I have a friend who has cancer.  She is my age (VERY young) and is in excellent health otherwise.  She is doing incredibly well and is an inspiration to all of us who know her. 

When she was going through treatment, she told several of us she was amazed at the silly things people would say to her.  Things like: "Oh I knew someone who had that…she died." 

Are you kidding?  I mean dear God, were you born without the sensitivity chip?  Well, after many such comments my friend said she was thinking of writing a book – with a title like "I Know You Mean Well, But…"

Well of course then we were all terrified of ending up in the book.  She relayed horror stories – obviously bad comments and then other stories – not so obviously bad to my untrained ears – and when I stopped to think about it, I was concerned that maybe such comments could have come from me.  None of us wanted to end up in the book.

I think there are lot of things that people say, meaning well, or trying to make conversation, or whatever, that are hurtful but they have no idea they are hurtful.  I am QUITE sure I have made wretched comments without really knowing it.  Being the foot in mouth kind of person I can be, I would actually like her to write a book.  A friend once told me she was pregnant – first pregnancy, she was elated OBVIOUSLY and I asked "How far along are you?" and she said "Five and a half weeks" and rather than saying "I am so thrilled for you!" which I was, I said "Oh my God, isn’t that too early to be telling anyone???"  Open mouth, insert foot.

In another instance, I have a couple of friends whose mothers have died.  Well, what do you say?  What do you do?  Maybe not in the same book, but there should be a place to go where you can learn what to say or do in awkward situations, and what NOT to say or do.  I have a few other points of guidance to offer on this (Everyone sing along!!!!  "Back on my HIGH HORSE, again!") but so be it – here are my two cents…

  • If you ask a woman of child bearing age if she wants a drink, and she asks for something non-alcoholic, do NOT say "Oh come on!" or "Why not, are you pregnant?"  Just let it go.  Do not push for why she does not want a cocktail.  If you don’t know, she does not want you to know.  Maybe she is pregnant.  Or maybe she is fighting being an alcoholic.  WHATEVER it is, it’s not your business.
  • When a friend asks "Do I look fat?" or "Does this dress look good?" or "Do you like my hair?" and the answers would be negative, your response depends completely upon the situation and timing…if she is standing at the end of the aisle, or is about to walk out the door to the event and is late, your answer should be with no hesitation "You look fabulous!".  However, if she HAS time to fix the situation – to put on another outfit, to fix her hair, for heaven’s sake be a friend and say "You know, I really love you in your other jeans (insert "dress" etc.)" 
  • Never ask a woman if she is pregnant.  If she is and is not telling you, she has a reason.  Let it go.
  • If a couple has been together for several years and is not engaged, having you ask "SO when are you going to make this official?!" is probably not going to prompt them to either tell you when they are in fact planning to get engaged or why they have not to date.  Be glad you don’t have to spend money on a gift yet, and let them be.
  • If you ask someone to go on a weekend trip or to come visit you and they say no…maybe just MAYBE it’s because they cannot afford it.  Maybe they have the money and they don’t have time or whatever, but if they say no, perhaps it is not about you, maybe it’s about them.  Many of my friends have, shall we say, evolving financial situations and for the most part, we are diverging from one another in this regard.  Just because we could all afford to do the same things five years ago, does not mean we can now.  And you really don’t want you friend to have to say to you after you push and push "Fuck you I cannot AFFORD to come visit you right now!"  Just assume they love you, have their reasons and sometimes catching up by phone is pretty good too.

So will someone please write the book, post the manual, add to the list, provide general guidance?  We don’t mean to be callous and stupid or hurtful, but sometimes we are.  A little help, please?  And maybe I guess, a little forgiveness when we fail.