Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rules of Engagement

Let’s just say that I’m a woman of ample figure. I personally prefer the term voluptuous. I’ve decided that my ancestors must have lived in some incredibly cold climate where extra body fat ensured survival because my body seems genetically prone to extra padding. (Admittedly, I’m sure that both my unnatural affinity for chocolate and my extreme aversion to exercise haven’t helped my situation.) Even the times in my life when I was somewhat slender (which have been much fewer and farther between than I would have liked), I’ve always had a little belly bulge that could easily be mistaken for a baby bump. That being said, you can understand that I live with a mortal fear of someone incorrectly assuming that I’m pregnant. Luckily, most people have enough good sense not to say anything – even if they’re secretly wondering, “Is she, or isn’t she?” So, imagine my horror during the following scenario:

The other day, I noticed an acquaintance that I hadn’t seen for a couple of months. I waved and said, "Hi Michelle*!" She smiled and shot back instantly with, "Hey girl! Are you having another baby?"

Okay, Michelle has just broken the first rule of communication regarding suspected pregnancy: Never ask a woman if she is pregnant unless she exhibits one of the following signs:
a) She is wearing a t-shirt with some sickeningly cute "baby on board" style motif.
b) She lovingly rubs her belly on a regular basis. (This one can be tricky,
however, especially with the lactose intolerant crowd. Beware of confusing
baby love with indigestion.)
c) She is overheard gushing over her latest ultrasound or the wallpaper she's
chosen for the nursery.
I, by the way, had exhibited none of these symptoms prior to my encounter with Michelle.

After I recovered from the initial shock of Michelle's blatant disregard for rules of propriety, I tried to laugh it off. "Nope – my last due date was May of 1998." Michelle, however, insisted, "I was just sure you were having another baby!"

Now, it's bad enough that the first faux pas occurred, but we all make mistakes. Enter the second rule: If you ever erroneously assume that a woman is pregnant and blurt out that assumption due to a momentary lapse in judgment, at least try to soften the blow by saying something like, "Sorry, it was a wild guess because you are just absolutely glowing!"

Stunned once again by Michelle’s brazenness, I flatly replied, "No Michelle. I'm just fat." But, bless her heart, this woman just wouldn't give up. As if her sheer force of will could have made her allegations true, she diligently rubbed salt in my wounds, repeating yet again, "Oh girl, I really thought you were pregnant."

At that point, I simply walked away.

Unfortunately, aside from a scholarship to charm school, not much can be done for Michelle. But let us all learn a lesson from this experience. The third rule is simple and trumps all other rules: If in doubt, just keep your mouth firmly shut. Ladies, you never know when you’ll be the victim of a bad combination of post-lunch bloating and trendy empire-waist fashions and desperately need the same consideration from someone else. For the sake of women everywhere, please, just be quiet.

As I’ve reviewed this experience in my mind over the past few days, I’ve tried to determine if I could have made the situation less awkward. After careful contemplation, the answer I’ve come up with is no, probably not. But I could have said something so outlandish that I would have at least gotten a good chuckle out of the look on Michelle’s face. Something like, “Of course I’m not pregnant. I’m just bulking up so I can go as Buddha for Halloween.” Needless to say, it’s so much easier to be witty twenty minutes after the need for wit has passed. But rude people are lurking in the most unlikely places, and when I go into battle with the next one, I’ll be ready.

* Names may – or may not – have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent. But, if your name is Michelle, and you had an eerily similar conversation with a fat lady last Tuesday, you might want to reevaluate your manners.