I’ve never had anyone ask about my dating life, until recently. Over the past couple years, I’ve heard from family and coworkers, “Are you talking to a special guy?”, “When do you think you’ll get married?” and my dad who desperately wants me to meet a good man. I’m a closeted lesbian who has never been in a relationship. I don’t feel like it is anyone’s business about my personal life, but lately it seems people are very interested. I don’t know if it’s because I’ll be 40 in a few years or if they suspect I’m a lesbian or something else. I don’t feel comfortable or safe coming out to my family or at work. When I’m asked, I either just nod to please them or say, “I don’t know if I’ll ever get married” or “No, I’m not talking to any men” — the last two are directed to coworkers. Honestly, I’m tired, and I just don’t know what to do anymore. Do you have any advice for me, or should I just keep doing what I’m already doing?
I’m really sorry you’re in this situation. You’re absolutely right: your personal life is nobody’s business, least of all your coworkers. I’m also sorry that you’re in a work and family situation where you aren’t safe coming out. I am not of the belief that “everyone should come out in order to live their best / truest lives,” but I do want to acknowledge how incredibly difficult it is to have so many areas in your life where coming out simply isn’t an option. By and large, my advice to you is to keep doing what you’re doing. Mostly, I’m here to offer you commiseration and encouragement, and perhaps a few additional suggestions that may or may not be useful depending on the specifics of your situation.
When it comes to navigating at work, this is one of the things I absolutely hate that has been ubiquitous across pretty much every job I’ve held. Except in the rare occasions where I am actually friends with my coworkers, it really feels like the default office small talk is centered around relationships, engagements, weddings, birth announcements — basically every heteronormative milestone you can think of. This used to drive me up the wall before the pandemic, when casual conversation with coworkers was a part of my day-to-day. It’s just such a narrow way to think about the trajectory of people’s lives and can be incredibly isolating and exclusionary. It also reduces everyone, including heterosexual couples and parents, down to their relationships and their children, as if there is nothing else to their lives. I just don’t see how this benefits anyone.
Honestly, what’s served me best at work is deflecting. There are so many parts of my life that I just don’t want to discuss with strangers that I make a point of leading conversations as much as I can. I know that some people find this off putting or rude, but, for the most part, when I am work, I talk work. If I’m in a meeting, I’m going to jump right into business and cut off as much chit chat about personal lives as I can get away with by saying things like, “I want to be mindful of people’s time, so I’m going to go ahead and get started,” or “I have a hard stop at [whenever the meeting ends] so if you don’t mind, why don’t we get started?”
For the coworkers I am actually on friendly terms with or if I’m in a one-on-one conversation where it’s a little harder to play the “respecting everyone’s schedule” card, I ask people about their weekends, their vacations, their kids, their pets, pretty much anything to keep them busy talking about their lives and spending less time pestering me about mine. Many people are more than happy to oblige, without even knowing it. And then, after we’ve talked about them for a while, I plead to the need to get back to work.
Obviously, these two approaches will only go so far. If coworkers are directly and pointedly asking you about your wedding trajectory or the men in your life, I think your current approach is a solid one. Keep reiterating the point that marriage and men are not for you, as you have been doing, and then pivot to asking the person about themselves. With enough repetition, I hope anyone with a shred of decency will take the hint. If someone really won’t let the topic go or insists on bringing it up, I think you can say politely but firmly, “You know, I’m just not really interested, and I don’t really want to talk about it.” And then end the conversation and walk away.
Family is a different beast when it comes to probing questions about marriage and partners, and my relationship with most of my family is fairly spare in the first place — so my suggestions on that front are, unfortunately, more limited and may not be applicable to you. At its core, my advice is basically the same: politely and firmly emphasize that you don’t want to talk about this. An effective way I’ve found for keeping this conversation to a minimum has been to make it clear that if all they want to talk to me about is men and marriage, then I simply won’t speak to them, plain and simple. (I have to admit, here, that this was largely accomplished with the support and efforts of my sisters, to whom I am out and with whom I’m very close.)
I understand that if you are actually close with your parents or other relatives, you probably won’t want to (essentially) threaten to cut them off. So another approach is to tell them explicitly about all the ways in which you’re happy with your life as it is and that you’re happy not being tethered down by a relationship and marriage. Give concrete examples of things that you like doing by yourself, that you can’t imagine doing with a partner in tow (regardless of the gender of the partner).
I want to say that when parents or relatives or even coworkers pry about relationships and marriage, they are doing it from the place of, “I just want you to be happy.” Or at a minimum, that’s the excuse they’ll give if pressed about why they’re bothering you about something that really and truly is none of their business. So cut to the chase and highlight the extent of your happiness not being in a relationship. But I will also add, that for me personally this approach is nearly impossible because I’m a terrible liar and I’m not exactly thrilled about the fact that I am and pretty much always have been single. This line of probing, especially when it’s coming from exactly the people who I cannot have an honest conversation with, really particularly feels like salt on an open wound.
Aloofness has become my friend. I’m not a particularly quiet person by nature, but I’ve learned, over time, that in work and family settings, I’d rather keep to myself than answer uncomfortable questions that I really don’t have an answer for. I mean honestly, even setting the sexuality aspect of this aside for a moment, what does someone expect a single person to say about why they aren’t married yet? I firmly believe that a not insignificant part of being in a relationship is about luck. There’s a substantial amount of serendipity that has to happen in order to meet someone you connect with in that way.
