During my soul-crushing years in the corporate world, there was only one thing I dreaded more than seeing my boss wearing black ankle boots with white socks, and that was having to suffer through any type of mandatory company party.
There was one time I thought I’d managed to dodge that painful corporate bullet, when my boyfriend suddenly announced that he was hosting an open house at his new office building. After hearing this less-than-exciting news, I cringed more than that time I took the long walk from the back of an airplane with my leather tote—and inadvertently the back of my skirt—thrown over my shoulder.
Being the ever-supportive significant other, however, I dragged myself to happily attended my boyfriend’s open house with a positive outlook and the knowledge that there would be an open bar. I was determined to be friendly to his staff and clients, yet still as professional as a make-up artist at a clown convention.
During the two-hour meet, greet, and gripe event, I spoke with everyone I could, from long-term clients to loyal employees who had worked for my boyfriend for years. I did my best to remember each person’s name, and was surprised to find that I even recognized a few faces. After five or six employees reminded me that we’d met several times before, I even started to say “Nice to see you” when I shook someone’s hand instead of “Nice to meet you.”
The crowd was thinning faster than the accounting department’s collective hair when one of the employees’ wives shoved two people out of the way and planted her Prada pumps in front of me. This woman-on-a-mission looked about my age, and even with heels, stood only eye level to my chest. She took a slow sip of red wine, scanned me from head to toe like a skeptical casting director for What Not to Wear, and said: “You’re almost pretty enough to be a trophy wife.”
How was I supposed to react? Look her straight in the eye and whap her on the head with my ridiculously stylish purse that was only large enough to hold one lipstick? Or laugh uncontrollably while simultaneously throwing a glass of wine in her face, like one of those reality show housewives, thereby cementing my place on the Trophy Wife Wannabe list?
I didn’t know how to respond. Saying “Thank you so much” or “Maybe you should switch to water” seemed as appropriate as thanking someone for accidentally stepping on my foot. Instead, I looked her in the forehead, made a lame excuse about needing another glass of wine (which, after that comment, was the truth), and then walked away faster than I do whenever I meet anyone who sells insurance.
What I couldn’t figure out, between my ninth brownie and third refill of wine, was this: had she insulted me or complimented me? The more I thought about her comment, the more it bothered me, until suddenly it didn’t. After all, some people just don’t understand that what they say can come across as insulting, even when they say it with a smile. They lack that all-important filter that even Home Depot doesn’t sell—the one between the brain and the mouth.
We finally left the party, and on the way home I noted that—unlike the employee’s wife—when I meet someone, I keep any comments or insight to myself. (That is, until I can gossip with a friend out of earshot of that person. I have standards.)
And certainly when I work for someone else, I make a point to never insult the spouse or significant other of the hand that feeds me.
Even someone who’s not quite a trophy wife knows that.
This original piece was written exclusively for In the Powder Room, a division of Hold My Purse Productions, LLC. Featured image © Valerly Kachaev via istockphoto.com.