Why are you single?
October 9, 2021 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Inappropriate Questions is a podcast from the CBC where they talk to guests who discuss the inappropriate questions they have been asked.

Can I ask a blind person if they need help? MasterChef Season 3 winner Christine Ha talks about building a culinary career while losing her vision, and when she finds this question to be helpful.

Can I ask a polyamorous person “Do you get jealous?" Polyamorous therapist Laura Turnbull shares the rewards and challenges of non-monogamy.

Should I ask someone “Why are you single?”Comedian Salma Hindy discusses the parental pressure to get married and how to feel okay with being single. Asexual activist and model Yasmin Benoit breaks down myths about asexuality and aromanticism, and why she’s never felt single.

and more....
How did you get pregnant?
Can you have sex?
Why don't you have kids?
posted by Toddles (43 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
If anyone asks me "why are you single?" they are gonna get, "Because nobody wants me." Have fun figuring out a response to that one!
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:58 AM on October 10 [29 favorites]


Transcripts available here.
posted by cozenedindigo at 2:30 AM on October 10 [8 favorites]


I can't think of any inappropriate personal questions per se, they are just very complex to go into and I wouldn't want to bore you with my life story
posted by polymodus at 3:03 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


To be fair, I have tried suntanning my bumhole. Just not for weight loss.
posted by flabdablet at 3:12 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


Thanks Toddles, plenty of ear-fodder here.
I had a pal who answered all inappropriate "why don't you . . .?" questions with "Because I'm in training!" Nobody had a response to that.

I've just had an instructive time listening to Where are you [really] from [transcript hard to find despite cozenedindigo's helpful link ]. I get that question a lot because my accent [RP Brit] doesn't match the shit-covered bib overalls standing in a lane in the Irish Midlands. One of the few occasions when me-the-Patriarchy is back-footed.
posted by BobTheScientist at 3:20 AM on October 10 [14 favorites]


A senior administrator that used to work in my office once asked me, "Why don't you drive?" She prefaced it by saying "this is a really personal question and you don't have to answer, but." I hadn't realized before her preface that it was a personal question, but it's true, and ever since, I've wondered exactly what she was fishing for. A seizure disorder or other neurological issue? A traumatic history of some sort? A mile-long list of DWI convictions? I have no idea, but I think "I'm just very clumsy, have iffy depth perception, and never quite mastered it" was not what she was hoping for.
posted by eirias at 3:54 AM on October 10 [24 favorites]


ever since, I've wondered exactly what she was fishing for.

I mean, "personal" doesn't necessarily mean anything dramatic or deep-dark-secret or even sensitive information, right? It's just your particular reasons for not driving, which are personal i.e. specific to you. What you gave her was a personal answer.
posted by MiraK at 6:12 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]


Assuming you’re from the US, in many parts of this country “why don’t you drive?” is the national equivalent to “why are you a heretic?”
posted by q*ben at 7:30 AM on October 10 [32 favorites]


The thing about "this is a personal question, so you don't have to answer it if you don't want..." is that it doesn't really give people an out. It's awkward and at least a little revealing to say that you don't want to answer the question, and it leaves the person being asked with the responsibility of handling that awkwardness. And a senior administrator at work *really* shouldn't be asking why you don't drive, because the chances are pretty high that the answer has to do with a disability.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:37 AM on October 10 [8 favorites]


And a senior administrator at work *really* shouldn't be asking why you don't drive, because the chances are pretty high that the answer has to do with a disability.

Agreed, and she probably had some inkling about this and that’s why she prefaced the question the way she did. Whereas I, somewhat naively, hadn’t really thought about it in this light before, and just answered honestly, wondering why I felt so nervous! Workplace boundaries, so rigid and yet so porous…
posted by eirias at 7:50 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]


Back in the day, I didn't drive because I was terrified of killing people and everyone who tried to teach me yelled and scared me even more about it. That one isn't always disability.

I really want to ask a newer coworker of mine why she chose to come here when here sucks so bad and it sounds like her previous job was a fucking paradise. But it seems impolite to ask.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:57 AM on October 10 [19 favorites]


Back in the day, I didn't drive because I was terrified of killing people and everyone who tried to teach me yelled and scared me even more about it. That one isn't always disability.

The uncle who was my legal guardian until I was eighteen wouldn't let me use one of the family vehicles to practice driving, and would generally undercut my desires to get my license; I became convinced that there was something intrinsically wrong with me and didn't push to get my license until I had to for a job at twenty-two, when I realized that, after a period of being convinced that I'd die on the road, I wasn't that bad at it. Later, I found out that my uncle didn't get his license until he was twenty-five, had more difficulty with his long-distance depth perception than I'd realized, and that there was a reason why my aunt did almost all of the driving for long road trips.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:13 AM on October 10 [8 favorites]


I didn't realize until recently that folks who are undocumented can't get a driver's license in most states. So that's another non-disability-related reason.

