Tuesday, February 23, 2010

You Asked Me What?

As most of you know, my daughter got married in June, 2009. It was a beautiful wedding. She and Mike bought a house and moved in right after they were married and immediately began settling in to their new home and life together.

Not long after the wedding the questions started. To Lauren, “so, are you and Mike planning to have a family”? To me, “so, is Lauren trying to get pregnant? I mean she does want children, doesn’t she”?

Mike told us the story of how he was outside working in the yard one day shortly after they moved in and a neighbor, who he hadn’t yet met, came over and the first words out of her mouth were, “how much did you pay for your house”? Not even with a caveat or mild opening like – would you mind if I ask….

I’ve been arbitrarily polling people to find out about other inappropriate questions that they have been asked and here are a few of the answers I received:
  • From a single friend: Are you dating anyone yet? Why not? Don’t you want to get married?
  • From a childless married friend: How come you never had children?
  • From a recent widow: I guess you’re going to sell the house now that your husband is dead (this was immediately after his death).
  • From a woman who gained a few pounds: Her co-workers asked if she was pregnant?
  • Are the baby’s parents going to get married?
I don’t think that there is one reader of this blog who hasn’t known someone who had difficulty conceiving a child. Doug and I couldn’t have children, and it was such a traumatic thing for him that he insisted when someone asked (and they did), that we say we decided one child was enough. I had a neighbor who tried for years to get pregnant – spent a fortune on invitro – had several miscarriages and finally adopted in her late 30’s. She did get pregnant in her early 40’s, but went through pure hell for a long time.

We all have single friends and we know how difficult it is to find the right person, and why would we assume that someone who is single is unhappy? Today it is not uncommon for people to live together and not get married and for single women to have children. It’s nobody’s business why people make these choices, yet often we feel the need to question their motives.

Are people really coming from a place of pure innocence when they ask these types of questions? Is it idle curiosity; is there bit of a snicker behind it, or are these people just that clueless? A person can’t help but be put on the defensive when questions that confront immediate, hard reality are asked. My reaction to someone who wants to know what I paid for my house is to get my back up and say none of your damn business, even though they can look it up in the tax records (which actually could be a good response: “If you are so interested – go look it up!”).

Thierry says this is a purely American phenomenon; Europeans would never ask such personal questions. Perhaps he is right. I often think that we are losing our manners (what are they?), and people have become less thoughtful of others. Perhaps instead of reacting defensively or negatively to an inappropriate question, we should just address the issue head on and express our discomfort or anger – at least it would get the person thinking before they ask another.

As you can tell, this is a subject that gets me riled – I’m a defensive mother hen. But I don’t let things like this spoil my day – and a rainy one it is today. The good side of the rain is that it will clear out some of the snow that is still piled high in the streets. So, I’m curling up on the sofa, with the Olympics on the TV, my book in hand, my man in his chair, and thinking about how good life is.


They call me Ruben said...

So, what did they pay for the house? :)

Jack Ganssle said...

I think manners are in decline, partly due to my generation's youthful hippie intolerance of the artificial. However, Robert Heinlein got it right when he wrote: "Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide the lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untraveled, the naive, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as "empty," "meaningless," or "dishonest," and scorn to use them. No matter how "pure" their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best."

EA said...


Mary B said...

The following comment to this posting was from a friend who sent me an email directly. There are so many good thoughts here, I felt it should be shared:

"I grew up with European parents and I have to agree with Thierry, invasive questions are uniquely American and there have always been people around who ask inappropriate questions about private matters.
Maybe it's because European languages use different pronouns and verb tenses for family and close friends and the formality of the language one would use with a new neighbor would naturally inhibit invasive questioning.

I do think invasive questioning has gotten worse in my lifetime, probably because of the media fueled obsession with the lives of celebrities. "The public" thinks it has a right to know everything about famous people and so why shouldn't we know everything about our neighbors too! Privacy is a thing of the past, much to my chagrin, because I have always been a rather private person. I am always amazed at how freely people (and especially the younger generation) give up their privacy on the Internet. Privacy just doesn't seemed to be valued any more.

p.s. Here's what Emily Post said about manners:
"Manners are awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.""

Mary B said...

Jack, love your comment - great quote! I tend to agree with the theory that there was a generation that rebelled against the strict, don't question what you are told upbringing many of us received (often from immigrant parents). Unfortunately, the result is a generation of "I'm going to be different and not force my kids to do what I was forced to do" parents, which then morphed into a generation of got to have it all - it's all about me kids. Maybe that's what this conservative backlash is all about???

Tony Delserone said...

It is interesting that you say this is a purely American phenomenon. I also can't think of a single non-American example of this attitude. Surely a bias in favor of natural reproduction is awful -- gosh the outcome is the preservation of the human race! I do remember however quite the opposite. When I went to China about 15 years ago, I ate lunch with three youngish Chinese bankers (perhaps in their late 20s or early 30s at the time and from quite privileged families -- their parents were among the Communist Party elite). They were stunned to learn I had THREE daughters. None of them had a single sibling. The persecution people (especially urbanites) endured in China (like forced abortion or sterilization) for having more than the officially-allowed one child per family was unconscienable. Communist China clearly aspires to join the demographic suicide being committed by Japan and Europe.