Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: I work in an environment where I’m usually the youngest in the room by at least a decade. This is my first real job and it happens to be in an organization where people stay for years and years.
Professionally, I don’t mind, but socially I feel like I’m constantly finding myself roped into conversations about dieting and weight. I’m in my late 20s, still flying off the coattails of my youthful metabolism and the good luck of healthy habits and no medical history adding complications. My mom was very conscientious about never making weight an issue at home — never commenting on our weight or her own in front of us — and she cooked healthy meals.
I find it uncomfortable to join these (mostly) women in their lamentations about restrictive diets or exercise regimens. Do I owe anything besides a superficial “Oh, that sounds neat” or “Maybe you would like walks if you hate sweating”?
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I’m sorry, that sounds really boring. Even if you didn’t have your great maternal and metabolic luck, this topic would be unfortunate. For one thing, roping-in on a single subject is a drag — plus, food and weight have a way of becoming more problematic the more people dwell on them.
So I am sympathetic. But only so much: You’re there to do a job, not make friends (though the latter does make the days go by faster). So stick to your superficial, “Oh, that sounds neat” and treat the broader bigger larger underlying issue like it’s radioactive. If you see openings to change the subject, then go for it, but at a minimum keep your personal relationship with dessert to yourself.
Remember, too, that this is a moment, not your permanent place in life. At some point, you’ll be greeting the new youngest-person-to-work-here, and the next, and the next, and your place in the conversation will change accordingly.
Re: Not Dieting: You may find yourself in an office culture where baby topics are prevalent, and you’re the one without kids. You may find yourself in a cohort of getting-marrieds when you aren’t even dating. Look for some other things you can bond over with your co-workers, and find a few polite ways to ease yourself out of conversations. You’ll find yourself in these situations again over the years.
Re: Not Dieting: I am upset by the way a lot of women feel obligated to talk about their bodies in derogatory ways. It seems you can’t go to the bathroom without hearing a woman put herself down in terms of weight, attractiveness, breast size, etc. I usually say, “Oh I hate the way women feel like they need to do that. I think you look great!” Because I’m older a lot of women listen and laugh and say, “Yeah, you’re right!”
Re: Dieting: Guy here. That’s really interesting, and sad. Come join us in the near-silent men’s room … I guess that’s not workable.
But it’s one of the sweeter invitations I’ve seen, somehow. Thanks.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.