I have been thinking about all those articles that have been popping up the last few years listing things it’s horrible to say to someone with a disease/grieving/without kids/with kids/single/allergic to strawberries, etc. The one I read years ago called “What Not To Say to Crohn’s Patients” was great, because a lot of people are unfamiliar with Crohn’s and diseases you can’t see are often misjudged. However, I’m choosing to believe that most people, in most cases, are just trying to make conversation and not make you feel terrible about your own situation.
The Crohn’s article listed things like “you don’t look sick” or “you’re not underweight” and we can sometimes hear instead “I don’t believe you’re sick and you’re fat for someone with a crippling digestive problem”. But the more I find myself in the wrong on other “What Not To Say” lists, the more I think other people most likely mean “you are hiding your illness well under a healthy smile and I’m glad you’re not wasting away”.
When Robby and I had been married a few years, people would ask when we were going to have kids. Robby was still in law school, then I was told by my doctors that pregnancy is often difficult for patients with auto-immune disorders, then I spent a couple years on medications that forbid pregnancy. I remember feeling a little awkward fielding the questions, and I was glad that by the time we were ready and I was healthy the questions had died down, because I had a miscarriage before my first pregnancy and might have burst into tears if someone asked about kids. But, for anyone who has been hurt by this question, you have to know that people are not hoping to discover your fertility problems or even your decision not to have kids and shame you. In my case, if I’ve asked if you want kids it’s because my children are the light of my life even on my darkest days and I want that level of happiness for you, not because you’re looking old and your eggs are getting stale. Or because I think you’d make a great parent. Or because we could have play dates and bond at your house because you always have wine.
If I’ve asked you whether or not you and your partner are considering marriage, it’s not because I judge your relationship, or because I think you’re going to be a lonely cat lady. Deciding to marry Robby was one of the first big adult-decisions I made and I have never regretted it for a moment. He brings joy, laughter, and sweet, thoughtful love into our home and every day I find a new reason to thank Past Katherine for saying “heck yes!” to him 10 years ago.
These are the things that have given me purpose, strength, and joy. Maybe kids and marriage aren’t your thing, and I completely respect that, but if I ask about your life using the wrong words please don’t assume I’m clutching my married-lady pearls in judgement.
There will always be hot-button issues for people, and you will have to answer awkward questions every once in a while. Tomorrow I could mention how much I love thunderstorms to someone who can’t stand the flash of lightning because his beloved dog died during a storm.
I’ve even read that vegetarians are tired of getting asked what they eat for protein, but I am genuinely curious about this stuff! It doesn’t mean I think you’re unhealthy. It probably means I am trying to decide if I could survive as a noble vegetarian, and when you tell me you add silky tofu to everything and I wretch, I’ll know I can’t possibly live like that.
Let’s just assume that worst case scenario we are asking questions for our own selfish benefit and not to open old wounds or pass judgement. Do you think you’ll marry him? translates to If you guys get married we can do corny couple stuff together! Are you thinking about having kids? is really Please have kids because I have no f*cking idea what I’m doing and I need a soul sister to go through this madness with me. And even Have you tried eating coconut oil to heal your Crohn’s? could really mean I hope you feel better soon because I miss my friend.
So I try not to be offended by the things people say, and when possible I take a few seconds and try to decide what they’re really asking. Most people, most of the time, are just trying to see a snapshot of what it’s like to walk in my shoes.