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How to explain self-inflicted scars to co-workers?
September 29, 2007 6:59 PM   Subscribe

What can I say when people ask about my self-inflicted scars?

I have some scars from razors and burning on my arms from a period about six years ago when I was very depressed and my life was very screwed up. I've made a lot of positive improvements in my life since then and self-injury is no longer an issue. I've tried Mederma and Vitamin E oil on the scars, but it doesn't seem like they're going anywhere anytime soon.

No one says anything about them, but a few days ago at an after-work social function, a tipsy co-worker asked where I got them, and if they came from cutting myself. I was taken so off guard--especially since I had always assumed that since no one had said anything, they weren't as visible as they must actually be--that I just said yes.

I've done research on what can be said of such scars, and many people suggest being honest about the self-injury. I am really embarrassed of my past problems and am not comfortable at all doing this. The nature of the scars, however, pretty much excludes any other explanation.

Any suggestions? I am in the process of attempting to work my way up in a competitive professional environment and I am really anxious about these stupid scars.

Thanks!
posted by lxs to Human Relations (65 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Long sleeves, and a high-school job in landscaping -- the thorns on some of those bushes, you wouldn't believe!
posted by spacewrench at 7:01 PM on September 29, 2007


Date the "accident" back to your high school days. A very bad tumble in a rural area. A fall from a bicycle while cycling downhill on a paved road - which happened to my cousin, with accompanying scars.
posted by Xere at 7:05 PM on September 29, 2007


"Oooh.... yeah... That whole crazy thing..." then change the subject.

And don't worry, the whole "did you get them from cutting yourself" thing is the in-thing to joke thanks to the emo-bashing that is so hot right now.

In any case it's not really any of their business so lie, tell the truth, make up a giant story about how you got them from hunting down nosey people who don't mind their own P's & Q's.
posted by puddpunk at 7:05 PM on September 29, 2007


My friend used to say that she had been in a messy car accident. Glass just everywhere...
posted by heavenstobetsy at 7:06 PM on September 29, 2007


Like this:
Them: Where'd you get those scars?
You: I beg your pardon?
Them: On y'arms? Did you cut yourself?
You: Excuse me?
Them: The scars, the arms, how did it happen?
You: Sorry? I didn't catch that.
Them: You didn't answer my question about the scars on your arms.
You: You can be sure that it was deliberate.

Or my personal favourite, make up a totally ridiculous excuse so that they KNOW you're lying, which makes it not a lie.
"oh these? This happened when the UFO beamed me up. I was on a battlefield at the time, and some fool had left all these rolls of barbed wire lying around, and there was just no avoiding it. You should see what it did to my nipples!"

Or finally,
"Thank you for asking, I don't care to discuss it." Remember, just because someone asks about your scars (your religion, your politics, your sexual history, your opinion of country and western music), you are not obliged to answer them.
posted by b33j at 7:09 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Man, when I was younger, I thought dueling was so cool."

I assume from your question that you don't want to just be like, "I used to be pretty depressed, but I'm over that," and leave it, so you can blame anything from hornets to weed whackers to cats, based on my informal survey of high school friends who cut themselves.
posted by klangklangston at 7:09 PM on September 29, 2007


You know... I suppose most people arent like me... but if you explained it that way to me ("that was a tough time in my life and I had some problems, but I've worked through them and am better/stronger now").. it would definitely give me some added respect for you.

(You dont have to go into a full blown 40min explanation, just a few sentences should do I would imagine) (besides, isnt that part of the (internal) healing process?.. to understand yourself better, come to terms and move on?... ) I have no outward scars, but I have had rough times like that in my life and when the stories/topics come up.. thats how I handle it (IE = give a simple explanation if that suffices, or more detail if they ask)
posted by jmnugent at 7:11 PM on September 29, 2007


Shrug, and "You should see the other guy."
posted by Flunkie at 7:15 PM on September 29, 2007 [12 favorites]


I have a scar on my forearm I got from a broken window. You could make up a story that suits you (apparently old window glass can be very fragile; it's not how I got the forearm scar but once I broke a window in an old house just by the amount of pressure you put on them when washing them with a rag and some cleaner).
posted by Tuwa at 7:16 PM on September 29, 2007


You already told a co-worker, so it's possible that the explanation will make its way around to those nosy enough to ask without you having to say another word.

