Approaching mid 30s single; telling people to mind their own business?
May 25, 2013 4:19 AM   Subscribe

I am a female and have never been married and live with my cat. After a disastrous relationship where I "attempted" to settle 2 years ago, I have been single. Every time I talk to relatives and "well meaning" friends they keep teasing me that I am a "cat lady" and reminding me of my biological clock.

Except, I am well aware of my age and that I need to "hurry up" if I want kids. I never longed for kids the way other women did but in my ideal life, yes I would fall in love and have a family. I don't want to bring up kids if they are not a part of the family unit. I am also realistic. I know that I am quirky and connect to very few men and I have already attempted to give men that I wasn't crazy about a chance. I don't have a paper list of standards but I need the chemistry and connection. However, explaining this over and over again can get tiresome.

Add to that the pressure of my own family....and I don't know what to do. Admittedly, it is a sore point for me, and no, I am not exactly ecstatic to live alone with my cat for the rest of my life. But I have accepted it and have other goals in life. Marriage is not meant for everyone, and I can't just be depressed over my singledom every day. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't.

How to politely tell people to stop asking?
posted by sabina_r to Human Relations (59 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
People aren't being that polite when they nag you about your fertility and personal circumstances so you might need to reconsider how polite you stay in return. Start with ' none of your business and go from there.
posted by biffa at 4:25 AM on May 25, 2013 [21 favorites]

There is an art to steering a conversation, it takes a bit of practice. I find it's good to not directly address whatever they've said but to talk around it and I don't really pause to let them get their well-meaning words in, I just talk in order to completely hijack the conversation and turn it into whatever I want it to be about. It might make you seem a bit manic (heh) but I have found it useful. You can't make them stop asking you about it, but you can steer conversations in other directions.
posted by heyjude at 4:42 AM on May 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah they are rude and basically grabbing the low-hanging fruit. Be agressive about your other goals so they will be the topic of small-talk. When they bring up your fertility/tease you, be serious and ask if they are purposefully being hurtful. I am assuming they are actually coming from a good place and see you are such a great "catch" and don't understand why the men you have met haven't jumped to put a ring on it.
posted by saucysault at 4:43 AM on May 25, 2013

I absolutely feel your pain on this issue. Various techniques I have tried generally depend on who they are in relation to me. People often forget, as well, because for some inexplicable reason stuff like this is often filed under "polite small talk" in a lot of peoples' brains. So they have to be reminded to stop asking over and over and over again, even if they've been schooled in the past. Please keep in mind that I am perceived by friends and family as brash, overly honest, occasionally rude, funny, slightly outrageous, and regularly impertinent.

So let's see, with varying levels of success, I've tried:

-You know what would be great? If you never asked me when I was going to find a man and get married ever again.
-If I were a man would you be talking about my sperm count?
-Hey you want to pay for the upkeep of some of my frozen eggs?
-That's just not a priority for me. (I append "right now" when talking to my older relatives so they aren't too scandalized.)
-I'm spending my time on things that are important to me. (Then refuse to justify why you don't find kids etc important.)
-Gosh, if I ever am getting some on the regular, you'll be the first to know. I'll call you from the bathroom! (Best utilized on baby-crazy ladyfriends.)
-[Cat name] has informed me that were I to become with child, I would be betraying him/her and our love. (Say it with really wide eyes while picking fur off trousers.)
-Have you ever noticed that when I ask you about your life, I don't remind you of all the things you do that I consider to be failures?
-No, you don't get to ask that again. I've already told you, and this is boring me now.
-Guess what? We're not talking about that.

And yes, it's a classic, because it is the most effective, particularly if you make direct eye contact, and mind you, this is the only thing that has ever worked on my incredibly nutso super invasive jewish grandma:

-That's none of your business.
posted by Mizu at 4:45 AM on May 25, 2013 [64 favorites]

You can tell them that it's internationally accepted that to be a cat lady, you have to have at least three cats. And then change the subject.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:46 AM on May 25, 2013 [16 favorites]

You might try explaining a bit of what you said here: You wish it were different. It is not for lack of trying. It is a sore point. Them nagging you isn't going to fix it. And "How about if you act like an actual friend and stop rubbing salt in the wound?"

But, really, they aren't being polite, much less caring. That kind of insensitive jackassery doesn't merit "respect." Still, telling jackasses to their face that they are jackasses generally only makes things worse, so trying to be polite in the face of it is still the correct short term answer. But I would probably spend less time with people like that.

