“You Look Tired.”

posted in: Tips 20
This image is attempting to communicate "etiquette." Photo of "Catherine's Castle" via Wikipedia.
This image is attempting to communicate “etiquette.” Photo of “Catherine’s Palace” via Wikipedia.


I’ve been dashing around taking selfies, praising Colleens and celebrating art and beauty and quilts, but I thought it would be good to remind everyone that I can be grumpy. I don’t get publicly grumpy very often because a lot of the time it turns out I was wrong about the thing I was super self-righteous and grumpy about and that’s unbecoming. Besides, I tend to change my mind a fair amount, so it’s just confusing for everyone if I’m tutting or squawking and then cooing five seconds later.

But, from time to time I fail in my zip-lip approach and air a grievance. Remember how I said no one should ever ask anyone: “Aren’t you hot in that??” This is like that.

It hasn’t happened recently, so no one who knows me or who has met me in the past week or month needs to worry that this is a super passive-aggressive way to talk to you about how you made me feel bad. No, no one has said to me in many months:

“Hi, Mary! You look tired.”


This statement is problematic. I gently suggest that you refrain from using it in the future. Here’s why.

Ideally, when I’m tired, I’m in my fluffy bed, reading something amazing or perhaps writing in my journal. If you see me looking tired outside of my ideal “I’m tired” environment — mere moments from sweet sleep — it means that conditions for me at this particular moment in my life are suboptimal. Let’s not bring it up.

Then, what does it mean to look tired? I think the three words, “You look tired,” are really communicating four: “You look like crap.”

Tired people do not look their best. No one disputes this. No one meets the love of their life and says, “When I met you…you looked so tired. I knew in that moment I’d be with you for the rest of my life.”

When I’m tired I have have circles under my eyes. This is partially due to low baseline iron levels, but when I’m super tired it’s more noticeable. When I’m tired I squint and am dehydrated, probably — another normal state for me that gets worse when I have been traveling and studying and reading and writing and having stress. Saying, “You look tired” to me means I do not look well. I would only say, “You do not look well” to someone I thought was physically impaired or ailing in the extreme. In that case, those words would actually mean, “You look like you need the ER.”

Is there any good time to say “Mary, you look tired”? I’m not convinced there is.

Say you are in bed with a heavy-lidded me and see me there reading happily in my favorite pajamas, snug in my bed (lucky you!) Saying, “You look tired” would be like saying, “It’s nighttime,” or “We are in bed,” or “We will sleep soon.” I would look up from my book, look at you and say, “Yeah, what’s your point?” It would behoove you to say something else instead, like, “Mary, you’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” or “I can’t keep a secret: I bought you jewels today and they’re under the bed,” or “You’re the queen of America. It’s headline news. Look: my iPad.”

I know some of you are saying, “But I say that out of concern!” and that is true because you are all good people. (Yes, all of you, so you’d better be acting like it.) After stating my case, I think it’s better to chat with the tired person first and then, once a rapport has been established, say something like, “Hey, how are you? Things going okay?”

I promise: The tired person will jump at the chance to say, “I’m okay. I’m just tired.”


20 Responses

  1. Patti Szafir
    | Reply

    Mary, I couldn’t agree with you more. I have looked tired my whole life but now “You look tired” equals “You look old”

  2. Christine Houghton
    | Reply

    Sounds like a good idea. But Mary, you always look good to me. If needed take a few catnaps they always help.

  3. Barbara
    | Reply

    Yes! Thank you for addressing the problem with this passively critical comment. It gets my ire up every time.

  4. Denise
    | Reply

    People say that texall the time. I’m used to it. I’m naturally Pale and when my makeup wears off I look tired. Never mind that I am under tremendous stress at the moment. I smile and say Oh “my makeup must have worn off”. It’s like saying to someone. Hey you look fat today. Who does that? Or my it must be nice to be so skinny(which I am not). I wonder do people think before they speak? Geez

  5. Michelle
    | Reply

    OH, I can understand. The flip side comment is people who ask me how did I sleep? Why ask me that? Are you going to pull out a magic wand and make my sleep better? Lets see, I have not slept through the night in over 30 years, you think that because I slept in your guest bed, a miracle happened and I had an uninterrupted sleep?

    Am I supposed to make you feel good about your guest bed and lie? Or am I supposed to tell you the truth, that sleeping away from home generally means I had a worse than usual sleep? Just being asked the question makes my hackles rise.

  6. Brandy H.
    | Reply

    True Story! I understand completely!
    I am a rather sickly person and I am so “tired” of hearing you look tired. Sigh.
    I would much rather hear a how are you doing or how was your day.

  7. Allie
    | Reply

    No matter how much sleep you’ve had or not had, your writing is the bomb!

  8. MK
    | Reply

    I had a complete stranger tell me I looked tired in the grocery line like 3 days after 9/11. I wanted to say, “HOW SHOULD I LOOK? DON’T YOU FEEL TIRED, TOO?” But I only shrugged and said, “Yeah, I guess I am.”

  9. tierneycreates
    | Reply

    Ooh! Well said! Now I will never tell anyone that they look tired (unless we are cozy in bed!) zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  10. J M
    | Reply

    American Queen! Yes and Yes and Yes Again! I see the Statue of Liberty draped in a shawl! ! DEMAND AMERICAN MONARCHY NOW! Have a good one non-blonde! Go Queen Mary Go!

  11. Sydnie
    | Reply

    What perfect timing! Only 20 minutes ago, a (well-meaning, I’m sure) coworker told me I look tired. And I look like I might have sinus problems. But then clarified by saying that I don’t look bad, just tired! Um…. thanks?

  12. Wanda Rains
    | Reply

    Two thumbs up.

  13. Pam Williams
    | Reply

    There is actually a ship named after you
    The Queen Mary. Of course, that
    Ship was named years before you
    Were born. However I think the
    Namers of that ship were anticipating
    The birth of a very special super-
    Successful person
    Queen Mary. Own it, because we
    All think so. I apologize for the
    Stray initial caps.

  14. H Diane Lewis
    | Reply

    A friend of my husband’s once came to our house, looked at me and said, “you look tired.”
    I wasn’t tired but by the power of suggestion, I took myself up to bed and slept. How
    silly is that?

  15. Rachel
    | Reply

    As a mother of five, ages 3-13 I loathe that comment. If I look tired I probably am, which also means I am probably cranky and want to punch you for pointing out that I look tired.

  16. Linda
    | Reply

    Well said, Mary, as usual!

  17. Cathy
    | Reply

    I also hate, “What are you doing here?” when running into an acquaintance when out and about. Why? Am I not allowed to be? Is this just your little show? Was I not on the guest list? Why not, “Nice to see you!” instead. Rant over!

  18. Mary
    | Reply

    Amen sister!

  19. Deb
    | Reply

    It’s not something that has ever bothered me. I always look tired no denying it. I take the comment as an act of care and concern.

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