You can brush it off with "it was a long time ago, don't really care/need/want to discuss it. ANYWAY." You can just ignore the how/why part of the question.

Most people will be decent enough to let it go. A few will likely show you their own scar.
posted by desuetude at 7:20 PM on September 29, 2007


If the nature of your scars excludes any explanation other than self-injury, lying about them seems pretty pointless. I am of the opinion that you do not owe anyone any explanation at all, truth or otherwise. Stare blankly at them until they change the subject. That's what I do, and I've yet to have anyone ask me about it twice. Unless this person is your health care provider, they have absolutely no reason to be asking you questions about your body. It's rude, nosy, and disrespectful.
posted by makonan at 7:22 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have similar scars for similar reasons, though they're not terribly noticeable anymore so it's been a while since I've been faced with that situation. When I was, I had two stock responses, depending on my comfort level with the person and the situation.

If I was talking to a person I was fairly comfortable with, I'd tell a brief version of the truth: "They're left over from a few really bad years in college when I had untreated depression problems." Sometimes that would lead into a more detailed discussion, sometimes not - depended on the friend.

Talking to someone I don't know well, or when I was once asked at work, I usually just stuck with "I prefer not to talk about it." People generally got the message pretty quickly.

Once or twice I blamed it on bad run-ins with the cats. Which is not entirely false - I do have some pretty nasty cat-inflicted scars too. Over time I became less comfortable with that response - I'd rather just tell the truth, or deflect if that's not an option - but it might be an option for you.
posted by Stacey at 7:28 PM on September 29, 2007


"Fell through a glass window as a kid."

This really did happen to one of my friends, there are scars all over her arms (you naturally reach out to catch yourself).
posted by whoaali at 7:32 PM on September 29, 2007


I disagree that it's rude to ask questions (but not demand answers) about someone's body. You can tell the truth and then change the subject, toss out a silly answer like the dueling suggestion above - or just make something up.

Either way, since the scars are visible, addressing them may be momentarily uncomfortable, but it will diffuse a lot of future discomfort. So prepare your answer and don't stress too much - you may be embarrassed by your past but it's part of you, and most people who aren't assholes will respect you all the more for overcoming hard times. Or jumping through that plate glass window in pursuit of a supervillain, if you choose to go the making things up route.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 7:33 PM on September 29, 2007


I've done the "blame it on the cat" thing on some long-time past scars of a similar nature, too, and have never had anybody who didn't accept it and drop the subject. This leaves me to think one of two things must be true: either most people are fairly gullible, or else folks who outright ask you already have a pretty good idea of what they think (perhaps they just want to see how you'll react?), in which case maybe it doesn't particularly matter what you say so long as you can meet them with confidence rather than shame. If I were a betting gal, I'd choose the latter, then reassure myself that this matter hasn't affected the way people seem to regard me to date. Be glad you're past that part of your life, trust that you're by no means the only one who's dealt with it (it occurs to me that people who readily identify "cutter scars" might be more likely to have had experience with them in the past, either of their own or someone else's?), and answer the question howsoever feels right for you.
posted by zeph at 7:44 PM on September 29, 2007


I think that "I would rather not talk about that" should be sufficient. Anyone who keeps asking after that deserves profanity, and should get it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:01 PM on September 29, 2007


Been in your shoes (and I have used the cat excuse which I thought at time was original but ...) and I've just settled with long sleeves for those times when I need to be really professional and for an answer a simple: I used to be depressed. The bluntness tends to shut people up. Though of course I don't think this would be the best in a corporate environment where your boss is asking. A more reasoned explanation of a rough time in your life. Less rudeness, etc.
posted by beautifulcheese at 8:12 PM on September 29, 2007


I have a few noticable scars on one of my forearms and when people ask, which they do very rarely, I tell the truth which is "Woodstove." It might work for you.
posted by jessamyn at 8:12 PM on September 29, 2007


Say nothing. Maintain eye contact until the questioner gets uncomfortable and looks away.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:35 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah - that's really not a question you're required to answer honestly, or answer at all.