And maybe that would eventually solve both problems. Spending less time with people who don't know how to do right by you might gradually expose you to better social experiences and that might help foster connecting with the right people.
posted by Michele in California at 4:52 AM on May 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

While I agree with biffa that people aren't being polite when they nag you about personal, sensitive issues, I don't think that they realize they are being impolite. Encouraging other members of our species to procreate is likely just an aspect of our biology, and expressing that is not exactly abnormal (at least from my experience, anyway).

If you react coldly this will not reflect positively on you at all, despite the fact that you are the one having to deal with the unsolicited advice. My advice, and this may not fit your personality or your situation, is similar to what I say to people with the same obvious commentary. These people giving you this advice are likely the very same people who also gripe to you about their shitty spouses or pain-in-the-ass kids. I would recommend firing back at someone who calls you out for still being single with a personalized retort based on previous complaints they have aired.

"Oh, I need to hurry up and find a husband so I can have someone who (also can't be bothered to help with simple chores/stays out drinking all night/etc) like (spouse's name)?"

And I'm sure you can find an equally applicable response to the kids question as well.

I would recommend being careful with this as well, though. If you come off as teasing in the same manner that you are being teased it is likely just fine. But you could quickly cross the line into meanness/offensiveness, so try to be cognizant of how you will come off as well.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 4:57 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tell them that you've found that being a cat-owning female makes a great asshole filter, then be silent as the meaning behind your words sinks in.
posted by SillyShepherd at 4:58 AM on May 25, 2013 [13 favorites]

STOP explaining. It's nobody's business but your own. You don't owe any of these people an explanation, and giving them one - any explanation at all - just gives them more ammo with which to nag and batter you.

My suggestion is to blink as if bewildered and say "Gosh, that's very personal" and change the subject. For pushier people I'd add "I'm well ware of my age, thanks."
posted by DarlingBri at 4:58 AM on May 25, 2013 [37 favorites]

If your friends and relatives are worth a damn they want you to be happy. If they don't, you don't need to worry about being polite. In that case, feel free to snap off a biting remark and move on to better people.

When my folks ask me if I've found anybody yet, my response is usually just "Not yet" followed by a change in subject. If they persist, nodding a bit while they get their advice off their chest while not engaging further seems to work too.

The point is that you don't owe anyone any explanations. Attack/deflect/ignore as appropriate and then change the subject to something more interesting.
posted by JDHarper at 4:59 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get new friends. Move away from family.

Failing that, I guess you could tell them directly that they're being obnoxious. I'm a laid back person, but from time to time I have to tell family that they're being offensive. It's weird and sort of uncomfortable, but also necessary.
posted by jpe at 4:59 AM on May 25, 2013

I've been in your shoes and my reply was, "Well, I just never found anyone to be as good to me as my dad is to my mom. Do you know of anyone that might fit that bill that you could fix me up with?" That usually shuts them up because 99% of the time, they got nuttin. YMMV

Or you could be a total bitch and reply with, "Well, I guess my standards for a husband/wife are just higher than yours."
posted by NoraCharles at 5:20 AM on May 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

First time: "that's none of your business, thanks."

Second time: "that's none of your business; do not bring it up again."

Third time: "I have asked you to not bring that up. You're being incredibly rude, and this conversation is over." Walk away/hang up/mic drop.
posted by punchtothehead at 5:26 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

The "good" news is they'll eventually give up on you and stop talking about it.

Before that, well...I'll tell you what I did, and maybe you won't want to get into this with these people but what I found works really well is brutal honesty. About yourself, not about how they're being rude, although they are. Just tell them exactly *why* you are single. In my experience people who ask/tease like this honestly believe you have lots of opportunities to have a husband/family, and that you, for some reason, are deciding not to. It's baffling, but they really seem to believe that everything in one's life is one's own choice. If you point out that yes you would prefer that but it is unlikely to happen because of X thing that you cannot change, they shut up really fast. The last time someone asked me why I didn't have a boyfriend, I said men generally prefer to date women who are thin and pretty. The look on her face, ha. She had no reply, had to admit I was right, and never mentioned it again. It's not fun, but it's always worked. In your case you already said it in this post:

I would fall in love and have a family. I am also realistic. I know that I am quirky and connect to very few men. Marriage is not meant for everyone, and I can't just be depressed over my singledom every day
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:28 AM on May 25, 2013 [14 favorites]

I'd probably do something like DestinationUnknown (I'm also single and time is running out on kids, but except for a few older relatives I see rarely no one bugs me about it).

