Lesson #97: Eight Questions to Ask That Aren’t “So When Are You Getting Married?”

by Rachel on July 27, 2011

In the comments on how to handle everyone around you getting married, there was a lot of talk about what to say when everyone obnoxiously asks, “So when are you two getting married?”

Reader Clare sent me ten questions to ask instead of asking of “So when are you having kids?” and it got me thinking. I mean, I have a lot of thoughts on how to answer that pain in the ass question, but first, let’s just consider that maybe we can be part of the solution and stop asking that question. I mean, if this many people are sick of hearing the question, that means that a lot of people still think it’s OK to ask it! And it’s not. It’s just too personal and really none of your business.

And the thing is, that’s just not an interesting question either. How much good conversation is going to come from that question??

[First person asks person/couple she hasn’t seen in a year when they are getting engaged or married.]

[First person responds with something judgmental/prying or explains why your plans are wrong.]

[First person explains why she knows better.]

Annnnd scene.

I mean, seriously, how the fuck do you want that conversation to end??

And by asking that, you’re now the least fun person to talk to at the party. You’ve left the other person feeling worse, or at least annoyed…and when making small talk, wouldn’t it be nice to leave the other person feeling better? Or at least just indifferent?!

Here are some questions to ask instead!

(Keep in mind that as a former sorority recruitment chair, good getting-to-know-you/small talk questions are my forte. Our goal was to never let the conversation die, so that’s why I have one question followed by several more follow-up questions that totally seem cheesy on paper but are exactly why I’m fun to talk to at parties.)

  1. So, have you taken any vacations this year? Do you have any planned? What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken? What is your dream vacation?
  2. Do you guys follow any sports teams together? Oh, your teams are rivals? That must make for some crazy game days! I bet you guys have some stories… Oh, she doesn’t care about sports? I’m the same way! Do you have any good advice on how to handle game days?
  3. So the other night, I cooked a new recipe and it was a total disaster…are you a good cook? Who does the cooking for you two?
  4. I keep wanting to try [insert adventurous food or restaurant here]. Are you an adventurous eater?
  5. Do you guys follow any shows together? We love “Franklin & Bash.” Hell, yeah, Mark-Paul Gosselaar! “Saved by the Bell” was my favorite show too! What other shows did you watch growing up? Did you know Nickelodeon just put old-school 90s Nick back on TV? Yeah, we totally DVRd “Doug” last night!
  6. I can’t get “Ice Ice Baby” out of my head…yeah, we were playing it at work today. Well, my boss didn’t immediately get a “Stop! Collaborate and listen…” reference. Don’t you think there are just some songs that all the lyrics should be required knowledge!?
  7. So are you a summer person enjoying this heat? What is the most fun thing you have done this summer? Oh, you’re a winter person? Me too! What is your favorite thing about winter?
  8. OK, would you rather give up cheese for a year…or give up oral sex for a year?

Just kidding on that last one. Kind of. It’s a little out there, but somehow it’s not more personal than “When are you getting engaged?”

One more thing to keep in mind: if the person wants you to know when he or she plans to wed, he or she will volunteer the info. “Oh, we haven’t taken any vacations this year because I’m saving up for a ring.” “Work is great! I love the company and we are thinking about buying a house in the area in the next couple years because we plan to be there for a while.”

But otherwise, sorry — you just don’t get to know the private details of every couple out there! You’re going to have to wait to find out via Facebook just like the rest of us.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dori July 27, 2011 at 11:41 am

I should hire you as my small talk coach. I am completely inept and dread all such situations.

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2 Jess July 27, 2011 at 11:42 am

AMEN …thank you for saying what so badly needed to be said :) I am so sick and tired of hearing that question!

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3 [SMASH] at Sweat. Style. Swoon. July 27, 2011 at 11:44 am

I love you for this. That question is as annoying as “When are you two getting engaged?” Like I don’t know but I’m clearly happy with how things are right now so get off my [metaphorical] nuts, yo.

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4 Rachel July 27, 2011 at 11:50 am

Yes, I think the questions are kind of equal in my mind…usually they are both asked to non-engaged, non-married couples who the asker has decided should be engaged or married.

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5 Eunice July 27, 2011 at 11:51 am

I am a conversation murderer! Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t let the conversation die. Awkward. I’m going to use these questions from now on.

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6 Colleen K. July 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm

This post seriously could not have come at a better time for me. Firstly, another question that people need to stop asking is “how is your job search coming?” I’m going to graduate in a month, and despite completing my Master’s degree and getting interviews, I have yet to secure a job. Yet people who I haven’t seen in years, or who probably don’t even care what the answer is, think it’s okay to frequently ask this question, which always has the same answer, and it just makes me feel like a failure every time I say that I don’t have a job yet. It’s the same deal – I will happily volunteer the fact that I have a job when that happens! I know that it stems from a place of concern in their hearts, but really this question, especially when frequently asked, just pours salt on the wounds.

