Hax: Learn to neutralize intrusive questions

The Washington PostDecember 21, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: I was at a wedding recently where family members kept coming up to me and asking why I wasn’t married and if I had a boyfriend. I’m a 34-year-old single woman and these relatives hadn’t seen me in a few years. I was really uncomfortable with the incessant questioning.

What is a good response when people ask intrusive questions regarding your relationship status? I am really still angry and I don’t really plan to go to another family wedding because of this. Am I overreacting? I don’t see how this behavior is excusable and why I should have to put up with it.

SINGLE AT A WEDDING

It isn’t excusable and you shouldn’t put up with it, but I hope you won’t keep yourself from occasions you might otherwise enjoy because of it.

The truth gives you a range of options when you’re faced with intrusive questions. Take advantage of that from now on whenever people start prying: “You’re the 14th person to ask me that today,” for example, is an important non-answer that gives people a glimpse of the cumulative effect of what they assume is a cute or innocent query. “I was quizzed so mercilessly on my romantic life at the last wedding that I almost didn’t come to this one” is another truth in need of airing. Then there’s always the Miss Manners staple, “Why do you ask?”

Your outrage is completely justified. But since it’s no fun for you to continue harboring it, I think you will feel better if you prepare yourself to neutralize future interrogations.

Re: Single: Lamentably, pushy folks don’t allow themselves to be shut up with gentle responses, and keep on pressing. How do you recommend people deal with those who won’t take the hint to let things go?

ANONYMOUS

“Aren’t you … sweet/funny/curious/determined/(your not-unkind word here),” with a smile, and an “Excuse me, I need to rescue a friend.” In other words, deflect and exit. You absolutely don’t need to stand there and take it.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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