The one time it came up with my grandma, I told her that I hadn't met the right person yet and I was sure she wouldn't want me to be with the wrong person. Never came up again.

Occasionally I preemptively tell people this: "Whenever I get depressed about being single I read advice columns and I see what married women write in. 'I think my husband is cheating, my husband won't help with the chores, isn't nice to my parents, refuses to get a job, he hits me, he's an alcoholic .." And I think any one of those women would be happy to have the problem of just being single but happy, like me. It's better to be alone than with the wrong person."
posted by bunderful at 5:41 AM on May 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

I feel for you. As a woman who never wanted or had kids I can totally relate to the pressure and pushy comments. My standard response to the kid thing was, *Kids?! I love kids! They taste like chicken! * Maybe there's something similarly humorous you could say to include the whole relationship situation as well. Humor is usually the easiest way to shut folks up without antagonizing them or accidentally provoking further conversation.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:11 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

How to politely tell people to stop asking?
Politely? "Stop asking, please. Thank you."
posted by Flunkie at 6:13 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Quite honestly, I find that people so rarely will say, "When you say that, it's hurtful to me," that when you do, whoever said the hurtful thing apologizes pretty quickly and changes the conversation. You may have to have a real heart-to-heart with people closer to you (like family) by opening with that, but often, we're expected to put up with teasing and "good-natured" joking at our expense as some sort of test of our humor levels.
posted by xingcat at 6:17 AM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

FWIW, I like saucysault's suggestion the most. "Are you trying to be hurtful? Because that's what just happened." Also xingcat's. The people treating you this way are being huuuuuuuuuuuge jerks. =(
posted by kavasa at 6:27 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could tell them that if you ever get tired of the cat-lady lifestyle you'll join them in the bowels of hell.

Or you could say "You know, it's extremely cruel of you to taunt me for not being able to get what you've got. I'm happy most of the time, but unless you have any concrete help to offer, please stop trying to change that by twisting the knife."
posted by tel3path at 6:27 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Agree with the advice above. Being direct about how hurtful it is works. I give people dagger eyes and say "that's a really, really sore subject." Gets the point across.
posted by Melismata at 6:35 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're a "zing" kind of person you could riposte, "how come you don't have that summer home in the Poconos yet?" "That plan to retire wealthy and independent at 30 just not coming together for you?" "How's that hit record coming? Laid down any tracks lately?" "I know a gallery owner in Soho who's just dying to find the next Pollock, how's your painting hobby going?"

Not sure why it's much more common (and acceptable) to needle people about family and relationships as opposed to money and success, but you can sure make a STFU point quickly by recasting their comments to you into another context.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:36 AM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is this where I'm allowed to ask for a picture of your cat?
And seconding what so many up thread have said, it's really none of their business.
Of course you could go on the offensive and say
'' I'm still auditioning ''.
posted by adamvasco at 6:38 AM on May 25, 2013 [11 favorites]

I like the "auditioning" riposte.

I think it was Miss Manners who recommended a look of shock and,

"I'm astounded that you would ask such a rude question."
posted by megatherium at 6:41 AM on May 25, 2013 [10 favorites]

I know that I am quirky and connect to very few men and I have already attempted to give men that I wasn't crazy about a chance.
Is your family saying this to you, or are you just filling in your own self-deprecating reasons to validate their criticism? I mean, it's pretty reasonable to just say, "I'm going to get married when I meet the right guy" and leave it at that.
posted by deathpanels at 6:43 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may have already done this, but one way to make lemonade out of these lemons might be to see if you can wrangle these (probably) well-meaning people into helping you out. Maybe start with, instead of a zinger, a show of your good humor (smile, "Ha, I know, cat lady, right?") followed by a sincere "Actually, the truth is, I am looking to meet somebody. Do you know anyone nice who might be looking too?" More smiles, but keep looking at them so they know you're serious. Something along those lines.

Might sound goofy, but you never know, sometimes people know people. Otherwise, I'd agree with the commenters who say to be honest about finding such remarks hurtful (rather than going sarcastic and negative, which is kind of unpleasant). I'm single and "quirky" too, so this is coming from a place of empathy.
posted by honey wheat at 6:55 AM on May 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

I agree with DestinationUnknown and it's true they will eventually stop asking and in some ways that's even worse!

