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Questions people ask may just seem rude

Published Aug. 24, 2005

How does one answer the (seemingly rude) questions, "Are you seeing anyone?"/"Do you have a boyfriend?"/"Do you date?" I don't see how that is anyone's business but mine.

Surely, with that attitude, you have to beat suitors off with a stick.

Which brings us to what we're really talking about here _ how to handle the hostile judgments that seem to underlie such (seemingly rude) questions.

The judgments and hostility are there, no point in denying them; people really do look down on others' private choices to help them feel better about their own.

Or they just badger others for their private dirt because they're bored silly with their own.

Or they genuinely care about you _ scandalous! _ and aren't judging at all and merely want to know you better; they haven't figured out the 2.2 socially permissible questions that are neither superficial to the point of pointlessness, nor probing to the point of (seeming) rudeness, nor mid-depth but close to a nerve.

"So, are you single?" Too pickup-y. "So, are you married?" Too single- and gay-hostile. "So, where did you go to school?" Too 22. And elitist. "So, what do you do?" Too mine-is-bigger-than-yours. "So, how's life?" Too likely to net a one-word answer. "So, are you pregnant?" Too everything. "So, how do you know the bride?" Not bad, though a bit of a dead end, not to mention memorably weird when you use it at the office holiday party.

When you're sure you're being judged or pried into, the best answer is a nondefensive nonanswer _ anything from, "I'm not having this conversation any more," to, "Hey, isn't that a tufted titmouse?" depending on your panache (and/or proximity to tufted titmice).

Otherwise, though, why not be a good sport about the stupid things people ask you. "Nope, unattached. You?" Have social mercy. Better for the people who mean well but socialize not so well _ and also better for you. Choosing to disarm can be so disarming.

This decision must be yours

My dad cheated on my mom. I don't know/don't care to know the specifics. Meantime, my mom wants us (the kids) to have no relationship with our dad _ out of loyalty to her and because he ruined our family. I'm not comfortable with this, but my mom cannot be reasoned with. Thoughts?

Then don't reason with her.

(If you get your head out of the sand, I'll stop shouting.)

Your only job here is to decide what you feel you need to do _ and I think you owe both parents at least a semi-informed decision _ then explain your decision to Ma, then act on it.

An example, assuming you choose not to expunge your dad: Tell Mom you appreciate the pain your father caused her, but also that you are capable of loving him while also hating what he did. Or, short version, "Mom, he's my dad."

Remember. These are now statements of position, not attempts to persuade.

Before you say anything, though, know that it may cost you your mom. Wrenching stuff, obviously. But also know that your parents put you in this spot, your father by cheating and your mother by blackmailing you, which makes it fully their responsibility. Your family, you can't keep intact; your integrity, you must.

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