original posts

When people keep asking why you don't have kids

Anonymous said to :

I’ve had a hysterectomy and I live in a region where it’s very odd (like, statistical outlier odd) for a woman not to have kids by my age.

So it’s fairly common for people to continue to harass me about why I don’t have kids and not take any of the polite attempts at diverting the subject as hints to leave me alone until I tell them the truth.

Then when I tell them the truth they get mad and say that it’s too much information. Any advice for dealing with this?

realsocialskills said:

It might help to be direct about saying it’s a personal question.

I’m not sure how your conversations are going. I’m getting the sense that they might be something like this:

  • Them: So, why don’t you have kids yet? When are you going to have them?
  • You: Nice weather we’re having. But it’s summer and so it will probably rain soon. Do you think it will cause flooding again?
  • Them: Oh, probably. It usually does. But what about kids? Are you seeing anybody? Fertility doesn’t last forever.
  • You: So, I have this great new recipe for a seven-layer congealed salad.
  • Them: Children are a blessing. Life really can’t be complete without them.
  • You: That may be true, but I had a hysterectomy, so it’s not happening. Now can we please talk about something else?
  • Them: Why would you tell me something like that?!

It might help to add a warning layer before you tell them the truth. One possible layer: Saying it’s personal and that you don’t want to talk about it, then an immediate subject change:

  • “That’s awfully personal. I don’t like to talk about this.”
  • “That’s private medical information.”

Another possible layer: Asking rhetorical questions that warn them that they might not actually want an answer. This can make it harder for them to blame you, and more likely that they’ll back off:

  • “Do you really want the gory medical details?”
  • “That’s a very personal question. Do you really want to ask that?”
  • “Are you sure you want an answer to that?”

Another possibility: Answering the question in a way that’s a bit less graphic but still gets the point across:

  • “It just hasn’t been in the cards.”
  • “I can’t have children.”
  • “I’m sterile.”
  • “It’s not medically possible.”

If you’re in the South, there are some nuances about how to make people feel bad about asking inappropriate questions that I don’t really understand. (Which is part of the reason I don’t live there anymore.) It’s mostly a matter of affect. I know that it involves inserting a certain kind of pause and icy body language that tells someone they’ve crossed a line, but I don’t know how to do it or describe it well. If anyone who is better at that wants to weigh in, that would be welcome.

tl;dr If your attempts at subtly deflecting intrusive questions are failing, it can help to more explicitly say that the question is too personal and that you don’t want to answer it.

Anyone else want to weigh in? Do people intrusively ask you why you don’t have kids? Is there something that gets them to stop (or that makes you feel better)? Do you have experience dealing with this around other intrusive personal questions?

About the word "vegetarian"

“Vegetarian” is a word that means somewhat different things in different subcultures. If you’re feeding a vegetarian, it’s important to make sure that you know which definition of the word they mean.

In most English-speaking cultures, “vegetarian” means “someone who doesn’t eat animals.”. That includes red meat, poultry, fish, and anything else you’d have to kill an animal in order to eat. 

In some subcultures, “vegetarian” can mean “someone who doesn’t eat meat”, where meat is defined more narrowly than “all animals." 

For instance, in the observant Jewish community, most people don’t think of fish as meat (in part because it’s not defined as meat in the rules about keeping kosher). So, in many Jewish circles, a good percentage of people who describe themselves as vegetarians eat fish, but not other animals.

From both sides of this, it’s worth being aware that "vegetarian” is a word that’s used different ways in different communities. If you aren’t sure, it’s ok and good to ask what someone eats. Similarly, if you’re vegetarian and someone asks you whether you eat fish, it’s a legitimate question, not them being willfully ignorant about what the word means.

tl;dr “Vegetarian” is a word that’s used differently in different subcultures. If you’re a vegetarian eating with someone from a different community, it’s important to make sure that they understand what you don’t eat. If you’re feeding a vegetarian, it’s important to make sure you understand which definition of vegetarian applies to them.

