I’m starting to reach the age where I notice that the theme of interrogating people about their relationships and childraising plans is becoming ubiquitous at social events. It was infuriating before, and it’s even more infuriating now. I don’t know how many times and in how many ways I can say this, but, seriously, stop doing it. It’s not your business. It’s not harmless, it’s not polite conversation, it’s not a way to pass the time. It is invasive and irritating, and at times, actively cruel.
There’s an expectation that people are more or less coupled off and settled by their late twenties, which means that people who are not tend to attract a great deal of unnecessary scrutiny. They get asked where their partners are, or if there’s ‘someone special’ in their lives, often by relative strangers, because apparently it’s totally cool to interrogate someone about what should be a personal matter — if people want to discuss their relationships, they can volunteer that information on their own.
Maybe some people are single (happily or unhappily), but don’t really feel like being pressured over it. For those who aren’t very happy about their single status, it really sucks to be reminded again and again that they’re somehow social failures for being unable to find anyone to love them. Regardless as to whether they’re content or not, they likely don’t want to be set up on random dates with people they don’t know, and ‘jokes’ about relationships and marrying them off to siblings and any number of things get old really quickly.
Other people may be struggling in their relationships, and may not really want to have a long and involved talk with some random person on the subject. Maybe someone’s partner isn’t at a party because she’s traveling, or serving overseas, or in the hospital. Maybe someone just fought with her partner, and she’s still digesting that while people at a party are all up in her face asking where her partner is and why haven’t they been introduced yet.
And we haven’t even gotten to the part about demanding that people explain why they aren’t married yet. Marriage is not a goal for everyone, and that’s totally fine. Some people actually want to get married, but can’t for legal, tax, or other reasons — e.g. a lot of disabled people run the risk of losing their benefits if they marry, even if they very much want to celebrate their commitment with a marriage. It’s shitty to have people constantly pressuring you about marriage as though it’s some kind of be-all and end-all that everyone should aspire to, as though your life is somehow incomplete without a ring on your finger. Marriage is a thing that some people do and that’s cool, but it’s not something that should be privileged to the absurd degree that it is.
Especially since assumptions about relationships tend to be extremely normative in nature. While poly and nonmonogamous relationships are becoming more public, and people are more open about their relationships, they’re still relatively unusual. The assumption among most people is that everyone is monogamous until proved otherwise, and that’s hurtful and frustrating for people with nontraditionally structured relationships to deal with. For them, things like legally recognised marriage aren’t necessarily an option, though they may hold private ceremonies to celebrate their relationships. Intrusive questions about relationships can get irritating when they’re rooted in the assumption that everyone has the same kind of relationship, and since the reaction to being told that someone is poly or nonmonogamous is usually a torrent of even more intrusive questions, people may opt to stay silent, chafing under a random stranger’s interrogation.
It’s also super not appropriate to ask people about kids. You have no way of knowing where someone is on the journey of building a family and it’s not improbable that you’re going to open your mouth and stay something very, very unwise. Some people just plain don’t want kids, which is their right, and they don’t need to explain it or justify it to you. But it sure does get tiring to be repeatedly asked when you’re going to have children, and the pressure only amps up when you’re in a relationship, especially if you’re married. Some married couples, believe it or not, don’t plan to have children, or aren’t interested in having children right this very moment.
For people who do want to have children, intrusive questions can be really unendurable. Some people get lucky: They want to have kids, they get pregnant, they safely carry their pregnancies to term, and blammo, they have a baby. Other people may struggle with infertility, multiple miscarriages, or other medical issues. Some people prefer to use donor eggs and/or sperm, with or without a surrogate, for reasons that are entirely private and not your business. Other people want to adopt, a journey that can be incredibly stressful and time consuming, because authorities don’t actually plop a perfect beaming baby into your lap when you say you’d like to foster and/or adopt.
When an ignorant, thoughtless person interrogates someone about plans to have children, they’re not considering the fact that the subject could actually be surrounded by some really complicated emotions. Maybe someone just had a miscarriage, and is grieving but not really into talking about it. Maybe a couple is under the incredibly stressful waiting game of getting ready for an adoption. Maybe a couple is working with a surrogate, but isn’t interested in talking to you, random stranger, about it, especially given the stigma that’s still associated with surrogacy.
The only time when it’s appropriate to talk about people’s relationships and/or children is when they explicitly bring it up. If someone introduces her partner or says that she and her fiancé are getting married, well, then it’s appropriate to say hello and offer congratulations. If someone says she’s expecting an adopted child soon, by all means, tell her how excited you are. But if people aren’t volunteering that personal information? It’s not your business to ask.
Image: Child, awee_19, Flickr