If you’re single and over the age of about 21, you’ve probably been asked this question.
The older I get, the more obnoxious it becomes.
In my 20s, people rarely asked unless there was a clear and present boyfriend. Presumably this was designed to nudge him into action.
In my 30s and 40s the question seemed to be less to do with marriage and more to do with breeding. If I hadn’t married (and the term was used loosely to mean any kind of permanent relationship) then I was going to run out of time to have children.
That I didn’t want children was apparently incomprehensible. Obviously I would change my mind with the right man/once a baby came along. Bit of a gamble, that: what if I had a baby then realised, actually I was right, I don’t want one?
That I might know my own mind, that it was no one else’s business, that the choice was mine to make, seemed to be lost on these interfering and impertinent questioners.
What troubles me as much is the sheer lack of imagination on their part. Everyone knows not to ask the fat lady when she is due. It’s a staple of cringe comedy. Why do these smug questioners not stop to think about the possibly ghastly reasons they might receive to their nosy questions?
For example, imagine asking someone why they don’t have kids, in a tone of voice implying they should, and hearing one of these in response:
- I have miscarried several times and it’s a source of great pain that I can’t carry a child
- My husband is infertile
- I am infertile
- I have cancer/some other disease preventing conception
- I had a child; it was stillborn
Feeling morally superior still?
Questions about marital status are no less fraught but are more prone to judgement. The implicit question behind the question is almost always “what’s wrong with you?” Real reasons might include:
- I have never been in love
- No one has ever asked me to marry them; I fear I am unlovable
- The love of my life broke my heart when he married someone else
- He died
- I was ready to marry then he cheated on me
- I’ve never met anyone who wanted to marry me
- I don’t want to be married
So before you judge me and ask that obnoxious question, stop and think about how you’ll sound if you get an answer you’re not expecting.
Besides: it’s none of your business.