I used to just basically agree with people and say 'yeah, I would like that too but hey it doesn't seem to be happening' Type things. And if they'd ask me if I'd met someone yet I'd be like 'listen I will hire sky writers and announce it from the treetops when I have some news okay? You're not likely to miss out hearing it, so asking isn't even necessary!'

I never think the cold 'I think you are very rude for asking' responses would ever work in 'real life'. Not if you actually want to maintain decent relations with the people asking. Humor and sort of direct 'yeah that would be nice' responses seem to work better for me.
posted by bquarters at 7:01 AM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

As megatherium posts, let Miss Manners be your guide! Her response is the most concise, and all-around best.
By the way: what year is this? People are still asking this question of single women in 2013?? Color me disgusted.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:04 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a fortysomething female who STILL gets that sometimes I've found a light-hearted "I'd rather be solo than badly accompanied" to be very effective. If I'm feeling forthcoming I might preface it with something along the lines of "I would love to meet a great guy but..."

It works particularly well with smug marrieds whose spouses are far from perfect (which is all of them, of course), especially if they have ever complained to you about their partner.
posted by rpfields at 7:23 AM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think it was Miss Manners who recommended a look of shock and,

"I'm astounded that you would ask such a rude question."
Miss Manners would never suggest calling someone else's behavior "rude" to their face.
posted by grouse at 7:23 AM on May 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

I never think the cold 'I think you are very rude for asking' responses would ever work in 'real life'. Not if you actually want to maintain decent relations with the people asking.

Yeah, this. I feel like there are lots of answers here (and AskMe in general, not just this question) that would be great TV writing, but would just never work in real life unless you were setting out to make enemies. There's certainly a time and place for shutting rude people down, but 9 times out of 10 these questions are about friends or family or co-workers who are not awful people, they just don't realize they're being dimwitted and hurtful. And some of those Miss Manners-y phrases (That won't be possible, etc.) strike me as wicked harsh. Again, they might have their place somewhere, like with pushy salespeople, but not with people you actually like or wish to continue speaking to. And I'm pretty blunt, generally, so I can't imagine how prickly you'd have to be to really talk like that frequently.

I do think it depends on who it is doing the asking/teasing. Some of the "Why aren't you a millionaire?" responses would be great in some cases; seriously letting the person know that it's a difficult subject and it hurts when they bring it up would be better in others.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:29 AM on May 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

As nosy & intrusive as it comes across, it's motivated by their version of care and concern for you.

You can kill 2 birds with one stone: ask them to introduce someone who matches your requirements - Whenever they bring it up. It forces a bit of effort on them, which will make them think twice after the first couple of times.

And, since you are not opposed to meeting the right guy, it could be in your favor.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:35 AM on May 25, 2013

There's no need to be rude to people. Tell people the truth and they'll understand. Tell them you haven't met any guy who is husband/father material and that it's too expensive/too burdensome on your own. You'll get nods.

I get this question a lot and it doesn't really bother me because other women, single and married, know the deal---that the prospect of having a kid with the wrong kind of partner would be miserable. There's nothing wrong with saying "Kids are a lot of work and expensive." They know it. They also know it's hard to find a guy who is husband/father material these days. So if you're truthful, it's okay. They already know it to be true. I always just say, "Who knows? Maybe I'll just have a lifetime of exciting lovers in every city instead!"

But giving a rude and sarcastic response not only makes you look insecure and immature, it makes you seem unpleasant to be around. You do have a perfectly good reason for being happy about being single.
posted by discopolo at 7:37 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a never-married 50-something female (but without a cat: damn my stupid allergies....), I feel your pain. You have several options that range from honest answers, ignoring the question, a bland non-answer or being outright rude.

If this is repetitive --- and it must be, or you wouldn't be here asking this question --- I'd skip right over honest answers as well as ignoring the person..... you've tried that, right? And it hasn't worked. Okay, have you tried the non-answer? That would be responding with something like "well, bless your heart!" or "thank you for your concern", but no actual factual response. Next step is frosty, something like "excuse me? What did you say?!?"

After that is straight-up rude ("why in the world would you think that's any of your business?!?"), and I wouldn't worry about hurting their feelings --- they were rude to ask that kind of personal question in the first place.
posted by easily confused at 7:54 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have not yet told them, calmly and seriously, that you find this line of questioning really hurtful and upsetting, not to mention rude, then you should do so at once. You can literally just say "I find this topic of conversation really hurtful and upsetting, and I would appreciate it if you would stop doing this to me." If they try to joke you out of it, just repeat yourself again and again. If they tell you it's just because they care about you, remind them that they are HURTING YOU and deliberately and knowingly hurting you does not show that they care.