Speaking of HR putting their foot in it, an internal recruiter once asked me, on the initial phone screen, if I were married, with the excuse that they wanted to know if there was going to be a two-body problem. They even said, "I know I'm not supposed to ask this, but..." Years later, I'm still kicking myself for not returning awkward to sender by saying, "Yeah, you're not supposed to ask that. Now about the timeline...."

One of my college friends was asked on a medical school interview how she would keep from getting pregnant during med school. She responded something along the lines of, "Uh, the same way I kept from getting pregnant during college," withdrew her application, and told the rest of us all about it when she got back to school. These days it would have blown up on Twitter, but this was 2006 so we had to rely on Ye Olde Whisper Network. (She's now a pediatric critical care specialist at one of the top children's hospitals in the country, so she did just fine.)
posted by basalganglia at 8:27 AM on October 10 [16 favorites]


There is no transcript for the single episode, so I am listening to it now and when she said they are really asking, what's wrong with you?

Uh...ME, I guess, is what is wrong with me? I know I am too picky when I cannot afford to be, but also I don't exactly have any fish in my sea to choose from either. The very occasional fish is so extremely problematic/extremely old/inappropriate that I cannot stomach settling for them, so....there you go.

Yes, I have read Sara Eckel's book on this topic.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:33 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


There is no transcript for the single episode, so I am listening to it now and when she said they are really asking, what's wrong with you?

Oh yeah. My senior admin was absolutely asking this also, when she asked me about driving. Do all inappropriate questions boil down to this one? I guess the questions basalganglia mentions are a slightly different flavor: please justify to me how this thing that we both already know is wrong with you (your uterus) is not going to be a problem for me.
posted by eirias at 8:48 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]


"Why are you so quiet?"
posted by whistle pig at 8:54 AM on October 10 [14 favorites]


So I tried to listen to the polyamory one but one of the hosts was constantly making borderline and/ or awkward jokes about it, and was just so...weird about the whole topic and honestly unprofessional, that I stopped. Don't know about the rest. (Like about how his wife would never go for it, but he would, UGH dude.)
posted by emjaybee at 8:59 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


Another reason asking "why don't you drive to work" could be embarrassing is, license lost because of drunk driving.
posted by Rash at 9:05 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


I do my best thinkin' on the bus.

That's how come I don't drive, see? I don't wanna know how. I don't wanna learn, see?

The more ya drive, the less intelligent ya are.
posted by flabdablet at 11:23 AM on October 10 [17 favorites]


ABC (Australia) has a similar TV series called You Can’t Ask That which I think is really good.
posted by poxandplague at 12:19 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]


The only question I ever used to get that I couldn't answer is "Why do you never smile?" I can't even believe my own memories that I got asked this multiple times by people who only saw me in situations where they could see I was there on my own and had no one around to be talking to; who or what was I supposed to be smiling at? It's such a bizarre thing to say to someone. Why not ask me why I don't have four heads?
posted by bleep at 12:58 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


bleep, you're supposed to smile at salad.
posted by zadcat at 1:20 PM on October 10 [8 favorites]


The following story is about the most inappropriate questions anyone has ever asked me, but it's also just about THE best thing that's ever happened to me and my #1 pick for what story people should tell at my funeral to illustrate the trials and tribulations of my life.

About a year ago I was on a date with this guy who's a few years younger than me (not *too* much younger, both of us 30-somethings), and afterwards we're on his couch, we're making out, and then my top comes off and ...

...he freezes.

For half a second he looks shocked and confused, and then quickly tries to gather himself, but fails pretty hard because what comes out of his mouth next is -

"Oh, ah, what's that?"

He's gesturing at my belly.

"My stretch marks? Uh, from being pregnant. You know. I told you I have kids. You've never been with a mom before?" But he looks so bewildered still that I'm almost laughing by the time I'm done talking.

And I think it's because I'm threatening to laugh at him that he tries to defend himself by saying - are you ready for this -

"But my mom doesn't have any."

I fell off his couch laughing. Then I booked it outta there, and he was very polite but he didn't try to stop me.
posted by MiraK at 3:08 PM on October 10 [41 favorites]


In my previous life as a pastor, I was interviewing for a position at a large-ish church in a wealthy area of north Texas. They were feeling angry and betrayed by their previous pastor, who had quit and founded a new church right down the street, taking a third of the congregation with him, and they were putting new candidates through the wringer. I’d never gone through such an intense, invasive interview. The question that really stands out is “What’s the worst sin you’ve ever committed?”

I don’t know what they were hoping to get from that, but I told them that since Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God, then the greatest sin had to be failing to love God, and I talked about times I had struggled with my faith. I don’t think they liked that response, but they didn’t follow it up with “what we want to know is whether you’ve cheated on your wife” so we went on to other topics.

