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Posted on Sun, Feb 5, 2012 : 5 a.m.

Co-worker asking inappropriate questions, offering unwanted advice

By Carolyn Hax

Hello, Carolyn:

I have a co-worker in her 30s who is married, looking for a house in the suburbs, planning to have a baby, etc., and she is constantly asking me inappropriate questions.

I am in my 30s and haven't taken a traditional path in that I am not married, and live alone in the city. I am not sure if she is "sizing me up," curious about my life choices or just plain nosy. While I would obviously want to find love, I am intellectually and socially fulfilled.

She has asked what my bra size is, where I buy my bras, my pants size, how much my rent is, why am I not dating, how tall I am, why certain romantic relationships didn't work, when am I going to move out of the city, etc. When I have mentioned guy friends, she will ask why I haven't considered any of them romantically, as if I should consider any male as a potential prospect. She said women my age cannot expect a perfect guy to come along. She has given me unsolicited advice and has even put in her two cents about buying vs. renting, what size car I should buy next, etc.

I am starting to think my openness and friendliness are working against me. I feel like I need to set boundaries.

I have noticed that when women are married and "have it all together" in that arena, they feel the need to spread their "wisdom" to single women, and assume everyone is hoping to end up in the suburbs with a big house, white picket fence, two SUVs and 2.5 kids.

Just wanted to know how you would address this poor etiquette and how I can keep a healthy distance from co-workers.

-- The Open Book

When you think you're in a conversation about kittens, it's a little odd to field a question about coconuts.

You have a colleague who is socially challenged, to put it mildly. That's it. There's no connection between that and the advisory tendencies of married women in the workplace. She's being a jerk, not a spokesjerk for the Married Suburban Mothers Consortium, and if you were a married mom she'd be commenting inappropriately about something else.

About those married moms: Married couples with children make up 20 percent of households, and people living alone account for 28 percent, per the Census Bureau. Who's the circus freak?

I offer this to address the self-perception problem I detect in your letter, though there'd be no need to defend your choices even if they put you in the slimmest of minorities.

That trims your problem down to the very limited one of a boorish colleague, which warrants an equally limited solution. Let your discomfort show you the line where "open and friendly" ends and boundaries begin.

Then, use polite but firm non-answers for everything over that line.

For example: For too-personal questions, try, "I'll pretend you didn't just ask me that." For unsolicited advice, try, "Thanks for your concern" -- and if it comes out as a slight non sequitur, even better. For the more shocking or judgmental remarks, try, "Wow." A true assassin will say these to her with a smile.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Dear Carolyn:

Am I crazy to still be friends with my ex-wife? We split up five years ago after she had an affair with the man she is married to now. We had been married 15 years and had three kids, now ages 21 to 15.

I let go of any anger I had and forgave her several years ago. Now we are friends and text from time to time, and have lunch to talk about life, work and the kids. There is nothing sexual happening. She is just a friend I have known for 21 years.

All my divorced friends think I am crazy and can't really be happy unless I put her out of my life. I am happy and have a good life, so why does everyone think I'm insane?

-- Crazy in Texas

Two possibilities: (1) Your happiness is a front that your friends can see through, or (2) Your comfort with human complexity exceeds your friends'. The latter seems likely, given prevailing cultural attitudes about infidelity and divorce (and about marriage, since treating it as an adversarial, take-my-spouse-please act of externally imposed resignation is alive, if not exactly well ... but I digress).

If there's any chance it's No. 1, then hear your friends out.

Otherwise, you've earned your aw-shucks pat on the back. Bad feelings and bad behavior tend to create vicious circles, and it takes strength not to succumb.

Besides: There's no one "right" role for exes to serve in our lives -- they can be friends, acquaintances, business partners, co-parents, strangers, whatever.

It's not where the ex goes that matters, it's where the anger goes. Congratulations on dealing with yours.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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