On Dealing With Personal Questions

Hello, Snarklings! Oh good heavens, is it summer already? As she has said before, the Lady of the Manners much prefers autumn. Especially October, which also happens to be the name of the Snarkling who wrote to Gothic Charm School asking for advice in dealing with personal questions:

Dearest Lady of the Manners,

I am a recovering socially anxious wreck, in so many words. I am a generally shy person, but I am trying to be better about how I speak to people I don’t know. I hoped you would have some advice to help me. See, I, at the ripe old age of 21, have just entered my first relationship ever, and it is with another lady. Naturally, people tend to have questions, which I understand. However, I am a very private person, and I get very uncomfortable when people ask me personal questions, such as how serious the relationship is, what exactly my sexual orientation is, and so forth. I tend to regress to my less polite behaviors, either one-word grunting answers, or simply telling them it is none of their damn business. I feel like there is a better way to answer questions like these, but I get so nervous and uncomfortable that I don’t think my answers through. If you have any advice at all, it would be most appreciated.

Yours,
October C

Congratulations on your relationship! The Lady of the Manners hopes that you and your lady are very happy. As to your question; while the Lady of the Manners supports you in learning to be better about talking to people you don’t know, she also suspects you think you owe those people answers. To be perfectly honest, you don’t.

However, the Lady of the Manners earnestly believes that there is a graceful middle ground between “one-word grunting answers, or simply telling them it is none of their damn business” and answering every question asked of you. You absolutely are entitled to your privacy, and there is no requirement for you to answer people’s questions about your relationship, your sexual orientation, or even other, less-personal questions.

So! If someone you don’t know asks you questions you don’t want to answer, look directly at them and say, “I don’t discuss my personal life.” (You could say “I don’t discuss my personal life with people I don’t know”, but if the person asking you personal questions is someone you vaguely know (as in, you work with them, have a class with them, see them all the time at the coffee shop, or so on), they may try to pull the “Oh, but you know me!” card.) The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to answer those questions. No one is owed any sort of information about your relationship or sexuality except whomever you are involved with. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about those aspects of your life, you don’t have to!

Now, because the Lady of the Manners has a rather wide streak of mischief in her, she’s going to suggest another approach, which is ridiculous, but can be a lot of fun. If someone asks you a question about your personal life, feel free to make up a wildly-fictitious story. “How serious is our relationship? Well, we both think it’s fun, but she’s been betrothed to the Grand High Muckety of planet Zurip since she was a tiny child, so we can’t be as serious as we like, and we’re on the run from the interplanetary assassins. Don’t tell anyone you know about us!”. If you can deliver this sort of answer with a completely serious facial expression, so much the better. Why do this? One reason is because it would be fun. But just as important is the reason that a fantastical answer will (probably) leave the questioner confused and taken aback, which allows you to change the subject or walk away.

The Lady of the Manners understands if you don’t wish to spin impromptu fictions to discomfort people asking personal questions. It involves thinking very quickly and turning social interactions into a more performative thing; since you described yourself as a recovering socially anxious wreck, adding extra nuance and layers to dealing with people is probably the last thing you want. But the reason the Lady of the Manners suggested it (besides the aforementioned mischievous streak) is because answering impertinent questions with obvious falsehoods and bold-faced lies (besides being rather satisfying) points out just how intrusive the questioner is being. Or so the Lady of the Manners would hope.

Which leads the Lady of the Manners to her final suggestion for how to deal with someone asking you personal questions: ask them why they want to know! She’s willing to bet that most people, when asked why they’re asking you about your relationship, your sexual orientation, or some other bit of personal information, will blink a bit and answer that they’re “just curious” or “just making conversation”. At which point you can look at them blankly (or smile) and reply, “Oh”.

Again, you aren’t obligated to answer those sorts of questions. For that matter, you’re not obligated to make conversation with other people! This may seem like an odd statement for the Lady of the Manners to be saying, but it’s true! Even the most outgoing and extroverted of people have days where they don’t feel like chatting or answering questions, and no one should feel like they must. It’s an idea that a lot of people have a hard time accepting, but it’s an important one. If someone tries to strike up a conversation with you, there is no rule saying you must join in. You are absolutely allowed to say, “I don’t feel like talking, thanks”, or “I don’t discuss my personal life”, and not say anything else.

Sadly, there are people who don’t accept this, and who will keep asking you questions, asking why don’t you feel like talking, they were just trying to be friendly! Do not let those sorts of reactions make you feel you are in the wrong. You’re not, and there is nothing wrong with not wanting to engage in conversation. If you get a reaction like this, repeat that you don’t feel like talking, and do your best to ignore the person or walk away from them. (Walk away from them and toward other people, or into a shop.) Some people, when they try to force a conversation and you make it very clear that you’re not going to play along, will get mad. Again, that’s not your fault.

Goodness, how did the Lady of the Manners get from telling someone you don’t feel like talking, to having to walk away while someone is angry? Because it’s a sad fact that sometimes those sorts of things happen. But take heart, Snarklings; most people will not get angry and demanding if you make it clear that you don’t want to talk to them or answer a question. But some people will, and it’s important to be aware of that and have at least a vague plan for what to do, instead of being taken aback and fumbling for a response. However, most people will accept that you don’t want to answer a question (some with better grace than others), and will let you be.

Upcoming things here at Gothic Charm School, once the Lady of the Manners is able to drag herself off of the couch of ennui, summer lethargy, and migraines, include two! TWO different visits to the Nocturnal House to talk about vampire books, another trip to the Doll House for a review of dolls from Tonner Doll and Wilde Imagination, some burbling about assorted makeup brands, and, as always, answering reader questions! (You all know where the clicky-link for sending questions is, don’t you? The handy Correspondence form? Good, good …) In the meantime, the Lady of the Manners can be found over on Tumblr, posting a never-ending stream of eye candy, random comments, clicky-links of coveting, and Goth at the Office photos.

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