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Carolyn Hax: Coworker spreads unwanted advice

Hello, Carolyn: I have a co-worker in her 30s who is married, looking for a house in the suburbs, planning to have a baby, etc., and she is constantly asking me inappropriate questions.

I am in my 30s and haven’t taken a traditional path in that I am not married, and live alone in the city. I am not sure if she is “sizing me up,” curious about my life choices or just plain nosy. While I would obviously want to find love, I am intellectually and socially fulfilled.

She has asked what my bra size is, where I buy my bras, my pants size, how much my rent is, why am I not dating, how tall I am, why certain romantic relationships didn’t work, when am I going to move out of the city, etc. When I have mentioned guy friends, she will ask why I haven’t considered any of them romantically, as if I should consider any male as a potential prospect. She said women my age cannot expect a perfect guy to come along. She has given me unsolicited advice and has even put in her two cents about buying vs. renting, what size car I should buy next, etc.

I am starting to think my openness and friendliness are working against me. I feel like I need to set boundaries.

I have noticed that when women are married and “have it all together” in that arena, they feel the need to spread their “wisdom” to single women, and assume everyone is hoping to end up in the suburbs with a big house, white picket fence, two SUVs and 2.5 kids.

Just wanted to know how you would address this poor etiquette and how I can keep a healthy distance from co-workers. – The Open Book

When you think you’re in a conversation about kittens, it’s a little odd to field a question about coconuts.

You have a colleague who is socially challenged, to put it mildly. That’s it. There’s no connection between that and the advisory tendencies of married women in the workplace. She’s being a jerk, not a spokesjerk for the Married Suburban Mothers Consortium, and if you were a married mom she’d be commenting inappropriately about something else.

About those married moms: Married couples with children make up 20 percent of households, and people living alone account for 28 percent, per the Census Bureau. Who’s the circus freak?

I offer this to address the self-perception problem I detect in your letter, though there’d be no need to defend your choices even if they put you in the slimmest of minorities.

That trims your problem down to the very limited one of a boorish colleague, which warrants an equally limited solution. Let your discomfort show you the line where “open and friendly” ends and boundaries begin.

Then, use polite but firm nonanswers for everything over that line.

For example: For too-personal questions, try, “I’ll pretend you didn’t just ask me that.” For unsolicited advice, try, “Thanks for your concern” – and if it comes out as a slight non sequitur, even better. For the more shocking or judgmental remarks, try, “Wow.” A true assassin will say these to her with a smile.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 9 a.m.each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.


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