I recently compiled a list of questions I just want to go away, and it was brought to my attention that I didn’t include some of the most frequent ones. That was intentional, as I would hope that these biggies are established as verboten. But let’s go over them anyway, if only for you to share on Facebook for those family members who struggle with boundaries and don’t know it:
When are you two getting married?
A gay couple who are my very close friends recently joked that they wish the Supreme Court had vetoed gay marriage because they’ve been together for 10 years, and this past year, they suddenly started getting this question nonstop.
Jokes aside, this is something that long-term couples have to deal with that just doesn’t make any sense. Unless you are somehow involved in wedding planning and the wedding has been announced already and you’re simply verifying the date, it’s best to just wait until you’re told.
When are you having kids?
Are you a completely corny parent of someone of childbearing age who prioritizes your need to be a grandparent over your responsibility to not be a constant pressure/anxiety machine to your child(ren)? If you ask this question, that’s what you become. Congratulations, you played yourself.
EVEN if you are close with someone and you know that they already plan to have children, fertility and conception aren’t as simple as calling the stork for a delivery, and this is one area where you never know what someone is going through. There are ways to express curiosity and concern without sounding like Grandma Pearl demanding a grandbaby.
Why are you still single?
I’ve gotten this one a lot. In my experience, the askers of this doozy seem to think they’re paying me a compliment, like they’re saying, “You’re so wonderful; how come no one has snatched you up?” First of all, if you think someone is wonderful, it’s perfectly appropriate in a dating or friendship scenario to say, “I think you’re wonderful.” But “Why are you still single?” isn’t ever just that.
“Why are you still single” is something else — it’s an indictment of that alleged wonderfulness, an unanswerable query of What’s wrong with you?, a question that, for some of us, has been a great source of pain and not an appropriate topic of conversation outside the confines of a therapist’s office.
OR it is a very answerable question if one chooses to be single, or otherwise knows exactly why they’re single, but these answers are not usually the type the people who ask this question have in mind, and anyone who asks this is also likely to not “believe” in being single by choice, especially for women (egads! the horror), so we’re right back in Awkwardsville for no good reason.
Who else is going?
This one is tough, because I’m tempted to ask this often in response to social invitations, but I’ll usually find a way around it, or to at least do a little gentle digging via social media first. Sometimes it’s a purely innocent or logistical question, like if you’re thinking of sharing an Uber with someone.
But much more often it’s the equivalent of saying, “Hmmm I’ll consider your invitation but first tell me what other reasons I have to go or not go and I’ll get back to you.”
We have every right to know whose company we’ll be in, and what we might be getting ourselves into, but there’s also something to be said for trusting that you can make a decision about what you want to do without seeing a full guest list first, and it can be insulting to the person who asked you to insinuate otherwise.
Are we good?
Every now and again this question is asked in sincerity, perhaps after an argument when there has been significant resolution, but one party wants to check in with the other to be sure. More often than not, however, it’s asked by someone who knows someone else is upset with them and is counting on getting a terse or disingenuous “yeah” response as permission to walk away.
As with any question, don’t ask this unless you’re prepared to hear the answer. Which just might be a resounding “NO.”
How much do you pay [in rent]?
I’m a native New Yorker, where the housing market and what people are willing to pay to live here defy logic at new levels every day. There is a particular type of person, usually someone from New York or a place like it where finding a decent place to live at a decent rent is a rare and miraculous event, who will want to blurt it out — not to brag, but to rejoice out loud.
Everyone else? Don’t ask. You might be incredulous upon your first visit to someone’s home, your mind reeling with estimates of their salary and math that you have no business doing, and your many questions could probably be answered by asking this question, but ask yourself: Why does it matter to you? If you are genuinely in the market for an apartment yourself, you might mention that and let conversation flow naturally. Again, if you’re genuinely searching, you might ask for their broker or landlord’s contact information, and that person may provide pricing information that’s pertinent to your search.
But if you just want to know? If you’re salivating at their view and need to know what they pay for it? Or if the apartment is a glorified closet and you want to know how badly they’re being ripped off, or if they’re totally winning by paying a tiny amount to live in a tiny space? These just might be questions you’ll have to live without having answers to, because if you don’t live there, the rent is none of your business.
How much do you make?
There are two kinds of people in the world: people who know that it’s completely inappropriate to ask this question, and everyone else. And, while many reasonable people would never dream of asking a salaried employee flat-out what their yearly income is, they won’t think twice before asking a performer what they’re getting for an individual gig, a freelance writer what they make per publication, or a creative professional what they get paid.
Again, people are nosy. Especially in non-corporate environments, people want to know where people get their money. And that’s too damn bad because, again, that’s none of your business.
It’s very different if you are sincerely looking to hire someone, or trying to connect them to someone who will, and are inquiring about their rate/income requirements for practical reasons. Even so, there are ways to ask and answer those questions directly without the intrusiveness of “How much do you make?”
Another exception, particularly for performers and other creative types, is if you want to make sure someone is being compensated for their skills in industries where so many expect us to work for free or "exposure." I think it's lovely if someone truly cares and says something like, "I hope they’re paying you what you’re worth" or "Do you feel good about the compensation?"
It’s appropriate to care that people are not taken advantage of, and expressing that without demanding facts and figures leaves the door open for someone to go ahead and share them with you if they want to.