A patron was making small talk recently, and then it became large talk. He doesn’t know anything about me other than what he can see. Some of what he sees is the mask that I have to put on as part of working customer service. I like helping people, but I’m not their friends. They get confused sometimes.
He asked me how I was doing, and then asked me how my husband was doing. He’s never met my husband. He knows I am married because I wear a wedding ring. He doesn’t know I’m married to a man, even though I am.
I replied with the vague and noncommittal, “He’s fine.” Then he asked if we had children, to which I replied “No.” He pressed. “Why not?”
One – it is none of his business. Two – what if we wanted children and were heartbroken because we were infertile? Three – what if we did have a child and s/he died?
I decided to make it simple and simply said no, that they are too expensive. Usually that is enough to stop this line of questioning. Sadly, I get it a lot. I don’t get why strangers feel it is OK to ask these questions. Perhaps they think they are being friendly, but they don’t realize the potential minefield they are entering. Maybe they simply don’t think. This line of questioning could open up a lot of heartache for someone.
He pushed further. He said “When you got married, didn’t you want to have children?”
He’s crossed my boundary already and hasn’t read my lack of engagement as a “go away” sign. I’ve not asked him how his wife was doing and I’ve not asked him if he has children. A lack of reciprocal questions should indicate that he should stop asking questions.
I was done. I didn’t want any more of this. I didn’t want it to start off with. I pulled out my biggest card. I said the truth. I took a deep breath and stated simply “Both of us were abused as children, so we don’t want any.” This ended the conversation.
In the past I would have felt bad for even saying that. I would have felt bad that I had to cross over the line of polite conversation into this. I would have felt bad for having to establish my boundaries. Now I don’t. Now I know I must, and if I don’t draw a line, people will essentially invade my mental space. It is just like if a person shows up at the door to my home. I have the right, the duty, the obligation to establish how far he can get in. Normally, I have the ability to decide if I even open the door, but a customer service job blurs that line.
Here is some advice – don’t ask strangers if they have children. If you ignore that advice, then don’t push if they say no. Don’t ask why. Don’t try to talk them into having children. There are plenty of kids on the planet as is. And there are plenty of bad parents who should have thought twice about having children. Maybe if they weren’t pressured by family, friends, and strangers into having them, they would have saved everybody the trouble.