pretty sure she had other dining options, and pretty sure she wanted to stir up something.

        1. alienor*

          The image of a pregnant woman and her husband’s girlfriend having a hair-pulling fight in front of the restaurant where two of them work (not to mention the girlfriend inviting the wife to come fight) is like half a step away from Jerry Springer territory. I’ll bet the husband’s no prize, either.

          1. Observer*

            I’ll bet the husband’s no prize, either.

            That’s like betting that a tree is a plant.

            A guy who has an affair while his wife is pregnant is by definition no prize.

            1. GingerApple*

              Amen amen amen. Girl if you are readying this letter… your… deserve better… and youe baby a … loyal dad. Peace and love.

      2. SansSerif*

        What I never get is, why is the “other woman” her prime concern? It’s her husband who deserves some pulled hair, if anyone. I never understood the two women fighting over the cheating husband scenario. The guy that promised to love and honor you is your problem — not some woman you have no relationship with.

        1. metadata minion*

          Same here! Sure, you don’t have to accept the apology with perfect grace and put none of the blame on her, but at least take the vaguely-level road of fumingly ignoring her, especially since that doesn’t require any special effort in this situation.

        2. Well...*

          100% agree, this lady didn’t make any vows or get anyone pregnant.

          I think an inherent difficulty in all breakups is that someone you counted on to be in your corner is suddenly a separate party with which you have conflicting interests (or is an active antagonist). The person you want to talk things over with is the person you need to talk about.

          It’s easy to target someone else because you’re used to being on a team with your partner. It’s not right but it’s a natural impulse to take while going through a tough thing.

        3. GingerApple*

          But still and none with standing… everyone should get fired… the hoe of a husband, the adulterous woman… and our problem queen who clearly went to the restaurant to start a fight… if she worked there…

  4. PeopleGetToEat*

    Why should the person eating normal foods have to change anything? If you have a problem, ask to be moved. There are plenty of people for which changing their food intake at work would be a giant hardship (limited options available to buy nearby, physically unable to cook, long trip to the office so can’t bring things that spoil, etc) or who have a medical condition with associated dietary needs, etc. Unlesd there’s an office wide ban on something that they’re violating (microwaving fish, for instance) then it’s obnoxious of you to ask someone to change their behavior. If it’s bothering you ask to move; make it an official medical request if needed. Most people don’t like telling work about their medical conditions but when you want or need something to change you have to bite tge bullet and fo it. Telling other people what they can eat is beyond obnoxious and, as mentioned above, may cause hardship or violate their own medical needs.

    1. Lirael*

      It’s absolutely reasonable for women not to want to out themselves as pregnant, though, and making it an official request means that some people will now. If OP was then to have a miscarriage that means there are so many other people who know and it could potentially make the situation so much more traumatic.

      Alison isn’t suggesting banning this coworker from eating their food, she’s suggesting asking them a favour. They absolutely get to say no.

    2. cordelia*

      wow – it seemed so obvious to me that anyone who was asked nicely, as with Alison’s script, would of course do as they were asked (and quite possibly guess OP was pregnant), until I read this answer. If not eating onions at lunch is your idea of a “giant hardship”, I am envious of you and your easy life. And I am not aware of any medical conditions that make it essential to eat onions in a particular place at a particular time.

      1. C*

        They would do as they were asked? That sounds extremely entitled. I have never had anyone ask me to stop eating certain foods in an office setting, and I would be put off by them asking. If you have an aversion to a certain smell, it’s your problem to sort out.

        1. Myrin*

          That seems very un-social and pretty egoistic. I’d agree with you if it were something like “nobody is allowed to even so much as chew near me”, which would impact literally everyone around and possibly hardly workable depending on the office’s setup, but one person eating one thing another person is unable to deal with for medical reasons (and likely only temporarily, too)? Seems like something that can be worked out together and possibly with something as simple as one friendly conversation.

        2. smol might*

          I’ve seen this twice – we had a mackerel curry eater and a hard-boiled egg eater, and both were asked (not by me, I didn’t mind) to keep those for home or at least far away from their desks because they were stinking up the office. Both people were totally fine about it, they just ate other stuff. People are allowed to ask minor favours of each other, it really isn’t the end of the world.

            1. smol might*

              The COO went enthusiastically pescatarian for a while. (It was a Goan recipe and I bet actually delicious, but it was a lot in a shared office.)

              1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                Mackeral and curry are two very strong profiles on their own. Combining them sounds like weapons-grade aroma to me.

                1. smol might*

                  The microwave was right in the middle of the shared office, too – no separate kitchen or eating area. I genuinely didn’t mind the smell but couldn’t fault those who did (though if I’d been pregnant at the time I would have had to run, like the one time my husband put a pilchard can in the dishwasher and filled the house with fish steam).

                2. smol might*

                  (I’m double commenting a lot, sorry – but for context given some of the below discussion, I also want to say that mackerel guy was a white dude who just enjoyed the dish and made it several times in a row – he wasn’t being asked to give up a staple of his diet, and a lot of other spicy dishes were fine around the office.)

            2. metadata minion*

              I have a delicious Sri Lankan recipe for mackerel curry that I used to make pretty frequently until our grocery store stopped carrying canned mackerel. I actually like “fishy” fish and it stands up well to the strong curry flavors.

              I don’t bring it to work, because I realize it brings out strong opinions in people, though I continue to be vaguely resentful that egg and tuna salads are considered normal, non-smelly things to bring to work when to me they are some of the most vile scents to come off anything that’s still edible.

            3. Clisby*

              That sounds pretty good to me. But I like fish and I like curry. I don’t get the aversion to microwaved fish, either, but if I knew it bothered people I’d cut it out. Just don’t expect me to be a mind-reader, because before I started reading AAM it would never have occurred to me that microwaved fish would smell bad to some people.

              1. Giant Kitty*

                I don’t get the aversion to microwaved fish, and as someone who was a vegetarian (but ate fish sometimes) for decades, I would be highly offended if people were telling me that the smell of my nutritional sources was gross to them, but they definitely would still expect me to put up with the gross disgusting smells of microwaving their “normal” meat based dishes or frozen dinners or whatever that I would absolutely find just as foul.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Yeah, this is another vast array of humanity on display letter. Always surprising which those turn out to be!

        3. Asenath*

          Not everyone feels that way. I was once told that the smell of a particular frozen dinner was annoying four co-workers who shared their office with the communal microwave. Of course, I apologized and didn’t bring that particular food for lunch again. It never occurred to me that they were being “entitled” and I still don’t think they were.

          1. alienor*

            I used to work in an office where someone would microwave either a meatloaf or Salisbury steak frozen dinner at about 10:30 every morning. It didn’t bother me personally, so I never said anything to them, but that “school lunchroom” smell was very distinctive and far-reaching (it was a big office and I was a fair distance from the microwave and could still smell it). Until then I never would have thought a frozen dinner could be so potent, but it was, so it was kind of you to take your co-workers’ feelings into consideration!

          2. The OG Sleepless*

            I work with somebody who eats bananas and usually throws away the peels in the trash can nearest my work station. I happen to hate the smell of banana peels, but that’s so idiosyncratic I haven’t done anything except quietly take the trash out (and tie a knot in the bag, and carry it far far away) when it happens. At least that one is easy enough to contain.

      2. Fishsticks*

        I think different people would react differently. I often have very spicy or strongly-smelling leftovers for lunch at work (I eat a lot of Korean food, and kimchi scent has a tendency to linger) and make a point to eat out in the breakroom area (which is a large open space, so smells don’t really just hang around in the air) instead of inside my office, which I share with another person. She didn’t ask me to, it just seems polite.

        But if she had asked me to, I would have felt awkward but 100% understood. But honestly, I also worked for a woman who would routinely microwave fish in the one big room all ten employees had to share and would loudly announce to one and all very disgusting graphic metaphors for what the smell was while laughing at her own cleverness. She would also bully the shit out of anyone who mentioned disliking the smell themselves. So I could see why OP would be hesitant to speak up, even if it makes her feel sick.

    3. JSPA*

      This strikes me as trolling, and a violation of the, ” If how dare you suggest sandwiches when some people are gluten intolerant” commenting rule.

      Is it possible that there exists someone somewhere who– Physically, psychologically, culturally, religiously–must eat onions at lunch? Sure.

      Is that a normal thing to expect to have to work around? Hell, no.

      Part of being an minimally decent employee is being at least modestly obliging towards the reasonable requests of your coworkers.

    4. Bit o' Brit*

      Not eating strong-smelling food around coworkers’ desks is already part of normal office etiquette, though, as your casual mention of banning fish in microwaves proves. I’ve had numerous times where coworkers have asked if I minded them eating their hot lunch at their desk.

    5. smol might*

      I…don’t think this is a balanced response. This is part of the give and take that everyone does when sharing a space. I mean it’s possible that coworker has a strong need to consume those specific foods, in which case LW and coworker can figure out a mutually workable arrangement that might involve moving desks. But more likely she just likes them and doesn’t realise it’s an issue for anyone. You start by asking if it’s possible for her to accommodate your needs, and if it turns out not to be that simple then you go from there. Rearranging the office for something that could be resolved in one quick, friendly chat? Really?

      1. smol might*

        I’m also a little weirded out by the idea that eating normal foods is more worthy of protection than being in the equally normal state of pregnancy. It’s all normal. Sometimes normal behaviours clash through nobody’s fault, and then normal people have a normal conversation about it.

        1. doreen*

          I’m also weirded out about the idea that not eating onions at lunch might be a giant hardship or that eating onions might be required due to a medical condition. There are foods for which one or the other is true – it would be a hardship for a lot of people to be asked not to bring sandwiches for lunch – but onions? I don’t think so.