If they tell you you're being too sensitive then, very seriously, you can tell them they are shitheads who should fuck off, because that is classic bullying language used by people who are angry/resentful that you are standing up for yourself and not allowing them to hurt you anymore.
posted by elizardbits at 8:03 AM on May 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

I am a great believer in directness and honesty with things like this. Tell them straight out that you are very aware of your age and how biology works; that there are reasons why you are not yet in a relationship or having kids; that these reasons are none of their business, and that you find it annoying and occasionally upsetting to have the subject constantly raised so could they please stop doing that?

Sometimes you have to openly make people aware that they are causing you annoyance or irritation.
posted by Decani at 8:16 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

These are mostly "comebacks" responses.

I don't think anyone offers training in comebacks. I have thousands, and SOMETIMES, they are accessible when I need them, but just as often, not.

What do you want to accomplish in a conversation? If it's training, you have three choices. Ignore or reinforce negatively or positively.

There are only examples, of course, which may/may not apply to a specific individual or circumstance. Positive/preemptive would be to thank everyone in advance for not asking the question while simultaneously communicating the intrusive and negative nature of others who do. Negative would be an aggressive response, meant to shut down, hurt, discourage, insult someone intrusive at its most extreme. You can ramp it up as high as you want (aggressive stance, in your face challenge, violation of personal space boundaries, breaking plates, etc.) but that's obviously a bridge burner.

Ignoring is good, too, but will not prevent future impoliteness. if you have a strong enough sense of self to lead your own life and not pay attention to the critiques of others, I think that serves you best in the long run. In the same way they might try to change your behavior to meet their needs, intruding on their bad manners is similar.

For the most part, it helps to recognize that people are kind of stupid. When it comes to stuff like this, they willfully ignore all the negatives in the search to add you to their stupid team... (i.e., a woman driven crazy by her kids, whose spouse is a lout and who has no life outside her kids want's to be sure you enjoy those things, too.) You can make your own choices. It's OK not to have kids. It's OK to put it off until it's too late. O, well. Missed that chance! It's OK to have 10 kids in your 20's, too, but don't hold a gun to my head. I'd rather go to Europe with the money I saved, thanks.

You are OK being you. You are vastly outnumbered by the impolite in the world. A much better investment of your emotional self-improvement time would be to bolster your confidence in the way you are choosing to live your life, rather than a one-sized fits all response to a highly variable insult spectrum.

Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 9:07 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you've never told them this is a painful subject for you, say that. People can be insensitive clods and well-meaning at the same time.

But if that person bring it up a second time, turn the tables on them and ask them why they are asking you hurtful questions. Put them on the defensive, because once they've been told, they need to knock it the fuck off. And if they challenge you for being oversensitive or whatever, just walk away.

In the meantime, get busy enjoying your life. Being happy in your own skin is the best thing ever, and as your are merely approaching your mid-30's, you have a lot to look forward to.
posted by ambrosia at 9:39 AM on May 25, 2013

I don't know what your family is like, but my family has a pretty large number of people who would respond to any variant of "that hurts my feelings" with a variant of "you're being too sensitive, get over it." So if they started questioning me about something I didn't want to answer, I would just avoid the question- as in, pretend I hadn't heard it, or reply with "I don't know" or a total nonsequiter. If they were teasing me about something, I would just look at them like I thought they were an idiot, go "hm. So anyways..." and carry on with something else.
posted by windykites at 9:42 AM on May 25, 2013

"I know you mean well, but this is a really hard thing for me to talk about right now. When I feel like I need to discuss that part of my life with someone, I will definitely let you know."
posted by Bardolph at 9:44 AM on May 25, 2013

Blah. This is so common, and so awful. Basically it's a shibboleth: they are asking you to confirm that you buy into heteronormative culture. "Yes, I am heterosexual. Yes, husband and kids are my priority. Yes, I am a failure as a woman if I don't achieve that." Of course you're offended.

I don't have any magic answers. I vary my own responses based on what I think of the person asking. Sometimes I'll explain that I have different priorities. Sometimes I'll laugh, or act a little puzzled. Sometimes I'll talk about how the world has changed, and how I am so glad that I have other options and we don't all need to live the same life anymore.

