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Last week, I edited an article that got me thinking about something that has crossed my mind from time to time.
The author had written about being asked if she had kids, how she felt about being asked that, and went on to say that we should really consider why we ask the questions we ask.
I could relate to her article in ways. I don’t even know how many times in my life I’ve been asked, “Do you have a boyfriend?” And now that I’m into my 30s, “Are you married?” “Do you have kids?” These questions don’t really bother me because I expect them (although they can be tiring to hear over and over)—but I understand what society expects at this point.
I usually look at these kinds of questions almost as a sociology experiment—to see what is expected of us in society.
The questions we ask have a lot to do with our own beliefs and experiences and prejudices and assumptions. They also have to do with conditioning we may not even be aware of.
Last week, after editing the article, I asked this question to one of our social media pages:
“What are some questions that you just don’t think people should ask?”
I expected some of the answers we received, especially the ones concerning children.
There were a few responses that made me pause and think. Several people said we should be able to ask whatever we want, and that those who are being asked should be able to have stronger boundaries or say they don’t want to talk about it.
I see this point, at least in a way. We do need to have enough self-authority to either directly say we don’t want to talk about it or give another response.
However, I also think it’s important to self-reflect and actually get curious about why we ask certain questions.
For example, why would we ask super personal questions to people we don’t know or have just met?
Why are you asking someone you don’t know if they have kids? What part of your lifestyle or beliefs or experiences has shaped your belief that they should have them? Is it because the person you’re asking has reached a certain age or because they’re married? Or is it because you have kids (and maybe want to relate to them on that level?)? What could be the real reason?
There are clear societal ideas about where we should be at certain points in our lives—how often do we inquire about this conditioning?
Also, are we really interested in what we’re asking? Is it genuine interest, or is it just casual conversation? And if you’re just making casual conversation, why ask super personal questions? Again, it’s worth looking into ourselves and wondering why we ask what we ask.
I agree with those who commented and said that people generally don’t mean harm. I think most people don’t mean to offend or hurt people, and really, truthfully, I don’t think most people think too much about what they say or why they say it anyway.
I’m not perfect and have asked at least one question in my life that left me feeling like I wished I hadn’t asked it. Years ago, when I worked front desk at a gym, an older man would come in with a much younger woman to workout. One day he came in alone and I asked, “Oh, your daughter didn’t come with you today?” He responded, “No, and she isn’t my daughter; she’s my partner.” Ugh. I was embarrassed, and I resolved to never ask such a question again.
I wasn’t trying to be offensive. I was just trying to be light, trying to make conversation—but it’s clear that I had assumptions that came into play. Also, maybe I was trying to force an interaction that wasn’t even necessary. I never really interacted with him before—I easily could have just checked him in without asking.
Maybe we don’t have to have actual rules about what we ask, but we should understand why we’re asking what we’re asking, and it’s also helpful to know and understand how our questions actually affect other people.
Here are some of the responses to the question, “What are some questions that you just don’t think people should ask?” from Elephant readers:
1. “When will you be expanding your family?” ~ Eilidh
2. “‘What do you do?’ within 3 minutes of meeting someone.” ~ Lawrence
3. “Me as a 41 year old with a baby….’Oh, was that an oooops?’ (Not at all, totally planned!)” ~ Alicia
4. “When’s the baby due? I’ve known a couple of guys who mistakenly asked this of women who were not pregnant.” ~ Lindsay
5. “People can ask what they want. I’m working on my own boundaries.” ~ Sharon
6. “Personally, I don’t think there should be any question that’s off limits to ask. If someone is uncomfortable answering, then they can just say so, and you can move on. I wish people were more comfortable asking direct and honest questions – I’d prefer that to small talk.” ~ Steph
7. “Never ask people if they will be having children. Its not important for you to know, and you could stir up a lot of hurt or discomfort for someone experiencing infertility, miscarriages, a termination or who is child free by choice and tired of explaining.” ~ Jan
8. “When is your child getting married and when are your children planning to have babies. It’s none of anyone’s business in my opinion.” ~ Nisha
9. “I don’t think there are any questions people shouldn’t ask. We’re too easily put off, too easily offended or hurt. We’ve become too fragile. Rather, we should become better at realizing that people don’t mean us any harm, that they may not know that what they’re asking is a sore spot. There are ways to answer questions we deem inappropriate. ‘What do you do?’, ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Do you have kids?’, etc. These are natural, normal questions.” ~ Dan
10. “I’m tired of being asked ‘how much did that cost?'” ~ Marcia
11. “‘Are you ok?’ Has anyone else had issue with this one? When you’re feeling perfectly fine (not limping, bleeding, crying, making a facial expression or ANYTHING) and someone implies that something isn’t right?” ~ Zane
12. “I was asked by a nosey neighbor who heard my son had taken his own life…’how did he die.’ This has got to be the all time worst!” ~ Gretchen
13. “When I lived in Mississippi I was often asked what church I attended. Nope. Not everyone is Christian, despite having to live in the Deep South.” ~ Robbie
14. “Do all your kids have the same father?” ~ Bianca
15. “Why are you single?” ~ Karly
16. “I think people can ask whatever they want, but I reserve the right to respond with ‘Why do you ask?’ That usually takes care of that.” ~ Bebe
17. “‘How many kids do you have’ it’s hard to answer that as a bereaved parent.” ~ Samantha
18. “Your weight, relationship status, when will you have your own kids, political views, and are you OK. My weight is my business. Not everyone wants to be in a relationship. Not everyone can have kids. You really don’t want to know if someone is ok it’s just a conversation starter.” ~ Chenell
19. “‘What are you’ —> when they want to know your racial make up. But I reply. A human.” ~ Samantha
20. “‘Where are you really from?’ After I’ve already answered ‘from the US’ as an Asian American.” ~ Kathy
21. “‘Who farted?’ Please, can we all just accept that we are all suffering a little and one of us (maybe me) is suffering a little more. No need to make somebody feel called out.” ~ Nicolas
22. So my wife has MS at 33, has trouble walking without a cane. At the store and people ask, why can’t you walk, your still so young….” ~ Tommy
23. “Anything really related to having children. As someone who has struggled with infertility, when people ask me ‘you only have the one child’? As if I’ve committed some sort of crime.” ~ Patti
24. “I have twins, I get asked if they were conceived through ivf a lot…does this mean I can ask if their child was conceived missionary position?” ~ Jo
25. “Salary, children and anything personal really which if the info is not voluntarily given….it should not be asked.” ~ Abdur
26. “‘Why aren’t you drinking‘ ‘Why don’t you have kids, you don’t like them?’ ~ Meghann
27. “‘Are you ok?’ When they know your not.” ~ Bobby
28. “How much do you weigh, how old, how much do you make” ~ Dorothy
29. “Why do you have a service dog?” ~ Julie
30. “I am a mom through adoption, I have often been asked (sometimes in front of my kids!!) ‘So, do you know anything about their REAL parents?’ Or ‘Do you know about their backgrounds?’ My answer is always ‘Yes I do. And we are excited to talk about it as a family and I answer any questions my kids have….but it is THEIR information and I do not share that with other people. It is not appropriate to ask that.’ (side note: of course their medical professionals know more details when it is relevant too….but sorry random dude who lives down the street and we only met a few times, I’m not telling YOU that stuff!). ~ Adelheid
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