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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Here's a Question--Duck!

My mum sent me a note about Carolyn Hax's column yesterday and why we answer questions that should not be asked (in other words, every question you've probably ever heard tied to family building).

The questioner asks: "Whatever happened to the cold stare, the raised eyebrow, the, 'Excuse me?' said in a chilling voice? Whatever happened to answering the question that SHOULD have been asked ('I'm fine, thank you; it's lovely to meet you') instead of the question that WAS asked?"

Carolyn admits to the questioner that "It's just that some people aren't that fast on their feet -- be it because they're a little nervous, or their first instinct isn't to protect themselves, but instead to please."

What do you think of that last thought in Carolyn's answer? Do you find yourself answering the question asked, have you become a master of deflection, or do you simply melt into a small pool of person at the feet of the asker (guess which one I am? Let me help you out--the last one!)?

*Updated to add:
I wonder if what we do when faced with a rude question is also indicative of whether we're an alpha dog, beta dog, or gamma dog. Or in my Josh and I like to say, "Mel is the delta dog."


Anonymous said...

My answer would have been "why are you looking at my tits?!"

Lollipop Goldstein said...

That seriously would have been the best answer ever, Anon.

Searching for Serenity said...

I frequently play these scenerios over and over in my head. It's my way of being prepared the next time "the question" is posed to me. The truth is, in real life I deflect with a short answer.

Secretly, I wish I had the balls to answer what I'm really thinking.

N said...

It really depends on the question, the person asking it, and what kind of mood I'm in. More often than not, I answer it, defending myself. But I try not to, if possible, and opt for an eyeroll and either walk away (if possible) or change the subject.

Heather.PNR said...

My standard reply is, "Why do you ask?" How politely I say it depends on the degree of jack-assedness of the questioner.

Jess said...


I'm usually the one with the "why are you looking at my tits" or some other sarcastic remark.

Either that or I'm the one with the too-honest response. Oooh, you want to know, do you? HOW MUCH do you want to know? haha


Grad3 said...

Wow--- I likely just stare blankly in disbelief or I deflect (depends on the question).

In head my head I would've wanted to say "well, they are so perky I don't need one-- thanks for noticing!"

MrsSpock said...

It depends on if I'm in a sassy mood and whether my getting the verbal upper-hand is at the right place and time. If I'm asked a rude question (like why I am bottle-feeding my son-something those who know me know it is a very painful subject), I prefer to let someone have it. Rar!

Tara said...

USUALLY I answer with the first thing that pops into my head but then replay the scenario over and over and over again thinking of much better, sharper, wittier answers that I wish I had given.

Occassionally I'm sharp right out of the gate but not as much as I would like.

Kristin said...

I've been known to tell people "Its none of your damned business." or, when someone asked me "Hadn't I had the baby yet?" (I went 9 days over due) I looked at them and proclaimed that "Yes, I've had the baby. He's at home right now but I grew to love the extra weight so much that I've strapped a 20 lb bowling ball to my abdomen." Sometimes, I resort to a blank stare when asked a rude question. It all depends on what kind of mood I'm in.

annacyclopedia said...

It's not like you can prepare for your boyfriend's mother to ask you a question like that, but in my life, I've found it very helpful to have a canned response to sensitive questions I get asked on a regular basis. Specifically about when we're having kids/do we want kids/what's the delay kind of questions. I worked out with my counsellor a response that gives exactly the kind of detail I'm comfortable with, but that is honest and accurate at the same time. It goes like this: "We're trying, but it's not going very easily. There are issues, and we know what the issues are, and we're working to resolve them." My life is so much better now that I'm clear on what I'm willing to tell about our baby-making journey, and don't feel obliged to come up with a cover story or a deflection of some kind. I don't say this to everyone, but if it's someone I know at all, this is generally my response.

As for the poor girl writing the letter, she should get the hell out of there! If that's the first question, can you imagine the sheer volume and quality of assvice the mother would heap on her later?

Tash said...

I sit around and daydream about EXACTLY how I'm going to answer the question the next time -- regardless of who asks, or where I am, or who's around. Dammit, if they're gonna ask, I'm gonna give them the whole messy shitpile!

And I never do. They're either too happy, or the environment is wrong (children's birthday? Time to bring up babydeath?), or I'm just not in the mood. This is where I just wish I had the answer written on my t-shirt.

Jen said...

Good point. I usually answer politely because I don't want to be rude, even if the other person is. Of course, I usually lie and I am really bad at lying, so I come of sounding awkward. (Seriously, I can't even lie on my blog. I am too honest for my own good.)

Wordgirl said...

I had someone tell what I should say -- I'll never remember it as eloquently as it was told to me-- and older woman -- in her eighties said that when asked why she never had children "I hope you'll forgive me for not answering that; I'll forgive you for asking."

I like that one.

Lori said...

I tend to come up with the wittiest answer about 15 minutes after the encounter. Bah.

If the questioner seems to be just making conversation, I will probably deflect.

If someone did seem full of malice, or trouble-making nosy (or if I were in a bad mood!), I would hope I could muster and icy stare and an arched eyebrow.

I apparently don't have the problem Anon does. :-(

Another Dreamer said...

If someone asked me about my bra, I would glare at them and walk away. Seriously, what kind of question is that?

Now, the question of children... the question that really really shouldn't be asked...

