On answering questions whose answers often offend

New Kid on the Hallway says (in the comments here):  “Anecdatally, only one of my law school classmates plans to keep her name, and there are a ton of married chicks in my class. And my classmate regularly announces she’s keeping her name because her fiance’s name is pretty ugly – I don’t for a second think that’s the only reason why she’s keeping her name, given the woman in question, but I find it interesting that she feels the need to deflect.”

I could totally be NKotH’s friend.  (And not just because she’s cool.)  I totes tell people that too, when they ask.  Partner’s last name is kind of ugly, well, not ugly so much as slimy.  Like, in murder mysteries, partner’s last name is either the murderer or a skeevy red herring.

It is also true that there are many other reasons I would not change my name even if his were awesome instead of the opposite of awesome. Laziness is a big one. It being my name is another. Me being a professional with a professional history etc. another.  (My only feminist statement is implicit– I do it because I can without guilt.)

When people ask, I generally do say, would you want Partner’s last name? Maybe that is a bit of defensiveness. But it’s also a way of not offending people who have made other decisions, because only my SIL and MIL have had that same choice-set and made a different choice. (With them, I say it’s because of my career. They understand.)

I do that a lot… pick the least offensive reason that doesn’t judge the intrusive questioner’s choice. It makes life easier, especially on issues I truly could not give a rat’s patootie about.  (I can think of lots of other examples here, but I’m not going to give them because uh, I’m fairly sure they’ll upset some readers, and that might derail the point of this post.)

‘Fess up.  Do you do sometimes pick the least offensive answer when someone asks an intrusive question?  Examples?

41 Responses to “On answering questions whose answers often offend”

  1. Sar Says:

    Yes I do. Mostly when I couldn’t be bothered getting into it with someone.

  2. GMP Says:

    Do you do sometimes pick the least offensive answer when someone asks an intrusive question?

    Oh, absolutely. One example is the last name (I kept mine) — I always cite laziness and the fact that I would have to do way too much international and US paperwork (hub and I are immigrants) to have it done properly. In reality, I like my last name way more than DH’s and it’s mine and would not change it even if it were a simple procedure.

    There are other annoying questions — why I eat meat (how can I? don’t I know how animals are mistreated?), why I send kids to daycare, why I have this many kids, when am I having another one because of course I must not stop until I have a girl etc,. When I smoked (I stopped when I got pregnant with my first kid), I was often asked why I did — I would answer something like I come from a culture where it’s really common to smoke (true), didn’t know better, started when I was young and stupid (also true)… But the real answer is I f*ckin’ loved it.

    Another one that I get asked a lot (or that people comment on a lot) is why I have such huge age gaps between kids (ages 11, 4, and 2 months). I always get very defensive — I keep saying that with the first two we were too broke to have another before I got a real job plus lived apart for 2 years, with the last two hub was reluctant to go for No 3… It’s all true, but makes it sound like I am really sorry the gaps weren’t smaller; I am not sorry at all, I would have lost sanity and career otherwise. I would love to tell the asker to get the hell out of my face, that last time I checked there was no law saying you have to sprout them at 1-2 year intervals.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You don’t have to justify the spacing of your kids or anything else. I eat meat and wear leather. Sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt about it, but not a lot. Because meat is *delicious*. If pressed, I say I need the protein. But mostly the delicious.

  3. First Gen American Says:

    When I was younger, i had very little filter between what I thought and said. I offended people a lot more often than I do now. I don’t get offended that easily, so I guess I try to be honest without being rude. It took me a while to realize that choices I make that are different from someone else’s are often construed as me thinking other paths are somehow wrong. At first, I scratched my head and didn’t understand how people could interpret something like that when I never said it, so now when I talk about something that may be controversial, like being a working mom, I make sure to say stay at home mom choices are okay too. It’s kind of dumb that negative perceptions are implied but positive ones are not but it’s a small change that I made that seems to appease many. I do respect diversity of all kinds, so I guess I feel like it should go without saying that people can pick different lifestyles and I really don’t care one way or another. If anything, I could learn something new from living life a different way.

