Stop telling me that I never stop!
June 1, 2017 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Socially adept people of metafilter: I need a cordial yet snappy response to something that well-meaning yet nebby neighbors keep saying to me. Beanplating neighborly small talk within.

My family moved to a new house last summer, on a very tight-knit dead-end street. Neighbors stop and talk basically anytime you're outdoors.

I'm outdoors quite a lot because both my hobbies and preferred household chores take place either outside or in my garage. Think of a neighbor who's always working in their shop, or mowing the lawn, or landscaping the garden. That's me. It ain't unusual, right?

I'm also a cis woman in a het marriage and we have a young child. I get conversational remarks that I am pretty sure dudes do not get, along the lines of "Don't you ever stop working?" and "Don't you ever relax?" For some reason I find these comments really irksome, and I think it's because the underlying assumption is that my husband (usually unseen, because he's in the house taking care of our son or cleaning the bathroom or doing the laundry) is sitting around eating bon-bons while I am doing both the traditionally male and traditionally female housework. They don't ever come out and say this, so I can't contradict them explicitly, but I think that's what is being implied.

I am socially awkward. Usually I just stammer at them about how I enjoy keeping busy (which is true, but does not seem to satisfy them) and get kind of flustered because there's a lot more to unpack than I want to get into with my elderly neighbor walking her chihuahua. I'd like a pat response to this that subtly includes a push-back at the implication that my husband is a layabout good-for-nothing who is forcing me to engage in this labor, like I'm Cinderella or something. He is the farthest thing from that. And he bakes a mean apple pie.

Any suggestions?
posted by soren_lorensen to Human Relations (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"This is how I relax."
posted by Dolley at 11:24 AM on June 1, 2017 [30 favorites]

They don't really care nearly as deeply as you think they do. They're just trying to make conversation. Respond with "This is relaxing. Want to help? Ha ha! Just kidding! How about that local sports team and/or other local news story?"
posted by Etrigan at 11:26 AM on June 1, 2017 [65 favorites]

I like Dolley's suggestion. "Gardening is relaxing, don't you think? "

You could also try for a bit of humor, like "Oh, but if I stop doing this, I'll have to wash dishes and / or cook, and my husband enjoys that way more!" or "Just working up an appetite to enjoy the apple pie Husband is making!" I might try to smile or laugh as I said this - it would be a way to say, hey, not Cinderella over here!
posted by needlegrrl at 11:29 AM on June 1, 2017 [20 favorites]

This may be their (socially awkward but well-intentioned) way of saying, "I see you and I recognize your work," as well as "Are you getting enough support?" Speaking as a cis-het woman who was once married to someone who expected me to do *everything* (backwards and in heels, as the saying goes), this might be something I'd say to a neighbor I liked - I now realize it might not come across as kindly as I would mean it (with me hoping that a neighbor who was in the position I was once in would then know that I am a safe person to turn to for support), and so I thank you for this post as it's broadened my perspective.

I'd suggest anything along the lines of "Thanks! I love this! This is me relaxing! Gorgeous weather, isn't it?" - I do think that if it isn't bland small talk then it's intended as a kindly gesture, and either way a pleasant and happy response is all they're hoping for.
posted by pammeke at 11:29 AM on June 1, 2017 [27 favorites]

I think you're reading more into it than your neighbors intend, regarding your lazy-ass husband. I could see myself saying the same types of things your neighbors do, just for something to say. Possible responses, all said with a smile:
Yeah, I like to keep busy.
heh, yeah, I'd rather be working outside than cleaning the bathroom like Bob is doing right now!
It's too nice to be stuck inside with the kids!
Bob's inside working on (insert "manly" thing, if you want), so I'm staying out of THAT! (ok, this sounds patriarchal, but just going with the older neighbor flow)
posted by Mr. Big Business at 11:33 AM on June 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Seconding that people don't realize how this sounds. They also don't realize it's not the first (or tenth) time you've heard this remark.

