I've always been heavy. Recently I lost quite a bit of weight, and have kept it off, through a simple regimen of walking and watching what I eat. The problem is some people are complimenting me too much. I know that might be hard to understand. But one friend in particular is over the top. Every time I see her, she focuses on how fat I once was, how much "better" I look, to the point where I want to slap her. Last time I ran into her, I flipped out and told her that I thought she was way out of line and superinsulting. I know it was ungracious, but I had to say something. She hasn't talked to me since and the last time I saw her walking in the park, she turned away from me, laughing about something with a gaggle of her skinny friends. Can I apologize to her without backing away from my convictions?
Ah, the "insultiment."
I'm familiar with it. Certain people love to candy-coat their obnoxious, unsolicited observations in a sugary shell of flattery.
Recently I purchased a pair of giant, goggle-like glasses and was test-driving them around town to see what sort of reaction they got. One of the "regulars" at my local, who I know a little, zeroed in when he spotted them glinting in the half-light of the bar.
"I like your glasses."
"Yeah, they suit your face. And they kind of balance off all the weight you've gained."
From behind the enormous windshield-like lenses of my glasses, lenses that look like they need little wipers, I stared at him, speechless.
It was weird. I could not think of a single thing to say.
Now, I know many people kick themselves for not being able to come up with a snappy counterzinger in these moments.
You just stand there, tongue-tied, like an idiot. Only later does the comeback occur: "Damn, I wish I'd said ..."
The French call this l'esprit de l'escalier, "the wit of the staircase." Are you familiar with that excellent, quintessentially Gallic expression? It refers to the moment the perfect riposte to that insufferable guy's obnoxious crack at the party hits you - just as you're descending the stairs, leaving the party.
Me, though, I think the reflex that paralyzes our larynxes in these moments is a good thing, a gift. Ninety-nine per cent of the stuff that would come out of our mouths in this these situations might satisfy our wounded vanity, but would only escalate matters and lead to all kinds of further ugliness and damage, and that's no good.
In the case of my little friend and his insultiment about my glasses and weight, I just shook my head, smiled, gave him a hearty clap on the back - maybe it was a bit of a teeth-rattler, but hey, I'm only human - and said: "See you later."
I'm glad I didn't say anything else. (I'm also glad I didn't do anything else: I'm easily twice his size, and for a split-second felt a powerful impulse to lift him up and hang him on one of the bar's coat hooks, so no matter how much he wiggled his arms and legs he wouldn't be able to get down - but I suppressed it.)
And you shouldn't say or do anything in these situations, either.
React with sublime mildness to all rudeness. Self-assured people, in my view, never freak out, never confront, never lose their tempers.
When presented with obnoxious behaviour in all its myriad forms - and it seems to be on the rise lately in the gyms, at the bars, on the streets, at work - strong, grounded people just smile bemusedly with a slight forehead crinkle, as if to say to their interlocutors: "Ha, ha, you're quite a character. Quite a loose cannon. [Then, glancing at your watch:]Well, I'm late for a meeting of sane, normal, non-passive-aggressive people ..."
And edge away.
In your case, though, since you've already lost your temper, and you regret it - but also still have a point you'd like to make - why not return your undermining friend's "insultiment" with an "apolobuke"? (Apology + rebuke = apolobuke.)
Spin a fluffy floss of syrupy-sweet apology around your real message. Something like: "Listen, I'm sorry I freaked out on you the other day. I know you were just trying to compliment me and I had no business going off on you like that. I guess I'm still sensitive about how heavy I used to be, and when you would go on and on about it, it would make me realize what a negative assessment everyone had of me back then. I mean, here I was assuming people were mostly judging me by my personality and accomplishments. I always forget how much some people focus on the physical stuff. Anyway, again, sorry I was upset. I know you were just trying to be nice."
She should get the hint.
If not, well, you know there's no law that says you have to stop and talk to everyone you bump into.
When you see her coming, don't break stride. Just smile and wave and say: "Hey, Cindy, how're you doing?"
If her steps slow when she sees you, or she stops and turns, just say, in superfriendly fashion: "Hey, I'd love to chat, but I have to go."
And keep on walking.
Remember: That's how you got so svelte in the first place.
In this case, by not breaking stride, the benefits you reap are twofold.
You are avoiding a passive-aggressive freak show "frenemy" who's just going to undermine you and pop your balloon and make you feel rotten. (Such people are like kryptonite; the secret of success is to avoid them and stick with positive people.)
And you're burning calories.
Speaking of which, I gotta go. Gotta hit the gym. Guess that little punk's crack got to me after all.
David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.