          1. smol might*

            Yeah, I do think it’s highly unlikely that this coworker is medically dependent on a regular midday onion.

            1. smol might*

              (Which doesn’t mean she’s TA for bringing them, since she doesn’t even know it’s an issue. Just that I don’t think the request to keep them out of the office for a few months is likely to be a huge imposition. Possible, not likely.)

              1. DataSci*

                Almost everything I cook has onions in it, and I usually bring leftovers for lunch. A lot depends on whether OP needs absolutely no trace of onions or just avoiding things that are really heavy on the onions.

                1. Anon Supervisor*

                  Raw onion can be a really strong, pungent smell that is tamped down by cooking them. I’d rather smell something with cooked onion than raw onion on a sandwich.

                2. Dahlia*

                  On the original post, OP is commenting as “AGS” and specifically the onion lady is eating raw onions at her desk versus the large cafeteria.

          2. I should really pick a name*

            The point is that they have a conversation.
            If the coworker has a reason that they need to bring onions, the two of them can discuss alternate solutions.
            Leaping to assumptions like “well there’s no reason they HAVE to bring onions so they must be a jerk” instead of having a conversation is the kind of thing that leads to resentments and more Ask a Manager letters.

            1. doreen*

              Absolutely – but the original comment took the position that it was obnoxious even to ask and that someone eating normal food shouldn’t have to change their behavior. But somehow a ban on microwaving fish is fine.

              1. I should really pick a name*

                I agree with you, I was just pointing out that it’s not for anyone but the person bringing onions to judge whether not bringing onions is a hardship or not. It’s perfectly fine to ask them not to bring them, but them saying no doesn’t automatically make them unreasonable.

              2. Giant Kitty*

                I don’t personally think a ban on microwaving fish is OK. How are pescatarians or people from fish heavy food cultures supposed to eat in that case?

                Do people think the smell of microwaving OTHER types of meat is not disgusting to people who don’t eat them? Because they absolutely are. But it would never even OCCUR to me to tell someone they couldn’t eat their preferred food because *I* think it’s gross or it makes *ME* nauseous.

        2. Empress Matilda*


          Nobody is “entitled” here. OP has a problem, and is looking for ways to solve it – and the way to solve it is to start by using her words. Reasonable people will understand, and most would be happy to find some sort of compromise.

          If OP went in demanding that her coworker change her food or move her desk or whatever, sure – that would be entitled. And if the coworker understood the situation and flat-out refused to change anything, that would also be entitled. But none of that has happened yet.

          We’re literally talking about OP saying to her coworker, “hey, this situation is making me physically uncomfortable, can you help me fix it?” There’s nothing entitled about that.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            Yeah there is definitely entitlement in this comment thread though.

            I feel for all the minoritized colleagues whose coworkers are harassing them to give up their “smelly” foods. I’m not saying that is the situation here, but people really need to understand that asking someone else to change their food can be complicated to the point of being inappropriate in some situations.

            1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

              Yeah, working in a neighbourhood where my coworkers are predominantly eaters of food that might be called smelly (the closest grocery store is a specialized Asian grocery, and we have hired more than one person recently moved from south Asia) I think asking for no smelly foods would get a DEI discussion, not a rule against fish or curry.

              And an ask to eat in the lunch room is different than forbidding culturally normal foods from the lunch room.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            And it’s possible there is a break room that the neighbor could move their more strongly scented lunch to. Unless you’re aware of the problem it’s impossible to start solving the problem.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Exactly. What an unpleasant world it would be if no one was allowed to ask any favor that might be a hardship to grant!

    6. Bébé chat*

      In The Office, Dwight has the same way of thinking than you and continues to eat is hard boiled eggs at his dask when Pam is pregnant, even after she asked him if he could eat them in the break room. As soemone who doesn’t want to be the Dwight of my office, I would absolutely make an effort if someone asked me too. And about the pregnancy, as I suffered multiple misscarriages, I can assure you that it is reasonable to not disclose it too early, because it makes everything so much worse.

      1. Pikachu*

        My bestie is a dentist struggling with infertility. She has gotten pregnant twice and has had to tell people at work the moment she found out, because there are things she just cannot do anymore from the very beginning (x-rays, being around laughing gas, that kind of thing). So far both have been miscarriages. It is just devastating. I am so sorry.

    7. I should really pick a name*

      They don’t have to, but it would be nice of them to.

      It’s not unreasonable to ask them, and it’s not unreasonable for them to say no.

      1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

        I actually am a uncomfortable with the “strong smelling foods are inherently rude” common wisdom. Asking someone not to eat in the actual office (given the asker also doesn’t eat at their desk) is one thing, but banning whole categories of food from the lunch room everywhere is different.

        There’s cultural aspects to what foods people object to – I’m pretty sure anyone objecting to strong spice smells would be getting a DEI talk in my predominantly asian/south Asian office, and eggs and fish are often eaten by people who don’t eat other animal protein, or are more normal foods than beef or chicken in some cultural traditions. All food smells, and we’re blind to what we consider normal (ask a lifelong cultural vegetarian about the smell of heating beef). Eating a hot lunch is more a part of some eating cultures than others (eating a sandwitch just isn’t a meal), and there’s shades of making a face at the immigrant kid’s “gross” school lunch in these common understandings of what is acceptable to eat around others.

        Like, take it to the lunch room is one thing, but if there’s no alternate place to heat or eat something, there’s more to it.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          I agree you. Strong smelling foods are not inherently rude.

          I was responding to the person suggesting that even asking someone to not bring a certain food for a while is inappropriate. They also seem to be suggesting that a request is actually an order.

        2. smol might*

          There absolutely is a cultural aspect to it, and that’s one factor that makes it difficult to set hard-and-fast rules. To be honest, that’s why I think it makes most sense to go on a case by case basis rather than by issuing blanket bans, and with employers keeping an eye to make sure people aren’t being awful about it. LW happened to have a temporary problem with two specific foods, so hopefully she and her coworker managed to work it out.

          1. EPLawyer*

            That’s the other thing. This is a temporary request. No one is saying “No one can ever bring kimchi to the office.” Because that gets in to all kind of cultural issues. But if someone had a TEMPORARY condition where the smell of fermented cabbage was a bit much, it would be a kindness to ask everyone to please not bring in kimchi for awhile.

            1. Huttj*

              There’s also heavy contextual variation.

              I can easily see “hey could you not cook X in this office with this ventilation (or lack thereof),” while in another office setup it’s totally fine, or stuff is separated enough that it would be weird for it to be an issue.

        3. MEH Squared*

          I agree with you. I’m always puzzled by the strong anti-fish-smell hatred because to me, it’s not any more or less unpleasant than cooked meat–and I am not vegetarian!

          I’m also wary beacuse as a Taiwanese American, I am aware that many foods I probably would consider normal are strong-smelling. Many of the foods mentioned in the post today about being overly-smelly barely even register for me.

          In this particular case, however, I think it’s reasonable for the OP to ask her coworker to stop eating onions or eat them elsewhere.

          1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

            Yeah, no problem with the specific onion request, especially if there’s another place to eat, just the comments on food letters can tend to slide to “don’t heat curry at work, obviously” in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

    8. heather*

      Well, sure, you have a right to eat whatever you choose. But a lot of us try to be kind. If someone asks me to help them out, I usually try to do so. I find the world is a much nicer place when we behave that way.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes I mean I prefer my colleagues don’t feel sick as a rule. If someone asked me not to eat something because it made them feel ill, I would not eat it, or go to somewhere else with it.

        It’s not mandatory and they can’t make one comply but it’s an easy thing to do for workplace harmony and helping someone out.

    9. WellRed*

      We’ve had a few letters recently that really highlighted how being kind and thoughtful and generally pleasant paid off in the workplace when the chips were down. You should go back and read them. I’m also having a hard time imagining onions fulfilling a dietary need in anyone ever.

      1. Jackalope*

        And honestly, if they do, it’s generally…. not that hard to just take your lunch somewhere else. Eating your oniony lunch in the break room, for example, means that you can still enjoy the food you want to eat without making it reek of onions near your desk. Voila. Problem solved. (I know in some cases it can be a bit more difficult than that but often it really is just that easy.)

        1. Empress Matilda*

          Or if there’s no break room, maybe the solution is she eats her lunch at the same time every day and OP arranges to be elsewhere during that time. There are tons of possible options here – but they all start with OP asking the question!

          1. Observer*

            I’m going to say that a LOT of unwarranted assumptions are being made here.

            People are absolutely right that it’s perfectly fine for someone to ask that someone else not eat a specific food that’s causing them to be nauseous in most cases. And I do also think that a decent person should try to accommodate it.

            But it’s worth noting that it’s not always so easy to accommodate even seemingly simple requests like “can you not eat onions.” Sometimes it really is a burden to not eat onions. And in a place like my office (especially with our old HVAC system that had TERRIBLE air circulation) with few windows, no break room, and nowhere to go outside you now have a real problem. Because there are still parts of the office where smells linger.

            Again, I am NOT saying that this is a reason to not ask. I totally agree that the comment that sparked the thread was over the top. But I *am* saying that it needs to be a REQUEST because sometimes things are not as simple as they look.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              Has anyone said it doesn’t need to be a request, or that it can’t be denied or negotiated? If not, you’re asserting yourself against a shadow.

              1. Observer*

                The person I was responding to said that “there are lots of options.” And that may not necessarily be the case.

    10. Glomarization, Esq.*

      I dunno, in my view, the only correct answer to a request to temporarily quit eating something near a pregnant person because it makes them feel sick would be, “Of course, and congratulations!”

      1. Beany*

        … though if the person hasn’t explicitly said that they’re pregnant, perhaps hold off on the “congratulations” part.

