Sunday, November 4, 2012

Those Awkward Questions

Hello Polite Readers!

Well, Thanksgiving is less than 3 weeks away, and Christmas (or your Winter holiday of choice) about a month after that. This means parties and family gatherings, and that means dodging those awkward, nosy questions that people love to ask. You know the ones:

"When are you two finally going to get married?"

"Are you planning on having kids any time soon?"

"Why haven't you gone back to school?"

"Isn't it about time you gave up on your dreams and settled down with a boring desk job like I have?"

These questions are most often asked by the people who have the least right to know the answers -- seriously, I was once grilled about my reproductive choices by my husband's best friend's mother, who I had never met before and haven't seen since. She had no investment in whether or not my husband and I were planning to have children. It's not like she'd ever meet them. And yet she felt she had to know, and had to give her opinion about our choices and our reasons.

And that's the real problem. The people who ask these questions are rarely content with your answer, and they want to tell you why. If you say "We're waiting a few more years to pay off our student loans because we don't want to start our marriage in debt" they will counter by telling you that love is more important than money. In their minds, there is only one right answer to the question they've asked you, and even if you proceed to give them the answer they want ("Actually, we're trying for a baby and hope to have good news soon!") they will proceed to give you their opinion on how you should do it ("Make sure you start looking at pre-schools now! It's never too early to start thinking about your not-yet-conceived child's education!"). There is no escape.

So as the holidays approach, you need to come up with a defense plan. Think about the awkward questions you know you're going to have to face. Come up with a stock answer that deflects the question without providing too much information and without being rude. Using the four examples above, you might say:

"We'll be sure to send out announcements if we pick a date."

"That's really just between the two of us, don't you think?"

"I don't think it's the best place for me right now."

"Things haven't reached that point yet."

Then change the subject! If you have to, walk away. You can easily pretend that you need to go say hello to the family matriarch, or that you need more hot cider, or if you're worried about them following you, escape to the bathroom. Disaster averted.

It's important to plan ahead, because otherwise you get caught unaware and you end up stammering your way through various excuses, which the nosy person counters and tears apart, trying to make you feel like you're a failure for not choosing the life path they've laid out for you (even though they haven't seen you for five years).

Sometimes you will see advice on-line that gives you some really flip, icy, or rude responses to these questions. Unless the person asking has a history of badgering you every single time they see you about something, I don't see the point in being rude to them. It just makes the rest of the gathering awkward, especially if things escalate. Give them the polite brush-off. In most cases, you can easily give an answer like I suggested above, and then change the subject to something you know they'd rather talk about (their own kids, the cruise they took last month, the football game on the tv, what sort of pie they're going to choose for dessert) without them realizing until later that you totally dodged the subject.

Speaking of the holidays, I will be taking a little vacation for Thanksgiving, and I would like to pre-schedule posts for that week. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, please send it to so I can build up a nice backlog to get us through this busy season. Thank you!