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7 Rachel July 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm

AMEN to the job search question! I hadn’t thought about that since I’m not in that boat, but it’s totally personal in the same way — and some of these questions or variations thereof are probably a good substitute!

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8 Colleen K. July 27, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Also (sorry to write a novel here), just yesterday my boyfriend sent me a text venting about how his mom kept asking him when he’s going to marry me. We both agree that we aren’t ready, but when I asked him if he’ll ever be, he said that he doesn’t know…which made me freak out because after two years of being together, how could that just NOT come up? I mean I’m not ready now, but I want to EVENTUALLY get married, and I’m really not willing to be with someone for years and years if they can’t ever promise me that they’re not going to leave someday. So, although I TOTALLY get the point of your post (as demonstrated by my previous comment), if it weren’t for my boyfriend’s mom asking when we’re going to get married, I wouldn’t know this bit of info about my boyfriend and I’d be screwed. Although I think this is kind of a rare case.

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9 Rachel July 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Well, I think a mom asking her son in private and a more distant relative asking you in public are definitely different things. I understand his mom asking, but I also would hope that his answer of not being ready is good enough for her — that he can say, “We’re not ready” and she can back off for a while. I guess it depends on his relationship with his parents how comfortable he is discussing it in more detail from there.

But… “If it weren’t for my boyfriend’s mom asking when we’re going to get married, I wouldn’t know this bit of info about my boyfriend and I’d be screwed.” That? Worries me. If you’re relying on OTHER people to ask this question of you as a jumping off point to have these conversations with your bf, then that’s problematic. You absolutely have a right to know what he has in mind for his/your future — please don’t be afraid to start these convos with him on your own!

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10 2winners July 27, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I was about to say something similar! While this is generally a good rule, in close friendships, it can be good to ask this question sometimes. I had never asked when my BFF and her boyfriend of nearly a decade were going to get married. But then we were both tipsy and I asked because a major milestone had passed, and she said that she and her boyfriend had NEVER discussed marriage and that she wasn’t sure he had even THOUGHT about marriage (though had talked about kids, where they wanted to live, but not marriage)! So your rare case is not actually as rare as you think, and I think that it might not ALWAYS be a terrible thing to ask if you’re super close with someone? But strangers should be left alone.

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11 cindylu July 27, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I feel like the question is a whole other beast once you’ve gotten engaged and announced it to family and friends. I never got the question before and don’t mind it now. I’m sure the kids question will bug me.

On the flip side, I’ve said before that I think asking a PhD student, “so when are you going to graduate?” is akin to asking the marriage question. It’s not a fun question, it’s highly personal, and most people probably don’t really understand what you need to do before you graduate.

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12 Ashleigh July 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm

As a former sorority president, this post made my day! These are such great tips for every situation, and totally took me back to recruitment nights, haha. I work in engineering now…and let me tell you, engineers are AWKWARD (sorry, but the stereotypes are true). I can make conversation/friends with anyone and everyone at work now because of conversation practices like this!

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13 Clarice July 27, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I hate that by asking these questions people assume that you want A) to get married or B) have kids; as if obviously your self worth should be wrapped up in these two issues.

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14 Rachel July 27, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Agree! That was why I tried to focus on questions that don’t assume that those are the only things that you do or care about.

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15 SP July 27, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Maybe it is because I am married and not trying for kids, but i totally don’t mind people asking when we are having kids. At all. My answer is simple, “eventually” and no one ever tries to tell me why it is wrong. I can see how it would be more irritating if you were trying & struggling, or if you didn’t want kids at all.

The getting married thing didn’t bother me too much, though I think my answer was “oh, soon” for about 3 years. Ha.

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16 Stephanie @ LoveLaughterLight July 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Great post, as usual! Most people have stopped asking me this ridiculous question since I’m now twice divorced! I sometimes still get, “When are you going to have a baby?” My answer, “I have powdered eggs, so probably never.” I get my point across and I get a laugh!

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17 FoodCents July 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Person: “When are you two going to get married?”

Me: “When I decide to leave my current husband…”

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18 Rachel July 27, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Or “When this one stops caring that I have sex with strangers for money.”

(In my case.)

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19 Paul McConaughy (@minutrition) July 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Person: “When are you two going to get married?”

Rachel: “Look… do you think I’m That Girl?” I have a life. You should get one too.

:-) Paul

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20 Nic Dempsey July 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Honestly when people are planning on marriage or kids or even puppies is so not any of my business. If they are my close friends, I know this stuff and if I’m not then see above! I’m single and I get asked if I’m seeing anyone and when I say no. I’m either asked why or told to give internet dating a try. This is then followed by a long story about how a friend of a friend did it and is married with triplets on the way. I normally try to steer it elsewhere but if they won’t stop (and at this point they start mentioning my great age and how time is marching on!) I tell the truth – had a fiance and he died, by the time I was ready, all the guys that were worth being with were with other people and although I’m really happy for the people that have met their partners through internet dating, it’s not for me. That tends to stop them in their tracks and make them think about how rude they’ve just been, but really I hate it because there is so much more to me than my singleness. As there is so much more to your relationship, that when or if you’re planning on marriage…grrrr..

