Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I was at a wedding recently where family members kept coming up to me and asking me why I wasn’t married and if I had a boyfriend. I’m a 34-year-old single woman, and these relatives hadn’t seen me in a few years. I was really uncomfortable with the incessant questioning.
What is a good response when people ask intrusive questions regarding your relationship status? I am really still angry at how rude and insensitive the relatives were, and I don’t really plan to go to another family wedding because of this. Am I being too sensitive/overreacting? I see no excuse — I have never gone up to a married couple and asked them why they didn’t have children or something similar, so I don’t see how this behavior is excusable and why I should have to put up with it.
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– Single at a Wedding
DEAR SINGLE AT A WEDDING: It isn’t excusable and you shouldn’t put up with it, but I hope you won’t keep yourself from occasions you might otherwise enjoy because of it. These people exist whether you stay home or not; think carefully before you hand them any controls over your life.
The truth gives you a range of options when you’re faced with intrusive questions. Take advantage of that from now on whenever people start prying: “You’re the 14th person to ask me that today,” for example, is an important non-answer that gives people a glimpse of the cumulative effect of what they assume is a cute or innocent query. An incredulous, “People still ask that?” gets to the truth of how dated this whole line of questioning is. “I was quizzed so mercilessly on my romantic life at the last wedding that I almost didn’t come to this one” is another truth in need of airing. Then there’s always the Miss Manners staple, “Why do you ask?”
You are under no obligation to be the one who tells any of these truths, and staying home is your prerogative. However, even if staying home is exactly what you want and choose to do, the question will still probably find you anyway, so I suggest being prepared.
Your outrage is completely justified. Since it’s clearly no fun for you to continue harboring it, though, I think you will feel better if you prepare yourself to neutralize future interrogations. That sense of mastery can be the little bit of good that comes from this frustrating experience.
About the Miss Manners staple, “Why do you ask?”: Lamentably, pushy folks don’t allow themselves to be shut up with gentle responses, and keep on pressing. How do you recommend people deal with those who won’t take the hint to let things go?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: “Aren’t you sweet/funny/curious/determined/(your not-unkind word here),” with a smile and an, “Excuse me, I need to rescue a friend.” They don’t have to know that, in this instance, you’re your own friend.
In other words, deflect and exit. You really truly absolutely don’t need to stand there and take it.