How to Handle Personal, Invasive Questions

How to Handle Personal Invasive Questions

“When are you going to settle down and get married?”

“You’ve been married for a while. Isn’t it time for a little one?”

“It’s too bad about you and your husband. Why did you guys split up?”

For the love of all things good and holy, STOP the madness! By madness, I mean stop asking personal, nosy, invasive questions to people you barely know. Actually, stop asking personal, nosy, invasive questions. Period. I don’t care if you’ve known the person forever. I promise. If they want to talk about it, you’ll know. <Cue NBC’s ‘The More You Know’ music.>

Despite the best of intentions (and I’m giving some of you a LOT of leeway with the BEST of intentions part), these questions can really take a bite out of us. It’s frustrating. It’s annoying. It can be hurtful in many cases. And it often opens up a can of feels that people tend to not want to bring up. Plus, if I had any real idea about the future and direction of my life, I probably wouldn’t spill it in the grocery store parking lot to someone I see twice a year.

We have no idea what’s going on in a person’s life…really. We think we know. But we don’t. There’s so much that goes on behind closed doors that we often presume that who we see is who a person actually is and what we see them struggling with is all they have on their plate.

Um…no. In fact, I take back the “um…no” and replace it with a “hell no.”

Why do people ask such personal questions?

I’ve thought about it and can come up with three reasons why people ask inappropriate questions:

  1. They’re really bad at making conversation.
  2. They’re really shitty people.
  3. They really care about us.

I’d like to think most people would fall into the “really care about us” group. But let’s break it down.

They’re really bad at making conversation.

I am an introvert masquerading as an extrovert. I get it. Conversations can be hard. Small talk is the worst. Can’t we just dig in and talk about real stuff?!?! Absolutely. But keep this in mind: Prying is not a desirable conversation strategy. Neither is invading someone’s privacy, spreading gossip (or attempting to gather gossip), making people feel uncomfortable (Yes – you can tell. PAY ATTENTION!), or hurting feelings.

The best way to get better at conversation if you completely suck at it is listen twice as much as you speak. Think about all you would learn then. Another great tip is to share something personal about yourself. Sure. We get that you’re fine. And we understand that the weather’s been swell. But if you tell me you’re fine and the family is fine and school is fine and then you comment, “I had no idea you are an alcoholic. What was your drink of choice?” We’re probably not going to have a real personal conversation absent the verbal slaying that is likely to come your way.

How should you handle it when someone asks one of the icky questions? My advice: Tell the truth. That may be telling someone who asks why you haven’t had children yet that you’ve had 2 miscarriages in the past year. It may be telling someone that you’re not interested in discussing that subject with them. Do what makes you comfortable…just try not to slap anyone.

They’re really shitty people.

For some, gossip is their currency. The more gossip they have on others, they better they feel about themselves. So some are bound and determined to get the goods, i.e., your story. But the key is this: they can’t get the goodies without your consent. If someone asks you a ridiculous, personal question, pump the brakes. Who says you have to respond to a question if you don’t want to? Who even says you have to respond with words?

My go to response with people on the gossip train is this – L A U G H T E R! I laugh. I mean, I really laugh. You’ll often find that the person has no idea why you’re laughing so they’ll nervously look around like, “Crap. Do I have a bat in the cave?” And after a pretty uncomfortable period of time for the gossip girl (or boy), I just say, “You crack me up. See you later!” Don’t be afraid to let someone know that their question is rude or inappropriate or ridiculous. If they’re ballsy enough to ask, be ballsy enough to let them know what’s up.

They really care about us.

As my dad likes to claim, he’s not nosy. He’s just an informed citizen. Mmmmk. Love you. But, sometimes, questions are too muchie for the introverts among us! I’m always surprised at the number of people who will randomly tell my dad the first person they kissed or how they met their spouse. He’s not a digger of “dirt.” He just happens to love talking to people. A lot! I think you can generally tell with a way a person approaches us, whether they’re in it for dirt or in it for us.

If someone really cares about you and inquires of a pretty sensitive topic, I think it’s totally ok to respond in a “Thanks but No Thanks” way. I’ve told people that I appreciated their concern, and if I felt like discussing the topic, I knew I could count on them. And I really meant it.

It’s important for us to remember that we don’t have to respond to these questions if we don’t want to. We have to honor ourselves and not feel obligated to participate in anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. I think if we called out the folks that tend to dig and draw their attention to the uncomfortableness, maybe they wouldn’t do it so much.


So I realize that this has been a bit of a rant today. But, sometimes words just have to be set free into the blogosphere. I am ALL about having real, genuine conversations with people. I am not into uncomfortable interrogations. The best way to get people to open up and get real is to jump in, be brave, and get real with them first. And hopefully, this is a bit of a reminder to us all – whether we’re the asker or the answerer – be mindful and above all, be kind. We’re dealing with people’s hearts.

