We’ve all suffered being asked annoying questions that perhaps we, too, have been guilty of asking. “How much did that cost?” “Are those real?” “How much do you make?” Indeed, some questions can hit too close to home.
When you are single, the usual line of questioning goes: “Why don’t you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? You’re (insert various compliments here) naman. You should be more open to dating other people. You should go out more, take up new hobbies…”
To this litany, my friend Alona added, “Meron pa yung, ‘Ay, may kilala ako na anak ni Tita (insert name here), single yon!” or “May alam ako na novena na very powerful…”
Depending on my mood at the time (or on the degree of perceived malice), I had a variety of retorts, from the noncommittal “Eh, ganon eh,” to snapping if I felt like arguing. Here are a few more examples of what singles say—and what they think.
In her head: “Minsan natatawa o naiirita ako kasi ang cliché ng mga sinasabi nila.”
Rowena, 37: “For the general public, I smile and thank them for the compliment. For those closest to me and who respect my privacy, I say, “Who I am today is a much better person than the one who nearly got married.”
In her head: “I would rather have a life partner than a ceremony and compliance to tradition.”
Diana, 36: “Kung dadating, dadating.”
In her head: “Most of my friends are in relationships or are married. My profession really took up most of my time. I’m still a struggling doctor. I never really run out of sosyalan where I can meet other people, but I haven’t found the person who’ll knock me off of my feet. I have a good life, and if ever I get into a relationship, that will be a bonus for me.”
Cat, 34: “If it’s a fellow single friend, I tend to be sympathetic and play along: ‘Yeah, set me up!’ (I mean it.) If it’s a condescending older relative, I’m self-deprecating: ‘Oo nga, wala kasing pumapatol.’ (And I mean it, too!)”
In her head: “I’ve heard that said to me too many times to be affected by it. At a certain point, I’ve learned to accept my singleness. If you had asked me this question at 30, I would have had a different answer. Zen na lang!
Here’s something I like from David Levithan’s short story “Miss Lucy Has a Steamboat”: “C’mon, you’ve seen the movie: As soon as the headstrong girl announces she’s not going to fall in love, you know she’ll be falling in love before the final credits. That’s the way the story goes. Only it’s not going to be my story. I am taking my story in my own hands… Some people find happily ever after in being part of a couple, and for them, I say, good for you. But that’s no reason we should all have to do it.”
Joy, 36: “The question I get asked by US-based Pinoys is not so much why I don’t have a boyfriend, but rather if the one I am dating is ‘the One.’ And even this, I find, is pretty invasive of my privacy. So I just ask them how their marriage, relationship or current state in life is.”
In her head: “Here in NY, people don’t ask why they’re single because the married state is not automatically viewed as the better state. It does not diminish the person even if she’s single in her 40s.”
Beth, 36: “I just say I haven’t found the right person for me, which is true. Or I say that recent dating attempts just haven’t worked out, which is also true.”
In her head: I’m not really bothered. For me, that’s just the way it is. When people ask or say what they think, I understand it’s out of curiosity or they just care for my well-being. These things can’t be forced and I just really haven’t met the right guy. When the time is right for me, then it will happen. Siyempre there are days when you think it would be nice, but I also know I can’t stop living while waiting for that to happen, so I’m just going with the flow.”
Goddess, 36: “I’m blessed that I don’t care too much what people think when it comes to my love life. Or weight.”
When you do get married, if you think you’ve finally escaped those nosy questions, think again: “Is there finally a bun in the oven? Why not? You should get started on that. Have you gotten yourselves checked?”
My fabulously outspoken Tita Pachay added, “Isa pang nakakabwisit na tanong dun sa mga matagal nang kasal pero wala pang kids, yung ‘O, ba’t di ka pa buntis?’ Paano kung nagta-try pero palaging hindi successful? Sobrang stress yan, di ba?”
Again, it’s very tempting to shoot back, “It’s really none of your business!” but what I’ve learned to say at the time was “You’ll be the first to know,” then exit.
Lea, 35: “Usually it’s those I am not that close to who ask me this. I just agree and say yes, it’s the stress. And I do answer honestly regarding the checkups. I do find it interesting when they share info about doctors or people who have been successful at doing the treatments.”