There might also be a bit of them projecting onto you. If they think you're doing everything they might feel like they're not doing enough. In a socialized human brain, if a person is feeling this way it's easier to pick at the other person (doing 'too much') rather than examine ourselves (feeling inadequate). So my guess is that you're aeeinf a particularly vulnerable thing when these comments arrive.

So I would suggest responding with as much kindness as you genuinely want to share. Perhaps the person asking would like to sit while you weed, or has questions about what you're growing.

You can also get curious and ask what the person does to relax or maybe there are experiences with yardwork or woodworking that make it not relaxing. You'd learn something about them, maybe, and it would maybe deflect the conversation from you.
posted by bilabial at 11:35 AM on June 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

I guess the tldr; version of my answer is that mostly people like to talk about themselves. Giving people a chance to do that makes up for a lot in society.
posted by bilabial at 11:36 AM on June 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

If you're doing your hobby thing, I'd suggest responding with, "Check this out, I'm building a table! I'm lathing the legs and then the next step is to stain them." (or whatever the project is). If you're doing a chore, then you could be like, "I'm almost done with this and then it's time for an adult beverage!" (even if you're just planning to have a glass of water). It sounds like "water cooler talk" for neighbors, and I don't think you necessarily need to infer that your husband is thought of as a slacker because you're out in the garage. Granted, you hear their tone and I don't, so maybe there is an inference that doesn't come across in print--but you still don't need to buy into it or justify yourself.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:36 AM on June 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

"Everything's jake."
Said with a smile and a thumbs-up.
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:40 AM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing that you might be reading into these remarks when there is nothing there to be read. They're really just saying "Wow you are outside all the time" because that's all they know about you. One strategy might be to start moving them away from this kind of pat, content-free interaction by giving them more to go on next time. Or ask them about themselves. Maybe invite them over for dinner sometime. Basically I think they're trying to put out feelers for a relationship with you because that's the kind of neighborhood this is, and you can respond in kind.
posted by bleep at 11:53 AM on June 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

That's generally just the sort of thing people say as a combination of a conversation starter and a compliment on your work ethic. I used to get it every once in a while when I lived in a village, and I found that the response that worked best for me was an enthusiastic "Nnnope!" with a big grin. They would usually laugh, and that would break the ice.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:59 AM on June 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

"Just enjoying the beautiful day". Works even if it's raining.

I'm a putterer, too, and I take these comments from neighbors as compliments. Sometimes I say, "the grass doesn't cut itself/the steps can't paint themselves" but that's as snappy as I'd get. I really doubt your neighbors are trying to imply anything. They are being neighborly and are recognizing your hard work.
posted by pintapicasso at 12:07 PM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm a married woman with a male partner, but I don't expect him to do all the yardwork. When I see my neighbor across the street working in her yard I feel guilty about how bad my yard looks. So I imagine that your neighbor(s) feel like they aren't accomplishing as much as you are.

how I enjoy keeping busy (which is true, but does not seem to satisfy them...

I'm also dealing with someone at one of my hobby activities that asks question after question and is not satisfied. The crucial idea is this -- you do not have to satisfy them. You pretty much have to give a pleasant answer. It doesn't have to be a long one. But you don't have to convince them that your choices are the best/correct choices. I'm middle-aged and your neighbors might be impressed with your energy, even if they are expressing it poorly.

I think pre-planning some answers and shrugging on the inside may help. Maybe others can help with the canned responses. All I've got off the top of my head is "It's a great day to be outside" and "I really want to finish task X today." You can add the word "Yes" to the beginning of both of these and an emphatic smile at the end (if it doesn't feel too phony) and you don't want them to pity you. "I'll be stopping pretty soon" is a decent white lie, if you can get away with it. Might soothe their concerns. But, you don't have to reverse their judgement of you, just let it slide off your back as much as you can.
posted by puddledork at 12:09 PM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I get this too from well-meaning acquaintances.

I go with "haha! Don't worry about me, I'm great!"
posted by pazazygeek at 12:09 PM on June 1, 2017

I'm socially awkward and could see myself saying something similar to a neighbor who I wanted to get to know better. I see it as admiration, not criticism, but can see how it could be taken differently.