I would go with some variant of "yeah, those. Well, you know. So what do you think you're up to this weekend?", and if they keep asking, "I'd rather not talk about it. Let's see those dessert menus!" It's their moment to feel a bit embarrassed and back off; you shouldn't feel embarrassed by their asking a tactless question.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:43 PM on September 29, 2007


Or, if it's a professional contact that you need to reassure about your current mental health: "Those are from a long time ago, and they're not really something I think much about. So, let's get back to [other topic]"
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:45 PM on September 29, 2007


Years ago, I was at a checkout counter at a store, and the checkout girl was pretty hot, and she was friendly and I felt somewhat flirty. But she had an obvious black eye and facial bruise.

Me: "So, what's up with the shiner?"

She shot me a look as if to say, "I didn't expect that question."

Her: "Uhh, I have some family problems."

I was incredulous. Of course I was immediately, incredibly embarrassed. But also quite pissed. I suddenly went from Random Dude to Now-You-Think-I'm-An-Unbelievable-Jackass. I realize that the answer was probably the truth, and it's her own issue to deal with. But ... c'mon. For Chrissakes, lie to me!

So, whatever answer you choose, be graceful about how you deliver it. You can decide to be Super Blunt Truthful and end up shooting yourself in the foot, socially.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:03 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


When asked about the scars on my hands and fingers, I just tell people its a long story that I don't want to discuss. Which is true - mainly because its a couple separate stories/accidents. I've never had anyone push the issue.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:04 PM on September 29, 2007


1) "Its really none of your business."

2) "I used to be a cutter."

Those are the only answers you really need.
posted by Avenger at 9:07 PM on September 29, 2007


Rather than make the air awkward by admitting that you don't want to talk about them or really dropping the bomb and telling the truth, just come up with a reasonable lie and stick with it. The childhood bike accident seemed decent. It's ok if it's mildly unbelievable, because if you sell it right and people buy it, it could become slightly amusing for you.

In high school I had some moles removed from my face, and when people asked about the scars I always told them "I got bitten by a dog". They all bought it, and it kind of cracked me up thinking about how I might have been bitten by a dog... in the face.
posted by jeffxl at 9:07 PM on September 29, 2007


I too have some very nasty-looking scars which are visible if I wear short sleeves or shorts. I deflect questions like this:

How did you get those scars?
"Car accident, hey, did you _____?" (random change-of-conversation topic) Important tip: Say, "car accident", don't elaborate, and then quickly ask a question about the other person so there isn't an awkward pause where he or she thinks about and asks more questions.

If they persist:
How did you get those scars?
"I repeatedly asked a total stranger how he got a bunch of nasty scars." (Followed by a long, silent, blank stare, until they go away.)
This one takes practice, and it's best used to get rid of people you don't feel like talking to at all.
posted by fandango_matt at 9:17 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


From personal experience, I agree with Steven C. Den Beste that "I'd rather not talk about it" is sufficient. I think one person once asked about my scars, said "I'd rather not talk about it" and they were like "Okay."

Long sleeves are also good too.
posted by champthom at 9:17 PM on September 29, 2007


Having asked someone about their (now I realize probably self-inflicted) scars in a moment of attempted-small-talk-verbal-diarrhea, I'm glad they told me it was from the cat. It allowed me to save some face once I realized I'd unwittingly crossed a line, and I don't think intense private information like that was necessary for our level of relationship/personality types.