  4. Alyssa Says:

    Yup! I do that for the name change thing (I did change my name, so I have to explain that a lot), why I’m working, the daycare thing, why I pumped and now use formula, etc.. I also find myself automatically going into a defensive mode when people ask me about certain things, and start explaining why I’ve made certain decisions even though they didn’t ask. I guess I just assume they’re judging, so I try to get my reasoning out there before they start questioning my them? Probably not the best thing to assume, but after so many annoying conversations, I get my back up about certain topics.

  5. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    Well . . . yes . . . but sometimes the other way around, too. Depends how I feel about the questioner. And how cranky I am that day. And whether Sir John is around to be embarrassed by a blunt response. Sometimes it makes life easier to avoid offense, but sometimes it’s easier just to make the questioner go away.

    • Rumpus Says:

      I can appreciate that in others, but I can’t do it myself. In my experience, the majority of interactions are social (e.g., polite) instead of material (i.e., an actual exchange of information). If I actually think the other person wants to know how my day is going, I’ll tell them, but usually I just say it’s going fine.

  6. Miss MSE Says:

    Yep, because sometimes it’s not worth the argument the more complete answer would give. Sometimes it’s because the questioner is just asking because they want to be offended, and I’m not going to give them the pleasure. Trolls: not just on the internet.

    I’ve had to explain my choice to change my name so much that I wrote a blog post to help combobulate my reasons (http://missmse.blogspot.com/2011/06/why-im-changing-my-name.html)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sounds like a good reason to me! Too bad if DH had changed his name to mine like he wanted to it would have become an even more common name than his currently common name…

      Avoiding trolls is a good thing to do. I know some people enjoy sparring with them, but life is just too short and there’s too many Georgette Heyer novels that we could be reading instead of wasting our time with trolls IRL or on the internet.

  7. PQA Says:

    My husband (who is awesome) took my last name so he has to field this question a lot more than I do. People just assume that I took his name since we have the same last name now. Our last name is obviously middle-eastern and my husband is a white American mutt so the conversation usually goes something like this…

    “Oh you last name is X, are you middle-eastern?”
    “No my wife is”
    “But your last name is X”
    “Yes”
    “You are not middle-eastern?”
    “No, my wife is”
    ….. long pause …..
    “But your last name is X???”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      heehee… sounds like a conversation I had at the doctors office once when we first got here
      “But you’re married”
      “Yes”
      “But your names are different”
      “Yes”
      “But you’re married”

      It’s only happened the once though so I think the amount of hassle I’ve saved from keeping my name outweighs the hassle from having different names, so long as I’m willing to answer to Mrs. Married when the school talks to us. The bank is perfectly happy to cash checks to #1 Married, so long as I endorse them #1 Maiden Married.

  8. scantee Says:

    No, I’ve never lied about why I didn’t change my name. No one has ever confronted me about it but I know I wouldn’t lie if they did. Who are the kind of people that would get offended by someone else not changing her name? Probably not the kind of people I’d care to associate with anyway. If they get offended by something as simple as that there are certainly other aspects of my personality/lifestyle/politics that would send them over a cliff.

    • scantee Says:

      However, I have gotten questions about why I don’t wear a wedding or engagement ring (it’s not that I choose not to wear one, we never got them). My male partner has probably received more disapproval on this front than I have. There is a certain segment of women that are really bothered when a married man does not wear a ring.

      When people have asked the honest reasons I’ve given are: 1) I don’t like jewelry, 2) the symbolism isn’t important to me, and, 3) there is an ownership aspect to it that makes me uncomfortable.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s not a lie if it’s true. It’s just the least offensive of many reasons, each one of which could be enough on its own.

  9. Spanish Prof Says:

    I wouldn’t have changed my last name regardless, but I actually give the honest answer, which I think does not offend people.

    a) “Before getting married, I had already published with my last name, so I want people to know I’m the same person publishing”

    b) “My last name is pretty unusual, while my husband’s is not very remarkable, so I like that if people hear of me, it will stuck in their minds and not confuse me with somebody else”

  10. Cloud Says:

    Hmm, when asked about why I kept my name, I give a truthful answer- I’d already published under it and I didn’t see the point in changing it- but that rarely offends, so it doesn’t really answer your question.