If you don't celebrate Thanksgiving

How much judgement and unpleasantness is it likely to attract to decline celebrating thanksgiving? I know people get mad when you start decorating for Christmas before it, so, how important is it?

realsocialskills said:

The thing where people complain about decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving isn’t necessarily about Thanksgiving per se. It’s sometimes mostly about the fact that Christmas makes all of December really stressful and expensive. People don’t want Christmas to expand and make October and November equally expensive and stressful.

If Thanksgiving is important to your family, they will probably be angry or at least very annoyed if you decide not to celebrate it with them. (That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to decide not to. It’s your choice, and everyone with a family sometimes does things that annoy or anger relatives.)

If you just personally don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, most people won’t care. Some people will probably be obnoxious and judgmental, but probably not in dangerous ways. 

If you speak in a way that suggests that you *object* to celebrating Thanksgiving, that will seriously offend some people. Eg: if you say one of these things:

  • “Why is gluttony something to celebrate?”
  • “Thanksgiving is racist.”
  • “Thanksgiving? You mean murdered factory farmed turkey day?”
  • “I have better things to do.”
  • “I only celebrate real holidays.”

(Note: It’s not necessarily always *wrong* to offend people or object to the way they observe a holiday. It’s just worth knowing that if you object to something that someone else considers to be an important part of their culture, they are likely to be seriously offended, no matter how legitimate your objections are.)

If you say something like this, people are less likely to be offended:

  • “No, I don’t have plans.”
  • “I’m actually planning to sit on my couch and watch every Star Wars movie.”
  • “Actually, we don’t celebrate holidays in my religion.”
  • “I’m not really a Thanksgiving person.”

tl;dr It’s ok if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving; celebrating holidays is a personal choice. Some people might be obnoxious about it, but most people won’t care that much unless you’re related to them, or you say/imply that they shouldn’t celebrate it either.

Vegetarian happiness on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a holiday focused around coming together and eating a big delicious meal. The traditional version of the meal centers around eating a turkey, and many traditional side dishes also contain meat.

This can make Thanksgiving unpleasant for vegetarians and for people who want their vegetarian friends and relatives to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them. With some planning ahead, this is a problem that can be solved.

Some general principles:

  • Since the meal is centered around being big and delicious, it’s much nicer if vegetarians also get very delicious things to eat
  • Some things that often have meat in them can also be made delicious without meat
  • Vegetarians need protein as much as meat eaters do
  • Vegetarians don’t want to eat things that are made of meat or flavored with meat

Some examples of common Thanksgiving foods other than turkey that vegetarians probably won’t want to eat:

  • Pie that contains lard or schmaltz
  • Brussels sprouts that contain bacon bits
  • Green beans made with bacon
  • Gravy made from turkey drippings
  • Stuffing that has been inside a turkey
  • Stuffing made with chicken broth
  • Anything else with meat or meat derivatives in it

Some thoughts on how to make food options for vegetarians:

  • Artichokes are delicious, especially with dip. If that’s one of the vegetable side dishes, it can be a happy thing for vegetarians to eat
  • If you make mashed potatoes and meat gravy, serve them separately, and use separate spoons so that the potatoes won’t become meaty
  • Consider also making vegetarian mushroom gravy. It’s delicious and will mean that vegetarians get to share in the deliciousness of potatoes and gravy
  • Bake some stuffing outside the turkey (safer anyway), and use vegetable broth or wine or something else non-meat and delicious rather than chicken broth to flavor it
  • Use butter/vegetable shortening instead of lard/schmaltz for pies
  • It’s ok not to make all the sides vegetarian, but make sure it’s clear what has meat in it and what doesn’t. Vegetarians don’t like surprise bacon.
  • Some vegetarians enjoy Tofurkey fake turkey roasts
  • Find out whether they eat fish. (Some people who identify as vegetarian do, and fish can be a good delicious protein source for those who eat it. Don’t assume in either direction. Ask.)
  • Ask them to bring or make something delicious and vegetarian for the meal. Group contributions are fairly normal in Thanksgiving meals, and most vegetarians have something delicious they like to make/share

tl;dr If you’re making a Thanksgiving meal and inviting vegetarians, the meal will be much more fun for everyone if you include delicious vegetarian dishes in your meal and avoid feeding them side dishes with stealth meat. Scroll back up for examples and concrete suggestions.