I liked klangklangston's suggestion of just picking something. Stick with it, and if the person you're talking to keeps pushing the issue ("those burn marks couldn't have come from a cat!") just stick to you're story, and hopefully they'll realize they're being a jerk
posted by fermezporte at 9:24 PM on September 29, 2007


My own, formerly scarred 2 cents:

If you were a consistent cutter, that will be clear to the individual asking. That's probably why they are asking in the first place. This makes it difficult to "make up a story" about origin. Sometimes they are asking because they have their own secrets, and are looking to share, but I've also encountered the manipulative "file that away for future use" competitor. You will have to make that judgement call for yourself.

I, like you, wasn't comfortable with the notion of full-disclosure and went out of my way to keep them under wraps during the long years of healing. (Don't give up on the vitamin e...I used to think of it as softening the rough edges on my history.) Long sleeves are fine and should not attract questions even on the hottest days if they are sheer, patterned fabric. I also used to use the hollywood tattoo hiding technique and dab a little water/sweatproof coverup makeup on the scars themselves before I put on the sheer fabrics.

Am I telling you to lie to the world? No, I'm offering you the option of making your own choices about when and with whom you discuss your own business as you heal.
posted by squasha at 9:28 PM on September 29, 2007


That massive scar on Tina Fey's mouth and cheek? She won't talk about it.
posted by rhizome at 9:32 PM on September 29, 2007


I would suggest a huge set of outlandish explanations. The more crazy they are and the more different explanations you give, the less likely anyone will bother asking. Some suggestions:

Gang fight.

Well, that is what happens when you try to juggle grenades.

Never try to wrestle an angry monkey, no matter how much they bet you.
posted by slavlin at 9:37 PM on September 29, 2007


Just FYI, but in my experience "I'd rather not talk about it" is also something you'll hear from people who were victims of abuse. This could be useful (ie: people might not assume self-injury) or not (people might assume things about you that aren't true and then try to overshare about themselves), depending.
posted by anastasiav at 10:02 PM on September 29, 2007


Perhaps you could rip off the Tina Fey line. "It was a grim incident many years ago and it grieves me/my family to talk about it." No lying and, aside from interactions with complete social idiots, little chance of anyone prying further.
posted by acoutu at 10:11 PM on September 29, 2007


Once I saw someone with some minor, fresh, self-inflicted wounds - I thought they were accidental injuries and asked "Hey, how'd you scratch up your leg?" Their flustered lie made it pretty obvious it was self-injury. (Confirmed by the fact that, while they were ashamed of it in public, later on they posted about cutting themselves on their livejournal.)

Lost a bit of respect for that person for being a liar. Even if you have no moral qualms, the truth is already out there to one person, and two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.

So, the truth, or dismiss the question.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:28 PM on September 29, 2007


I would go for rake fight. Its not true of you, but I gave my cousin scars that look like they're self-inflicted when we were 7ish and we decided that having a rake battle would be a great idea. To be truthful, I feel like giving a "I don't want to talk about it" type of answer serves to make people uncomfortable in a social setting and perhaps draw more attention rather than making a joke out of it and telling some of the more outlandish stories mentioned above.

Jeffxl - I was bitten by a dog in the face when I was younger...I didn't know it was such a anomolous thing that it would be funny that people might think that, lol. I was little and dumb and my friend told me that her neighbors dog was friendly, so I lean down to pet it and, wham, a piece of my cheek is gone. I only have a tiny scar now, but I understand it was pretty gruesome at the time.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 10:31 PM on September 29, 2007


"I used to be emo... but I got better!"
posted by Mr_Crazyhorse at 10:32 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've always liked the Ann Landers (or whoever) stock reply to inappropriate questions : "Why do you ask?

In this case, if they're asking because they have the same scars, maybe they'll just admit it and you can both relax. Otherwise, one hopes they'll have the sense to realize the question is inappropriate.