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21 Jessica July 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Sorostitutes unite! All of these are in my arsenal from years of recruitment. Nothing was worse than getting the “one-word-answer-girl”.

Back on topic–I think a lot of people ask “when are you getting married?” because it:
a. makes them feel better that they are not married yet/feel superior because they are married (FIRSTies!!111!!)
b. they are generally excited and want to go to your wedding/bachelorette party (We’re going to VEGASSSS betches).
c. they are just nosy c-bombs.

Great advice as always.

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22 Rachel July 27, 2011 at 3:24 pm

LOL at A, B, and C (bombs)!

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23 Christie July 27, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I guess I never had that issue at all. Considering my boyfriend and I were talking marriage 3 months into dating, we got engaged at our 1 year and then got married 8 months later. I mean, some people asked if we set a date after we got engaged, but no one was all like “OMG” about it.

No one really asked us when we were going to have kids either. My parents kept saying “wait until you’re ready” and his parents just never broached the issue… Turns out, we got knocked up accidentally! So now, I get all the “do you know what it is?! boy or girl?!?!?!” questions. And I just answer “Nope, not yet. Right now, it’s still a parasite!” lol oh the looks they give…

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24 Mary @ stylefyles July 27, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Everyone has too much of an opinion about how other people live their lives. My boyfriend and I have been dating for an insanely long 6-7 years, but we’re still young. We get pestered all the time. On the other hand, my younger sister met her (now-husband), dated for six months, he proposed, and they were married after a year and a half of dating/engagement. So many people I knew told me it was a bad idea and too soon. What do they know! It’s her life, not theirs!!!!

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25 Angie July 27, 2011 at 9:07 pm

As usual, this is genius advice. Sometimes when I don’t know someone well, but I know they’ve been dating someone for a long time, I have to suppress the urge to ask. It’s usually out of sheer awkwardness that I ask, so these tips are great. Another reason for people not to ask is that the poor girl could be dating someone who’s not-so-sure about the whole marriage thing, then you’re just reminding the girl (or guy) that her (or his) significant other might not be on the same page as them and then it’s just a depressing night for everyone…not that I know anyone in that boat or anything…

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26 betsy July 27, 2011 at 9:20 pm

thanks for posting this. I get asked this question WEEKLY. it’s getting old. I know it’s ‘natural’ for people to ask this, but if I see you 3-4 times a year and this is the only thing you ask me each time (and not questions like, where are you going on your next trip? or, I heard your company made a drug that is saving millions of lives, how are things at work?) then maybe we need to re-evaluate our friendship.

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27 Rachie G July 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm

The worst is, “So when are you going to move in together.”

Wow thanks for pointing out an issue that is a sticking point between us and magnifying it! This a second to Angie’s comment.

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28 Amy July 30, 2011 at 7:34 pm

I hate getting asked that! I was in a serious relationship for the last 10 months (it ended earlier this week) and that was asked 10 or 15 times a night if we went to a party with friends. It used to drive me crazy and make me feel super uncomfortable!

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29 Stephanie August 4, 2011 at 11:07 pm

It’s my least favorite {in-public} questioned to be asked. Especially with him at my side. Ahhh.kward.

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30 Lisa August 9, 2011 at 2:44 pm

This is by far the rudest and most hurtful question someone can ask. I’ve been asked this question MANY MANY times and I never have a good answer for it. I mean, why do people ask ME? Shouldn’t they be asking my boyfriend? After all, HE’S the one who is going to propose. Sheesh.

The bf and I have been together for 3 years now, living together for 2. We’re getting married. Someday. But until I announce it or have a ring on my finger it’s no one’s business!!

And of course, once we get married the question will be “when are you having kids?” Another equally rude and obnoxious question (I mean come on, what if I was infertile? Do I have to share that with people???). RUDE

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31 Rachael August 12, 2011 at 1:00 am

So I’m finally getting around to looking at this post via a real computer and not my iphone and now I can comment … girl, I need snappy things to say to these rude people that go ahead and ASK the intrusive questions. I’m already married, but we’re completely childless, and for good reason, we just ain’t ready. Now I know I can answer the “so when are you two gonna have kids?” question with that quick shut down answer “we’re not ready” but man I would loove some great suggestions for shut down answers. My favorite I’ve found is: “Nine months from TONIGHT.” but with the married question for everyone else … let’s brainstorm some awesome responses to shut those nosy people up. Blog idea? Yes I think so. You take this one dear.

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32 Rachel August 12, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Oh don’t you worry…it is in the works!

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33 Elle August 14, 2011 at 2:25 pm

These are some great conversation questions! Trying to memorize now since I’m always awkward at making small talk…

Also, on the topic of answers to the “when are you having children” question – I read two great articles on this:

http://persephonemagazine.com/2011/03/childfree-or-die-hard-snappy-comebacks-to-inappropriate-questions/ (loved #4)

http://unicornsforsocialism.com/2010/11/04/9-combat-ready-comebacks/

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