Anyone want to weigh in? Vegetarians who celebrate Thanksgiving: what do you like to eat? What makes you the most comfortable at a meal hosted by meat eaters? People who host vegetarians at a meal meal: what have you done that worked for everyone? What would you like vegetarians to do to make it work for you?

Celebrating Thanksgiving if you won't be with family

American Thanksgiving is this Thursday.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that tends to be very focused on family togetherness. This can be difficult if you don’t have family, can’t get home to be with your family, aren’t welcome at Thanksgiving, don’t want to be with family, or otherwise are going to be alone.

Not being with family on Thanksgiving doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you can’t celebrate (although it’s entirely fine if you decide that you’d rather opt out of Thanksgiving). Here are some things that some people might want to do:

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade:

  • In NYC, Macy’s puts on a big parade every year. 
  • You can also watch them inflate the big parade balloons the day before. (Their faq specifies: Join us for the Macy’s Giant Balloon Inflation from 3pm to 10pm on the day before Thanksgiving. You can enter the special balloon inflation areas surrounding the Museum of Natural History beginning at 79th Street and Columbus Avenue.)
  • The Macy’s Parade is also televised and will probably be on TV in your area too

Local parades:

  • Many (probably most) towns in the US put on a parade of some sort 
  • If you google “(your town) thanksgiving parade”, you will probably find a parade near you
  • Smaller town parades tend to be mostly made up of community groups and organizations and businesses
  • For instance, there will likely be floats made by boy and girl scouts, dog trainers with dogs, employees of a copy shop carrying a banner, and that sort of thing
  • It can be much less overwhelming than a professional parade, and it can be a good way to find out more about what organizations and businesses are active in your area

Organized religion:

  • Some churches have Thanksgiving services
  • There are also often interfaith Thanksgiving events that work for non-Christians (Although those tend to be decidedly Abrahamic)
  • Unitarian Universalist churches sometimes have events that are comfortable for people who don’t identify as religious or believe in God 

Cooking or eating turkey:

  • If you strongly associate Thanksgiving with turkey, making or eating turkey might feel like celebration
  • It doesn’t necessarily have to be a whole turkey
  • Stores usually sell turkey breasts and drumsticks separately if you just want those
  • You also might be able to buy some already-prepared turkey
  • You can also get turkey lunchmeat or turkey sausages or turkey burgers

Cooking or eating other traditional food:

  • Many grocery stores and restaurants sell already-cooked Thanksgiving food
  • (You may need to order it in advance. You can find out by checking your local grocery store’s website)
  • Grocery stores sell pumpkin pies, both frozen and fully cooked. They also sell cans of pumpkin and cans of pumpkin pie filling, and pre-made crusts. Pumpkin pie can be fairly easy to make if you prefer to make it yourself
  • You might want to make stuffing. You can make stuffing without a turkey
  • You also might want to make mashed potatoes and gravy. You can also do that without a turkey (especially if you make mushroom gravy).

Thanking people:

  • Most people like to be appreciated
  • It might be worth thinking about who you’re grateful to, and why
  • And then telling them
  • One way to do this is by sending emails
  • If you are into crafts, another way to do this is by making cards for people you want to thank
  • (It’s generally not good to call people on Thanksgiving unless you know they’re not with family or otherwise absorbed in in-person Thanksgiving observances) 
  • Don’t be creepy  (Eg: Don’t say things like “I am grateful that you wear flattering tops. Your cleavage really brightens my day.”)
  • Don’t say backhanded things (Eg: “I’m thankful that you don’t make so many expensive mistakes anymore”)
  • Say things that are true, and things they’re likely to want to hear (eg: “Thank you for your help showing me how to use the perplexing software on the big project. It really helped me to learn how to make the cat pictures sufficiently hilarious and adorable.”)