And what, exactly, is achieved by trying to wrestle from someone that they’re maybe not heterosexual? I’ve definitely been on the other side of this one before, as well, and it is just so frustrating. Even if someone means well, they don’t know what they might be stepping into — like my former boss who once implied I might adopt children, back when I myself hadn’t come to terms with my sexuality. Thanks, dude, really appreciate you outing me to myself before I even arrived on that on my own.
I really am sorry you’re faced with this and increasingly being bombarded with these questions. I hope you find some solace in knowing that you’re not alone and that your approach so far largely mirrors my own. I’d also love to hear from others in the comments with their suggestions or advice for this.
People can be such nosy gossips sometimes. I hope, for your sake, that with enough persistence on your part, some of these people at least will realize this isn’t their business and find something else to talk to you about.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.
This doesn’t work with family obviously, but when it comes to co-workers, one of the best tips I’ve ever gotten for working with a very friendly-but-not-friends group (where you can’t do the “let’s get down to business” thing without seeming curt) is to become the person who can turn any conversation into a discussion of some hobby or niche interest. It helps if it’s an actual interest of yours in case someone else in the group shares it, but otherwise it doesn’t really matter what it is.
Early in my career I had a co-worker who seemed to turn every conversation into EPL results and news. It seemed a bit obnoxious at first, but I eventually found out he was diverting conversations away from questions about children because he’d just lost a son and didn’t want to talk about it. So I’ve borrowed it just to keep some privacy in chatty groups. And once I started watching for it, I’ve seen people do it for everything from avoiding coming out, to not having to talk about a dying spouse, and even to shut up another coworker who talks endlessly about their religion.
“Would you like to see 250 photos of rabbits from the shelter where I volunteer?” has meant that very few of my cowokers know anything about me other than the rabbit thing. lol
Thanks for sharing this! It’s such a good suggestion! I definitely became the resident cat lady at my previous job because my cats were basically the only thing I ever talked about for the exact reason you described. Eventually I grew tired of being the single woman who only ever talked about cats, but it’s still good to have a thing or two to share about oneself for those situations where it’s impossible to redirect the conversation to work or to other people’s lives.
I was coming to say something similar! And also, remembering your co-worker’s hobbies or interests & asking about said hobbies is a good way to a) deflect from talking about whatever personal stuff you don’t want to talk about, b) show that you listen to them about their niche interests, c) give them a chance to talk about something they care about without that same pressure to disclose anything they aren’t comfortable with, d) if they know that you are interested, sometimes they will give you things they make (I guess this could be a pro or a con depending on their hobby; I have gotten bath tub gin & t-shirts so I mostly consider it a pro).
Ooo yes, this is such a great suggestion about talking to coworkers about hobbies they’ve already shared!
Himani gives great advice. I think vague answer + subject change is your friend here.
I’m a fan of vaguely true answers like “I haven’t met the right person” or “I’m in no rush to settle down”
Thanks Cleo! :) Yeah vague + true answers like the ones you suggested are great fall backs.
another option is to ask them why they are asking, or why they keep asking. i suspect some/a lot of people do it because it’s a cultural reflex – like asking ‘how are you’ but only wanting the askee to say ‘fine’.
something like, ‘um, i bet you don’t realize how often single people get that question. it ends up being a lot of pressure to be something that i’m not in a position to be.’ as a reflex, somefolks probably don’t even realize that if they thought about it, they don’t really care. it’s like a subconscious effort to male sure other people have the same values because that feels affirming.
you can also say something like, ‘i don’t really care about that they way other people seem to. i’m way more interested in how facebook keeps abusing it’s position as a social media provider to exploit it’s subscribers. do you know how they manipulate us into negative, hate-filled mindsets?’**
**this is also a way to train people to stop talking to you, because it challenges their comfort. so keep that in mind.
but anyway, you sound cool to me, keep that in mind, too. i hope it gets easier.
Thanks for these great suggestions msanon! I think you’re absolutely right that a lot of people talk about relationships without even thinking about it. I think your response of “um, i bet you don’t realize how often single people get that question. it ends up being a lot of pressure to be something that i’m not in a position to be,” is a really great one for people who are kind of in the middle ground between coworkers you have no connection with at all and coworkers you’re friends with.
you been so kind, Himani. i’m always glad when you have a piece up. hope the q writer is finding something helpful between your good advice and the comments.
i think some other options when the relationship questions come up can be:
i’m not interested in anybody and happy to avoid the hassle of being with someone i’m not into.
thanks for asking, but i’m good the way i am :)
Aww thanks msanon! Thank you always for reading <3
I love this response! :)
Thank you! Thank you for reading :)
One thing I’ve learnt is that often people aren’t trying to be nosy or invasive, they’re trying to get to know you by asking about the things that they think could be important to you, or something that could be common ground between the pair of you. Obviously I don’t agree that romantic relationships should be as centered as many cultures make them, but for many people (including queers) they’re a really huge part of life, so it makes sense why people ask about them.
So I’d agree with everyone else: be vague when asked, but it might be worth talking about something you actually are passionate about so your coworkers can get to know you who you are – they’ll probably stop asking if you’re connecting on something else. Aren’t you curious when you don’t know anything about people? :)
Caveat: this does only work for most coworkers who are reasonable human beings – occasionally you do meet some who are really rude/pushy. One way I had to deal with that when I was closeted at work was to say that I’d just had a really bad breakup and didn’t want to talk about it!
Yea, that’s really fair that most people do mean well and just want to connect on things that are socially considered universal. I think I was really just thinking of my own extended family when I wrote the line about “nosy gossips” haha
I’m a little late to this conversation, but I thought I’d stob by to let the question writer know I’m so glad you asked! This is exactly the kind of question that many people have and might not feel comfortable even asking.