I also learned recently that you don't have to answer the questions people ask you. You could always respond with "How are you today?" - if they dig in further "No, really, *why* do you work so hard?" I'd respond differently (along the lines of "What a strange thing to say") than if they were using it as a means to start a conversation.
posted by Twicketface at 12:18 PM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

"I'm not working. I'm playing. :-D "
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:21 PM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's just banter.
"Don't you ever relax?"
"Oh right, I knew I was forgetting something!"
ha ha have a nice day etc etc.
posted by flourpot at 12:24 PM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I totally get why this irritates you. I too would find it offensive. Why? Because of the way it's worded. No one should be commenting on another person's behaviour with the words "Don't you ever...?" It implies judgement. Imagine saying to someone who always eats healthy food - "Don't you ever relax? Don't you ever just chill and have a donut?" That sounds petty and jealous. A better comment would be "I really admire your healthy eating habits!" And, if they were genuinely curious and sincere, " do you do it?"

People say this kind of stuff, and perhaps they're unaware of how it comes across, but it can definitely feel rooted in some sort of judgement/jealousy/disapproval. A more positive way for your neighbours to make conversation would be things like:

"You put a lot of work into your lawn - it looks great!"
"I notice you working on your hobby a lot - do you mind telling me about it?"

Those are very different from "don't you ever"-type comments. I think you have some good suggestions above for responses. I personally would probably blink at them for a sec, then smile, and say "what do you mean? this stuff is very relaxing to me".
posted by yawper at 12:36 PM on June 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

"Don't knock it 'til you try it!"


"You have no idea how satisfying this is"


"I look forward to seeing you doing your thing!"
posted by amtho at 12:49 PM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've always thought that people are really saying, "Jeez, you're making me look like a lazy slob. Quit looking so hardworking while I'm trying to relax!"
In other words, that it's about you making them feel insecure.

I think you should just own it. They aren't interested in your answer anyway.
"Don't you ever relax?"
Make it a resounding, cheerful "nope" and then change the topic.

This is the absolutely shortest way to get THAT convo out of the way and make sure you never have to waste a second's thought on it again. It won't make the questions stop, but if you'relike me you get some savage satisfaction out of batting away the same stupid question with the same, standard, truncated answer every time. It's so...time- and energy efficient.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:38 PM on June 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Seconding "this is how I relax."

Also, while they may find it notable that you're doing traditionally "masculine" outdoor stuff, I don't think that it follows that they think your husband is lazy.
posted by desuetude at 1:49 PM on June 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Carpe Diem!

Play Hard!

You only live once!



Joie de vivre!

Que serĂ¡, serĂ¡!
posted by cyclicker at 2:03 PM on June 1, 2017

When temperature and activity permits: visible ear protection, headphones, or earbuds. Then if you see them, wave and smile and go back to whatever you're doing.

Those walking by not only have bandwidth to spare on banter, but are possibly also looking for more conversational connection than it sounds like you feel like offering at the time. There are more of them than there are of you, so even brief verbal exchange with everyone who does this could become tiring very quickly.
posted by wonton endangerment at 2:41 PM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

the underlying assumption is that my husband (usually unseen, because he's in the house taking care of our son or cleaning the bathroom or doing the laundry) is sitting around eating bon-bons while I am doing both the traditionally male and traditionally female housework. They don't ever come out and say this, so I can't contradict them explicitly, but I think that's what is being implied.

I really don't think this is being implied, at all. It seems like a major irrational leap of logic to me. It may help a great deal to do some cognitive reframing here, because this assumption seems to be coming out of some insecurity on your part rather than from anything your neighbors are saying.

"It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" said with a smile, would be how I would be likely to respond. It keeps the conversation going, indicates that you're both outside enjoying the day, and so puts you on the same "team" (Team Outdoors!), creating a nice little bond for a brief moment.
posted by lazuli at 2:52 PM on June 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Own it. Lean in.