The thing that really frustrated me about the whole experience was that when the interviews were all over, I send some follow-ups to the church staff: fairly anodyne questions about what they liked best about their work, what the challenges were, what should a new pastor be aware of. After putting me through the third degree for a weekend, they responded to my questions with (this is an exact quote) “Don’t try to figure out whether we are sharks or minnows. Just jump in the water or leave the beach.” That’s when I withdrew my name from consideration.

In the end, they never hired anyone (thankfully). They became a satellite campus for a cool, rich church in Dallas and just ran the video of that pastor’s sermons on Sunday morning. Not at all my preferred way to do church, but it spared some poor clergyperson from what would certainly have been a miserable experience.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:23 PM on October 10 [35 favorites]


@BobtheScientist - thanks for transcript link to "Where are you from?" The nuances there are intriguing.
posted by storybored at 4:58 PM on October 10


I haven't listened to the episode yet, but it would have been nice if they had interviewed an expert on singleness and bias against single people for the "Why are you single?" episode, instead of a comedian. I think someone like Shani Silver or Bella DePaulo would have been a great guest for that episode.
posted by Lycaste at 6:41 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Can I ask a polyamorous person “Do you get jealous?"
As somebody with a well-established poly backstory (19+ years of exclusively polyamorous relationships, 14+ of my polycule's current configuration), I've been asked this a lot over the years. Personally, I don't mind the question, and I can see why people with experience only of monoamorous relationships would ask it: the cultural narrative we're spun about what a relationship "looks like" is mononormative and loaded with jealousy. Look at any sitcom or drama in which a character ever has two (usually serial) romantic relationships and you'll probably find the line "You're just jealous!" We're programmed to see jealousy as the inevitable result of exactly two things: (a) perceived romantic infidelity and, (b) in children, a desire for the toy their lucky friend has.

But jealousy's something that everybody's capable of feeling... about pretty much anything! I've felt jealous of family members who've chosen to watch a film together that I'd hoped to see with them. I've felt jealous of friends who've spent more time with one another than with me. I've felt jealous of opportunities offered to co-workers for which I've felt overlooked. But for some reason we elevate the jealousy felt within romantic, or potentially-romantic, relationships to an entirely different level.

And even if we accept that romantic jealousy is somehow special and sacred and deserving of its pedestal, it's certainly not something that's unique to nonmonogamous relationships! We've all heard stories of monogamous couples where one party's been jealous of the time that another spends with a friend or ex-, for example. Monogamy certainly doesn't confer some magical protection from jealousy.

While a polyamorous lifestyle might sometimes provide more opportunities for jealousy, that doesn't make such jealousy the "fault" of the relationship type any more than divorce is the "fault" of marriage. In fact, I've found that my polyamorous practice has empowered me with excellent tools to help me understand my jealousies, own them, and be honest and open about them with less fear of judgement.

When people ask me "Do I get jealous?" I always want to ask: "Why... do you never get jealous?" But usually I just fall back on a convenient soundbite instead.
posted by avapoet at 3:38 AM on October 11 [10 favorites]


“Why don’t you smile more?” is rage inducing. Do guys really think they’re sauce enough to reverse major depressive disorder with that question?
posted by waving at 4:59 AM on October 11 [4 favorites]


Well, pointing out the obvious, no, men don't think that - we're raised to assume that one of the main purposes of women is to provide pleasant decoration for our lives, so a non-smiling woman is like a bad painting on the wall in The Movie That's All About Me.

Depressive disorder probably wouldn't even occur to most "why don't you smile?" guys. Because NPC's don't have internal lives.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:48 AM on October 11 [10 favorites]


When people ask me "Do I get jealous?" I always want to ask: "Why... do you never get jealous?" But usually I just fall back on a convenient soundbite instead.

The baffling thing about that question for me is that much has been written about feelings of jealousy occurring in poly relationships and the need to develop healthy coping strategies. (I've had the husband in a polyamorous relationship be sufficiently jealous of the friendship I had with his wife that he insisted she end it.)
posted by Gelatin at 6:00 AM on October 11


Actually the only people asking me why didn't I smile were women. Men can't see me.
posted by bleep at 7:05 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]


A senior administrator that used to work in my office once asked me, "Why don't you drive?" She prefaced it by saying "this is a really personal question and you don't have to answer, but." I hadn't realized before her preface that it was a personal question, but it's true, and ever since, I've wondered exactly what she was fishing for. A seizure disorder or other neurological issue? A traumatic history of some sort? A mile-long list of DWI convictions? I have no idea, but I think "I'm just very clumsy, have iffy depth perception, and never quite mastered it" was not what she was hoping for.