    11. Sylvan*

      Some people want to be accommodating. The person in the cube next to mine is allergic to peanuts. I guess I could tell them to just move or something, but it’s very easy to not eat peanuts.

      1. Beth*

        Especially since you aren’t depriving yourself of peanuts entirely; you’re just agreeing not to eat them during that portion of your day spent in close contact with co-workers. You can have all the peanuts you want during the rest of the day.

        There are a lot of things I have to give up, for various reasons, during my hours in the office — sleeping on the floor, blasting music, wearing minimal clothing, scratching myself in personal spots, clipping my toenails, screaming out loud. Giving up specific foods at lunch for a limited period of time doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.

        1. smol might*

          Yeah, I mostly work from home now and for me that involves holey pyjamas, putting entire boiled eggs in my mouth, competing with myself to see how loud I can sneeze, and listening to terrible fanfiction readings. I am able to save those for later during my in-office days, though.

      2. curmudgeon*

        I would argue not eating peanuts goes beyond common courtesy into a safety thing if your coworker is allergic.

        1. lilsheba*

          When it comes to peanut allergy some places will ban peanuts outright due to that. It’s way more than an annoying smell, it’s actually hazardous. My old work did that and yet sold peanut items in the vending machines…stupidest thing I ever saw.

          1. Sylvan*

            Fair, but my coworker’s peanut allergy isn’t that severe. It’s okay for people to eat peanuts in the office. It’s just not a smart idea for me to be eating Reese’s cups and then touching things we share.

    12. Generic Name*

      So you’re saying she shouldn’t even ask politely as a start? If a colleague asked me to stop eating a smelly food at work, I’d apologize and stop (even if theoretically I “shouldn’t” have to). I guess you’re one of the people Alison describes as defensive or prickly about being asked to do things, and I suppose that’s your right. Not everyone thinks like you, and plenty of people are willing to accommodate others when asked.

    13. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      This is nonsensical–she shouldn’t ask the other person to stop because they might have a medical condition, when she does have a medical condition? Their hypothetical condition does not matter more than her actual condition. Also, she’s not the other person’s boss, they don’t “have to” stop, and they could easily explain their rare medical onion requirement at that point.

    14. mlem*

      How dare you attempt to limit my natural-born right to microwave fish in the office?

      Wait, you say that’s different? How? Fish are just as natural as onions.

      (In my junior high home ec class, I had to leave the classroom when we were supposed to be cooking onions because the smell was making me dizzy. I was not pregnant at the time. Strong smells are a thing that can bother people, and there’s nothing wrong with pointing that out and asking if it’s possible to compromise.)

    15. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I think you might be reading a lot into what the OP was asking about. She wasn’t ‘telling other people what they can eat’, she was considering asking if they could eliminate an ingredient…at work…in a shared workspace…where people are expected to be mindful of others.

      Also: ‘Unlesd there’s an office wide ban on something that they’re violating (microwaving fish, for instance) then it’s obnoxious of you to ask someone to change their behavior.’ No, it’s not obnoxious to simply ask someone to adjust their eating habit for a certain situation.

      ‘Telling other people what they can eat is beyond obnoxious and, as mentioned above, may cause hardship or violate their own medical needs.’ Again, not obnoxious…and is there an actual medical condition that requires eating onions at work?

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Sometimes I feel so encouraged by the cultural shift that’s been taking place where it’s becoming less and less acceptable to expect people without power to suffer silently for people with power – the message being: you have a right to be comfortable, too, and you shouldn’t be forced to suffer just because you’re marginalized/less powerful.

        And then there’s a comment like the one that started this thread, where the message seems blow right past that goalpost to become: your right to comfort is so inviolable that it’s offensive to even ask you not to always do things the exact way you prefer them. That suggests merely asking someone to make a choice that wouldn’t otherwise be their first pick, is equivalent to the old cultural norms that forced people to suffer.

    16. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Pretty sure anyone eating or heating up raw or fried onions at any of my old workplaces would’ve been run out of office. See also: broccoli, brussels sprouts, fish, liver. All foods that I love and enjoy in the privacy of my home, but don’t want to sit in the lingering smell of in an office for the second half of my work day. Onions are not “normal food” in the office and frankly, I am very curious about medical conditions that would require someone to eat onions with every meal, every day.

      1. DataSci*

        I mean, a big bowl of onions would be weird, but food containing onions is pretty common. I’d be willing to temporarily pause the latter, but it would mean a significant change in my lunchtime routine.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Yeah, there are probably hundreds of dishes where the first step is “Sautée onions and garlic in oil” alone. And that’s just one common use of onions in cooking – there are many, many more.

      2. lilsheba*

        Add kimchi to that list, that stuff smells VILE. A few years back I had to do the food bank thing and while waiting in one someone opened a jar of kimchi and I about puked right there. UGH. I had to ask someone years ago to stop bringing broccoli cause again that stuff smells like hot garbage.

        1. My Cabbages!*

          I hope you don’t mean you asked someone not to bring broccoli to a food bank just because you don’t personally like the smell, because broccoli is one of the best vegetables to give out to food-insecure people… it’s nutritious, stores well, and is easy to prepare or eat raw.

          1. lilsheba*

            No the broccoli was at work, someone who sat across the aisle from me would heat it up and eat it. BLECH. I’m not denying it’s nutritious but oh god I can’t deal with the smell.

        2. Clisby*

          I love kimchi and don’t think it smells vile at all. So if I brought it to work and somehow you found it nauseating, you’d better speak up. I’m not going to figure it out on my own.

    17. RagingADHD*

      Well, if you take that attitude, why should the LW excuse herself to avoid throwing up?

      1) it is a giant hardship for her to have to feel nauseous and hide in the stairwell in a daily basis.

      2) Smell sensitivity and nausea are normal aspects of a normal pregnancy, which is a normal function of human bodies.

      She could just hork in her trash can, and if the coworker objects to the sound or the smell, they can move away.

      Or they could both try not to be massive jerks, and have a reasonable conversation about how to work this temporary situation out with minimal disruption for everyone.

      See also: the hardboiled egg episode of The Office.

      1. Observer*

        Yeah, that’s a can of worms, isn’t it.

        Getting THIS bent out of shape over a possible request not to eat onions is what is not “normal” in my opinion. Onions are pungent and their smell is strong (in the sense that it travels and is highly noticeable in the near vicinity.) That means that it’s a food where it’s likely that someone is sometimes going to have a problem with it. Citrus is similar, especially the peels. Which means that even though these are both very common foods, people need to realize that sometimes others are going to have a problem with those foods. Just like with fish…

    18. Nancy*

      It is not obnoxious to politely ask someone to temporarily not eat certain foods at their desk to help you out. If there is a break room, kitchen, empty conference room, etc they can even still eat their meals elsewhere. One day you may need a coworker to temporarily do something to help you out. It’s a part of life.

    19. GingerApple*

      Normally… people put onion on their food.., it isn’t the whole meal… they don’t go bite it like an apple… it’s just a topping… can be add, can be removed.

    20. Giant Kitty*

      I totally agree. It’s so easy to cross over into ableism, racism, religious oppression, and even classism (low income people often can’t afford to bring anything for lunch but leftovers) and being pregnant does not trump ANY of those issues for which is most “worthy” of being accommodated.

      People need to start accepting that, barring something like a peanut allergy that actually has to potential to seriously harm/kill a coworker, that being bothered by the smell or look of someone ELSE’S food is 100% a “them” issue and for *them* to solve without encroaching on another person’s diet. Even if the person is simply eating the smelly/weird food because they ENJOY it, it is too much of a personal boundary violation to ask them to change. (I say this as an autistic person with numerous sensory issues around food, who was a vegetarian for decades & is still incredibly picky about eating meat at all and finds the smell/taste/look of most of it to be totally revolting but would never dream in a million years of asking anyone to change their diet to not gross me out because I am not that selfish or entitled.)

  5. Keymaster of Gozer*

    4. The boring mansplainer who demands your attention on the commute sounds awful, and all too familiar. In bad cases even putting headphones on won’t stop them.

    Not proud to admit I’ve used the ‘got a headache, I need to sit quietly’ excuse a few times to avoid them which has maybe a 50% success rate. Or you get a lecture on why he thinks headaches are caused by hormones.

    ‘I just want to sit quietly/listen to this podcast before/after work’ like Alison suggests will feel a bit trickier to say in the moment but will have a higher success rate. If he doesn’t stop even at that though you have my sympathies. Some boorish mansplainers only stop talking when they have laryngitis.

    1. Observer*

      If he doesn’t stop just put on the headphones. It may feel rude, but the one who is rude is the one trying to monopolize your attention.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed. The OP may have to be more firm. Saying, “I can’t talk – I need to medidate, decompress and prepare myself for the day” might work.

      I would get some noise-cancelling headphones and wear them. I made the mistake of getting some good ones for one of my teens, and he can’t hear me when we’re in the same room and he’s facing me. I’ve threatened to install a flashing red light in his room, with a switch in the kitchen, so I don’t have to walk up to tell him dinner is ready.

  6. GythaOgden*

    We’ve been through this before. Firstly, pregnant women or people with medical issues about food smells will have priority due to accommodation issues. That would apply unless you were really coming down to something racist like ‘no curry’ but allowing other smelly foods.