One thing I'd caution you about though. I had a friend in your position who used to make cat lady references to herself. Things like "how many cats do you think I'd need to own before I became utterly undateable" and that kind of thing. I would half play along, because she's my friend and she was initiating the jokes. One day we talked about it, and discovered we were both feeling weird and ambivalent. Turned out she was making the jokes as a kind of defense mechanism against other family and friends' asssumptions, and they made her feel like crap. So of course we stopped. You might want to check and make sure you're not implicitly giving people social permission to treat you this way, by perpetuating/normalizing the stereotypes you resent. (In saying that, I am obviously not meaning to blame the victim --- it's just that a lot of this is outside your control, and that one aspect is not.)
posted by Susan PG at 10:12 AM on May 25, 2013 [11 favorites]

A vote for You know, I have a hard time meeting nice guys; I'd love you to introduce me to some. and Ouch, that's a really, really sore subject.

If your family loves to tease, letting them know it's hurtful can make it worse, though if that's your family, I'd avoid them.

If Uncle Joe is just bad at coming up with conversation starters, and is basically a sweetie, Uncle Joe, do you know how hard it is to find a guy as nice as you? or similarly, Aunt Sal, Sal, how the heck did you find a nice guy like Uncle Bill? Both of these create the opportunity to change the subject. I learned to always go to family events with a mental list of conversation topics, so I could deflect and move on.

Cat lady comments can be brushed aside with The rules say I need 4 or more cats to qualify, and Moseby isn't good at sharing. One cat does not make you a weird recluse, by any means. I used to get similar comments, but they were phrased as You're so sweet/ pretty/ smart, why hasn't some guy snapped you up, and I knew they were meant well, if annoying.
posted by theora55 at 10:15 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know that I am quirky and connect to very few men and I have already attempted to give men that I wasn't crazy about a chance.

Me too. It doesn't work. Hoo boy, does it not work. I never once changed my mind and started likey-liking a dude I had no interest in after dating him, even multiple times. And it made me feel like an asshole.

My shrink didn't get married until she was 51, and she told me that bursting into tears and running from the room ALWAYS shut people up on this topic. I can't pull off bursting into tears, but I am seriously debating busting out this spiel some day when I am super mad at this question:


Sure, they'd think I'm psycho, but I'm single so they already think I'm a psycho, what's the difference. I haven't done it yet, but I really want to.

As for more reasonable ways to answer this question, when my uncle Sat Me Down at around 25 or so to bother me about how I'll be too settled in my ways alone to partner, I told him that (a) it wasn't at all under my control to settle down with someone when nobody wants to (or the ones that do are creeps), and (b) that had already happened. He shut up after that.

I have also pointed out at times to others that I am rarely asked out, and when I do get asked out, it tends to be by retirees, super creepy retirees who won't take no for an answer, homeless crazy old dudes, one guy looking to cheat on his pregnant girlfriend (I think that one was the only guy under 40 who has come on to me in the last 10 years), and other sterling prospects. I really, really don't like older men because I have freaking been traumatized by the ones who liked me and wouldn't stop pushing me to do things I don't want to, but that's all that that goes for me. That's the sea I get to fish in in my prime years. I have tried to settle in the past and I literally cannot stomach it. Those are my choices--do you really want me to end up with one of them? And they kind of go "um, no...." in a small voice under their breath and shut up.

Some of us just aren't going to be able to catch a man we can stomach before the baby years are up. I guess God doesn't want us to, that's the only logical conclusion I can come to about it. I am grateful as all hell that I don't want a baby under these circumstances, because I sure as hell can't do it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:17 AM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Tell them you decided to skip the first marriage.
posted by BibiRose at 11:59 AM on May 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

"You're a cat lady."

"Yeah, but my pets won't eventually grow up and ask for car keys and college money. Say, your husband is looking pretty hot. Has he been working out?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:10 PM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I only adopt this in extreme cases but it is unbelievably effective if you can pull it off and guarantees that anyone subjected to or it or sees it will never hassle you again. Cry. On cue.

Someone giving you grief you about your weight, the fact that you can't have kids or you'll die loveless and alone? Embarrass the living crap out of them publicly and call attention to the assholes that they are. Let some tears well up, look as distraught as you possibly can, let out a sob or two and make sure everyone around them hears and then say something like, "You think I wouldn't change this if I could? But thank you for bringing up something so painful every time I see you. Well done, you've succeeded. You've made me feel like complete shit. As usual. I hope you're happy." Watch them backpedal so fast they look like one of those cartoon characters leaving dust behind them.

