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Awkward question deserves another

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: My wife is a doctor, and I am a freelance writer. People frequently say things like, “Must be nice to have a wife who can support you.” I make quite a bit more money than my wife – I’m pretty successful in my field, and my wife works for a nonprofit clinic – but people assume she’s supporting us both.

So, do I correct people’s assumptions? I’ve tried a couple of retorts like, “It’s nice being married to my wife for nonfinancial reasons” or, sarcastically, “Yep, the only reason I stay with her is for the money,” but I’m wondering if I should just let people assume. – Should I let it go?

I think it’s hard to let ignorant assumptions go unchallenged, especially those steeped in bias and served with a side of smug – but I also think there’s no victory to be had, moral or factual, in rewarding butters-in.

That means neither of the two most tempting responses, correcting people or looking wounded, serves you well.

A better choice is either true let-it-go acceptance, or an answer you can smile through that implies “What an obnoxious thing to say to a person.”

For example, there’s the versatile “Wow.” Or the bewildered query: “Huh. Why do you say that?” It shifts the burden back to the intruder, and only the hostile and the obtuse will treat it as a legitimate question. (And when they do: “That was a rhetorical question,” then change the subject.)

Another example is an alternate truth. Instead of, “Actually, I make more than she does” – which you’re itching to say but can’t, for so many reasons – you can say just as truthfully, “Yes, it’s nice for both of us that we can support each other.”

Translation: Nice try.

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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