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 after that, 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. Just because I am a woman wearing a wedding ring doesn’t mean I have a husband. Nuns wear wedding rings. Lesbians wear them too if they are in committed relationships.
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 did and were heartbroken that we were infertile?
Three – what if we did have a child and s/he died?
I 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. They just don’t think. It could open up a lot of heartache for someone.
He pushed further, and I was done. He said “When you got married, didn’t you want to have children?”
He only knows my name because he’s read it on my nametag. 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 (I know he has one because he uses her library card as his own) and I’ve not asked him if he has children. A lack of reciprocal questions should indicate 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.
“Both of us were abused as children, and so we don’t want any.”
End of conversation.
There is nothing more to be said. No more pleading to get us to have children. No more trying to change our minds. No more prying.
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, essentially people will 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.