I would love everyone’s thoughts on a situation that happened to me this weekend, if I handled it well, and what I could say next time should it happen again. Let me begin by saying that I do not believe the woman in my story had any sort of neurological or social disorder, but instead, a lack of boundaries.
Some background – I live on a military base that is small and extremely isolated by distance from the nearest town. Most families with kids live on the base, where the kids attend the one elementary school. There is one commissary, one department store, etc. Also, it is not uncommon for the service members here to work long days, or be gone for training for weeks at a time. The spouses here really stick together and form fast friendships, and generally help each other out.
This past Saturday evening, since my husband had been working all day, I took the kids to the only food court on the base for dinner. At the food court, there is Fast Food Burger Place, and Fried Chicken Place, along with, in the middle of the room, an indoor playground and televisions. I generally sit in the middle, facing the playground and tv’s, so I can watch my kids. This particular evening, there were two other families there. At the table in front of me was a mom with her two kids. The mom in front of me initially was seated straight in her chair, watching her kids and the tv.
It started when we sat down. My toddler girl was being loud about something, so the mom turned around and I caught her giving me a sympathetic look, and then she said, “Aww, I remember that age!” I think my response was a polite half smile and a “Yeah”, before going back to my daughter. The lady stayed turned around facing me, giving me a sympathetic look (for what, I don’t know…), and smiling in an almost condescending way. I kept praying she would turn back around, as I don’t care to be watched, but she never did. She stayed turned around, unnecessarily facing my direction, for the entire rest of the meal.
It wasn’t that she was content with just watching us. It was also that she was very obviously looking for me to have a conversation with her, while I was trying to eat my dinner! I tried not to even look at her, which was hard since she was straight in front of me. I didn’t want to answer her questions, but I didn’t know if I could say, “Please stop talking to me” without being rude. At one point, she asked if my son went to school on the base. I said yes, (I didn’t want to lie and have that come back to haunt me), and she acted like that was the MOST AMAZING THING ever, because so did HER kids! (Shocking, since there’s one school.) She clearly wanted me to be amazed too, and I tried to be polite and not rude, but I was extremely uncomfortable with the way she had intruded into my personal space. She then made a big deal about how familiar I looked, and how OMG, she must’ve seen me at the school’s open house!!! (Our kids aren’t in the same class, so yeah, she could’ve seen me in the hallway, I guess?) To this my response was a polite nod, half smile, and “Yeah, maybe…I was there.” I continued with my half smiles, trying not to look at her, praying she would take the hint, and wondering if it would be rude to pull out the book I had in my purse and hold it in front of my face.
(And just to be very clear: She asked all questions. I gave very short but polite replies, no details. Lots of small nods, and half smiles. I’ve never had anyone else misunderstand that as a clue that I did not want to have a conversation with them.)
At one point, my husband called and said he was coming to have dinner with us. It was only when he got there and sat with us that she stopped talking. She was clearly still looking for an “in” into our conversation but finally resigned to turning back around and watching the tv, until her own husband came in and her family left.
I told my husband the story. We laughed. I was annoyed at her, but that was the end of it. Or so I thought.
A few days later, I was dropping off my son at school. You can either walk your child to the playground gate and let them go, or stay in your car in the carpool lane, and a teacher will get them out. I do the latter, since I have my younger one with me. While I was in line waiting, I noticed a woman in a loud green shirt at the playground fence. It was the mom with no boundaries! Being in my car, I didn’t think she could see me, and in a few seconds, my son would be dropped off and I’d be heading home.
As my son was being helped out of the car, and the teacher was about the shut the door, I noticed the mom’s green shirt passing by on the sidewalk. She must’ve recognized my son, because I then saw her stop, and start to peer down to see into my car! As soon as the teacher shut the door, I drove away.
So, now I feel like I am faced with a dilemma of having to acknowledge and have conversations with a woman who, at best, seriously annoyed me, and at worst, really creeped me out. Since our kids go to the same school and are in the same grade, it is very likely I will one day run into her again, and I don’t want to be rude, but I also don’t want her to think I’m her new best friend. Any thoughts? 0916-15
Other than continuing to give the woman the cold shoulder, I don’t think you have more options. You could give her the cut direct but that appears to be more draconian than the situation deserves and you would appear to be a rude, hateful curmudgeon. She may simply be lonely and is taking the initiative to reach out to try and make friends which I find far more preferable than the women who sit at home expecting the world to come to them and whine incessantly about how lonely they are.
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Ummmm….what? As a dyed in the wool, card carrying member of the “avoid social situations” clique I can’t help but feeling you are out of line. Do I enjoy it when someone tries to make conversation and I just want to be left alone? No, I don’t. Do I think it is a social etiquette problem that needs fixing? No, not that either. The lady in question is clearly lonely and looking for a little conversation. What happened to ” spouses need to stick together”? You were in a public place where families congregate, not at an intimate restaurant. Why on earth is this a major problem? Politely tell her you are going to read your book and relax, if you can’t handle a few minutes of awkward small talk.
Agreed. I feel bad for “annoying woman.” I have social anxiety and it is SO difficult for me to make new friends. If my attempts were met with the sort of reaction OP had, I would curl up under my blankets and never leave home.
I’m introverted to the point where I have little moments of fear when people talk to me. However, I have learned to have compassion for people who do approach me or other strangers with a friendly remark. I even consider it flattering. Maybe it takes lots of bravery and effort for them to speak up like this (it would for me if I did it). I try to remember this possibility and answer people nicely and try to find out what they really want, what point they want to make, etc. If they’re really not interesting to me at all and/or if I’m not comfortable conversing, I would hope that I could just make sure we’ve exchanged names and then say, “Jane, it was so nice to meet you. I’m awfully tired and would like to finish this [knitting, book, podcast. etc.] but I’ll see you at Whatever later.” This is actually a truthful statement, as the conversation itself would have tired me out. As others have said, I believe the OP was too judgmental of someone who seemed to be sincerely looking for a friend.