    I am now wondering how often women who quit jobs saying they want more time with their family actually mean “I hate this job, and I want to follow my dream and do X”- but it is less confrontational to invoke family time.

    I must think on that more, and remember this if I ever quit my job to follow my dream to do… I don’t know what. My dream to be the boss of my own company, I guess. (The fact that I don’t yet really know what my company would do is a powerful inducement keeping me working as a corporate cog. When I figure out a business plan, then things might change!)

  11. oilandgarlic Says:

    I hate the last name question because the people who ask usually are puzzled/offended or think my husband would be offended (he’s not) that I don’t change it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I get it a lot from people who are getting married and want to know why I decided what I did. (A benefit of getting married young, I guess.) But also from folks who are puzzled.

      I think I’m too scary for people who are offended to bring it up to my face.

  12. Revanche Says:

    Sometimes being as offensive as possible is both so startling and discombobulating/unbelievable, it makes them go away faster without ever really knowing the real answer to their question(s). O–:)

    So it depends on my mood, who they are, whether they’re dumb enough to fall for it or TOO dumb to fall for it, and whether I can afford to amuse myself at their expense.

    Otherwise I might just choose a vague “acceptable” answer, change the subject, and hope for the best.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think there’s something about getting older that makes shocking inappropriate people less entertaining. We may also have less ability to change our older-aged peers with our words as well. It seems to work better in college and during our 20s.

  13. Frugal Forties Says:

    Totally and mostly with the kids thing. I don’t have kids. I don’t plan to have kids. Yes, at one time I wanted them badly, had a miscarriage (probably more than 1 according to my doctor, but only one where I knew I was pregnant), was never able to get pregnant again, couldn’t afford any intense medical intervention, now I’m in my mid-40s and single and it’s just past time for a whole lot of reasons. I regret that I was never able to have them, but I’ve moved on (with a twinge here and there).

    When people ask the usual questions, I just generally leave it as “I don’t want them” and allow the assumption that I never wanted them. It’s just not worth it to get into the whole big explanation and then have to deflect “why didn’t you try X” or “it’s not too late still” or whatever direction the conversation inevitably goes.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m sorry about your loss. I do wish people would stop asking so much about fertility. There can be so much hidden pain with that subject.

      • Frugal Forties Says:

        I agree. I don’t object to “do you have kids?” – that’s a natural question, but for God’s sake, if someone says no, don’t ask “Why?” Really. It’s none of your damn business.

    • enkidu Says:

      Sorry for your loss FF. :(

      This is the type of intrusive question that irritates me to no end. I lost my son at 18 weeks. A year and a half later we had our daughter, and random people ALWAYS ask me, “Is this your first?” Depending on how I am feeling that day, I’ll answer yes or no. Of course, when I say yes to deflect the uncomfortable follow-up, I then feel guilty for denying my son’s existance. People would ask the same question when I was pregnant, which would just make me cry. IDK why people feel the need to ask this question in the first place.

      As for the last name question, no one really asks me why I didn’t change my name. But, I have relatives that know I didn’t change my name and yet insist on addressing any piece of mail to me as “Mrs. X.” I think they do it to piss me off, really.

      • Frugal Forties Says:

        Thanks! :)
        Re: the other question, I do often ask “is this your first” or “how many do you have” when talking about someones child/children. Even with my own experience, I have never thought of it as an intrusive or offensive question – just a natural “getting to know you” progression. I do think it’s a fairly natural question to ask when you find out someone has one child or see them with one child – oh, do you have any others? If someone were to respond to me simply, “I had a son who died.” or “My daughter is my only living child.” I would most likely say I’m sorry for your loss, and leave it at that. But I do know that some people don’t have the couth enough to just drop it and will go on and on with the questions about who, when, where, how long, etc. Unfortunately.
        When someone asks me if I have children, I have always said no. I don’t think that saying so denies my daughter’s existence, but the fact is (from my standpoint) that I do NOT have a child. I did at one point, briefly (I lost her at 22 weeks), but I don’t any longer. I don’t have the parenting experience, and I have never raised a child, so to my mind, I do not have one.

