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Dear Heidi: Is it intrusive to ask why someone is single and doesn't have children?

There’s a lady I’ve become friendly with, and I’m very curious, but I don't want to overstep. We haven’t been friends very long. Or is it okay? Things seem a lot more carefree these days. Though I’m not always sure if that’s a good thing! What do you think? Is it okay to ask?

It’s always amazing to me that in this age in time, people are still asked “why” they are single, and “why” they don’t have children. Proper etiquette dictates that you should never ask such an intrusive question because it is quite rude, and it can cause offense. There may be an exception, such as a parent, or in-law, or your BFF asking such a personal question, but for anyone else, this territory is off limits. We are fortunate to live in a time when we have choices. Some of us choose to marry the person we love, some of us choose to be single, and others haven’t been in the position to marry, for myriad reasons. There are no right or wrong answers, rather, sometimes it’s simply your choice, and other times, it seems something like fate kicks in. Regarding having children, some of us choose to have children, either biologically or through adoption, while others choose not to have children. Then, there are those who would choose to have children, biologically, but for some reason, cannot — this is not their choice. Yet, sometimes nosey people break social codes — in a very painful manner — and offensively ask, “Why don’t you have children?” It is the height of rudeness, and in poor taste to trod on this fragile landscape. Please be aware that aside from rare circumstances, you never really know to whom you are asking questions, especially such a personal one. Maybe they have tried in vitro several times to no avail, or maybe they suffered a miscarriage. Asking these types of super personal questions can, perhaps unintentionally, be excruciatingly hurtful. Someone’s idea of a casual question, can potentially upset someone quite seriously. Please, the next time you feel compelled to learn why someone is not married, or does not have children, stop. Take a deep breath, and understand that this is really none of your business. If someone wants you to know the “answers” they will most likely confide in you. Otherwise, kindly adhere to the social codes that tell us to be respectful of others, their choices and their circumstances. Being polite means not causing offense. Be kind, be respectful, and avoid asking probing, extremely personal questions.


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