Sorry OP, no sympathy from me. You were/are rude. The woman was trying to make small talk and find common ground (hence the “amazing school coincidence”) and you were rude and childish. You yourself remarked on how close knit everyone is, maybe this woman was trying to get into that circle. Had you seen her before? Was she new?
You frankly would be better off just to say “Sorry Sally, I am not interested in making new friends or speaking with you any further.” It would be no less rude of churlish than you act now. And calling her creepy and making fun of her with your husband?? For what?? You are nothing but a mean girl, OP. I hope you never have to start over at an unfamiliar base, though that seems unlikely for you!
So well put. This woman is being nasty for no reason. She must think she is better than this woman that she can’t be bothered to engage in small talk. So disgusted reading this.
Coming from a military family, I’m wondering if this is the typical sort of catty officer’s wife/enlisted man’s wife thing that can happen.
The OP isn’t required to be this woman’s new BFF, but you don’t have to be someone’s BFF to be polite and inclusive.
“It was nice chatting, but I’d REALLY love to get this chapter finished before my husband joins us. You know how it is, impossible to get a spare second these days!” Or any variation on that really. Perhaps the OP could have included the time of a proper social gathering, if there is one? “I don’t know if you’re aware, but there’s a Mum’s group that meets on a wednesday?”
As for driving off because she had the nerve to look in the window? Wow. This poor woman obviously knows no one else. She probably thought, “Oh, there’s someone who I’ve at least spoken a few words to! I’ll say hi…” It wouldn’t have killed the OP to at least give her a wave. Or even, “Hi! Gotta run, there’s never enough hours in the day!” It’s not the fact that the OP didn’t want to be friends that I objected to about this story, not being friends is fine. The attitude of entitlement, amusement at another’s expense and snobbery is frankly eyebrow raising.
If you have never lived on a military base you just don’t understand the hierarchy and so many minute social faux pas go along with any even minimal interaction.
I was a 24 ear old female coastie (USCG) living on a Navy base, going to a naval school where I was the only female.
Many of my social fellow students were unwise in the ways of the world, especially social interactions.
My second Sunday on base I went to the PX and got the only copy of the Sunday New York Times (manna from heaven) and went to the on base Del Taco to eat and read the paper.
I was in the farthest corner of the room, no available seating any where near me.
Finally I can’t help but over hear that that are trying to engage me in their conversation about WWF type wrestling, i.e. “Don’t you think joe blow is the best whsamgiggy?”
“I’m sorry I don’t know who that is.” I say as I lower the paper from in front on m face to try to politily answer and move on. Paper goes back up.
Then they do it again. Finally I say “This may sound odd to you but I cam here expressly and purpose to sit here and nibble away the afternoon while I read every single this in this paper.”
“Well who do you have with you to talk to?” I take the paper from my face again and say “Yes, that is the point.”
Well, we didn’t think you were all that anyway, who wants to hang out with some girl who wants the ready the paper all day, you suck.”
Then they left and the day was still ruined, I gave them polite responses and said no thank you, that I had no understanding of their topic, etc.
I no longer drop reading material, if someone can’t read the scene as :She’s reading or something, I’ll look for her when it’s likely she’ll have a couple mins.
An old military edict is that you should never build a strong relationship with the first person who offers friendship b/c that means they don’t have any other friend,
Trust your gut, can yo figure out what would be willing to giver her attention – wise.
Start with maybe you inviting her to coffee on a day you have an appointment and that you must be there on time.
Make her think you do care and are attentive to her needs, but not ll the time – and them you gradually limit and eventually one of your families get re-located.
“Never build a strong relationship with the first person who offers friendship, because that means they have no other friends?” Really? What if the most popular and friendly person on the base, just happens to be the first person you meet when you move onto the base? What if you already live on the base, and you meet a perfectly nice person, but that person just moved in, and therefore doesn’t have any friends yet; not due to any character flaw, but just by virtue of being too new? My point is, boundaries are fine, but these “rules” seem vaguely similar to cyclical adolescent social dynamics, where everyone wants to be friends with the exclusive popular group, and being friends with people outside of the “in-group” is considered “social suicide.”
According to my married-to-Navy aunt, this isn’t a “rule.” Rather, it’s something that the female military personnel came up with in order to avoid “accidentally” befriending military wives, since they see them as inferior company.
All I have to say is that I hope OP ‘s car does not break down in this isolated community stranding her and her kids by the side of the road in the dark or the rain and the only form of help available may be this socially awkward person in the green T-shirt. This person may decide to put her foot on the accelerator of the karma bus and pass her by.
I can see that happening, but to be fair, Newbie Mom probably owns other shirts besides the “loud” green one. However, if life was a movie or a sitcom, I could definitely see Newbie Mom wearing the same green shirt in the “car breakdown” scene. It reminds me of my favourite book when I was a kid; “The Paper Bag Princess,” by Robert Munsch, where Prince Ronald tells Princess Elizabeth, “You smell like ashes, your hair is a mess, and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come rescue me when you are dressed like a real princess.” At thar, Elizabeth calls him a bum, leaves him where he is, and ironically befriends the dragon who smashed their castle, burned all their possessions, and kidnapped the prince.
My first though was that she’s just lonely, and perhaps a bit socially inept, but trying to make friends. I’d have given her a pass, and tried to engage.
It was definitely the OP’s loss, and I’m sure that the friendly (and much happier) woman in the green shirt will go on to have a full life with many friendships. While the OP seems the type to stay bitter, snotty, and negative. They weren’t a match for this reason, anyway!