    Secondly, I’m not sure bacon and onions are going to be the only food that someone can ever eat, even in times of hardship. Most problematic diets — I have a friend with hard limits on what she can eat — allow for food that’s not as fulsome as those dishes. If you really do have food issues, you’ve probably worked out what is good and what isn’t. My friend can eat bacon (not sure about onions) but she can also eat other stuff. I would think that both foods are probably a bit more heavy on the stomach than some and people with food issues tend to have blander diets that would be upset by pungent, greasy foods like those. When I’m ill, the last thing I want is tons of meat and grease in my belly, which may be why the pregnant OP is having these stomach churning moments. (The only person I know who was ill and was ‘prescribed’ bacon was my cousin after she had her first child, but that was because she was in a lot of PPD and not anorexic quite yet but getting there. The prescription was because she needed to eat the fats for her own good, and that she wouldn’t willingly eat it on her own. We were on holiday together that summer and it was so upsetting to witness. However, I’m not sure she’s typical, and she was also not working at the time because of her situation.)

    It’s also the collegiate life of the office. I share a desk with someone who doesn’t like the smell of strong food (curry, pizza etc). I started getting the occasional delivery of food to work as a pick me up during the pandemic and I was well able to work around her sensitivities. I’m not poor exactly (weird situation but think life insurance cushion and other support enabling me to be underemployed for longer than I really should have been), but it sometimes is a struggle for me with spoons/energy/stamina to get out of the house in the morning with something to eat in my hands, so about half the time I pick up something on the way to work. In deference to the person I spend 90% of my time with, I don’t go for a microwave curry or pizza, or tuna (and yeah, it means passing up on a nice tuna melt panini, but I can always have it at home). If I did bring in leftovers like that, I’d find a way to eat them that didn’t involve sitting next to her. It’s just common sense, really — thinking of others so they will think of you.

    Asking someone to be considerate of others does not give rise to this kind of tantrum. The reason we have social rules like this is that when it’s our turn to ask for help, we get the assistance we need, rather than being reminded of when we were being obstructive to other people’s needs. Hanlon’s Razor (never attribute to malice…) allows our mistakes to be seen as just that: mistakes, since we’re not assuming everyone else is being deliberate when they screw up. Do unto others is a yardstick most of us can live by because we see ourselves in the other person — we see someone struggling with their own situation and want to help them because we’re kind people. We’re not just demanding they be kind to us, we’re being pro-active to treat other people as if they’re also human beings with needs, not just props to help us or obstacles in our way.

    Back to the food issue. People may well struggle, and I know what it’s like to a certain extent, but these conversations devolve into a ‘what about ME?’ when social justice is generally about making life more comfortable and accessible for everyone and making compromises between needs. It’s not about heroes and villains but about the delicate balance between people’s naturally occurring differences and similarities, and learning to accept that sometimes, even if we have needs ourselves, that others do as well and those needs might be invisible or be attached to otherwise privileged people.

    It’s not zero-sum either. What goes around, comes around. Being respectful of others — as someone has said on this forum previously, it’s not often about treating them as you would want to be treated yourself, but as they themselves want to be treated — goes a long way to them being able to accommodate your needs when you need assistance yourself. Being food insecure or otherwise allergic to/intolerant of certain foods, not having time/energy/etc to make lunch in the mornings etc does not negate your responsibility to be a good colleague. In fact, if you want people to appreciate and accommodate your hardships or necessities, you have to be respectful of others’ too.

    This was what kicked off the whole ‘but I can’t eat sandwiches!’ rule, and trust me, as disabled and not food insecure precisely but facing a lot of challenges as regards my physical and mental health that have an impact on my diet…yeah, sometimes trying to respect your colleagues goes a long way to them being able to be accommodating towards yourself. If you need help sometimes, it’s much wiser to help out other people by opening a dialogue with them than to be a stubborn ass and refuse to look at what’s actually possible in order to help them out of their bind.

  7. Jopestus*

    There is something that i never will understand. Why do people fight with the person their SO is having an affair with? The SO is 1000% at fault. Not some outsider. Just dump the dumb and get on with it.

    No. SO was not given a love potion or some witch did not cast the magic. Decision to have an affair outside the relationship is 100% decision of the SO, or a matter that should get the police force involved. Yes, we all have temptations and might get tempted by people, but acting on them is a decision.

    1. George*

      It is unfortunately not always that simple. It can be incredibly easy to slide into something like this very slowly, one step at a time. Especially if there is much more contact between the SO and the other, than between the SO and you.
      I am not saying that justifies it in any way – but it can sneak up on them. It’s not always a clearheaded, conscious decision that gets them there. Rather a long series of small concessions of conscience.

      1. Phryne*

        That does not change the fact that for a partner, the beef is with the cheater they are in a relationship with, not the third party cheater.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          That’s exactly why attacking the other person is so tempting. The person cheated on is really angry and wants to lash out. However, they may still love their partner, and/or have complicated feelings that don’t necessarily involve breaking up with them. Attacking the other person is an outlet for those feelings, and by blaming an external party it leaves room to salvage the relationship.

          1. Empress Matilda*

            Especially when pregnant, and I’m guessing if OP’s husband was working in a restaurant there may not have been a lot of money to go around. So many reasons why OP may have preferred to stay with him at the time, even if he was cheating.

            I do hope things are better for her now!

          2. Giant Kitty*

            “ Attacking the other person is an outlet for those feelings, and by blaming an external party it leaves room to salvage the relationship.”

            And that’s called “denial”. I do not believe it’s possible to salvage a healthy relationship with someone who has deeply betrayed a basic trust when one is in denial about who is entirely responsible for breaking that trust- and it’s NEVER the cheating partner- they can try all they want but someone who does not WANT to cheat simply- WON’T.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Hmm. I think to an outside observer these one steps often look a lot like “So there I was, walking along, happening to be naked, and I tripped! And just coincidentally happened to land on my coworker, who also happened to be naked…”

        1. Giant Kitty*

          No it’s more like “I was in a situation where cheating was possible, and decided that I really wanted to, so I did. Then I didn’t want to take responsibility for it, because I might lose my partner if I admit that I just didn’t care enough about their feelings to abstain when I could have a little sexy fun on the side. Therefore, if I lie and pretend it was something that “just happened” or I was “seduced” by the Cheating Partner, I can play on the hurt feelings of my partner and get away with it! No harm done, right?”

      3. Meep*

        Yes. The decision to take your dick out of your pants was a slow and one step at a time. First, the fly slowly makes its way down, teeth by teeth… Next, the pants find themselves unbuttoning….

        Do you realize how ridiculous you are?

        1. Giant Kitty*

          Not Cheating is infinitely easier than Cheating. I don’t understand these “it just happened!” people.

      4. Lenora Rose*

        So many years ago, while dating a nice man, I got into a flirtation with another male friend, which git more and more serious. Until I knew, for sure. the next steps would be cheating.

        So I stopped, backed off on the friendship, and told my partner about it, and about the issues that *we* were having that led to me being tempted in the first place.

        Yes, it’s step by step and you can find yourself getting into things a bit at a time, but there are still plenty of places you can draw back from before the end. And yes. the person I was flirting with was doing many things to influence my choice but the choice and fault would have been mine.

    2. Lilo*

      It’s psychologically and practically easier to blame an outside party. If it’s someone else’s fault you don’t have to face the thought of blowing up your family and the financial and practical realities if a breakup. You’re also emotionally invested in your partner and nit the third party.

      Not saying it’s smart or correct, but it’s absolutely understandable.

      1. ferrina*

        This. There were two bad actors here, and the Other Woman is a safer place for LW to focus her anger. I agree that the husband is responsible for his actions and ideally would be the focus, but it LW were to focus on him, it would also require her to reassess her entire life situation (should she live with him? where could she safely live if not with him? what about finances?). It’s messy, and since she’s having (presumably) his kid and will need maternity leave/childcare, has a lot of complications and lasting repercussions. It’s impossible to understate how complicated and destabilizing this could be.
        It’s so much less complicated and safer to go after the Other Woman.

        1. Chinookwind*

          Thank you for pointing out that there are TWO bad actors. Yes, the SO has the majority of blame and the majority of the responsibility, but the other person also knowingly got into a relationship that they know will harm an innocent party. They too had agency to stop the relationship before it became anything and I am sure that there are many people who would place a hard stop on a relationship if they found out the other person was married/was expecting a child.

          There is enough anger as the cheatee to spread around and there is something particularly infuriating that, of the 3 people involved in this affair, the only one who gets to walk out consequence free is the other person. It can feel like they threw a match at the existing relationship and walked away. Sure, if there was no kindling, nothing would burn (i.e. the SO wouldn’t cheat), but that doesn’t mean that the other person gets to throw around matches wherever they feel like and not take responsibility for the inferno that follows.

    3. Reality Check*

      Oh, I’d be going after BOTH of them, assuming the other woman knew my husband was married. (if she truly didn’t know, that’s different)

      1. Pool lounger*

        Me too. If you know the other person is cheating with you, you have made the decision to be with someone who you know is lying to their partner. You’re choosing to be in a relationship started on lies and secrets. Of course, if the “other” doesn’t know about the cheater’s partner, that’s a different story.

      2. curmudgeon*

        I know someone who has a strange goal of having affairs with married men, knowing full well they’re married. Both the partner who is cheating and the person they’re carrying on the affair with suck immensely.

        1. allathian*

          Some people love the thrill of the forbidden fruit. They don’t want to do the work that an ordinary long-term relationship requires to stay healthy. They get off on the idea that they’re the dominant party who gets to dictate the terms of the relationship, with the threat of exposure keeping the cheating person “in line.” If the cheater gets a divorce to be with them, they dump the cheater because they aren’t interested in a partner with no other commitments. They aren’t interested in consensual polyamory either, because they love the power they have over someone who’s supposedly committed to someone else more than they are capable of loving any individual person.

          I’ve seen this happen to a friend, whose husband was in a relationship with a woman who had a string of other people’s broken marriages behind her. My friend’s extremely monogamous, to the point that when she found out her husband was cheating, she initiated divorce proceedings then and there because she said that she could never trust a cheater again, and moreover, didn’t want to try. They had largely separate finances and they didn’t have any kids, so it was a fairly uncomplicated divorce as far as those things go. As soon as the “other woman” heard about their pending divorce, she dumped my friend’s husband.