(When asked why she was wearing a brace, my rather round, unathletic mom would always say "Old football injury." Heh.)
posted by wintersweet at 11:18 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Tell them anything you like. People may not believe you, but they aren't going to call you a liar. They'll drop it.
posted by pracowity at 11:19 PM on September 29, 2007


"Meet me out back after work and I'll show you."
posted by blue_beetle at 11:41 PM on September 29, 2007


lots of good suggestions here, but have you considered laser treatment? it looks very promising.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 11:57 PM on September 29, 2007


don't talk about them if you don't want to! i second wintersweet: smile and say, "why do you ask?"

if you want to make a joke, you could always say that you got them on your last day as a lion trainer.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:04 AM on September 30, 2007


It's good of you to ask the question. And reading the answers makes me feel a little less weird.

In the same boat. I've worn long sleeves for years now. I've been asked about it when I wear 3/4 length sleeves in the summer I say "bad accident in high school." When people have been persistent (read drunk) I say--fell through a glass window. I have some pretty intense scars.

The long sleeves have been noticeable but I'm fair skinned and when I get that question-- 'aren't you hot, why are you wearing that?" I either tell them I prefer to dress modestly (which is something I say to crack my tattoed ex performance artist self up) or say something about burning really easily. I also like to intimate that I have to stay covered or I burst into flame.

Good luck to you.
posted by pywacket at 12:15 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Cool Papa Bell: I was incredulous. Of course I was immediately, incredibly embarrassed. But also quite pissed. I suddenly went from Random Dude to Now-You-Think-I'm-An-Unbelievable-Jackass. I realize that the answer was probably the truth, and it's her own issue to deal with. But ... c'mon. For Chrissakes, lie to me!

Wait, so... it was her responsibility to manage your feelings when you asked a completely inappropriate, prying question?

Interesting.
posted by scody at 12:23 AM on September 30, 2007 [17 favorites]


I wouldn't go for something outlandish, because some people will say, "Haha. No, seriously, what happened?" Go for the realistic, and change the subject immediately thereafter as someone above suggested.

I fell off a skateboard into gravel when I was 13 and still have scars. I fell downhill off a mountain bike onto a rocky path when I was 20 and still have scars. [I stay inside now.]
posted by desjardins at 7:12 AM on September 30, 2007


"Why are you wearing long sleeves in this weather?"

"Oh, you know what they say - cold hands, warm heart."
posted by desjardins at 7:15 AM on September 30, 2007


Thai knife-fighting ring. The trick is to learn to accept that you're going to get cut and try to take it in a superficial area while getting the other guy good.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:35 AM on September 30, 2007


I have non-self-inlicted scars on my hands, face, and arms, and legs due to a "I'm invincible!" type childhood. When people ask, I always say, "An ex. I'd have thrown her out but that would have hurt more."
posted by dobbs at 8:19 AM on September 30, 2007


I wonder if a pleasant-toned deflection would work, something like, "Oh, you know, you should be careful about asking people about their scars, because it might be a painful memory."

It's always surprised me that people ask about scars so easily, when by definition they are the result of an experience that was probably at least physically painful.
posted by xo at 8:42 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


"It's always surprised me that people ask about scars so easily, when by definition they are the result of an experience that was probably at least physically painful."

Yeah, but in the Midwest (and I assume elsewhere), and especially among guys, comparing scars is a cool social marker. In those discussions, I'm at a disadvantage because my scars all have healed and disappeared pretty much, even the deep ones that I had for years. But there's still an element of seeing someone else's scars and assuming that a) it marks them as having had a unique experience, usually with an amusing anecdote, and b) that they're going to want to see your scars from that time you burned your legs with gas while melting GI Joes or nearly cut your finger off with sheet metal.