  14. Leigh Says:

    Sometimes, I like to re-define the person’s question in my head before answering.

    “Are you single?”
    Re-define single to be “not married”, so the answer is yes. In my defense, they didn’t specify the colloquial definition or the IRS’s definition… (This answer is mostly reserved for too-nosy coworkers.)

    Sometimes, I take great fun in making up stories that answer strangers’ questions in simple ways. Some call it lying. I just call it reducing the awkward situation.

    Stranger at the subway station: “Oh, where’d you go to school?”
    [Say I went to the University of Tennessee and I’m living in Texas.]
    Me: “I went to U of T.”
    Stranger: “Oh, that’s cool. I’m going to the community college down the street, hopin’ to graduate soon.”

    Now, if I’d actually said that I went to the University of Tennessee, that would have prompted way more questions. So this is my way of dealing with small talk.

    When coworkers ask nosy questions about when I’m going to get married, my answer when I was single was “I’d have to be dating someone first.” That line worked surprisingly well to get the subject dropped. The line “I’m far too young.” usually gets a laugh out of people too. I suppose I won’t be able to use that one for that much longer. Then I could try the line “For some reason, men just don’t seem to like dating women who make more money than them!” I’m going to have to work on a new response to that question now that I’m in a relationship.

    • kh Says:

      I personally like “I don’t plan to ever get married. I am looking forward to living in sin for the rest of my life.” But that’s my Evil Twin speaking. :)

      • Leigh Says:

        That would be an awesome response… if that wasn’t a socially acceptable solution within my circles :) I think I’ll just stick with the “I’m far too young” line for a few years yet. That’ll probably be even more confusing when I’m 30!

  15. hush Says:

    I think some famous advice columnist suggested the response “Why do you want to know?” and/or “I’ll forgive you for asking if you’ll forgive me for not answering” as a way of deflecting intrusive questions. I could never bring myself to actually use those responses though – they just don’t sound like “me” talking I guess.

    People are weird. Myself included.

  16. Sandy @ Journey To Our Home Says:

    I think it depends on the situation. I think I sometimes say things or answer questions that are offensive just because I don’t like who is asking and know my answer will bug him/her. Other times, I just don’t have the time or will to argue so I just say ‘none of your business.’
    I hyphenated my last name. I was against changing it. Then Hubby cried. Then I hyphenated it. Now that I have kids whose last names are the same as Hubby’s I’ve kind of dropped my real last name and just use his. People don’t get the whole hyphenation thing I’ve found. Also most of my friends call me FirstNameLastName as if it were only one name anyway.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Why didn’t he change HIS name to yours if it was such a big deal to him?

      • Sandy @ Journey To Our Home Says:

        He’s pretty traditional that the woman take the man’s last name.
        I also suggested we both pick a new last name for us, but he didn’t like that idea either.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        He’s also traditional in that he seems to think that the woman earns the money but the man gets to spend it (and get her into more debt) without her input, so long as he gets to play with his shiny new unnecessary toys (that replace the shiny almost-new unnecessary toys he just got tired of after barely using).

        I hope he has some redeeming features because the picture painted of him so far is not a great one. It’s like you have three kids, but one is allowed to be selfish, narcissistic, and irresponsible.

        I honestly can’t read your blog anymore because I find the situation so upsetting.

      • Sandy @ Journey To Our Home Says:

        It’s okay if you can’t read my blog anymore. I really don’t blame you.
        We come from 2 very different backgrounds: I come from a very frugal/poor family and he is from a very spoiled family. He gets a lot of pressure from his family to spendspendspend and grief about me saying nonono.
        He does have some redeeming qualities- I should probably blog about those more. I’m just trying to hold him accountable for his negative actions and give myself an outlet to vent.

        I still love your blog and will continue to visit you here.


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