    4. Asenath*

      I think it is totally possible to be furious with both the cheater and the person they were cheating with. This is especially true if the person that participating in the cheating was a good friend as well as the partner’s lover, but I’m sure it happens in other cases too, and isn’t always a case of “She stole my man”, as the letter implies.

    5. Irish Teacher*

      I understand it. It’s the same logic as any parent who when their kid and a friend are caught shoplifting/skipping school/whatever, is convinced the other kid is a “bad influence” who is “leading their kid astray” (I’m not saying this doesn’t happen, just that it’s very much less common for parents to assume their kid is the bad influence or even, as is often the case, that the decision to do whatever it is was mutual).

      And with a partner, I think some people feel they are in some way to blame for “making a bad choice” if their partner turns out to be “a bad person.” I’m finding it hard to word this because I don’t think for most people, it’s a conscious thing and it does sound ridiculous when put into words but I can see people sort of feeling, “I’m a good judge of character and wouldn’t marry somebody who’d be the type of person to cheat. I know he’s not that type of person, so it must be her fault.” I think some people find it humiliating to be cheated on, either because they feel it means their partner isn’t sufficiently attracted to them or because they feel it reflects on their ability to judge character and if they can put the blame on somebody else, it might make it easier to deal with. “He does love me really. It’s just that she tempted him away.”

      1. Giant Kitty*

        My mother was very much the “my wonderful children would never do anything wrong without the evil influence of manipulative others” type, and as a headstrong & independent young woman I was *highly offended* that she thought I was incapable of getting into trouble all on my own, or (given my particular personal history) that I would let ANYONE lead me around by the nose or give into some kind of “peer pressure” (and truthfully, I was often just doing my own thing and not even around the people she thought were “bad influences” when I was doing the things she didn’t like.

    6. Ellis Bell*

      Nobody really understands it unless they’ve gone through it. Though I didn’t fight with the other person when I was the betrayed party; I avoided them I felt nauseous about even being in the same space as her (and this was a good friend), I do understand how it can happen. It’s a dark and traumatic time, it’s a situation borne of an abusive and deceptive relationship and the other person is often intensely aggressive towards you, as they’ve been encouraged to be by the tale spinner in the middle. The people perpetrating the affair cast you as a villain and I think some people just go with being hung for a sheep as for a lamb. It’s not wise but it’s understandable. Whenever I hear people say “I would never do that” I know they’ve never experienced the lead up to such desperation. However… whenever I hear a betrayed person indulge in fighting talk I say “Don’t!” It’s just what they want. They want to be the victims and sometimes you’re led into bad mental health, and appearing unbalanced, before you even know what’s going on.

      1. Giant Kitty*

        I have both been cheated on and had a close friend blatantly hit on a partner I was living with (who did NOT reciprocate, but was shocked/horrified) and I still don’t understand putting the blame for cheating on anyone but the partner who violated my trust & broke their commitment to be in a sexually monogamous relationship.
        If the ex friend who hit on my then partner had been successful, it would still have been 100% the fault of my partner who would have freely made that choice. The ex friend was only responsible for breaking the trust I had with HER, which was to be a good & supportive friend who who did not try to hit on people I was dating (a basic tenet of friendship in my book.)

        Someone that I don’t know or am only passingly acquainted with does not have either of those responsibilities towards me, and therefore, it is baffling to me that I should consider them the targets of my ire at all, let alone more so than *the person who actually harmed me*.

    7. D'Arcy*

      Because the person being cheated often has mixed feelings about their SO, but they *don’t* have mixed feelings about an affair partner that they don’t otherwise know, which makes it a lot easier to focus their justified anger on the “homewrecker”.

    8. Luna*

      Probably some psychlogical thing that you “can’t” get angry at your partner or that, if you do get angry at your partner for cheating, you are “admitting some fault” because, well, if you weren’t somehow failing at some aspect in some part of your shared life, they would never have cheated, right?
      And, of course, the person is totally the real blame because they seduced the partner or manipulated them. It’s *never* a decision of the person themself to cheat. */heavy rib-breaking sarcasm*

      I do absolutely agree with you.
      Get angry at the person that agreed to be mutually exclusive with you. Not on the person that, at most, gave the partner an opportunity to cheat.

    9. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

      I’ve never been in the situation, but I don’t get why people act so confused about how anger works. It’s not like one arrow, and you have to choose whether you shoot it at your SO or their affair partner. You can be angry at both! In different ways and on different schedules!

    10. Giant Kitty*

      I don’t get it either. Even if there is legitimate reason to be angry at the affair partner (they were once a friend or relative you once trusted, they are rubbing your face in it, etc), the SO is 100% the person who made the decision to get naked with a person Not Their Partner. It doesn’t happen accidentally, it literally DOES NOT, and I know this because I have been there and nobody twisted my arm, I did not trip & fall into someone’s bed naked, even though it was an ADHD fueled poor impulse control insta-decision made while heavily intoxicated & in a bad/borderline abusive relationship where at the time I felt “justified”, it was still 100% a choice that I saw very clearly and decided “yes” with as much deliberateness as if I’d had to physically press a button or flip a switch to make it happen. Anyone who claims otherwise and that it “just happens” is in total denial and lying to themselves. Get over your plausible deniability and start taking responsibility for your actions.

  8. Hello*

    I’d love an update to op3, making amends. I have so many scenarios I’m thinking about for when you reached out

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      And so often the jerks insist that the problem wasn’t them, and refuse to budge or change. It’s refreshing to see someone realize that they were the jerk and now sincerely wants to make amends. Yay personal growth.

    2. smol might*

      Me too. I think LW3’s self-awareness is great, and I’d love to know how it all worked out. I hope it went well.

  9. Anon 4 Now*

    LW2 brought a memory to mind. Decades ago, in the ‘80s, I wrote and oversaw production of quite a few radio commercials. One of the men I occasionally hired for voiceovers had been in radio a long time, and at one time, years earlier, had hired a young woman to work at his station. I believe he said it was her very first job. Weekly she brought in liver and onions to cook for lunch in the station’s kitchen. We can all imagine what that smelled like, right?

    Her name? Oprah Winfrey.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Hahaha holy cow, what a story! This is why I love this blog.

      And come on Oprah, a lot of us love liver and onions, but there’s a time and a place!

      1. GythaOgden*

        I love the passage early in Joyce’s Ulysses where Poldy Bloom eats kidneys, complete with describing the faint tang of the urine that passed through them when the animal was alive. It’s about the only thing I remember from reading the book.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Ugh this just reminded me of the cook in the Canterbury Tales who had some kind of uncovered open wound and it was implied that the pus from the wound was making its way into the food he served.

        2. I take tea*

          The worst smell I have ever encountered was a kidney that had hidden at the back of the fridge for far too long. The urine smell coupled with rotting flesh… Urgh.

  10. The Cosmic Avenger*

    For #4, I don’t think DuoLingo was around in 2016, but using that or an audiobook on your phone with earbuds would be a perfect excuse for ignoring other people on the bus. (Not that you should need one, but it sounds like having an excuse handy would help.) You don’t even have to be listening to the audio for them, just have them open and show the screen, shake your head, and smile if someone talks to you. IMO that’s a good intermediate step that might keep you from having to even talk to someone to tell them you like to relax and do X during your commute.

    1. heather*

      That’s a great idea! You could even say enthusiastically to your “friend”— “I’ve just discovered this awesome app for learning Spanish. I’m going to start making good use of my commute time!”

  11. The Eye of Argon*

    Ages ago, a coworker of my mother’s brought a hot plate to work and used it to cook hamburgers and stuff during her lunch break until their boss told her to knock it off because this was an office, not Burger King.

    My current job, but before I started here: the miniboss likes… pungent food. One day she brought something that stunk up the place so badly that the level boss came storming out of his office (meaning the smell had to pass through a closed, locked door, down a short hallway, and around a corner) and ordered her to never, ever bring that again.

    Present day: a coworker brings and microwaves stinky food (most memorably, a combo of garlic, garlic, garlic, imitation crab, garlic, and garlic) on the regular, but lights a vanilla cupcake candle to cover up the aroma so the place ends up reeking of stinky lunch and vanilla.

    So glad I’ve never had to be pregnant here.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      A boss at an OldJob had a microwave in his office and one day, a coworker randomly walked into his office, said hi, “mind if I heat my lunch in here”, and proceeded to heat up brussel sprouts.

      You better believe it was this guy’s first and last time using the boss’s office microwave, and that we all heard that story multiple times after.

      I made a mistake once of heating up a serving of Trader Joe’s scallops and peas in mushroom sauce; with a side of cauliflower. Ate it at my desk, then everyone else came back from lunch and were “OMG WHAT’S THAT SMELL!” never did that again.

      And, in my last office, smells traveled all the way from the breakroom and down the hallway through the ceilings. Found that out when my and a teammate’s shared office, where we sat with the door closed, suddenly filled with the smell of microwaved fish, and we tracked it down to the breakroom and a coworker who sheepishly told us, “uh that’s my cod”.

  12. WantonSeedStitch*

    Letter #4 made me think about a time when I was dealing with a guy who was trying to flirt with me (and later befriend me, after I politely turned him down) on my commute walking to and from the bus station and then on the bus. This would have meant spending over two hours a day with him. We had zero in common. I found him kind of whiny and uninteresting. I didn’t want to be a jerk to him, but I eventually said, “hey listen, I really value this walk as time to listen to music and daydream, and the time on the bus for knitting, which takes a lot of my attention. I’d really prefer to commute on my own.” I made a point of still saying a cheerful hello to him every time I saw him, as I would any other vague acquaintance, but didn’t walk or ride with him anymore. It was a much more enjoyable commute after that! (And yeah, I’m an extrovert, so for me to prefer alone-time over spending time in conversation with this guy, you can tell it just wasn’t a good match for friendship.)

