Ok, there are probably more than two questions that fit into this category. How much money do you make? What’s that thing on your face? Did you have to kill anyone in Iraq? But these are two I’ve had recent personal experiences with that may not be as obvious, so I thought I’d share.
So, without further ado, the two questions you should never ask anyone are:
How is the job hunt going?
When are you going to have kids?
The first one was totally my bad. I recently asked this to a friend of mine who had been unemployed for some time and who I knew was sending out resumes. As soon as I said it I regretted it. I know this person pretty well, and if there was good news, they would have told me. Instead, I had to make them remind me of the fact that they were still in the midst of the dreaded job hunt. What a great friend I am!
It’s obvious in hindsight, but a simple rule applies here—don’t ask a question that you know doesn’t have a good answer.
The second question is related, but in this case, the tables are turned for me. This is the question I really want to talk about here.
When are you going to have kids?
First of all, not everyone wants to have children. And they likely don’t have a strong desire to constantly defend such a personal decision. Then there is the whole other group of people who want to, but can’t.
My wife recently shared on social media the struggles we’ve been having with infertility over the last couple years. Throughout that time, I cannot tell you how many times we’ve been asked that seemingly innocent question.
Believe me, no one dealing with infertility actually thinks this question is in any way intended to be hurtful. Sometimes it comes from family members who are just excited to have another baby around. Sometimes it’s from colleagues who are just asking the typical small-talk questions they always ask a semi-newly-married couple. Regardless, we know the question is not meant to harm.
The problem is it sometimes does.
It’s not so much that it saddens you or angers you to hear that question, it’s more that it reminds you that you are in an awful situation and then forces you to decide whether you want to address that situation or not.
Do I really want to launch into the whole explanation right now? I could flip the awkward situation back around on the question-asker.
Not sure, we’ve been trying for two years. Dozens of medications don’t seem to be working, any suggestions?
While that likely achieves the objective of preventing this person from asking the question again, it’s probably not the most delicate way to respond.
Instead, I often just end up avoiding the conflict altogether and responding with something ambiguous like the following:
Oh, I don’t know, one of these days, we’re starting to talk about it.
The problem with a response like that is that it doesn’t really address the problem. And I think the root of the problem is simple—people don’t talk about infertility.
Let’s talk about it
Almost everyone who has seriously battled infertility has probably asked themselves something along the lines of “why is this happening to me.” It feels like such a lonely and hidden experience. AND I AM A GUY! I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels for a woman experiencing it when our society has put so much unfair pressure on women to raise families.
The thing is, it’s not a lonely experience. Tons of people deal with it and, while every journey is different, there are a lot of others out there who can relate to your grief. There are countless different estimates on the number (1 in 4 couples, 1 in 6, etc.) but whatever the actual number is one thing is certain: someone you know, maybe even someone you consider yourself close to, has struggled with infertility.
I know this because as my wife and I started to gradually open up and share what we’ve been experiencing, people often responded that they had a similar experience or knew someone who had. Given so many people around us that can relate, why does it still feel so shameful to share it? The perfectly-manicured lives we tend to portray on social media probably don’t help. Neither do Hollywood films where quick (and often inconvenient) pregnancies are a common trope.
This lack of awareness around the topic can cause otherwise well-intended questions to have unfortunate consequences. Hopefully this post can do its small part in raising awareness about a difficult and all-too-common subject.