"I'll sleep when I'm dead!"
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:14 PM on June 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

"I like it. Why stop?"
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:34 PM on June 1, 2017

Also: "don't you ever stop nagging?"
posted by Namlit at 3:47 PM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I get these types of comments when I'm working hard outside and have observed that it's meant as an ice breaker as it's usually someone I don't know saying it. I notice that the person saying it has typically seen me working outside earlier in the day or at least once before and maybe previously exchanged non-verbal greetings. I stop what I'm doing and introduce myself and the person usually stops and talks with me for a while and next thing you know, there are invites to come on over for drinks or vice-versa.
posted by vivzan at 3:53 PM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I find these comments really irksome, and I think it's because the underlying assumption is that my husband

Comforting data-point #N: I have also been on the receiving end of this sort of thing, and have never had a husband.
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:07 PM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I should add as it wasn't clear, the invites for drinks aren't pick-up lines! It's a get to know you and your partner thing.
posted by vivzan at 4:17 PM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

it's meant as an ice breaker as it's usually someone I don't know saying it.

This - many language utterances are filling the function of "connect with person" more than anything else. You could elect to treat these kinds of remarks as the equivalent of the Unix "ping" command and just say whatever you feel like back, to return the ping.


"Don't you ever stop working?"

"I noticed you got a new car! That's a pretty color"

another example:

"Don't you ever stop working?"

"How have you guys been lately?"
posted by amtho at 5:22 PM on June 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nthing that I don't see any implied criticism of your husband at all, if anything I think the neighbours are probably commenting more on how your hard work highlights their own perceived lack of work on their own yard! If I saw someone always at it, the first thing I would think is, man I should really do more with my's their own inner critic talking. Just laugh it off and move on.
posted by Jubey at 5:24 PM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

'This is relaxing!' Then have a friendly chat, while still working. Should get the message across while not burning bridges.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:27 PM on June 1, 2017

I'm a man who does his own yard work, and I get the same comments. It's just the inanity of suburban life; it doesn't require some zippy comeback. Just say "hi there!" or something; "don't you ever stop?" is just the nitwit neighbor way of saying "hi, person whom I know tangentially, and probably not by name, but this is the third time I've seen them outdoors, so that binds us together, I guess!"
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:30 PM on June 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've always thought that people are really saying, "Jeez, you're making me look like a lazy slob. Quit looking so hardworking while I'm trying to relax!"
In other words, that it's about you making them feel insecure.

That's what I was going to say. The undercurrent that you're detecting could be about them saying "you're making me feel insecure, like I'm lazy compared to you."

One kind reply could communicate basically "I'm not more virtuous; this is just how I'm built; and (like everything) it has upsides and downsides." E.g., "gotta get this energy out somehow, or I'll start to bounce off the walls. I wish I was one of those people who could just kick back with a drink."

Another could be to comment on them "me? What about you, with [whatever you've seen them doing, e.g., all that babysitting for your grandson]?"

Another could be, "ah, you just see me when I'm working. After my long nap I had to come out here and get something done."
posted by salvia at 8:07 PM on June 1, 2017

Smile and tell them my older neighbor's favorite phrase, "There's no rest for the wicked and the righteous don't need any."

Let them figure out if you're wicked or righteous.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:13 PM on June 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think people do it to acknowledge your work, in a clumsy - but ultimately approving! - kind of way. I always say, "Oh I love to play in the garden!" with a carefree laugh.
posted by glitter at 12:14 AM on June 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Likewise to Admiral Haddock I'm also male and get these comments from neighbours. I do a lot of work around the house, mostly because I like it but also because it is cheaper for me to do it than to pay someone else and I'm sure it will come out better. I've done crazy things like digging out a cherry tree with a two foot diameter trunk. The roots were easily 10 inches in diameter and I ended up moving (barely) the stump to a different spot in the garden. I couldn't life it and had to drag it. I also do think like put in my own patio and build my own steps and people are always saying things like no rest for the wicked etc etc etc

It is all just small talk and just something to chat about no notion of gee should you be working little man or anything else like that.
posted by koolkat at 2:04 AM on June 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Oh, I much prefer the outside chores." (So by implication, your spouse is taking care of the inside ones.) Then pivot to "What's your dog's name?" or "Have any plans for the weekend?" or "Do you live in the house with the gorgeous irises?"
posted by lakeroon at 4:19 AM on June 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also in Pittsburgh, also do most of the out-door chores, also outside all the time.