  13. Grinch*

    Onions are SO common, especially on a sandwich or salad that you grab at lunch time. So you’re asking them to modify an otherwise regular order. I feel that would come off as overstepping, even just to ask.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Why is asking overstepping? They can always say no.
      Is it not overstepping to ask someone to modify an “irregular” order (whatever that’s supposed to mean).
      It only seems to be the one coworker’s food that’s triggering a reaction for the LW, so why can’t they at least have a discussion about it?

      1. Grinch*

        “Is it not overstepping to ask someone to modify an “irregular” order (whatever that’s supposed to mean).” A “regular” order, meaning if the coworker goes into a restaurant and asks for a sandwich or salad, they then specifically have to ask for “no onions on my sandwich,” which is causing them to go out of their way to create a special order. And if the coworker really likes onions (which is seems they do), it’s impeding on their ability to eat a lunch they will actually enjoy. It just seems rude to me to ask a person to refrain from ingesting an item of their choice, and I would never do it personally.

        1. My Cabbages!*

          Saying that takes like five seconds. I would be fine speaking a whole whopping extra four words when ordering lunch if it meant my coworker didn’t get nauseated on a daily basis.

          1. Grinch*

            It’s annoying to restaurant workers. They hate special orders. And now I am an annoying person because of my coworker’s request.

            1. I should really pick a name*

              Then tell your coworker you’re not willing to stop having onions.
              There’s nothing wrong with them asking.

            2. Jennifer Strange*

              As someone who was a restaurant worker saying “no onions” is not a hardship. It’s something to write down.

            3. Keymaster of Gozer*

              The heck? No, asking for a certain ingredient to be left out is actually quite normal to restaurant workers. I guarantee you they’ve heard it before.

              1. Clisby*

                I think my son had learned by age 8 to order a cheeseburger as “just the meat and cheese – no tomato, no onion, no lettuce, no mayonnaise.”

                No restaurant server (or McDonald’s order-taker) even blinked at that. Now, if he had tried to get them to remove onions from the spaghetti sauce, that would be a different story, but we had explained reasonable v. unreasonable requests. Also, that it’s always OK to politely ask, and if the answer is no, you accept it.

                1. Dahlia*

                  The very very nice cashier at McDonalds when I was about 8 was the first person who told me you COULD modify burgers, because I said something about not liking mayo, I think? And she was like, “Yeah, honey, we don’t have to put that on if you don’t want us to.”


                2. Calamity Janine*

                  and it’s not like the workers can’t also use their words! the whole alarming resistance to treat the food worker as another person and communicate with them can solve so many ills here, lol!

                  behold, an Actual Conversation I Had, as best remembered –

                  Me: hi, can i get a frontega chicken panini, hold the tomatoes please?

                  Panera cashier: oh we actually pre-assemble the paninis so…

                  Me: oh okay, that’s fine then, i can just pick them off!

                  then i got my food without the cashier starting a blood feud with me and all was perfectly pleasant.

                  it’s not rude to effectively communicate with somebody. it’s far more rude to be silent and then sit around stewing on how dare the other person do such an awful thing etc. because nobody read your mind. so now you’re mad that you aren’t getting the outcome you wanted but didn’t verbalize. …the resistance some are having to this idea is really mind boggling, lol

            4. Calamity Janine*

              okay, i realize i am reaching, but i know these sort of thought spirals and how they happen:

              this isn’t reality talking to you, it’s anxiety telling you things that ain’t so.

              a restaurant worker not having to put in the effort to put onions on someone’s sandwich is something they do day-in, day-out. that’s their job, quite literally. can you annoy with special orders? yes, but in the extreme, and in ways that don’t make sense (like demanding a tomatoless marinara sauce). but that’s the extreme. it’s not an absolute.

              similarly, even annoying a waiter doesn’t mean they hate you. it is far more likely that they get momentarily annoyed, roll their eyes, and then move on.

              it’s again a stretch to think that because there’s an annoying order, the restaurant worker now hates you, specifically, as an individual.

              it’s even MORE of a stretch to then conclude that if you are putting in a group order, which is pretty clearly for all your coworkers and not just you, that you are the one person responsible for every sin of annoyance. so your coworker is getting you hated in their stead, because they ordered a sandwich hold-the-onions-please. and therefore you have become An Annoying Person.

              this isn’t truth. this is something called catastrophization.

              it is going directly to the most extreme worst-case-scenario, not just on one occasion, but doubling down in that direction again and again. and the whole time, those worst-case-scenarios can only exist if massive assumptions about other people are made. and most of these simply do not hold up.

              how many restaurant workers do you think know your name, your face, and have given you enough brain space to hold a grudge? how many of them do you think both remember you enough to do that, *and* hate the fact your coworker ordered a sandwich with no onions, *and* blame *you* for the fact your coworker ordered a sandwich with no onions? turn this question around to perhaps think about the scope a moment. how many restaurant workers do you recognize on sight enough to hold a grudge like this against *them*? not many, right? the truth is, they’ve likely already forgotten you. and that’s even assuming the person taking the order actually has enough front-of-house connections to look at your face, too. the chef back there in the sweaty kitchen, far away from the cashier? you’re a ticket number and a print-out. in a system that is made for just these requests, because that’s the entire point of a good 90% of the buttons on any given ordering system, showing you some proof as to just how expected, ordinary, and completely banal such requests are. do you really think ‘hold the onions’ is going to be such an affront to make the chef come out from the kitchen, search down your face, memorize it to remember it for later, and blame you for everyone’s orders when you’re ordering for your entire office despite all logic and reason?

              if the answer is “yes”, then i really need you to think about how distorted your thinking is – and, quite frankly, how you are interacting with workers. because there is way more rudeness required for them to actually get to the point of bothering with any of this mental effort. if you are putting out that rudeness, the problem isn’t the “please no onions”. it’s the extreme rudeness you’re doing!

              i would also say now is a good time to challenge any cognitive distortions about who should be prioritized. why is someone doing a normal and routine function of their job going to be annoyed at you forever for other people’s sins, and therefore they should get absolute priority over… your coworker? who you work with every day? who is being made sick by this? if there’s so much worry about grudges and who will hate you and spread gossip… surely, “no Janet, i’m not going to ask for no onions, i don’t want the sub shop worker to hate me! i have to tell them everything is fine! i don’t care that you are being made sick by the smell!” is going to be the problem you are judged for far more harshly, and by people who actually see you day-in day-out that will significantly impact your daily life if you aggravate them! even if paranoia about social relationships is the theme of the day, this is spending thousands in order to recoup a single penny. at least practice more sensible economy of effort, yeah?

              i for one would rather curry favor with the person in my vicinity that i see just-about-every workday who is nauseated and will potentially be puking, versus somebody who probably won’t remember i exist after five minutes. i mean, you’re in the splash zone on the daily for only one of ’em.

              if you go against sense and run yourself ragged trying to follow everything anxiety says is true but most assuredly isn’t, well, it’s easy to become bitter and cynical. after all, you think everyone else is spending all this mental effort for similar awful ends. there’s no way to realize you don’t have to be paranoid about other people doing this until you also realize that doing this *isn’t standard*. i know. i have been there. occasionally i find myself there. but i know that when i do, i need to drive on out of that, because it’s a bad neighborhood. trying to pretend that it’s the entire globe will just make me miserable.

              if you work on your anxiety, you might suddenly find you no longer have so many mental weights dragging you down to Grinchiness.

              remember, after all, how that one ends. the Grinch realizes that actually, he’s been assuming these people hated him all this time, and hating them for it, when… they haven’t hated him at all. so why has he wasted so much time loathing them for something they haven’t done? why has he been so married to the viewpoint that such ugliness is all there is, therefore he has to be the best at that ugliness to survive? it’s not true. it’s just what he’s been telling himself so he can keep himself mean… and lonely… and miserable.

              and just like the Grinch, you don’t have to be like that, either.

            5. smol might*

              I can’t figure out the logic whereby you are an annoying person if you ask a restaurant worker to leave onions off your sandwich, but not an annoying person if you fill the air in a shared space with a smell that makes your coworker nauseous. There’s some chain of reasoning going on here that I can’t quite fathom. Is it about intent? Like, you’re not TRYING to annoy anyone with your onions, so no one should draw your attention to the impact you’re having – but if you actively make a request of a restaurant worker, that’s a conscious choice so now you’re being annoying? I think you’ve learnt some norms around boundaries and requests that are way different from anything I’ve encountered before.

              Another question – would you feel any differently if the smell sensitivity issue wasn’t pregnancy related?

            6. Curmudgeon in California*

              So you should continue to make a coworker nauseous so as not to “annoy” restaurant workers?


              I think you need a sense of perspective here.

        2. Jennifer Strange*

          Fine if you would never personally do it, but you choosing not to do something doesn’t mean someone else is in the wrong if they do choose to do it.

        3. doreen*

          And that depends on where the person is buying the sandwich/salad. The places I go are like Subway where you tell the worker what you want on the sandwich/in the salad that’s being made to order rather than having to “special order” a sandwich with no onions because otherwise you will get a pre-made sandwich with onions already on it.

        4. Kella*

          I’m not sure if you’re aware but there’s a thing where in certain families/cultures it’s considered rude to ask directly for what you want and considered better to guess whether someone would be okay with something or not, and if the answer seems like it could be no, you avoid asking entirely. But in other families/cultures, the opposite is true: It’s polite to ask directly for what you want, and is actually considered *rude* if you decide for someone what they probably want or don’t want.