Other types of gratitude:

  • For some people, focusing on things they’re thankful for is an important part of Thanksgiving
  • (It’s ok if this doesn’t work for you or if you don’t want to. It’s a good thing for some people to do; it’s not right for everyone.)
  • Writing a list of things you’re thankful for might work
  • Or drawing pictures of things you’re thankful for
  • Or, if you’re religious, thanking God for things you’re thankful for 

Noticing things that are awesome:

  • If gratitude doesn’t work for you, noticing stuff that is awesome might
  • A lot of things are awesome. Making lists of things that are awesome can be very enjoyable for some people
  • (Some things I personally think are awesome: marbles, rocks, the Talmud, King of the Hill, caramelized onions, Tumblr, my friends, and kittens. Your milage may vary.)

Hosting a meal with friends:

  • You might have friends who also aren’t going to be with family on Thanksgiving
  • It might be worth having a Thanksgiving meal together
  • Or getting together to do something else (like having some pie or watching a movie)

Watching football

  • For some reason there are a lot of football games on Thanksgiving
  • If you like that sort of thing, you might enjoy watching football in a sports bar
  • (Note that sports bars are often filled with fanatical fans of a particular team who are mean to people they perceive as fans of the opposing team. If you don’t know which team people in a particular bar like, it’s better not to wear team clothing or colors associated with one of the teams.)


  • I know that some people like to volunteer on and around Thanksgiving
  • Many people who want to volunteer on Thanksgiving end up being fairly annoying to organizations they want to volunteer for
  • (Because organizations can only use so many people at a time, and most organizations need a lot more help than they get almost every other day of the year)
  • I don’t know much about how to volunteer on Thanksgiving in an actually-useful way
  • I’m mentioning this option in hopes that someone reading this will know more about it than I do

Reading Thanksgiving-themed stories or fandom:

Community events:

  • There might be community organizations holding Thanksgiving events or meals
  • For instance, in many areas there is a Vegetarian Society that hosts a vegetarian thanksgiving meal.
  • These generally welcome anyone who wants to attend, even if you normally eat meat

If you are a student:

  • If you are a student, you can probably get an invitation to a local family for Thanksgiving
  • If you’re Christian, you can likely arrange this through one of the campus Christian organizations. If you’re Jewish, you can likely arrange this through Hillel.
  • There are also probably secular ways to arrange this. If you ask your Student Life office, they can probably help you.
  • If you want to do this, ask right away, before people leave for break

tl;dr There are things to do on Thanksgiving that don’t require getting together with your family. Scroll back up for concrete suggestions.

what stores (if any) don’t participate in black friday sales? in other words, what sorts of places is it safe to go without being mobbed?

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know if there are any stores that don’t participate at all. Gas stations and convenience stores are less likely to participate than most other stores. Grocery stores and small pharmacies are also less likely to participate. 

I think that most of the extreme stuff happens fairly early in the day though. 

The basic way Black Friday works is:

  • Stores advertise deep discounts on a popular thing
  • There are only a few of that thing actually available.
  • Lots of people want the thing, so they show up at the store very early in the day to try and buy the thing
  • Chaos ensues because a lot of people are there, and most of them aren’t going to get the thing they want most
  • A lot of people buy a lot of other things

This really extreme part happens early in the day, before they run out of the deeply discounted items. Stores stay crowded with shoppers all day, and that doesn’t entirely go away until after Christmas, but they’re not quite as intense or scary once the limited discounts have run out.

Red flags vs fear of new things

I don’t know a solution to this, but this is a problem I think it’s worth discussing: It can be hard to identify red flags when you have a general fear of change and trying new things.

