Friday, February 13, 2009

Answering Questions

I just read an article with some suggestions from Christian singles about how to answer the question "Why aren't you married?"

Several said that short, simple answers were best, and less likely to offend. But every answer seemed to assume that the desired result was to end the line of questioning – to redirect or end the conversation.

I suppose that's reasonable. But when people reach out to us, no matter how awkwardly, it seems a pity that our response should be to shut them down. I know I don't like to be treated like that.

By the way, I leave Saturday morning for my first of three trips in three weeks. To start off this season I thought I'd treat myself with a night in a hotel (the rest of the time I’ll be around people a lot, and staying with various families). And, since I'll be footloose and fancy free, not to mention in possession of a rental car, and it being Valentine's Day... maybe dinner and a movie? No, not a chick flick; I was thinking of Slumdog Millionaire.


Megan Noel said...

i think that is a rather rude question to ask, personally. while we are at it - why don't you have kids? why haven't you made your first million? why don't you speak latin? why don't you give me a dollar?

Marti said...

What if instead people who wanted to know what you think and feel asked more open-ended questions? This is what we teach in ethnography. The key is to avoid those "why" questions as well as "leading" questions, and replace them with descriptive questions, accompanied by explanations, expressions of ignorance and interest, and invitations to show you the world from their point of view.

It's easy enough, overseas: "Yeah, I just got here to India about a week ago. No, I've never been here before. I keep getting lost! What about you? Are you from Delhi? Have you ever lived anywhere else?"

Before you know it, they will be telling you their life story.

But in the case of married and single, what would be a way to ask open-ended questions? Probably not assuming you know the answer - asking in such a way that they can tell you how they feel about it, whether that's positive or negative, without feeling judged for it.

Marti said...

A friend commented on the version of this imported to Facebook, asking: What can someone like her say to encourage the young women she knows who would really like to be married?

I answered...

Well, I don't think there's one right answer... I guess the fact that someone is trying to understand, trying to find out how they can communicate in a way that will work for the other person, is a good sign.

But it will only take you so far, if it doesn't get beyond big categories of people - men/women, singles/marrieds, their generation/our generation, westerners/nonwesterners. In the end, we are two things:

1. all people (more alike than we are different), and
2. all individuals (more 'ourselves' than we are 'representatives of a category.')

In my experience, single women may be anywhere on a continuum between content and deeply unhappy about their singleness - and most of us go through seasons with that. So, I don't want people assuming they know how to feel about, say, Valentine's Day, this year. But I don't mind them asking!

Marti said...

(What I don't appreciate, from people inquiring about my singleness, is reassurances that it's not too late and the right guy is going to come along. There's simply no reason to believe that has to happen, is there? God's never promised me that, and nobody else could. Still: I prefer that people care and try to express that, however "awkwardly."