Ask better questions.
You're standing in front of a woman — maybe she's a relative, or a new acquaintance, or a perfect stranger — and you're about to ask her a question. Something to spark a conversation, illicit a response. Now before the words stumble out, ask yourself one thing: Is this a good question, or an annoying question?
Here's how you'll know the difference: A good question is thoughtful, interesting, engaging. It's rooted in whatever is happening in that moment, rather than randomly spewed from a grabbag of generic conversation starters. Those are more likely to be annoying questions. Empty, boring, unoriginal. Annoying questions can be fully rooted in ignorance, or they might be clouded with passive aggression and judgment. Our eyes roll just the same.
Now I know what you're thinking: you don't mean to be irritating. It's small talk. And maybe we're all being a little overly sensitive with these "What Not To Say" posts littering the Internet.
I'm with you on all that, but you're missing one glaring problem: Your questions suck.
Sure they "shouldn't" irritate us; they're just words. We "should" let things roll off our backs, even the questions we hear over and over and over. Bigger person, and all that. But you could also ask better, less annoying questions.
If you're looking for a basic idea of what these irritating questions might be, read on:
1. "Are you tired?"
What she hears: "Damn, you look terrible."
No one aspires to look tired. You don't see us asking Sephora employees for help with that "exhaustion" eye makeup trend. Generally we're buying makeup to cover up the fact our eyes are sunken into purplish puffs, and our skin is dull and parched. And so if we're not all that tired (maybe we just skipped the mascara this morning), we're left thinking: What's wrong with my face?
2. "How do you DO IT ALL?"
What she hears: "You do do it all, don't you? Your life looks so perfect ... isn't it? You have it all together ... right?"
OF COURSE WE DON'T DO IT ALL, what kind of question is that? Do you know how much "all" encompasses? Can you narrow your focus, just a smidge? We either end up listing our sacrifices and shortcomings in some kind of uncomfortable rebuttal or we laugh it off, internally remembering all of the ways we're falling short. It's just an unecessary, annoying question with no real response. SKIP.
3. "What are you waiting for?"
What she hears: "HURRY!!!!"
Why aren't we married? Why haven't we had a kid yet? Why don't we have another kid yet? We need to have a girl (or a boy, if we already have girls at home), we need to freeze our eggs, we need to find a husband, we need to start that business ... WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?
Whether it's our family size, fertility decisions, career goals, or marital situations, we don't need to justify or explain our personal choices — and we sure as hell don't need to be pressured into them.
4. "Wowza, is it that time of the month?"
What she hears: "Your emotions and thoughts hold less weight because, ya know, periods and all."
Nothing invalidates a woman's feelings like this clever question — as if our bodies are momentarily snatched by blood-leaking zombies who strictly operate to their hormonal coding. As if the blood is coming directly from our brains, and can't ... form ... rational ... sentences. Ignore us. Check back in 3 to 7 days.
5. "What do you do all day?" (said to a stay-at-home mom.)
What she hears: "Damn, your life sounds boring."
What are you expecting to gain from this question? A run down of her daily stay-at-home-mom duties? A hushed admission that yes, just as you suspected, she secretly does nothing all day long — you got her! Are you trying to make her stutter defensively, weep out of sheer insecurity? Are you really looking for a daily play-by-play, or maybe — MAYBE! — you want to pick a better question?
6. "Aren't you a little young/old for that?"
What she hears: "Pssh. You can't do that."
The fascinating thing about being a woman is realizing that there's a very small 3- to 4-year window where a woman isn't "too young" or "too old" — a brief period between "slow down!" and "hurry up!" So please don't judge our accomplishments, goals, or choices based on our age; it's been done, ad nauseum. In fact, any question circling around our age deserves a big fat PASS.
7. "You're not a feminist, are you?"
What she hears: "Wanna have an uncomfortable argument?"
This question is either followed up by a debate on what, exactly, the word "feminist" means (as we have some convulted definitions), or it shuts down all future conversations forevermore.
In reality, this question only deserves one response: "I do think women and men deserve equal protection under the law, which, technically, is feminism." THE END. So why bother starting it?
8. "You know what causes that, right?" (said to a pregnant woman.)
What she hears: "Too stupid for birth control, dummy?"
Maybe you see a visibly pregnant woman pushing a grocery cart with three small kids trailing behind and you decide to be cute or witty with your little zinger. (And what are you expecting in return? "No, I'm not sure how I managed to get knocked up again, please, please, give me the answer!") But before you say it, think. Then remember you don't have to be a condescending asshat today.
9. "Should you be eating/drinking that?"
What she hears: The noisy static of judgment.
MIND YO' BUSINESS AROUND MY FOOD. Whether it comes from a well-meaning friend or a judgy frenemy or a die-hard vegan, it's always an irritating question, in all of its varieties.
10. "Are you pregnant?"
What she hears: "Are you growing a human or just getting hefty around the middle?"
Listen to me carefully. Never, under any circumstance, ask this question without accepting that you might hear this dreaded response: "I'm not."