But I can't count the number of conversations that I've had with other dudes that results in rolled-up sleeves, cuffed pants or dropped trousers just to show off some wicked thing that happened to them during their misspent youth.
posted by klangklangston at 10:03 AM on September 30, 2007


And c) it's a machismo thing. (This is one of the few really explicitly tough-guy/machismo rituals I'm at all competitive at, and I often 'win'.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:36 AM on September 30, 2007


Sidebar: is it really a midwest thing? I grew up in Chicago, so sort of midwest (geographically it is, culturally it's sort of different) but I would not have thought of this as a regional thing.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:38 AM on September 30, 2007


I have scars on my right inner wrist and arm that are from falling into a chickenwire fence as a kid. An additional scar on my inner arm is from a cut I received while working in a restaurant kitchen and scraping my arm on a jagged metal corner of an old microwave.

You can steal my scar stories if you want.
posted by pluckysparrow at 11:04 AM on September 30, 2007


"Sidebar: is it really a midwest thing? I grew up in Chicago, so sort of midwest (geographically it is, culturally it's sort of different) but I would not have thought of this as a regional thing."

Well, I suppose I can't say for sure, but I've definitely noticed that more conversations swerve faster into the scar comparisons in the Midwest, but I also have a much larger sample size there. I always assumed that it was a combination of agriculture and manufacturing, which lead to a higher scar incidence.
posted by klangklangston at 11:06 AM on September 30, 2007


I knew a girl once who, when asked, would just say the scars were from a nasty car accident. People didn't ever question her further, as it seemed completely plausible and common enough that they could guess the story. I think any answer implying some mystery in your past leads people to assume the worst, and that you don't want to discuss it at all implies (rightly or wrongly) that you're not accepting of it yet.

Later on, when I got to know this friend well, she told me the truth about the scars. This resulted in some honest and interesting conversations about the topic, and she lent me a book about self-inflicted harm and the recovery process. I ended up learning a lot from her, and I'm still thankful she entrusted me with the truth.

Anyone who's an interesting person has physical and mental scars; some people's are just more visible to the naked eye. I would guess (or maybe hope) that anyone who asks you about them is either ungracefully trying to make small talk or is genuinely interested in getting to know you better.
posted by lauranesson at 11:47 AM on September 30, 2007


A friend of mine has scars on his arms that resemble cutting scars, when asked "where did you get those scars" he usually replies with something like "they just showed up after the cuts healed".

He's found most people find this answer fun while it also conveys he doesn't want to talk about it.

He doesn't mind telling the story of where they came from, and isn't embarrassed about them but doesn't really like when people ask as he feels scars should be something a person discusses when they want to and feel comfortable, not a topic for idle conversation.
posted by Kristan at 1:56 PM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


klangklangston writes "Yeah, but in the Midwest (and I assume elsewhere), and especially among guys, comparing scars is a cool social marker. In those discussions, I'm at a disadvantage because my scars all have healed and disappeared pretty much, even the deep ones that I had for years. But there's still an element of seeing someone else's scars and assuming that a) it marks them as having had a unique experience, usually with an amusing anecdote, and b) that they're going to want to see your scars from that time you burned your legs with gas while melting GI Joes or nearly cut your finger off with sheet metal. "

I'd encourage you to not attempt to shame the person asking if you are on a first name basis with them, they may just be trying to be friendly. My experience is the same as klangklangston's, asking about scars is a way to get a "let me tell you about the dumb thing I did" bull session started.

For example: a show off session on MetaChat.
posted by Mitheral at 3:20 PM on September 30, 2007


I have been in the same situation and, being a cutter, this is how I respond..."We all have scars. Some of us wear them on the inside, and some of us wear them on the outside." That usually stops people from going any further with the line of questioning.
posted by AlliKat75 at 4:48 PM on September 30, 2007


I'm a big fan of making up exciting and totally implausible reasons for scars. Snowboarding accident in Thailand. Helicopter crash back when I was a stunt pilot on Apocolypse Now. Got in a fight with a chef at Benihana. Stuff like that.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:09 PM on September 30, 2007


Honestly... it's nobody's business but you're own. Just because someone asks doesn't mean you're hooked up to a lie detector. You don't owe anyone an explanation.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:10 PM on September 30, 2007


Wait, so... it was her responsibility to manage your feelings when you asked a completely inappropriate, prying question?