I never got my license because I just dislike driving a whole lot. I dislike cars in general. They're fast, deadly chunks of metal. So people would ask me why the hell I don't have a license and I'd just shrug awkwardly.

Then in my mid-30s I was diagnosed with epilepsy so it's not even in the cards. On the other hand, if someone asks me that question now I can make them feel TERRIBLE if I want. Upside!
posted by brundlefly at 7:05 AM on October 11 [7 favorites]


Singleness can happen when you're too busy to date.

Tried one of these. Have to agree with others above. Could not get into it. Such basic questioning and so hokey.
posted by firstdaffodils at 7:07 AM on October 11


When people ask me "Do I get jealous?" I always want to ask: "Why... do you never get jealous?" But usually I just fall back on a convenient soundbite instead.

As with most of these, the text of the question isn't really the question. "Don't you get jealous" is more like, "how do you survive the intense jealousy that I would obviously experience in your place?"

Fundamentally the key to an intrusive question is that it's really someone asking "what gives you the nerve to be a completely different person from me?"

Plenty of people have asked me why I'm not married or why I don't have kids. Those who are asking out of a genuine desire to get to know me better usually just come at it from an angle that contains no whiff of the attitude that I am some bizarre creature in a zoo. It might still be too personal of a question for me to give them my full and thorough answer but it isn't intrusive.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:53 AM on October 11 [9 favorites]


I heard most of these when they were on CBC radio (was it a summer replacement series?) and it is probably worth mentioning that this show is meant as light entertainment (hence the jokiness which on some of these topics is pretty off putting) as opposed to an in-depth journalistic documentary on their subjects. So depending on what you expect, you may end up getting turned off by their presentation.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:11 AM on October 11


Assuming you’re from the US, in many parts of this country “why don’t you drive?” is the national equivalent to “why are you a heretic?”--q*ben

Reminds me of this guy I work with. He manages several projects and lots of engineers. One day it came up that he doesn't own a cell phone. I had that 'why are you a heretic?' moment, but fortunately I caught the the nervous expression on his face, indicating he was preparing himself for the onslaught of questions.

Instead, I nodded, and mentioned someone else I knew who didn't own a cell phone and that he seemed more relaxed than most people I know, and the subject was dropped to his relief. It still shocks me, but that's my problem, not his.
posted by eye of newt at 9:59 AM on October 11 [4 favorites]


The thing I wish people would stop asking me is why I don't make more of myself, do something with my hair, dress more sexily, try to look more feminine, generally take advantage of the clothing and style possibilities afforded me by being female. I get this from men and women both. (Curiously, nobody's ever asked me why I'm not married, why I don't have children or when I intend to have children. Presumably it makes perfect sense that a woman who presents herself like this - jeans, turtleneck jumpers, ponytail, no makeup - is not married or a mother.)

I never really know how to answer those questions, or what answer they're expecting.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:30 AM on October 11 [3 favorites]


Generally, any question that begins with "Why don't you..." is about inquiring about norm-breaking, which of course can be positive (e.g., why don't you include any people of color on your syllabus?), but unless there is some clear political/ethnical/etc. point to be made, best avoided unless you're close friends, and even then better rephrased if possible.
posted by coffeecat at 5:09 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]


'Why don't you have children?' So many fucking times and often from near-strangers. I'm childless by choice, but it always astounds me that someone who doesn't know you at all would even risk such a question. Like, there could be trauma, medical issues, anything. Why would you raise this with a stranger?
posted by genuinely curious at 6:53 PM on October 11 [2 favorites]


It's weird, I've read about the intrusiveness of the "why don't you have kids" question so many times. My wife and I don't have kids, and neither of us has ever been asked that question. Maybe we should get out more.
posted by Joan Rivers of Babylon at 5:53 AM on October 12


What You Should Never Say To Childfree Women

I don't get shit for it personally, but that's because I'm single and you can't reasonably bingo someone who couldn't get a boyfriend if she sold her soul to the devil that she should be popping out some sperm bank kids.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:52 PM on October 12


I'm childless by choice, but it always astounds me that someone who doesn't know you at all would even risk such a question.

I have some friends who have only one child, and weren't able to have more, even though they really wanted to. I think because they have one, people assume that it wouldn't be a problem to conceive other kids, and so they feel really free to ask "Why did you stop at one?"--a question that has only very personal, painful answers. To be honest, I could imagine asking that myself, once upon a time, as a casual, get-to-know you kind of question for a new acquaintance, but their experience always reminds me that what seems casual and simple for me is difficult and hurtful for someone else.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:38 AM on October 13 [1 favorite]


“Don’t try to figure out whether we are sharks or minnows. Just jump in the water or leave the beach.”

Pater Aletheias: that is an amazing quote. I am boggled. I suppose that's when the process really .... jumped the shark?
posted by brainwane at 7:52 PM on October 13


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