Recently someone asked me a question that made me want to crawl under a rock.
I knew the question wasn’t intended to be hurtful, and I didn’t want to make this person feel bad, so I didn’t say anything. But I felt bad.
Most of the time, a question is an innocent, honest inquiry into another person’s life. But sometimes a question comes loaded with anxiety-inducing undertones.
Below are seven questions that trigger upset and anxiety for me and many women I know, along with some suggested alternatives.
To some degree, we’re all guilty of asking questions like these, so a little awareness can go a long way to helping us communicate in a more kind, interesting, and meaningful way.
1) Are you tired?
I’m not the only one that interprets this as, “You look like shit.” I actually dated someone who asked me if I was tired because of the circles under my eyes (yes, those words). Um, I always have circles under my eyes. Perhaps it’s because I was a sick kid with asthma…or because my Italian heritage blessed me with deep-set eyes and thin, olive skin. That day, my circles were visible because we were hiking… and I wasn’t wearing make-up. I wish I could sleep them away, but it’s how I was made… Please let this question rest.
If you’re concerned, try sincerely asking, “How are you feeling today?”
2) What happened to your skin?
Most people have at least some kind of insecurity about their physical appearance. Thighs are too big. Hair is too thin. You don’t like your nose. Whatever it is…
For me, it’s my skin. I have battled acne for 22 years. If you failed to notice, thank you. You are either kind, blind, or met me at night in a dark bar. Questions like, “What happened to your skin?” or “Why is your skin blotchy?” give me a sad, sinking feeling. Even if your intentions are good, to me, it’s like you’re telling me I’m ugly. And yeah, I have tried every diet, magical elixir, and dermatologist you can imagine. Harsh topical creams give me eczema.
If you want to offer advice, I suggest doing it when the person brings it up. That’s what happened on a walk with my friend, Dana. I was complaining about my skin and she shared that she had similar problems and recommended a Swedish product line called Lerosett (not an affiliate link). Strangely enough, this is the best thing I’ve found so far. It hasn’t fully cured my acne, but it keeps my skin clearer and is gentle.
3) Are you planning to have kids?
I get it. I’ve asked it too… but in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t. If a woman is at the later end of her childbearing years, it’s best to avoid this question. Some are trying to get pregnant. Others are sorting out feelings about partners not wanting kids or they don’t have partners. And then there’s the dreaded judgment that frequently comes up about women being selfish for not wanting kids. Regardless, there’s a good chance it’s a sensitive subject.
There are exceptions to this, mostly when it comes to close loved ones. Would you share your deepest personal information with the person? If not, maybe talk about something else.
4) Are you eating enough (and vice versa)?
When I was studying Spanish in Guatemala, I consumed a lot of chocobananos and tortillas and one time I ate cake for breakfast with a friend. Not the healthiest, I know… But I don’t think it was really my host mother’s boyfriend’s place to ask me if I gained weight and say, “Se nota” (“it’s noticeable”).
Likewise I lost weight in recent years for a handful of reasons, but it’s annoying when people ask if I’m eating enough.
I have learned to love my body, so please don’t indicate it’s too big or too small. Bodies change. A simple, “You look beautiful today,” or “You have a different glow, what’s different?” will help the person feel at ease and maybe they’ll elaborate on the change.
5) So are you just going to be a “____” now?
I know many moms who have heard something to this effect. It’s as if there’s something lesser about mom work than office work. I’m not a mom, but I have gotten a similar supposition from folks who don’t grasp the intersection of yoga and social work. Someone once asked me if I’m “just not going to use my master’s degree”. I use it everyday, in multiple ways. I’m living my potential, and if I’m not…don’t you worry. The anxiety I’ve been battling all my life has got that covered.
Instead of asking about what your friend or family member is not doing, try asking what life is like as a mother/yoga teacher/fill in the blank. What do they love? What’s challenging? To me, this is a much more interesting answer to receive!
6) Do you think you’ll ever settle down?
This makes me smile and frown at the same time. I’m not exactly sure what it means. If it means am I going to stop traveling, buy a home, get married, and have kids, well probably not. Oh, and I definitely do not need to be reminded that the timeline is tight if I want to have kids or that I might have regrets if I don’t. Really, I’ve got these considerations covered.
The irony is that a life of exploration and stepping outside my comfort zone is the very way of living that keeps me grounded and settled down in the sense of quiet and calm.
Try asking about future plans, past adventures, or creative projects. Again, this will likely yield a far more interesting response.
7) Why do you have to be so sensitive?
Because I am. It’s my nature. I’m sensitive to the emotions and energy of the people around me. I’m sensitive to injustice. I’m sensitive to a lot of things. There are times I have wished that sensitivity away. But if you are sensitive like me, you know it’s not just a strength, but a superpower.
Acknowledge the feelings of the person in front of you. Once my partner asked me, “God, what’s it like to feel so much?” Even if he didn’t feel what I felt in that moment, that simple, tender inquiry helped me to feel heard, seen, and understood.
What’s the question that you wish people would stop asking? Please take a quick moment to comment below so your voice can be heard!