You've missed the point by a country mile, son. But I'm happy if you somehow feel superior for doing so. Small victories for the small-minded, I suppose.

Because I felt like a jackass, and was so thoroughly embarrassed over something that I felt was a rather innocent question, completely within the realm of the context of the conversation, I would never approach this person socially ever again. Indeed, I never went back to that store.

So, like I said, the answer (whatever it is) should be handled with grace. You can get all self-righteous and run off half-cocked and think, "I'm going to give people the blunt truth and screw whatever they think." And you'll only end up hurting yourself in the long run as people shy away from you, either out of confusion or misunderstanding or to avoid potential future embarrassment.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:28 PM on September 30, 2007


You've missed the point by a country mile, son. But I'm happy if you somehow feel superior for doing so. Small victories for the small-minded, I suppose.

And you've missed my gender by a country chromosome, son, not to mention my motivation: I was genuinely curious as to what you were implying by suggesting it was her social obligation to lie to you in order to manage your feeilngs in the face of the injury that you asked about.

The fact that you felt like a jackass is a direct result of your having asked what was actually a prying question and receiving a truthful answer. And as for her motivation for giving you the answer she did? Well, perhaps your question actually took her off guard -- maybe no one else had asked her all day, so she wasn't even prepared with a "good" cover story. Or maybe everyone been asking her about it all friggin' day, and she was just sick of answering. Or maybe she was actually confiding in you somewhat -- she may have read your question as actual concern for her well-being, regardless of the the origin of the black eye (incidentally, were you actually concerned? Or were you just hoping for an interesting story?). Or perhaps she simply thought it was none of your damn business, and therefore gave you an answer that would make that point for her.

No matter the reason, what you actually learned here (whether you want to recognize it or not) was that sometimes a question that seems "innocent" to you may not, in reality, be innocent at all to the questionee. (Other examples: innocently asking a woman when her baby's due when she's just heavy; innocently asking a couple when they're going to have kids when they're infertile; innocently asking a man why he doesn't have a girlfriend when he's gay.) Of course it's embarrassing to be faced with that realization -- if you hadn't been embarrassed you'd be a sociopath. But might that be an indicator that it's actually your social obligation to avoid asking potentially embarrassing questions in the first place, rather than demanding other people be sufficiently "graceful" when you do? In other words: ask no question for which you aren't prepared for the honest answer.

Of course, that requires a little more humility on your part and a little less judgment towards a woman who'd just been beaten up, so do feel free to continue comforting yourself with the notion that this was all just one big failure of etiquette on her part. The choice is entirely yours.
posted by scody at 7:08 PM on September 30, 2007 [10 favorites]


/meh
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:58 PM on September 30, 2007


When I was in the Army, there was an interesting fellow with terrible scars all over both arms. They really stood out and he wasn't wearing sleeves so I asked him where he got them from. His answer went something along the lines of...

"You ever been up there by the river in the summertime?"
"No."
"Let me tell you something, man... Beaver mating season. I was fishing over there and this beaver just got a whiff of me and came flying! I'm telling you! You need to be careful around here in the summer!"

I asked again another time, and his answer was simply "Never try to juggle grenades."

Every time I asked the answer was different, ridiculous, and hilarious. When people ask about mine, depending on which ones they point to the answer comes out like "Those were from a very naughty girl who isn't allowed to have razor blades in the bedroom anymore" or "Ritual scars." Neither is far from the truth.

Although I have mentioned beaver mating season a couple of times just to try it out. Guess he told it better.
posted by MaxK at 1:27 AM on October 1, 2007


I once told someone I was attacked by lions. She quit asking after that.

Now I just say, "long story".
posted by Evangeline at 10:06 AM on October 1, 2007


"it's kind of a long story. i'd tell you, but then i'd have to cut you."
posted by twistofrhyme at 4:17 PM on October 1, 2007


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