Q: I’m self-employed and had a baby a few weeks ago. I am working on a project that was supposed to launch earlier this year but has now been pushed back to summer. I never told my remote business partner I was pregnant because I didn’t want it to be a reason to push the launch date, and also I figured he might not think I was as committed to the project once I had a baby.
We only touch base every few weeks, so we’re not especially close. Now that the baby is here, it feels weird to not mention her. Since I’m working from home, you can hear her noises in the background; I’m pretty sure he thinks it’s a cat. On our last call, he mentioned that I was fortunate I don’t have to deal with kids at this moment in time (but I do!).
Is it too late for me to tell him I had a baby? I feel anxious that he could misconstrue my omission as a lack of trust in him personally. Maybe I just never say anything? It’s not like he needs to know! — Anonymous, Texas
A: Ma’am, I want to thank you for keeping life interesting. You are a 21st century Lucy Ricardo, and even though you have gotten yourself into quite a pickle this time, you carved out a moment (while working remotely, while tending to a newborn!) to share your misadventure with the world. I wish I knew you.
After mulling (I believe) every possible scenario for how you might proceed, I’m afraid the course with the likeliest odds of success is also the most preposterous: You’re going to have to gaslight this man.
“Gaslight” comes to us from the 1944 film “Gaslight” (adapted from an earlier film, adapted from a play) starring Ingrid Bergman as a wife whose husband manipulates her into believing she is going insane so that he can steal some family jewels. Your aim will be less extreme: to make your remote work colleague believe he is incurious and/or forgetful.
You have to act as if he’s known about the baby all along.
In a previous column, I mentioned the principle that guides my life: If you don’t lie, you can’t get caught. Never lying is the best way to live for two reasons. One, it’s easiest long term. Not lying allows me to be careless with my memory and frees up the brain space where lies would be stored for other use. Two, if you never lie, you build up enough goodwill and credibility to pull off one giant lie. This will be yours, and it will require the performance of a lifetime. After this, no more lies.
At some point in the future, you must, with extreme casualness, refer to your daughter by name, exactly the way you would if he had known about her all along. Perhaps, at the end of a call, say something like “Yep, I’m just going to check on [NAME], and then I’ll email it right over.”
There’s a good chance your colleague won’t remark on the new character you’ve introduced. If he doesn’t — fantastic. A couple weeks later, repeat the process. After that, you’re in the clear.
If he asks “Who?” repeat her name clearly. If he expresses more confusion, you express confusion — of course you’re confused; he’s acting like he’s never heard your baby’s name even though you’ve obviously mentioned her because you are a regular person who doesn’t keep deranged secrets. Maybe chuckle — you don’t quite get his joke but haha? (When in doubt: Be confused. Remember when he said you were lucky you didn’t have kids? That was confusing. Maybe he meant school-aged kids?)
Never use the phrase “my baby.” You don’t want him pondering a timeline. “Daughter” is preferable, if you must.
In all likelihood, he will be too embarrassed to reveal he was ignorant of your life-changing event. People hate admitting they don’t know something — especially something they should know. If you give the impression this is all old news, he can convince himself he wasn’t paying attention the first time you mentioned your child, or forgot — and got away with it.
If he insists he had no idea, you can either find that hilarious (Is he serious — no idea?!) or upsetting (Is he serious — no idea?!). You decide how to play it.
But he’ll probably go along with it. What’s the alternative? That you kept a pregnancy, birth and, now, a newborn totally secret for months?
That would be crazy.
What’s your secret, baby?
The following is a question from Before. We have included it here to remind readers what it was like to work in an office.
Q: I sit outside our manager’s door. I hear all kinds of stuff that I keep strictly to myself. When the door is closed, I can hear voices but not make out what’s said. Even if I could, listening to private conversations is beneath me. So why did my immediate supervisor plug in a white noise machine outside our manager’s office before she went in and shut the door in order to conference with him? What am I supposed to make of that? — Jane
A: Sounds like your supervisor suspected that you “hear all kinds of stuff” from your position outside your manager’s office door and does not feel that assuming the steadfast morality of everyone in the immediate vicinity is an effective privacy protocol.
Not everything someone does is done at you specifically. Your neighbors lock their cars even though you have never broken into their cars (… that they are aware of …). Elevators display signs warning that their maximum capacity is 2,500 pounds, even though you would never dream of loading up an elevator with 2,600 pounds of melons and sending them to a higher floor.
It was an amateur move to switch on a white noise machine before entering a private office for an apparently sensitive conversation. Your note is a testament to the fact that such actions foment paranoia and curiosity. Better just to leave the white noise machine on all the time. (While reporting a story from Cinnabon headquarters, I learned it’s common for open-plan offices to have faint noise pumped in all day long to prevent conversations from carrying across cavernous workspaces.)
I advise you to make nothing out of this. However, now that you know some highly interesting things are being said in that office, I hope you’ll put your powerful seat to use by listening extra hard.