When is it appropriate to ask about someone's health?
December 19, 2013 6:20 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine (let's call her "Sarah") came over for dinner at my flat last week. Some way through the meal (just after the first bottle of wine was finished) she told us that her partner had recently been tested for a very serious medical condition. She then said that she "hadn't intended to talk about it". She will have recently received the results of this test, and I'm wondering whether it's appropriate to ask her what the result of the test was. I care a lot about Sarah and her partner (who is an incredibly warm and wonderful person), but I don't want to intrude. On the other hand, I don't want to be unsupportive. A few details are below the fold.

I've known Sarah for about a year. My partner and I have had dinner had the house of Sarah and her partner. Sarah and I have hung out at a few social occasions. So we're friends, but not *very* close friends.

There is one possible complicating factor. I recently applied for a new job, and Sarah is on the search committee. If I were to get the new job, Sarah would be senior to me, but not my boss.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total)
In your situation, I would not ask about it directly. Instead, I'd just ask, "Hey, how's things?" the next time I see her. If she wants to tell you about it, she will. Ball's in her court.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:24 PM on December 19, 2013 [19 favorites]

I think it would be appropriate to send a timely "thinking of you, hope everything's well" email. No direct question; she can answer, or not, as she wishes.
posted by Dashy at 6:27 PM on December 19, 2013 [37 favorites]

Yeah, I was going to say the same as Dashy. I think that hits supportive but not intrusive.
posted by JenMarie at 6:34 PM on December 19, 2013

If the result of the test was negative - as in, he's fine - then she'll be so relieved and won't mind at all that you asked. If it was positive and he does have the condition, she may not want to talk about it at all and you're putting her in an uncomfortable position.

I'd stick with - "Thinking of you and Partner this week. Sending love and warm thoughts." (Or prayers if that's your thing.)
posted by amaire at 7:12 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I agree with FAMOUS MONSTER – "how are you doing?" is appropriate and can be answered however your friend might wish.
posted by suprenant at 8:39 PM on December 19, 2013

What everyone else said.... be low key but definitely say something. She didn't come with the intention of saying anything but once she was there with you something about you made her want to share... an email like Dashy and amaire suggested sounds good.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:21 PM on December 19, 2013

FAMOUS MONSTER is, unsurprisingly, correct. "How are things" is a usefully neutral question for anyone suffering from any ailment; it allows them to disclose as much or as little as they wish. Anything else is intrusive and demanding.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:44 AM on December 20, 2013

She opened up to you. It's no longer a secret, which is a great load off her shoulders. I think it would be disappointing to her if you did NOT follow it up the next time you're in touch.

"How are things?" or "So, how's [partner]?" is the perfect opener. That lets her choose how to respond. Be prepared for a hug and a cry either way.
posted by KRS at 11:44 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

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