Confirming this happens - I've had random strangers walk up to me and say, "Why are you doing X? Where is your husband? He should be doing that." I don't know if it happens in other cities, but this is the city where, when I applied for a marriage license, the lady told me that if I didn't change my last name, the IRS wouldn't give my my tax refunds. Being told that my husband should be handling something has happened more than once, and at least twice I've had people re-issue legal paperwork because my name was first and "that was surely a mistake!" so they went ahead and "corrected" it for us. In one case, a pharmacist threw a FIT because my cat had my last name and not my husband's. (I didn't even know cats had last names.) It's all local companies and local people - I haven't run into this when dealing with national stuff. I don't know if we're more sexist than average, but I don't believe you're misinterpreting it.

At both neighborhoods, my neighbors got used to my working outside after a while and quit commenting on it. Now they just walk by and say generically "looks good!" Give them more time?

I've also noticed, in my two neighborhoods, and in those of my friends, that Pittsburghers hate trees, landscaping, and flower beds. So if you're ripping out overgrown landscaping, or in that in-between period while the new stuff is growing in, that's when they really fuss, "But the old neighbors did X!" Pittsburghers are also several years behind trends and don't know that, for example, all our boxwoods are dying and HAVE to come out. (that's not frost damage, people.)
In all cases known to me, once the new stuff looks good, people are happy again.

As for what to say - I'm not socially awkward, but my GAF is broken. I tend to deliberately misinterpret what people are saying and give just enough of an oddball answer that they realize that it was an oddball comment. If you want to be nicer, one that I've learned from my kid is, "Can I pet your doggie?" and then questions about the dog until they go away. Big bright smiles and cheery "Thank you!"'s, even when not merited by the situation, often work. I tend to match tone - if the comment was meant kindly, I answer kindly. If the comment was meant judgmentally, I tend to respond judgmentally. Also, use this carefully, most people REALLY don't want a botanical lecture and will hurry up and keep walking if you start musing about the differences between a canna and a calla lily.

But yeah, this is a thing, and one that I don't entirely understand. Why's it any skin of anyone else's nose that I can use a shovel and dig a hole?
posted by arabelladragon at 5:19 AM on June 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm not going to judge whether you're misinterpreting these comments, but I may have an insight into why it's so irksome: These comments feel like yet another judgment about how a woman should be in the world. Here you are, doing something you enjoy, in the relatively safe/secure feeling privacy of your own yard, a place where you can maybe forget about societal expectations of you as a woman and just be and then BAM! the spell is broken by a neighbor's comment. Suddenly this thing you were enjoying doing is caught in the spotlight of "ways in which women should be more perfect" and that, my friend, is annoying as fuck.
posted by purple_bird at 9:46 AM on June 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

I am also in Pittsburgh and receive such comments regularly when I'm outside doing work that most of my neighbors would hire someone else to do. I've gotten the Don't you ever stop? and also You can fix anything, can't you? or Wow, you don't see people doing that very often anymore. I'm a guy so I don't read sexism into it, but in darker moments I've wondered whether a sort of residual, borderline suburban, class-based scorn for manual work might be a factor. I'm not very social and don't relish being the focus of strangers' attention, but the visibility has helped me make connections with some good people on the block, many of whom do their own less-visible sorts of making or fixing. It's been very much worth it, and the comments don't bother me any more.
posted by jon1270 at 4:50 AM on June 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think what we have learned here is that Pittsburgh neighbors are nebby af. Which is probably not new news lol
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:16 AM on June 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

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