Sorry you asked.
You’re doing your thing. Smiling, small talking, surveying the scene, when out of the something-borrowed-something-blue, your sister’s friend, your cousin or co-worker obliterates personal boundaries by deciding, WTF, it can’t hurt to ask:
“I always wondered, pretty girl like you, *Why Aren’t You Married?”
AKA, you’ve been *WAYM’d (like wham, minus George Michael).
First of all, you must be headless if you believe “pretty” has anything to do with married. Hideous folks get hitched every day.
Second, any single woman, especially those of us on the Sweet Side of 40 or 50, politely says WTF, it does, in fact, hurt to ask. Maybe a pinch, more likely a punch. Only about 10% of American adults know the reason they remain unwed and blissful: those who know they do not want to be legally married. (Ironically, I got that stat from a match.com sponsored study.)
Third, ever heard the saying, “There are no stupid questions, just stupid people?” Turns out, there are both.
Why aren’t you married? Stupid.
Why are you still single? Stupid.
When are you going to settle down? Stupid.
Are you divorced? Really really stupid.
I’ve been asked all those stupid questions and every variation of the same basic inquisition: why don’t I have a husband? By now, I’m lucky (I think– I’m not in the 10%, so it’s only a shred of luck at best). I don’t get WAYM’d quite so often.
Word gets out when you are “sensitive” about your status.
Moreover, my nearest and dearest are over it; they love me the way I am. The queries come a few times year, though at every single wedding. (See what I did there? Single + Wedding? HA!) I don’t go to reunions and WAYM is half the reason why. (Boredom is the other half.)
After a couple of decades and hundreds of interrogations, I’m ready to shoot first, just so you don’t ask questions later.
But I’d never last in prison so I instead put together an arsenal of answers to divert attention away from my
middle third-finger, left hand. I can pull the perfect word weaponry from my artillery to halt further investigation in any circumstance.
WAYMers truly believe they are merely curious and/or caring. Your experience of this delightful banter might be closer to anger, bewilderment or shame. The person probing does not see the judgment of you inherent to the inquiry. She or he doesn’t get it: their little question is really, “What’s wrong with you?”
You are supposed to be like her or him, married. So if you are not, why not?
Here’s why not: my 10 best, favorite and most effective lines to end the line of questioning.
They don’t all work, in every situation, and there are some risks. Smug marrieds (tip of the hat to Bridget Jones) enjoy being smug so we have to be careful not to indulge the “I’m married therefore better than you” delusions.
The WAYM counter-agents below are organized in ascending order of slap-upside-the-headedness, because sometimes, that’s what it takes.
Why Aren’t You Married?
1) Not for lack of offers.
When: The first line of defense. Good for a chuckle or two and good enough for rational grown-ups.
Risk: This retort makes a daring claim: more than one person wanted to marry you, and said so. If it ain’t true, the second you turn away, the inquisitioners might turn your snappy comeback into a scandal.
2) Imagine my surprise.
When: At the therapist’s office. (Truth: when I was 41, a therapist asked, “You’re a smart, attractive woman. Why do you think you’re not married?” Um, that’s why I came to see you, doc.) Effective in situations with the well-meaning and well-mannered.
Risk: $150 an hour.
3) Who did you have in mind?
When: You know interrogator well enough to be pleasant but not well enough to provide information.
Risk: Blind dates.
4) I have terrible taste in men.
When: The second or third time in a row a person demands an explanation of your marital status.
Risk: It might be true.
5) Just lucky, I guess.
When: High School Reunions and similar events which disguise a personal Game of Life someone is determined to win. It’s not catching up; it’s keeping score.
Risk: You can’t win. Married beats single, 2 – 1.
6) Why buy the cow when the milk is free?
When: You’re in a good mood and the question-poser is easily confused.
Risk: Posers will think you’re a bigger slut than they already did.
7) I never wanted to get divorced.
When: In the face of a face so smug it must be slapped. You know it when you see it.
Risk: A pure risk assessment of this claim is 50/50, married or divorced, so you sort of bet against yourself.
8) Why are you married?
When: You’re feeling frisky and just bitchy enough to turn the tables.
Risk: They answer. In detail. Ugh.
9) I thought the goal was to be happy.
When: The conversation has gone on long enough to be serious, so you make a serious point. And jab.
Risk: Auto-responder claims of happiness. (Despite the open hostility between the spouses.)
10) This is rude.
When: If you used three or more of the other replies, your exit need not be graceful.
Risk: Your parting shot confirms the WAYMer’s pre-existing conditioned opinion: single women are bitter.
Use one or any of my “get a clue, clues” replies so the next time you hear WAYM? BOOM!
Do you have a great answer to the worst question? Leave a comment, email or tweet me @beth_odonnell.