Inappropriate or awkward questions have the power to leave you feeling hurt, embarrassed, ashamed, judged, irritated or even angry.

Annoying questions can make you feel as if…

  • your actions will make them feel sad, disappointed, or hurt.
  • they’re projecting their priorities, values, and dreams on you.
  • their happiness is dependent on the decisions you make in your life.
  • your decisions and life-choices will lead to conflict or abandonment (not literal abandonment, but a psychological pulling away).

Try these three steps:

Step 1: Pause and take in a slow breath. This will help to neutralize the sudden spike in cortisol and adrenaline suddenly surging through your system.

Step 2: Silently remind yourself…

  • I’m NOT responsible for the happiness of others.
  • I deserve to feel the way I feel.

Step 3: Try to identify their intent. Depending upon their intent, you can either REFLECT, CLARIFY, CATASTROPHIZE, or DISTRACT.

  • If they want you to do something because it would make them happy, then you can REFLECT. Acknowledge you understand it would make them happy (or more comfortable or less worried) if you got married soon, lost more weight, quit your job, etc. The key is this – ONLY reflect, don’t add more explanation or justification. Instead, try to reflect what you hear them saying then see what happens next. It may surprise you.
  • If they believe it’s what you want (but you don’t), then you can CLARIFY. Describe what actually makes you happy at this point in your life and note your appreciation for their interest or concern.
  • If they think it’s what you SHOULD be doing… SCREAM. Just kidding. This is a tricky but common one. CATASTROPHIZE the situation if it’s someone who means well, and is a relatively psychologically-stable individual.* This means, in only 1-2 sentences, identify their biggest fear concerning your weight, singleness, or work hours, etc.
  • If they are merely trying to make conversation, but their question is completely inappropriate or makes you uncomfortable in any way, then you can DISTRACT.  Offer something more appropriate to discuss, then ask them an open-ended question.

*If you’re dealing with someone suffering from bipolar disorder or another severe mental health problem, use the distraction as much as possible, regardless of intent.

Sample Responses:

So you’re still single, eh?

Reflect: I totally get it. I know it would make you really happy if I was in a serious relationship.

Clarify: Actually, I’m happiest focusing on my health and building my business right now.

Catastrophize: I know you’re concerned I’ll end up crying alone with a hundred cats. You’ll catch me in an episode of Hoarders and then have to come over help me clear 75 bags of garbage from my bathroom. What a nightmare!

Distract: Yep. I really like having the freedom to travel. Hey, mom said you have a camping trip planned! How did you decide where you wanted to go?

When are you two going to get married?

Reflect: I get the picture it would make you really happy if we got married soon.

Clarify: Actually, we are really happy living together and recently started taking cooking classes.

Catastrophize: I know you’re worried Larry will run off with his secretary because we’re not married and I’ll be alone and depressed and never find love or have children. Then maybe I’ll be so depressed I’ll join a cult and you’ll see me on 60-Minutes.

Distract: Not sure yet. Did I mention we’re taking an incredible cooking class? We just made crepes last weekend! I remember you dated that chef for a while, what was that like?

When are you going to have a baby?

Reflect: I know it would make you really happy if we had a baby soon.

Clarify: Actually, we are very happy without children right now.

Catastrophize: I know you’re afraid we will wait so long that I won’t be able to ever have children and then I’ll be so sad and alone and unhappy that you’ll have to bring me soup on Tuesdays and we’ll play BINGO.

Distract: Not sure. Though, I heard the craziest baby name the other day. How did you choose the names for your children? 

Why do you work so much?

Reflect: I know it would make you feel less stressed if I worked less.

Clarify: Actually, I get so much joy and satisfaction from my work, I’m very happy working these hours.

Catastrophize: I know you’re afraid I’ll become one of those crazy people who work 24/7 with no friends and no relationship and no children and then I’ll have a heart attack and no one will find me for days and then you’ll have to write a eulogy.

Distract: Good question. One of my clients just told me they’re training for a marathon. Didn’t you run one last year? What was that like?

When are you moving back here?

Reflect: I know it would make you really happy if I moved back here.

Clarify: Actually, I really love living in San Diego and have a lot of support and opportunities there.

Catastrophize: I know you’re worried I’ll love it so much in San Diego that I’ll never ever come home and we’ll never see each other again and I’ll forget all about you.

Distract: Good question. I really do love all the lakes and streams. I remember you like to fish. Where to you fish around here?

Have you thought about losing weight?

Reflect: I know it would make you feel less worried if I lost some weight.

Clarify: Actually, I’m focusing on my mental and emotional health right now. (If you feel safe sharing a new diet regimen you’re trying, or a health issue that’s causing your weight gain, go for it. Otherwise, know that you don’t owe anyone those personal details.)

Catastrophize: I know you’re concerned I’ll gain more and more weight until I weigh so much that I need two seats on an airplane. But, I won’t fly because I’m too embarrassed and then we’ll never see each other again. 

Distract: Yep. Being healthy and happy is super important. Your wife said you both meditate. Do you use an app and what kind of mediation do you do?

Aren’t you concerned about your age?

Reflect: I know it would make you less worried if I had a child soon.

Clarify: Actually, we’re really happy in our relationship without children. (It’s none of their business if you’ve chosen never to have children or if you’re on your 8th round of IVF. If you want to share, and it feels safe, go for it. Otherwise, remember you don’t owe anyone an explanation.)

Catastrophize: I know you’re scared I’ll wait too long and then suddenly decide I want children but then my eggs will be too old and the adoption agencies will laugh at our oldness. Or, your kids will be so much older than mine that we won’t have anything in common and we will drift apart and never be friends again. 

Distract: Yep. The pressure of time is an issue for sure. Hey, I see you’re wearing that new iWatch. I was considering getting one. Can you show me your favorite features?