          Most people default to one of these two mental frameworks: Guessing or asking. It sounds like you are very firmly in the camp of “asking for what you want is rude,” and it’s just not the case that everything thinks that.

        5. Curmudgeon in California*


          So it’s okay to make a coworker ill just so they don’t have to risk an “irregular” order without onions? If they “really like onions” it’s okay to make their coworker have to leave the area to breathe, and it’s “rude” to ask them to not make them sick?

          I bet you are really popular where you work.

    2. Totally Minnie*

      I can’t eat onions for medical reasons, and I’ve bought many a pre made wrapped sandwich at the grocery store or deli that didn’t have onions on it.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It’s not like you’re asking them to refrain from eating any carbon based chemicals at all.

      I can’t eat onions or be around the smell of them without feeling sick (menopausal) and it’s never been a big issue for me to ask people to refrain from them. Even my husband!

      It’s really NOT a big deal to ask politely.

      1. Grinch*

        Sure, you can ask. To me it seems rude to even ask (husband is different, as the relationship is much closer than a coworker) a person to stop doing something totally normal that they clearly enjoy. People may comply, but I can almost guarantee you they are not happy about it and are probably talking about it behind your back. I would be so irritated, as someone who loves onion (or bacon, or whatever). Meals at work are the one small joy during an otherwise crappy work day. Asking another adult to change their diet to accommodate you is rude, in my opinion.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          And to me it seems rude to tell people they should never make a polite request that will greatly improve their comfort.

          People may comply, but I can almost guarantee you they are not happy about it and are probably talking about it behind your back.

          Not really? Sounds like you’re revealing a lot about yourself here.

        2. bookworm*

          this seems like a classic example of “ask” vs “guess” culture– where some people make requests on the assumption that the requestee is completely free to say yes or no, while others consider it rude to make a request of someone unless they’re already as certain as possible that the person will say yes. All sorts of bad feelings can happen when there’s a mismatch in cultures. “Guessers” feel pressured to say yes to something they don’t actually want to do just because an “asker” asked, and resent the rudeness of being asked in the first place. Guessers get feelings hurt when askers say no. Askers end up with guessers mad at/resentful of them because they didn’t feel comfortable saying no when they wanted to. As someone raised as a guesser, I’ve come to appreciate over time the value of being direct and taking people at their word. It is SO much less exhausting and builds up so much less resentment.

          Obviously, not always possible, and important to know the culture you’re operating and how this kind of request would be received, but I’d encourage you to think about whether you have more ability to be clear about boundaries and your desires. In this circumstance, why not say something like “Hm, I totally get it’s hard to work when a smell is making you nauseous. I eat leftovers for lunch for budget reasons and it’d be a pretty big change and kind of a bummer to stop cooking with onions at home. Is there a compromise that would work for you? like, is it raw or cooked onions? is it only if they’re reheated that the smell carries? how long does the smell bother you? any chance we could stagger breaks such that the smell dissipates, or what if I go somewhere farther away?”

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, this.

            I’m a rather extreme asker myself, and I really, really, really don’t want to deal with the hurt feelings of guessers. Thankfully my office culture is very direct, and so are the vast majority of my coworkers.

            All of my friends have good boundaries and enough self-confidence to advocate for what they want, as well.

        3. Stopgap*

          Maybe the coworker would be just as happy eating something else, and they’d be fine with switching. Maybe onions are the only source of joy in their life, and they’ll be able to explain that to LW and the two of them can find another solution. There’s only one way to find out.

          1. Grammar Penguin*

            If onions are one’s only source of joy in life, one is quite likely suffering from serious depression and probably doesn’t want to have to describe their joyless life to a coworker. One should no more have to disclose a mental health issue than a pregnancy.

        4. Two Dog Night*

          I can almost guarantee you they are not happy about it and are probably talking about it behind your back

          You think? I mean, I really love tuna salad, and I eat it fairly often, but if someone told me the smell was bothering them, I’d happily switch to something different. It’s just not that big a deal.

        5. Calamity Janine*

          actually, i cannot describe to you how absolutely thrilled i would be to change my diet at work in order to make sure somebody isn’t puking in my vicinity.

          i would however be irritated if someone decided to put on a martyrdom act instead of piping up, but rather staying silent and somehow expecting me to divine that it’s my lunch making them throw up, because they somehow believe saying anything to me about it would be beyond the pale. being thought of as so churlish and uncompromising would be genuinely upsetting. way more than having to bring in another type of lean cuisine meals for lunch at work.

          with all due respect, …are you good? because you are laser focused on food being the one joy at work, and therefore anyone who endangers that must be out to ruin things. it’s… very emotionally charged, way above and beyond the norm. i think this may be something where it’s time to do a bit of self-reflection as to what is causing you to feel so strongly about this, and view it in so many absolutes (e.g. one meal/ingredient causing a problem becomes there’s no substitute to enjoyable meals so now that person will only have joyless sadness for lunch, etc). is this burnout? is this disordered eating? i can’t tell, but with complete sincerity, i’m worried about you on this one.

    4. Shubert*

      I actually agree. This person is eating their perfectly normal lunch and the other person is the one that is sensitive to it. It seems rude to ask. I think OP should make her excuses and go take her break elsewhere, open a window, whatever.

      Also, by making this request, everyone will know she is pregnant. This ‘temporary medical condition’ language will come across as weird. Either put up with the onions or be prepared for everyone to know.

        1. Shubert*

          I’m trying to put my finger on why it seems rude. I suppose the reason why I wouldn’t ask is because – well it’s her lunch! There’s not much joy to be had in work sometimes, and asking someone to refrain from eating what they enjoy seems like a bit of an ask to me. You’re asking someone to change a part of their day that really is their own.

          I’d feel really awkward doing it. I would probably suffer in silence, but I’m in the UK so that’s our way of life!

          1. smol might*

            See, I’m another Brit and I come at this the other way because I’d be MORTIFIED if my lunch had been giving someone the vom for weeks and they hadn’t felt they could say anything. I love to cook, I love leftovers for lunch and I use onions in everything, but it’s not so precious to me that I think it’s more important than a colleague being miserable with nausea.

            1. My Cabbages!*

              Can I just say I’ve never heard the phrase “giving someone the vom” before and I kinda adore it.

          2. Calamity Janine*

            to gently challenge your gut feeling here:

            is it actually rude to ask someone for a *temporary* change to their in-office eating habits, so that you can avoid being sick and throwing up (which personally is way more of a disruption to me than holding raw onion slices on your sandwiches for a few months, between both ‘dashing for puke bucket’ away-from-desk interruptions and things like the falling-dominoes nature of how one person puking can easily cause another to get queasy on sight or sound alone. and that’s even without mentioning how becoming a puke volcano is something that can have pretty negative health effects, especially when you’re trying to stay hydrated for two!), or…

            …is the voice telling you it’s rude rooted in some latent misogyny, picked up from a society that scolds women for taking up space (and gets even weirder about women who are pregnant)?

            it often goes against some “trust your gut!” advice, but personally, i have found that if i get twisted up into knots about how something is socially wrong but then can’t figure out a distinct and clear issue why, well. the answer might be systemic bigotry as promoted by society. it’s worth sitting down and seeing if there are any cobwebs in there to sweep out. after all, this happens to the best of us – it’s how bigotry works and why it’s so insidious, after all. the real quality of character ends up shown in what you do after falling off the horse, so to speak.

            of course, i could be totally wrong! but it may be a useful thing to talk back against that voice of “oh no, how embarrassing”.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              Yeah, I personally would be more put out if I had to deal with someone puking in the office because of a certain smell, even if it was garlic, which I love, than being asked to refrain from eating it at lunch for a few months. (I tend to get nauseous myself if I hear/smell/see someone puking.)

          3. Jennifer Strange*

            That’s really putting a lot of emphasis on what is simply eating. Yes, some people really enjoy their food and yes lunch can sometimes be a break in an otherwise monotonous day, but I doubt being asked to not eat onions/eat them prepared in a different way/eat them elsewhere or while the OP is away from her desk is going to ruin the coworkers day. I know you don’t mean it this way, but this line of thinking (that’s it’s rude to even ask politely) just perpetuates women feeling uncomfortable with making small requests that will make them more comfortable.

          4. I should really pick a name*

            To them, it could be an absolutely trivial imposition. Ask and let them decide for themselves.

      1. Jackalope*

        There’s a lovely long thread on this above, but asking someone else not to do something that’s bothering you is not inherently rude. There are of course rude ways to ask it, but as long as you understand that the other person has the right to say no, you can certainly ask. And having to spend much of the day smelling something that makes you feel sick and nauseated (because food smells tend to linger, as does nausea) is a pretty miserable ask of someone. There are a lot of really simple solutions to this (onion eater stops eating onions for a bit, goes to a break room to eat lunch, whatever) that are not a terrible ask.

        (And I’ve never worked at an office that had the option for a random employee to just go open the window, nor is it likely that the OP would have been able to just take a break for an hour or two each afternoon to wait until the smell dissipated, so there’s that too. It’s just a lot easier for the onion eater to move for the 10-20 minutes they’re eating, and hopefully not working because they’re on break, than otherwise.)

      2. Observer*

        I think OP should make her excuses and go take her break elsewhere, open a window, whatever

        Those are options that may not be available, and if they are, they are likely to be MORE burdensome than asking for no onions.

      3. HannahS*

        I mean, the natural end of that assertion that it’s rude to ask is to say that the negative symptoms pregnancy must be suffered in silence, lest anyone else be made uncomfortable. I think that’s worth interrogating.

      4. Curmudgeon in California*

        No, it’s not rude to ask someone to stop eating stuff that makes them literally nauseous in a shared work area. The person who is getting sick isn’t “taking her break”, she’s sitting at her desk trying to work!!