Like I said, extreme cases only for people who have already been told to back off and won't. These insensitive losers just expect to be able to say whatever horrible things they want and get away with it but when everyone around them knows they've made someone cry and you make your feelings known (supposedly a social gaffe, we should always pretend we are robots and it's water off a ducks back) it's so unexpected, they'll look like the villains they are and NO ONE will ever bring it up again.
posted by Jubey at 12:14 PM on May 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

As much as I liked quips when I was younger, a bit of experience using them quickly taught me what a couple of others have said in this thread: they may look good in writing and sound good on TV, where you only see the split second silence aftermath... but in reality, the aftermath is much longer and tends to earn you a negative reputation. Thankfully I had feedback from people who noticed the rudeness of others asking me the same sorts of things, and that I was trying to riposte humorously, but putting my foot in it nonetheless.

The best responses for long-term positive (or at least neutral) relationships have been these:
- Do not show negative emotion if you're dealing with people who have proven in the past to ignore the fact that you're hurt. (They may well be doing it on purpose.)
- Smile blandly, and assume they want you to be happy, even if they don't (see above), and say as genuinely as possible, "Oh, don't worry! My life is going just as I'd like it to."
- Change the subject. Works best if you can manage a blithe nonchalance. "Aren't kids great! How's your little Angela doing?"
- Another change the subject tactic if you're feeling silly: "Oh my god you won't BELIEVE what my cat did the other day!" (This works pretty well for me since I have wholeheartedly adopted the Impassioned Cat Lady reality of my life.)

Finally, if you can manage to engage people who genuinely do care about you while changing subjects, you'll notice the conversation organically going to more constructive things. After several months of assiduously doing this, no one has asked me about my status any more except friends I trust (thank goodness).
posted by fraula at 12:21 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

What I find works well is to flip the discomfort back to them, and make them explain themselves, using the good ol' "Why do you ask?" lead question, followed up with more "Whys".

"My dating status? Why do you ask?"
--"Oh, I just don't want you to miss out on having a family."

"And why is that?"
--"Oh, you know, it just seems like you'd be happier..."

"Why do you say that?"

Put them under the interrogation light until they crack or give up.

In my experience, most people make it to about 3-4 rounds of "why" before they get flustered and back the hell off.
posted by nacho fries at 12:22 PM on May 25, 2013 [17 favorites]

Hi there, fellow single and catted! I'm grateful to live in an area where there is less religious and social pressure on people to couple up by a certain age. Still, I feel your pain because I've been asked the same thing - "when are you going to get married," "why haven't you met someone," etc.

In my experience, the askers fall into three categories and I deal with them accordingly:

1) People who are close to you and are coming from a place of care and concern, but express themselves clumsily: These are the ones you deal with gently and honestly: "Aunt Mary, I know you care and wish me the best. Marriage and children just haven't happened for me yet, and no-one is more aware of it than I am. When you keep asking, it hurts my feelings. If you know a great single guy, please introduce us. Otherwise, please don't bring up the subject again. Now how about this lovely spring weather we're having?"

2) Nosey Parkers who don't know, or don't care, that they're being prying and rude by asking such a personal question - neighbors, church acquaintances, or coworkers. (It doesn't help that Facebook, Twitter, etc. have set expectations for personal privacy to a low point.) To them, you can say something like "That's rather personal" or "I'd rather not answer that." Not as abrupt as "None of your business," but it gets the point across. And then change the subject: "How 'bout those Giants?"

3) Bullies. I'm convinced that some people who ask these kinds of questions are doing it to make the one asked feel small. They just happen to pick something that you are sensitive about, or that might make you feel "less than" in their eyes. If you were married, these are the kinds of people who would ask, "So why did you marry a man of X race?" or "Why did you marry a plumber when you could have had a wealthy white-collar guy?" And they also ask things like, "Why don't you live in a better neighborhood?" "Why do you send your kids to that school?" and of course, "Why don't you lose weight/exercise?" These types of people just want to bully you, and with them you can give the frosty stare and the "None of your business."

Snappy comebacks sometimes work - I've been known to say, "I won't have to pay my cats' college fund or their orthodontist bill," or, if I'm feeling particularly snide, "I was married, but he's buried in my backyard and I'm having fun with the insurance money." But as others have pointed out, it's not always possible to think of a snappy comeback on the spur of the moment.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:25 PM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ha, I just realised jenfullmoon suggested the same crying thing. It works!
posted by Jubey at 12:25 PM on May 25, 2013

I would not give the boor the satisfaction of making me cry! Instead of crying, how about turning aggressive: "Hearing that subject again makes me feel like grinding my stiletto heel into someone's instep". This is unlikely to be endearing when the boor is your mother, but she should learn to put another string on her harp also.
posted by Cranberry at 1:02 PM on May 25, 2013

Could you respond by saying "I'm pro-choice, and this planned parenthood thing is something I take seriously"?
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:17 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

According to the information provided though the link of this recent front page post, you're in good company, about 45% of U.S. adults aren’t married and around 1 in 7 lives alone.