For some of us, anticipating change always or usually feels bad, regardless of whether there’s anything actually wrong. For instance, I hate all new TV shows until I’ve watched them with someone else at least three times. To use more weighty examples: for a lot of people, moving to a new apartment, taking a new job, starting school, getting close to another person, exploring a new hobby, eating new foods, or anything that involves change, will at first invoke an unreasonable sense of dread whether or not anything is actually wrong.

For most people who have routine fear of new things, it can sometimes be important to override that dread and do some new things anyway. Because sometimes change is necessary, or an improvement. But overriding and ignoring dread all the time causes a serious problem.

The problem is - sometimes the feelings of dread are because you’re noticing red flags. Sometimes the problem isn’t that you’re generally averse to change; sometimes the problem is that you’re noticing something that’s actually wrong.

I’m not sure what the solution is. Most people get told that the best way to avoid walking into trouble is to always trust your gut. That’s not necessarily viable for people whose guts tend to dread all change. Trusting all of those instincts would mean never trying anything new, and also never walking away from bad situations (since that would have to involve change). But disregarding your gut all the time doesn’t work well either, because sometimes it’s the only thing alerting you to trouble.

I think the best approach might be: listen to your gut, but don’t necessarily obey it. I think it’s a good idea to think, in as concrete terms as possible, what your gut feeling might be about. Some examples of questions that some people find helpful in that regard (not exhaustive, and not all the questions on this list are helpful for everyone with this problem):

  • Is the dread you are feeling the same way you always feel when you’re doing something new, or does this feel different?
  • (If it feels like a different feeling, it’s very likely something you should be taking seriously)
  • Are you afraid of a particular person?
  • Do you know why you’re afraid of them? Is it that they’re unfamiliar, or something in particular about them?
  • Are you afraid of a particular risk?
  • Does something seem physically unsafe?
  • Are there other available options that would be safer?
  • Do people seem to be treating you respectfully?
  • Is someone being mean to you, or to other people, in a way that’s making the new thing seem inadvisable?
  • Are people assuming that you can do things that you can’t?
  • Is anyone treating you like a child?
  • Is someone taking your private decisions weirdly personally?
  • Are you being pressured into spending money you can’t afford to spend?

I don’t think that there is a general answer to this. I think that deciding whether to go with your gut feeling, or whether to assume that you’re just fearing change, is something that you have to decide on a case by case basis. Either option involves risks; it’s ok to decide which risk you’d rather take in a certain situation. Sometimes that will mean you do the new thing (and risk ignoring a red flag); sometimes it will mean you don’t do the new thing (and risk avoiding a necessary or beneficial change for irrational reasons). Sometimes that will mean doing the new thing, but cautiously. Sometimes that will mean modifying the new thing. All are legitimate approaches; you’re the only one who can decide.

It’s ok to decide that something real is going on and that you’re not going to do the thing (even though it’s possible that you’re afraid for no good reason). It’s ok to decide that you’re going to risk doing the thing (even though it’s possible that you’re ignoring a red flag.) Both have risks. There’s no generalized answer to every situation; it’s a decision you have to make for each situation.

tl;dr If you’re generally averse to change, it can be really hard to tell whether your apprehension about a new situation is irrational fear of change, or a red flag you’re picking up on. It can help to evaluate in concrete terms what you think you might be noticing. 

For those of you who have a general aversion to change and want to be able to do new things sometimes: How do you deal with this? How do you tell when bad feelings are related to general aversion to change, and when they’re related to red flags you’re picking up on?

Ordering food when you have dietary restrictions

What is the right way to ask over-the-counter-food selling people about the food? I keep having the problem where I ask things (like, what is in the food, for instance) and they interpret this as me ordering it and start making it for me. I want to be respectful and not a jerk to the people, but I can’t just let this go, because the reason I’m asking is that whether or not I can eat the food depends on the answer.
realsocialskills said:
I’m not sure, because I have a lot of trouble talking to people who are selling me things.
I suspect that part of the problem might be tone, or not using clear enough words.
If that’s the problem, then stating the problem first and then asking about the food might help:
  • “I’m a vegetarian. Does the lentil soup have any meat in it?”
  • “I can’t have gluten. Can you tell me which dishes are gluten-free?”
  • “I’m allergic to mushrooms. Does the chicken sandwich have mushrooms in the sauce?”
  • “I don’t like olives. Does the bean salad have olives in it?”

