Hello and Happy Women’s History Month to all! Also, Happy Dr. Seuss Day to all who celebrate!
I come to you all today with a very particular problem in mind. I posted this very real interaction yesterday to my personal Facebook page:
Him: Do you have any children?
Him: What are you waiting on?
Me: I would like to have some things in order and likely married.
Him: Oh. How old are you?
Him: *full old smoker’s laugh* 28?!?! Whatcha waiting for?! You better get going! You ain’t getting no younger; that clock is going to start ticking… *doesn’t hear the rest because I walk away*
Look at your neighbor and say “neighbor. O neighbor. Y’all have got to RELAX.” Things like being married, having children, etc actually are not things that fall completely within one’s realm of control. And even if it did…y’all still have got to relax and let people live. K bye.
Before I dive into this, I want to say that maybe we have done a disservice to people by saying that there is no such thing as a dumb question. To me, this interaction proves that old adage to be false.
I’ve talked about this before but every now and then it is worth repeating, not simply because people’s personal decisions that do not affect others are none of others’ business but because by blindly asking questions without the privilege of context, one might be unintentionally reopening wounds for the object of those questions.
I’ll be 29 this year. I am no stranger to the “what’s going on in your personal life?” variety of questions, especially with a younger brother who married and started his family all under the age of 25. I’m used to well-intentioned family/friends having people they want me to meet, conversations that want me to have, and options they want me to consider. I’m especially blessed that none of this comes from my parents and brother (just thought I’d put that out there).
For many of us [especially women, though not reduced to women only], it will never not be awkward to field those questions/sentiments, even from those closest to us. I am not speaking for everyone; some people are very clear about the direction of their lives and what they have/have not accomplished is fine with them. I’m working to get there. But what tends to happen with these questions though is that this line of questioning many times plays into deep insecurities that some of us already have. What IS wrong with me that I haven’t gotten married/had children yet? Did I not make the right decisions in life?
Life milestones like marriage and children are decisions that people make, which means that people have some control over these things. But there’s that part that simply is out of our control and is controlled by a number of different elements coming together and working. So what about us who have wanted to be married but it just hasn’t happened for us? What about those who may be unable to bear children but are physically unable? What about those who have decided that marriage and children are not what they see for their lives? Life tells you that you should do this or that but it leaves little room for any variation from the script.
I, like many girls, grew up fully expecting for things like marriage and family to happen for me and to certainly have happened by this time in my life. But things just haven’t happened the way I’ve wanted them to and I have done the work to be all right with that. Had this been a year ago, I would have taken the questions asked as a personal affront. But I’ve done enough work to know that I’m OK with where I am right now, though being OK never makes these things less annoying.
So, here are a few take-aways from this situation. I could go into how the average age of first marriage has risen, statistics about marriage and divorce, statistics about infertility, etc. but that’s not the heart of the issue, in my opinion. I could also go into how this happened on the first day of Women’s History Month and how these situations are extremely disproportionate between the sexes, with women unfairly receiving the brunt of these questions and jabs. BUT…I shan’t. I was able to light-heartedly post about this situation on Facebook but I really want people to understand how their actions affect others. Please hear my heart.
- When approached about your age, marital status, parental status, or anything of a personal nature, please know that you reserve the right not to answer [or, as my frat reminded me, #clapback]. I believe in personal responsibility and I believe in self empowerment. I do not care who the person is, if it has anything to do with you and your personal decisions that do not affect them, you always reserve the right to not answer. As my friend Kirin to my properly quipped under my Facebook post, “at the question of How old are you I would have responded Old Enough… how dare he ask your age…“. Yes, especially considering that we do not have any kind of relationship beside generally saying hello in passing. Which brings me to my next point…
- If you do not have any kind of relationship with a person, best practice is to fall back on the personal questions. When asking questions of a personal nature, you are inviting yourself into a person’s more intimate space. It may seem like small talk but questions can be triggering for people for a number of reasons. Be sensitive to that. Getting to know people should be an invitation they extend, not an invitation you give yourself.
- People will usually initiate telling you what they want you to know. This is pretty clear. If I want someone to know my marital status, age, hopes/dreams/goals, etc., I have no problem sharing and usually do not have to be prompted with questions. But that usually comes with time and relationship.
- Approach is everything. There is a difference between asking questions to be nosey and asking questions out of genuine concern and out of a desire to build trust with a person. People can sniff out that difference quick. If you are genuinely interested in someone’s story, simply ask them to share their story with you if they feel comfortable. “I’m interested in hearing more about…”is a great way to get a more comprehensive picture of people’s lives without interrogating them. [Note: This is an approach better taken after some time spent building connection with a person.] After all, if you only care to know about a part of my life without understanding the context of my life, you do not care to know me and should not be privy to any information.
- If you have been on the receiving end of such intrusive questioning by strangers and loved ones alike (which is evident by 100+ likes/20+ comments so far on this post), you are not alone. People will have to be OK with your life and where you are. We can talk about all the reasons why things aren’t this way or that way in a person’s life, but the bottom line is that the only person who needs to be OK with the life you live is you.
Until next time, m’loves,