And in case my advice above was not clear & you just skipped to the bottom, stay away from these topics in grocery store parking lots, church pews, and anywhere that you haven’t been invited to explore by the individual to whom you are speaking:

  1. Miscarriage
  2. Infidelity
  3. Sobriety
  4. Fertility
  5. Relationships
  6. Financial Issues
  7. Suicide
  8. Divorce
  9. Anything that you think, “Hmm. Should I ask this?” Answer: Nope.

xo,

S

 

 

30 comments

  1. Alisha says:

    Oh goodness! You have read my mind! As my husband’s (combat-veteran) and son’s (Aspergers) caregiver, I get so many just downright stupid, offensive and uncomfortable questions. Particularly, questions about my husband can get quite personal. My all time favorite: “So, has he killed anyone?” (This is generally the follow up question to “Did your husband go to war?”
    Not sure why people feel it is their place to ask these kinds of questions.

    • Sarah says:

      It’s so bizarre what people consider appropriate to ask random people. I don’t want to embarrass people. But I do think people should be put on notice when they’ve crossed a line. Thanks for reading, Alisha!

  2. Anna Mullikin Freeman says:

    LOVE this post. I hated being asked when I was getting married before I did. Now, it’s all about “so when are you going to have kids?” I’m like pump the brakes people and give me a break. Not anytime soon… let ‘s talk about something else!

  3. Kat Carah says:

    I really don’t think these questions are rude, but maybe because I’m a seasoned “smile, nod or shake of the head” “I don’t knower” with a large family with a penchant for all these types of questions all tante time lol

    • Sarah says:

      It’s all about personal boundaries and what we’re comfortable with. If someone asked me about a miscarriage or divorce, I’d probably resist the urge to trip them as I said, “None of your business.” Kudos to you for learning your boundaries and style, Kat!

  4. Mrs Fancy-Pants says:

    The kids question is pretty annoying when you’re about to start IVF and don’t exactly want to tell them. Also irritating if you don’t intend to have any at all, because it is usually asked as “when” rather than “are”.

  5. Hannah says:

    Great read! Can’t tell you how much I bob & weave in grocery stores now-a-days to avoid interrogations just like what you described… Really got to love living in a small town. Thanks for the tips!

  6. Britney says:

    Love this! I think most people have good intentions when they ask those sort of questions, but they’re not really thinking when they blurt things out. A few weeks ago I was in line behind someone I knew at the grocery store. I asked how she was and we chatted for a few minutes. I mentioned that I sometimes see her husband and kiddos at church, and then she told me that they aren’t married anymore. I felt really bad, but I really had no idea! She isn’t someone that I really keep in contact with, or stalk on social media. I tried to keep the rest of the conversation short and casual. Sometimes you just walk right into it before you even know what happened.

  7. Sara says:

    I love your article! Luckily, I’m awkward enough to keep most people away from me, hahaha, but I’ll keep this in mind for when I don’t.

    And more importantly, I actually have asked something sometimes, that the minute I ask it, I realize how stupid it was! That’s because I suck at socializing. I promise to be more aware in the future though and not make people uncomfortable!

  8. Desteny says:

    Haha… “They are really shitty people”. I LOVE that! I am not an overly outgoing person and I’m not really big into small talk or chit chat. I hate it when people ask questions that are really none of their friggen business. Loved this post!

  9. Hope says:

    You really hit the nail on the head with this one! I actually just finished writing a draft for a post ranting on people who constantly ask me when my boyfriend and I are getting engaged.. drives me CRAZY! So needless to say.. I 100% agree!!

  10. Chasa Fulkerson says:

    Hahah! I love you!<—too soon? Seriously, I can't stand when family members ask questions that are none of their business. I have a few family members tell me that I gained weight, then another ask if I was pregnant? No! I've just gained weight thanks for pointing that out!

    Also, because my husband and I went and married so quickly they thought I was pregnant. So the continuous low down questions/statements.. Hmmm I think you have a secret. No I don't have a secret! I am not pregnant!

    First off my husband I do not want children, second how do they know if I can even have children. I don't really care if they are coming from a good place or not, it's none of their business.

    There are more personal/serious things that if people did try to talk about that I really would shut them down though.

    Such a great post! Sharing!

  11. Denyse Whelan Blogs says:

    So many people appear to have ‘no idea’ of limits do they? Asking a person with a tummy…so when are you due? Asking someone who has a baby in a pram, so when it the next one planned…OH my goodness. None of your business! I make an effort to say good morning to people I might pass in the street or at the shops but I would never make a judgement or comment. So rude! Great post.

  12. Paula, The Geeky Shopaholic says:

    Loved this! My boyfriend and I hadn’t even been dating long when people started asking if we were getting married! It’s ridiculous! I don’t mind my close friends asking such questions, but people I barely know. It really make me uncomfortable!

  13. tony says:

    Jus a quick note to say I really enjoyed reading your blog. You have a great writting style, very engaging, I guess you get that from your Dad. There is a fine line between genuinly being interested in getting to know someone and being intrusive. I guess I have strayed over the line a few times. Not only that, I think I might have gotten worse as I have gotten older, as my nieces, nephews and grandchildren will tell you. Many thanks for such an entertaining read.

Leave a Reply