In her head: “I think most of them are just concerned that we are not getting any younger, and I do appreciate it. My boss has been very understanding. I don’t want to stop working; if I resigned, I would be more pressured to conceive.”
Celine, 32: “The questions are very awkward, for the person asking and even more so for me, especially if others can hear!”
In her head: “I get a bit offended, but I know the people just mean well, and they’re just as excited as I am, so it’s all right. It’s not a very big deal to me.”
CFP (Certified Fertility Pro), 37: 1) If I’m not close to the person asking or they’re my parents/in-laws friends/relatives, with a forced smile I just say, “We’re working on it” and “All in God’s time”. 2) If I’m close to the person or it’s someone I’m constantly in touch with, they wouldn’t even ask those questions. But if we’ve lost touch for quite a bit then I would offer the gory details of my (in)fertility adventures. 3) If it’s someone who’s ‘feeling close’ or has this ‘kawawa ka naman’ look on his or her face, I would snap back, (a) ‘You know what stresses me out? People like you who always ask why I’m not yet pregnant,’ or (b) ‘Anong magagawa ko, ayaw pa kasi ni Lord.’”
In her head: “Based on the same people asking above: 1) If we have nothing else to talk about, nothing! I would change the topic, find someone else to talk to or go look for food. 2) Relieved to be able to share what I’ve been going through and hear what they think. Listen if they have any other advice, although if they tell me about other more successful cases, I ignore them; just because it happened to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen to me. 3) Irritated because there’s so much more to my life than trying to get pregnant. It won’t be the end of the world if I never bear my own kids.”
Ecostiletto, 33: “Regarding buns in the ovens, I say, ‘Nope, but the pot roast has been on.’ To ‘Is it the stress? Maybe you should stop working,’ I say, “Maybe not.” To ‘You’re not getting any younger,’ I say, ‘But we look young compared to most!’”
In her head: “1. I don’t have time for this. Why do you care? 2. Who made you God to tell me to start having babies now?
3. You really have no clue.
When you do finally churn out your first offspring, the inquisition just gets worse: “Don’t you want to have another? Sayang ang lahi niyo. So that your kid will have a playmate.”
The unfortunate timing of these ambush attacks is usually during happy occasions such as weddings or reunions. At this point, patience is already wearing thin.
Shawie, 39: “I sometimes say that if we are blessed with another child, we’ll be happy, pero if not, happy na kami with Sam. Minsan, I do say na ayoko na mag-start over dahil graduate na kami. But after a miscarriage, for a while I did say we were supposed to have a sibling for her but it wasn’t meant to be.”
In her head: “I feel sad saying it, but I secretly feel, ‘O ano, natahimik ka ano?’ Unfortunately, sa Pilipinas, people always overstep boundaries.”
Wilma, 36: “If am close enough to the person to know they are not just making conversation or prying, then I give them the honest answer. If not, my answer could be any of the following: ‘Ikaw muna,’ ‘Bumabawi pa ako sa tulog,’ or ‘Tingnan natin.’”
In her head: “I don’t necessarily take offense, because in the end, I do still plan to have at least one more kid. I just don’t feel the obligation to share with anyone who asks.”
Tina, 35: “If it is someone I hardly know, or just a nosy relative, I will answer with the vague ‘God will provide.’ If it is someone who is close to me, I will say the truth: ‘It’s not like we haven’t been trying…’ If it’s an annoying person who’s asking, I will say, ‘Since you’re so excited for me, why don’t you volunteer to get pregnant for me?’”
In her head: “Loaded ang mga sagot ko. Depende sa mood ko. Kasi naman, the topic of another sibling is very personal. Not even my parents will broach the subject because they know all that I’m going through as a parent of a special needs child.”
Pachay, 40: “Of course, being sosyal and politically correct, I would simply answer, ‘If it happens, it will happen. I’ve already received a blessing from God. If He allows me to have another, then why not?’—sabay smile.”
In her head: “Iniisip mo ba ang tinatanong mo? Kaloka, di ba? I don’t ask those questions kasi hindi mo alam kung pine-pressure mo na or inii-stress yun tinatanong mo, di ba?”