In terms of not being a jerk, it helps to say thank you when they answer the question, and when they give you edible food. 

It’s ok to interrupt if they’re in the process of making possibly-inedible food, but I don’t really know how to do it effectively.

Does anyone else know good ways to handle this? How do you get information at food counters that will tell you whether or not you can eat the food?

Privacy on the Internet

Can you blog post on safety on internet, facebook and privacy, etc?


To an extent, no, I can’t. I don’t know very much about what to do about privacy and safety on the internet.  

I don’t know very much about that, because no one knows very much about that, yet.

What I do know is that some of the rules people say to follow are wrong, and aren’t actually followed by anyone. They’re complicated, and somewhat separate, so I’m going to talk about privacy first.

People will tell you that you things like this about privacy:

  • Never put anything personal on Facebook
  • Don’t have conversations on Twitter
  • You shouldn’t have a blog unless it’s professional and polished and uncontroversial.
  • Never write anything in an email that you wouldn’t want on the cover of the New York Times

And it’s true that if you don’t do any of these things, you probably won’t have internet-related privacy problems. But that doesn’t make this good advice – this advice mostly boils down to “never use the Internet for anything but reading things and sending trivial emails”. And that is isolating; it means cutting yourself off from conversations that happen on the internet. And, more and more, it means cutting yourself off from a good percentage of worthwhile conversations that happen *anywhere*. That’s not actually a good idea.

Advice that amounts to never use the internet is kind of like saying that if you want to avoid car crashes, you should never get into a car. That’s true, but useless.

I don’t know a good solution to this. No one does, not yet.

Here are some things I think I do know about privacy

  • Pseudonyms can provide a measure of privacy by preventing things from coming up when someone googles your name. This is good enough for many purposes.
  • Pseudonyms are risky because they can make you feel safer than you really are. They’re not very good protection for serious secrets.
  • Sometimes you have to rely on them to discuss things anyway, because sometimes there is just no other viable way to have a conversation that needs to happen. But it is a serious risk, and in the long term, it’s fairly likely that people will figure out who you are.
  • If you’re violating a serious taboo, use Tor. 
  • If you’re using a pseudonym for something, make sure you’re not also using that username for something publicly linked to your real name. (For instance: People get unmasked all the time because they use the same username for OkCupid or Twitter as for their anonymous writing).
  • It’s probably a bad idea to put a link to something you wrote anonymously on Facebook. People who know you are likely to be able to figure it out. Even if them knowing isn’t a problem, they might comment in ways that make it obvious to the people you need to conceal this from.
  • Not all email lists are created equal. Some post their archives publicly in ways that can be googled; others don’t. Make sure you know which kind of email list you’re on, and post accordingly.
  • Be aware that most chat programs keep records of conversations, and consider whether the person you are talking to can be trusted not to share them (whether intentionally or by accident).
  • Use good passwords for your accounts, and don’t tell them to anyone. This comic has a good explanation of how to select good memorable password.

Something you should know about power

People lie about power.

People who want to control other people trick them into submitting.

They tell you that you have to do what they say. They phrase things so that it’s hard to conceive of no as a possible answer. They lie to you and they confuse you until you don’t know what’s wrong.

When you’re dealing with a person like this, it is almost always possible to cooperate less than they want you to. Maybe not by much. Some people have *nearly* as much invasive power as they think they do.

Many people have way more power over others than anyone should ever have. And one reason that they can trick people is that the consequences of misjudging what they have the power to do can be dire.

But if someone’s abusing the power they actually have, they generally are also trying to trick you into giving them power they can’t otherwise enforce. And even if it’s not worth the risk of testing this, being aware of it as a thing can still help.