It’s not just you, we’ve all done it. We meet someone for the first time or reconnected with someone you haven’t seen in a while so you’re trying to get the conversation going, and out it comes: one of “THOSE” questions. Those seemingly innocent “where are you in life” questions that, if all is well in their day to day, they answer as carefree as you asked it. But if the waters in their life are a bit choppy you just sucker punched them right where it hurts.
They know it wasn’t your intent and so most the time they hide the pain, the uncomfortable feeling it caused in their gut, or the irritation they feel. Truth is it’s hard to get rid of these stand in questions we use but I did some research (ok, I asked my friends over wine) and came up with the most common offenders and replacements for them that not only make sure you don’t go around emotionally sucker punching anyone but actually enrich your conversations.
STOP asking single people if they are seeing someone special and want to settle down!
First of all, it’s weirdly old fashioned. Secondly, there are only three possible outcomes with this question. One, they are excited to tell you about the new love in their life (you got lucky) Two, they are coming out of a bad relationship/heartbreak/bad date (ouch). Or three, they are an incredible bad a$$ doing (insert a million things) and all you want to know about is their love life (lame). Don’t worry, like I said we’ve all done it before but we can do better. Instead of asking about their love life ask “What are you excited about in your life right now?” This question is freaking GOLD people! I’m telling you I have learned the coolest things from this little gem. Interestingly enough it catches people a little off guard but then out it comes, a true beautiful answer where you just learned somehing very real about them. And guess what, if they happen to be dating someone that’s giving them butterflies they’re going to mention it, or maybe they get to tell you about that triathlon they’re training for.
STOP asking when they are going to have kids!
First of all, why does everyone HAVE to have kids? Maybe kids completed your life and thats WONDERFUL, but it is not and should not be the answer for everyone. I am SO grateful I have friends who asked themselves the hard questions and decided that being a parent wasn’t the path they were going to take. I think anyone who is a mom/dad and knows how much love, effort, time, money (just to name a few) goes into raising a human being can understand that unless their is a VERY strong calling inside of you to be a parent, you shouldn’t! And you definitely shouldn’t be made to feel less than for that choice! I freaking commend you for knowing youself so well and pursing life with your partner, don’t let the old fashion mainstream get to you! I would also be honored if you let me borrow your clothes that don’t have any stains on them. Nevermind don’t let me, my toddler will stain them, and you look freaking fabulous!
And then there are those who desperately want to have children. Maybe they’ve been trying for months with no luck, maybe they have had a recent miscarriage, are seeking fertility help from medical professionals, or working on adoption, regardless of where they are you just asked the question that causes them the most pain. These poor couples are already struggling and this seemingly innocent question makes them feel broken, sad, and angry. They won’t show that to you. Well maybe they will, but the truth is, it always stings.
So what can you ask when conversation starts to dwindle? Try these on for size “What do you and your partner love to do together?” “Do you guys have any big plans or trips in the works?” “How did you guys meet?” these questions allow the person to open up without potentially touching on the topic that’s causing them frustration or pain.
STOP asking when they are going to have another kid. Or if they want to try again for a boy/girl.
Your walking into another landmine here guys. For many of my friends one kid is exactly what they want and they get real tired of people asking when that other sibling is coming along. We talked about how much goes into raising a human being, and you think everyone should want to do that multiple times? That’s crazy! Maybe they had a really rough pregancy or birth and have no wish to put themsleves through that again. Maybe they figured out what they want to be able to provide for their child and in order to do that, they are giving their all to their only child. Their family already feels complete, so the assumption that it’s not is rude.
Back to the fertility dangerzone. Yes, maybe they have a child already but making another one hasn’t been going so well. They are struggling and this is an emotionally loaded question. They are trying to stay positive with every new pregnancy announcement they see and now you reminded them that their family doesn’t feel complete. It’s an innocent mistake but the way they feel is real and raw and we don’t need to open this wound at a random happy hour.
So they have 2 boys, or 3 girls and people constantly want to know, “So are you going to try for the (opposite gender)?” I have to admit I find this one just weird or at least a lame filler question. No one can predict what they are going to have and it puts a whole lot of assumption into gender roles.
Try these instead. “What’s been your favorite stage in your child’s life so far?” “How are you guys adjusting to life as a family of (insert #)? “Do you guys have any family traditions that you are excited to share or start with your kid(s)?” “What is your child into these days?” “What’s the best thing about being a boy/girl mom?” “Does your family feel complete?” – (this one should ONLY be used with someone you already know fairly well and in a place where they can actually share if it’s a potentially loaded question).
Are these perfect? No. But they run a much lower risk of emotionally sidelining the intended recipient. They also have a greater potential for a deeper more captivating conversation. If you find yourself in a situation where one of those old stand in questions falls out, don’t punish yourself, it happens. Just be aware that there are unintended consequences to them and try to replace them in the future with ones that keep the conversation flowing without the whole emotional mugging scenario.