Kate, 37: “‘Basta kayo magbayad ng tuition.’ If they have a rebuttal na, ‘Kaya niyo naman yan,’ I would launch into a monologue about wanting to put my child at La Salle where tuition would possibly be a million when he reaches college, etc. etc. Usually, it shuts them up.”
In her head: “At first, I’d get really upset. We’ve been trying to have a baby since 2011 but the fertility work-up is so emotionally, financially and physically draining. I remember crying in the office CR when I got my period. Right now, we’re just letting nature and God take their course. Kung bibigyan ulit kami, then we’ll happily welcome him/her with open arms. But if we’re blessed with just the child we already have, we’re still happy.”
IT pro, 34: “I would love to have another child but it’s hard, given our situation here in the US.”
In her head: “It’s not easy for me and my husband to raise a child because both of us have demanding full-time jobs. Traveling and working crazy overtime hours is all too common. Since we both are on working visas, we don’t have the option of quitting our jobs or working part-time. It’s also hard to find reliable help when we need it. It’s a lot of sacrifice, financially and physically, but when we see our son, everything is worth it.”
Van: “I honestly want another child. I’m just making the most of the toddler years of my son.”
In her head: “I enjoy being able to give my attention to his needs, having time to play with him and being able to teach him while he is young. When people pressure me, I don’t care! After all, they won’t be the one to carry a child for nine months, give birth, breastfeed, magpupuyat and more things. Of course, wala pa yung gastos dun! I’m smart and practical. I want my kids to have a good future—if possible, even better than the life I’ve had.”
Mara, 36: “In my case, initial reaction ko ay naiinis ako kasi gustung-gusto ko pa magkaroon ng kids pero may problema kami. Ok lang sa kin na tanungin ako basta ka- close ko pero kung acquaintance lang parang di yata appropriate. I am also guilty of asking the same question to other people.”
In her head: “Di pala madaling mabuntis! Samantalang noong younger years natin madami tayong nababalitaan na nabubuntis kaagad. Madaming tests, checkups, hormone medicines, even doppler ultrasound (sa hubby ko), surgery (in some cases) and IVF for extreme cases.
Den, 36: “In a lighthearted way, I sometimes reply, “‘Wag ngayon. Bukas na lang, pwede?’ or ‘Saka na ko bubuo ng basketball team, pag may SUV or van na ako.”
In his head: “It’s really annoying, the never-ending cycle of dealing with nosy folk. When you’re single, they ask why. When you are finally dating someone, they ask when you are getting married. When you’re married, they ask when you plan to have kids. When you are still struggling to raise your firstborn, they ask when the second one is coming. Hard to deal with them.”
Kath, 34: “I get asked that a lot, especially by relatives and my parents’ friends. My response is: We’ve been trying. Hopefully I get pregnant soon but if not, we’re thankful and happy we have one.”
In her head: “I guess I don’t mind being asked it because I already have a child. There’s more pressure on those without children. However, each time I’m asked that question, it always reminds me of my miscarriage.”
Doctor on call, 38: “We haven’t decided yet if we want another one. I had a hard time on the first year of the baby, since I would wake up every few hours to feed him.”
In her head: “I feel that people shouldn’t ask you that kind of question. There must be a reason the couple is not having another child, and that reason, I believe, need not be explained by the couple. It’s like asking, ‘Why don’t you have a baby yet?’ It’s very personal.”
Is it a generational thing? From my experience, it’s mostly older people who spew out these tired conversation fillers. But some 20- and 30-somethings carry on the same tasteless banter, like it’s something they have to say, in the age of social networking, reality TV and over-sharing.
As Joy so aptly observed, “Filipinos love to ask what’s next. Too many questions, too little regard for privacy. It gives an impression that not much must be going on in that person’s life.”
Food for thought, the next time you think of being snarky and taking the low road, try using the gentle redirection, “Why do you ask?”
If you’re the repeat offender, rethink how you show your concern, and mind your own beeswax. If you can’t pick a neutral topic, let the other choose a talk point they will more likely warm up to.