        You are privileging the onion eater’s preferences over the pregnant person’s ability not to barf. I call that entitled.

    5. Observer*

      I feel that would come off as overstepping, even just to ask.

      Why? Just because something is common doesn’t make is sacred or immutable. There is no harm in ASKING someone to change something even if it is common.

    6. marvin*

      But if you don’t bring it up, you’re just making assumptions about how the coworker will feel. Maybe she would feel awful about accidentally making someone nauseous and would be glad to know about it. Maybe it would be a hardship for her to totally avoid onions but they could work out some kind of system. It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game of suffering here.

    7. Curmudgeon in California*

      No, it’s not. I regularly order stuff without raw onions because I can’t stand the taste of them. The restaurant workers don’t get annoyed, they just make my order without onions.

      Even if it annoyed the restaurant worker it would still be okay because the onions make the coworker nauseous. Because being nauseated trump mere annoyance.

      If I were allergic to onions I would tell the restaurant people to hold the onions and go full Karen if they didn’t. They don’t get to ask if it’s allergy or preference.

      So no, you don’t have to have them just because they are “common” and might annoy a food prep person to leave them off. Consideration for a coworker who shares your space trumps the fleeting feelings of a restaurant worker who might be annoyed about leaving onions off a sandwich. (If they get annoyed about that they need to find a new job.)

  14. Mr. Random Guy*

    Regarding #1, although far from the main point, I would definitely be firing the affair partner for deciding that her workplace was an appropriate location for a fight with someone whose husband she is seeing, especially on a day she wasn’t working. I can imagine a coworker asking “What are you doing here Jane, you’re not on the schedule,” and her responding “I’m having an affair with Cecil and I’m here to fight his wife.” This is definitely an “ESH” situation, but if the manager does not want drama brought into this workplace she is easily the worst offender.

    1. Observer*

      There is not indication that the CW Affair partner was not on the schedule. It was the husband that was not there.

      But, yeah, unlike the woman who flipped out over some lottery stuff in the office, this sounds very much like an ESH situation.

      And, yes, I would seriously consider firing the CW – depending on what the OP actually did – and the husband.

      1. Mr. Random Guy*

        Ah, you are right, I misread that. Still astonishingly poor judgment to invite someone to your workplace to fight, even with the rest of the nonsense going on in this situation.

  15. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    I don’t understand people who think that preferences outweigh needs just because the preferences are “normal.” It is most likely very easy to eat a different lunch that doesn’t have onions in it for a month.

    Also, I haven’t worked in a restaurant in forever but at least back in the day, drama was part and parcel of the industry.

    1. smol might*

      I’m finding this a little confusing too. The request isn’t code for ‘you are so terrible for eating these normal things, you should have known, I order you to stop’. It’s just a request. And normal != totally fine in all circumstances. Sometimes normal needs and normal behaviours end up in conflict. No one has to be the asshole in the situation. You just talk and work it out.

      1. ItsNotAlwaysAboutBeingNice*

        It’s that the OPs desire to hide her medical condition and personal business overrides the ability of the person being asked to hide theirs. If a “sorry, no” isn’t going to satisfy then it’s not a simple request. And without the medical information it’s doubly problematic to ask directly. If this is enough of an issue that it needs a solution – and it sounds like it might be – then the appropriate thing to do is bring it up in that context – and the most common solution would be to move/remove the person having the issue if that’s possible, especially when the other person is doing nothing wrong.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Where are you seeing that he person eating onions is being asked to hide a medical condition? You’re really assuming a lot of problems in something that likely will have a simple solution.

        2. smol might*

          I just think you’re way overestimating the likely burden of this on the coworker. She CAN say ‘sorry, no’ and not elaborate any further, if that’s what she needs to do. LW might not be delighted with that, but she’ll live, and then she can see if moving/WFH/something else is possible. Maybe coworker really needs to eat that stuff, but most people who eat onions just…quite like eating onions. Even if she is somehow dependent on the onions, no one is forcing a medical disclosure from her. She can say it would be difficult to change her diet without saying why. She can just say no.

          Asking someone to change a behaviour does not imply that the behaviour is inherently wrong. No one is blaming this woman for liking onions. It just means the behaviour is having an unintended negative impact, and the impacted person is trying to find a solution.

  16. Little Angel S.*

    Some might argue that the work space shouldn’t be smelling like food. It’s just not professional. I do LOVE the smell of coffee! Meals should be eaten in the break room. Even then, some people still complain. When I was young, I decided to eat a microwaved frozen marinara meal at my desk. The smell of garlic took over the office. Some high-ranking execs came to visit! Oops! I quietly tossed out the container. That thing was nasty, anyways.

    1. marvin*

      My very unpopular opinion is that I wish all offices had an unscented lunch in common areas policy. I realize this isn’t really practical but I am very sensitive to scents and other people’s reheated lunches make me feel nauseous and distracted on the regular.

      1. Observer*

        It’s not just impractical, it is literally impossible. All foods have SOME scent. And pretty much any food that is tasty or appetizing has more than some scent. Because that’s the way humans are built. It’s one of the reasons why people with nasal congestion often lose their appetites – they can’t smell the food.

        1. marvin*

          Sadly I do not actually have the supreme power to banish things that make me uncomfortable in the workplace so the degree of impracticability is more of an academic question here. I just wish life was organized in such a way that eating at desks wasn’t necessary. If that means everyone only ever works half days, so be it.

          1. Calamity Janine*

            well, if you want to get pedantic and a bit silly.

            …there’s always those good ol’ labratory-grade fume hoods, meant for dealing with chemicals where the vapor may be toxic.

            though, really, i’m desperately trying to not armchair quarterback too much here and failing, but – have you considered exploring avenues in which this may be A You Thing? there are meal smells where some people are more bothered than others, and we tend to view it to be rude to make one of those that bother a lot of people in general, or someone specifically if it can be avoided and you know about the request. but most people go “oh, a smell. nice” and then it’s over and done with in seconds. that’s even before you get to things like scented candles and perfumes with food notes – people making food smells on purpose, just for their own fun.

            it might be personally rewarding to take a second and think about this being something that hits you extra-hard, and how you can personally mitigate such things, in order to make your life easier. for what it’s worth, i know that when i’m dealing with sensory overload, even something that i like can still be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. if i’m already dealing with the load of things like “bad and irritating kind of flickery lights”, “uncomfortable dress shirt that i had to wear for a more-formal-in-dress-code presentation”, “someone’s got the most irritating cough nearby and i know they can’t help it but it’s driving me up the wall”, “ohmygod someone is crinkling The Evil Plastic”, and “the phone keeps ringing so i feel like i can’t concentrate for more than thirty seconds at a time”… well, that all at once will still lead to a state wherein something i normally like could become Way Too Much. and that’s totally aside from other causes that could be adding gasoline to that bonfire, like having a migraine that means the flickery light genuinely hurts, or having a bad cold that ends up distorting how things smell so that it all seems rancid. or just that something like a depression flare-up or missing adhd med mean i have way less space on my plate to deal with all of these little annoyances without it all tipping over.

            it may be that lunch smells still bother you, but if you can delve into if you’re being given a death-by-a-thousand-cuts, you might find ways to make 990 of those cuts not happen. sure, the cuts you still get still sting. but they’re not going to do such a job of killing you! and that makes it suddenly all much more manageable.

            sure, i mostly have experience with misophonia hell-is-that-noise style burdens, but i’m sure that the same sort of loop that makes a brain go That Noise Is Very Too Much. I Will Now Self-Immolate About It can just as easily grab ahold of scent instead of audio input in order to freak out. it is genuinely something that i encourage you to sit down and investigate and bring up with a doctor. there’s ways to make it all suck so, *so* much less.

            (of course, you could be – and likely are – way ahead of me! but in the 5% chance you’re not… good news lol?)

          2. Emmy Noether*

            I think banning food at workstations/desks is possible (that’s officially the case at my workplace for hygiene/cleanliness reasons, although it is not enforced at all).
            When you wrote “common areas”, I thought you meant things like a lunchroom, and that’s definitely not possible. Almost all foods that are more than snacks have a smell – it would mean pretty much completely forbidding lunch on premises. I think the solution would be limiting it to *only* the lunchroom, then you could reasonably avoid it.

  17. JXH*

    #3 I worked with a manager who was a first class jerk and all his direct reports felt it. Fast forward 20 years and I encountered him in different role, kind of dreading working with him again. He was so different! Charming, likeable. He even joked about it himself. More than once I told him how much I enjoyed working with“Harry” 2.0. People change. I would have been skeptical had he told me, but I saw his actions in person day by day.

  18. El l*

    Look, you dont have to like or respect this woman ever. But:

    You crossed a line when you went to the restaurant- and yes, you went there to get at her. Now she can reasonably say shes being harassed and even assaulted and her on the job safety is at stake.

    They probably should fire your husband for bringing that on. They probably should throw you a restraining order.

    That’s the price of not keeping your beef with only your husband. Which is who it’s really with.

  19. MaryAnn Spier*

    If my husband was having an affair I would be too busy getting a divorce to start trouble at his workplace.

    1. Giant Kitty*

      Absolutely this. Cheating means “break up” in my book, not “fight to keep someone who has no interest in remaining monogamous.”

  20. Luna*

    LW1 – Focus your anger on your husband. HE’s the one that broke his promise TO YOU. The coworker’s marriage is none of your business. Doesn’t matter if you think it’s wrong, it’s not your job to tell her partner that she’s a cheating bag of dirt.

    Also, really? Hairpulling? What are you, five year olds? If your husband did end up terminated because of your actions, tough. I hope you got a divorce from him.

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