I tell them matter of factly. I try to be open about it, since there are so many woman who are infertile that I have met, and didn't know it. My academic adviser at college, my pharmacist, woman at work. And then there's the people that never see the answer coming, it shocks them and their little world view. And hopefully they think twice about asking someone else that question.

Okay, rambling :)

Cara said...

It starts off easy but I know I'm in for it in the end:

How many kids do you have?

How old are they?
8, 5 and 3

Why do you only have a picture of the two of them in your wallet?


My answer varies but I'm always clear and truthful regardless of how THEY end up feeling.

Portraits In Sepia said...

Ay ay ay! I am getting better at saying what I really want to say but I have to practice ahead of time. If I am caught off guard the truth comes stuttering out no matter how inappropriate the question.

Bec said...

I tend to ask 'Do you really want to know?' If they say yes than I do the full spiel, gore and all, after all - they asked for it!

I've had a few people take back their question afterwards though.

bleu said...

I DO think it has to do with our personalities. I am not uncomfortable with confrontation most often. For the most part I would question their question pretty harshly if faced with that situation. I am also very comfortable with myself and most my decisions so I am pretty comfortable with defending them strongly.

I get it at times with being an SMC and I answer back so effusively of how happy I am to be one and how great the decision was and the decision to use donor sperm. I never have an ounce of regret or doubt so I leave little room for their negativity. Even with coming out, I answer so happily I have shut many homophobes up in the process with not knowing how to take me.

luna said...

I am one who resents the invasive questions that no one else gets asked. (though I don't have anon's problem because I do not go bra-less anywhere but home...)

it may depend on who is asking and my mood. these days, I'd rather give a response like heather ("why do you ask?") than get angry and spew my spitfire. or a well-placed "wouldn't you like to know?" accompanied by a laugh and master deflection.

Somewhat Ordinary said...

I'm a lot like Luna in that it depends on who is asking and what sort of mood I'm in. For the most part though I feel like if you have the kahunas to ask you need to be prepared for the answer you get!

nonlineargirl said...

I usually answer because the questioner is generally coming from a good place, no matter how unthinking the question.

However, in the face of an unsolicited and unwanted comment (and more specifically ADVICE) I will let the person have it, because that is just not acceptable in my book.

Vintage Mommy said...

I've dodged a lot of rude adoption questions b/c my daughter looks enough like me that people assume she's my biological child.

Where people do get inappropriate is around open adoption. I like the "why do you ask"? method; I think the asker begins to stumble when they really have to answer that question. What can they say? Because I'm a nosy/malicious/paranoid/insensitive (fill in the blank) person?

WaterBishop said...

It depends on who and what they ask.

I have been known to blurt "Next!!" when asked awkward questions.
Bu mostly it's the cold stare and eyebrow arch for me.
I believe I am an Alpha dog. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hmm..very thought provoking. I'm a 'people-pleaser' myself, I wish I had the balls to just speak my mind a lot of the time!


tammy said...

Mel, you know we love you but you are such an Omega when it come to the 'pack order'. You are the one who wants to take care of the pack and tend to their needs and care for the teaching of the fellow pack family members.

We have one of those at our hours and he is my little baby and my cuddly bear. I love him so much and can't imagine I wanted to sell him at any point when he was a pup.

As to inappropriate questions, a couple in my church was asked, "Do you practice abstinance in your marriage?" The couple froze yet I popped out right away after I herad, "We don't even practice monogomy." and then I would have walked away. I am longing for the day that the same dufus makes that mistake with me.

Aurelia said...

I rehearse answers to the questions I expect, like kids, I know what to say, and don't feel too uncomfortable. When people ask why my kid's ages are so far apart, I just say, well, we didn't plan it that way but things just worked out like that. As for how many, depends on the audience. I say 8, only three living to docs and nurses, and anyone I want to be open to like a fellow IFer, but to strangers, I just say three.

And FWIW, while snarky may be funny for the moment, or online, it can burn bridges IRL with people who are just momentarily stuck with their feet in their mouth. So let's try to be kind.

Hez said...

Yesterday, my brother (whom I have not seen in person in nearly 2 years) asked if we would have another. I nearly ended up as a pool-- he asked directly, in front of my parents. None of my family knows a single bit about our fertility issues or IVFs. I think I said, "Probably not." I need to compose a semi-decent answer in my head, b/c as the little one gets a little older, folks are going to start asking more regularly.

Annie said...

I pause. I stumble around. I say something noncommittal like maybe/someday/shrug/I don't know/we'd like too.

And I just stand around awkwardly, hoping they won't continue to ask any more questions.

decemberbaby said...

I go on the offensive most of the time - unless it's someone who's usually very considerate and has just obviously had a brain fart. But yeah, offensive. It goes something like this:

them: are you pregnant?
me: nope, just fat and infertile. Thanks for asking.

or else like this...

them: what kind of birth control are you using?
me: it's called "abstaining from fertility drugs"

My mom shakes her head and tells me it's really not nice, but my motto is "if you ask an uncomfortable question, you'll get an uncomfortable answer."

Bea said...

I don't know what kind of dog I am, but I do tend to evasively not-answer questions that don't deserve one.

Example: When are you two gonna have kids?

Reply: It's funny how everyone our age is popping them out at the moment, isn't it? Do you think everyone was standing around just waiting for someone else to go first? Do you remember that used to happen when they played the slow-dancing music at the school dance?

But I totally should have gone with anon's.