Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Questions We Ask Women

Romantically, I have experienced three different life stages: (1) life as a single woman; (2) life as a woman in love with a serious boyfriend; and (3) life as a married woman.  

When I was single, people always asked if there were any "cute prospects."  Please note: my parents never asked this.  Never.  They were so good and did not care if I got married or not.  They just wanted me to be happy. But other people asked - work friends, college friends, colleagues, cousins, and pretty much everyone else I knew. 

I hated and dreaded this question.  Eventually, I learned to answer with a mysterious smile and shrug, but the question always made me feel like a bit of a failure.  I was so happy with my life and did not feel an urgent need to fall in love and get married.  I had attended an Ivy League college, went to a good law school, and was a successful attorney.  But whenever someone asked me "any cute prospects?" it felt like a punch to my stomach.  As if, the fact that  I had not managed to ensnare a cute prospect diminished my other successes.  As if, I should be less happy because I had not found Mr. Right. 

Looking back, I wish I had been braver when asked this question.  I wish I had said, "Why yes, I noticed a cute prospect on page 48 of last month's Cute And Available Men.  I'm thinking of ordering the Architect/Likes Dogs model but I'm also intrigued by the Lumberjack/Lactose Intolerant Limited Edition Canadian.  What do you think?"

I know that my friends, colleagues and relatives meant well.  (At least, I hope they meant well).  When my college friends inquired about my love life, they were showing interest in my life and my future.  I get that.  They were not judging me.  But still, the question "any cute prospects?" felt like a judgment when it was asked by someone in a serious relationship.  (Of course, the question felt entirely different when asked by a single friend.  A single friend can always ask another single friend "any cute prospects?"  That is not an invasion of privacy.  That is commiseration).

Now that I am in a serious relationship, I remind myself to not ask single friends and relatives if there are any "cute prospects."  If they want to talk about their love life, I assume they will bring up the subject.  But a woman who is single should not be defined by the fact that she is single.  She might be single but that is not the only thing she can talk about.  She can talk about books, movies, her career, her hobbies, and upcoming vacations.  Shit, she can even talk about the weather and traffic.  There are plenty of things to talk to a single woman about, aside from the fact that she's single. 

Once I met Nathan and things got serious, I encountered a new question: SO WHEN ARE YOU GUYS GETTING MARRIED?  This question was even more obnoxious than "any cute prospects?"  A couple's decision to get married is a serious step.  And there is no "right time" to take that step.  Nathan and I dated for three years, and for us, that was perfect. Some people date three months and get married, and that's the right thing for them.  Other people spend their lives together but never get married - and that's perfect. 

But the question "when are you two getting married?" carries the subtext "you guys have been dating long enough, you should get married already."  If you ask a woman in a serious relationship, "When do you think he is going to propose?" you are insinuating that he should propose soon or something is wrong with the relationship.  That might not be your intention.  You may just be asking "when are you two getting married?" to make conversation.  But still, the insinuation is there.

I asked a dear and cherished friend this question recently.  She is in a serious relationship with a wonderful man, and they are so obviously in love and a great match, and I am so happy for my friend.  And when we were having dinner, I asked her questions about would they get married and when the wedding might be.  As I asked those questions, it felt like an out-of-body experience and Ghost Courtney was screaming at Real Courtney "What are you doing, you stupid bitch?!"  But I couldn't stop myself.  I kept asking stupid questions as to when my friend's boyfriend might propose, as if she might have a crystal ball stashed in her purse and would just whip it out in the middle of a sushi restaurant.   

Now I am married, and I am being asked a new question: so when are you guys going to have kids?  I have actually only been asked this about a dozen times.  Not bad for seven months of marriage.  And I do not mind the question.  Actually, it's a compliment because presumably the person asking the question thinks Nathan and I should have children, which suggests they think we would be good parents. 

But, I think this is a dangerous question to ask a woman without children.  One of my dearest friends had a miscarriage.  It was a horrible experience, and my heart broke for her.  She had the miscarriage early in her pregnancy, so people did not know it happened.  After her miscarriage, people kept asking when she was going to get pregnant.  Every time she was asked that question, she was reminded of the baby she had lost and it felt like she was being stabbed in the heart. 

If you ask a woman when she is going to get pregnant, you might be stabbing her in the heart.  She and her husband might be struggling to conceive.  She might have had a miscarriage.  You have no idea what is going on in her life and what pain or grief she might be struggling with.  Would you ask a married woman without children "Had any miscarriages recently?"  or "Having any trouble getting knocked up?"  Of course not.  But when you ask a woman when she is going to have children, you might accidentally be touching on these subjects.

These are the three questions that bother me: Any cute prospects?  When are you two going to get married already?  and When are you going to have kids?  I think these questions are best left unasked.  Let the woman raise these subjects.  If she wants to tell you about the horrible first date she went on last week or her hopes about having a baby, believe me, she will.