I usually laugh at the rude question (this takes practice if you're used to feeling shocked by their rudeness) and explain I'm fairly normal.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:08 PM on May 25, 2013

What century are your friends/relatives living in? My life is full of happy, amazing 30-something single women. You are no longer the exception. Nor is marriage a recipe for happiness. I'm happy being married, but on average I'd say the single women I know are happier than the married women. To presume that all women need to or want to get married by X age is just remarkably outdated.

I like rpfields' "I'd rather be solo than badly accompanied" remark, but a lighthearted, only half-joking "What century is this?" might alert them to the fact that this kind of talk is no longer okay, at least not for you.
posted by walla at 2:53 PM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

There are two responses:

"So when are you going to settle down and start a family?"

1. "Why, you know someone?"

2. Burst into tears and run sobbing from the room.

I like #1.

FWIW, I was married at the age of 39, and I'm SO glad I didn't settle. But I'd turn these yentas into yentas. You network when you're unemployed, you may as well put the word out that you're up for a fix up.

"I love Fluffy, but I'd love to have a guy in my life. If you run across any likely prospects, I'd love to meet them, so how's your alcoholism doing?"
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:38 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with DarlingBri! You don't have to explain yourself to anyone!! Just be polite and honest but FIRM and with a sense of humour if you are ready to laugh about it. If you don't mind offending them, do a 'are you serious?' face make THEM feel stupid and judgmental for makng the comment in the first place! Ugh some people are such jerks!

Look them in the eye and give one of the following responses

E.g. (Cat lady comment)
"Hahaha did you really just say that?"
"Hahaha looks like someone's feeling mean..."
"Hahaha RUDE."
"Why do you care again?"
Laugh good naturedly, but a drop of genuine disbelief will help they see clearly how rude they were!

"Luckily I don't care what you think, I really like my life!"
"Uhh back off, what are you, a five year old?"

Or just be assertive and vulnerable, that's ok and it throws people off
"Listen, you are my close friend/(family member) and I love spending time together, but when you say comments suggesting that it's not okay that I'm single at this stage in my life I feel uncomfortable/insulted (pick one that isn't too vulnerable). If you keep doing this I won't want to spend as much time with you anymore because while I am happy I didn't settle for the wrong person, sometimes I doubt the decisions I have made and appreciate friends who support me in my times of doubt."

Or even a simple
"I'd rather we didn't talk about this."

Or something like
"It's personal"

I also love Bibirose's comeback! So sassy and sharp! Good luck girll just like you didn't settle for the wrong man, you don't have to settle for the wrong friends! Stand up for yourself, and draw those boundaries, they will have more respect for you if you do and your friendship will be stronger if you are clear with each other about how you are feeling, and respecting each other's boundaries. I hope these responses didn't seem too immature. Good luck!
posted by dinosaurprincess at 4:41 PM on May 25, 2013

You could try saying "I'm having too much fun on my own." I'm not sure why, but that seems to shut people up.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 4:59 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

The answer i give, which doesn't come off as rude, and which ALSO doesn't invite further questions, is simply "i haven't met the right person and i'm happy with my life" and then i change the topic.

Sometimes you want to make people feel like shit for asking question that pisses you off, and sometimes you just want to slide past the question and ignore the topic as best you can, without being 'difficult'. My answer seems to work well for that second scenario.
posted by Kololo at 7:16 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

What has worked for me and my well meaning but prying family, is to pause and be silent for a moment before answering the question (however way you want to answer - for me, I've just been honest, as in "I want to find the right person who fits into my life, and I haven't met that person yet. Yeah, I've been looking, but I am also refusing to put my life on hold."). But, answer how you will.

But here's the key - when you pause and be silent, drag that moment out and look at them squarely in the face while you are silent. Don't just make it a pause, make it just a wee bit longer than it should be, so it turns into an awkward silence. It will make them feel uncomfortable for asking. I guarantee they won't do it again.
posted by floweredfish at 3:07 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

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