fending off questions about baby plans, my office-mate throws temper tantrums, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. My office keeps asking about my baby plans

I am a recently married woman who even more recently learned I may not be able to have children. Some seemingly unrelated health stuff led to this discovery and we’re pretty much trying something for now and revisiting if I’ll need surgery (bye ovaries) in a few months to a year or so.

My manager is aware I have an ongoing but not serious health issue I’m addressing, but not what it is (or that I might need surgery later this year). The option of surgery just came up a little over a week ago, so I’m hoping I’ll adjust to the idea but for now I’m honestly struggling to just be a functional and productive person while this stressed out dialogue runs in the back of my head constantly.

I am glad I told my manager a little, but I’m still struggling to decide if I should tell them more. I still get the well-meaning-but-unthoughtful-as-hell “congrats you’re married! Babies?” comments which I kind of awkwardly reply “definitely not anytime soon,” and then have to spend awhile composing myself again after they go away.

And then on top of that, my manager is expecting their first child in the fall … which often triggers the “YOU’RE NEXT! BABIES!” comments, often from my manager. I don’t want to ruin my manager’s excitement, and I really don’t want to tell the whole office about my issues, but I don’t know how else to keep baby talk to a minimum around me.

I would love tips on what to say to commenters … if I should tell my manager the details … general coping suggestions for me … anything! Thanks.

Oh, I”m sorry! It’s incredibly rude for people to ask about your reproductive plans, and yet people do it anyway.

Your boss’s “you’re next” comments are particularly obnoxious. The people who make these comments seem to see them as a bonding/camaraderie thing, without considering how very alienating it can be to people who are in fact not next.

I’d try saying this to your manager the next time that happens: “I’d rather not discuss it, but I’m dealing with some tough stuff right now around this topic, and I’d be grateful if you didn’t make those comments.” You could add, “I’m thrilled for your news, though.”

As for other people’s inquiries about baby plans, whatever you’re comfortable is fine! For some people, that’s a dry “no plans at the moment.” For others, it’s “wow, that’s personal.” For others, it’s “that can be a really loaded question to ask someone” or “weirdly, no one asks my husband that” or really, anything you’re comfortable with. (I bet people will have other suggestions in the comments, but so much of it depends on what tone you want to strike. Some people want a natural response that makes the conversation end as soon as possible, and others want to make a point. Whatever approach you want is fine!)

And someone needs to fund a nationwide PSA campaign to get people to stop asking this question.

2. I share space with a coworker who throws temper tantrums

I share an office with a colleague. We work at a flat organization, but she does have 20 years of experience on me. She’s very kind and sweet, but will talk and hum to herself constantly throughout the day. It’s very difficult to get work done with her soundtrack in the background. This is minor, though, compared to full on temper tantrums she’ll throw in the office.

When she’s frustrated, she will shout profanities, pound on her desk, crumple her papers, and jostle/throw her belongings loudly. It might sound silly, but when it happens suddenly it’s very jarring and can make for a very awkward situation. It’s also happened several times while I’ve been on the phone with clients who are shocked to hear someone shouting profanities in the background. I often try to find a conference room while I’m on external calls, but we work at a large organization and conference room space is scarce.

I’m not sure how to discuss this with her or if I should bring it up at all. Is there a solution beyond buying earplugs and waiting it out?

You should say something to her! It’s one thing for someone to talk and hum to themselves (although that’s annoying and distracting enough to address on its own), but the sort of tantrums you’re describing are really not okay in any scenario.

The next time it happens, you can say, “Jane, can I ask you to keep it down? I’m sorry you’re frustrated, but it’s really distracting and frankly unnerving to have that kind of anger right next to me. Sometimes it’s happened when I’ve been on the phone with a client, and people have asked me what’s going on.”

I suspect you feel extra awkward about saying something because she’s older than you — but what she’s doing is really over the line. You get to speak up about it.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. I have the same last name as my husband’s prominent ex-wife

I took my husband’s name when we married. He has two kids from a previous marriage, and both the kids and his ex-wife have this last name. His ex-wife has been with the same female partner for many years. The ex-wife and my husband are civil but not friendly.

I recently took a job that puts me in the work orbit of his ex-wife. She is quite prominent. My husband not as much. But I will be working with many people who have heard of her or worked with her.

In my first two weeks I’ve already been asked if I’m related to her or connected to her. I was asked this a few times before but I anticipate it will be a regular question due to my new job.

What’s the best way to answer this question? I don’t know how open the ex is about her former marriage to a man, at least among people who have known her post-divorce. She is out now as gay. So I hesitate to say “I’m married to her ex-husband.” Do I say “no” and leave it at that, even though it’s not a common surname? I work in a client management context so I want to avoid too much awkwardness but also not lie.

I’d actually ask your husband if he thinks his ex would object to you just being straightforward and saying, “Yes, I’m married to her ex-husband.” He may know for sure that she’d be fine with that, and that would solve it. Or, if they’re on civil terms, he could ask her directly.

But if that doesn’t solve it, then some other options are to reply to people who ask if you’re related with “No, not directly” — which is more or less true, in that you two don’t have any legal or blood relationship.

4. Who do I use for references when I’m my first post-college job?

I’m in my first full-time job after college and grad school. I didn’t really need any references to get this job (I listed a couple of supervisors from college jobs and professors, but I don’t think any of them were called since I got the offer the same day).

I’ve started to wonder how it will work when I eventually move on, and need references. This is the only full-time job I’ve had, and the only one in which I’ve used these particular skills, especially the software I’ve learned. If I were ever job hunting, would I need my current boss to know about it and be my reference? I know companies understand that candidates don’t want their current employers contacted, but that would leave me with no references! I think I got by without any in applying to this job because I was right out of school, but I don’t think that would apply once I was in my late 20s and in the workforce for several years. It might be a silly question, but what do people in their first jobs do for references when they job hunt?

It’s not a silly question! Reasonable employers will understand that you generally can’t give your current manager as a reference, lest you jeopardize your current job. You’d explain this is your first post-college job and you don’t want your manager to know you’re looking, but that you can offer managers from college jobs and — if you can — other people who have worked with you since then. In that second group, the ideal person would be someone who was senior to you and worked fairly closely with you on at least some projects and/or was in a position to evaluate same of your work but wasn’t your manager. Peers aren’t going to be helpful to offer, especially when you’re still pretty junior, so hopefully you can think of someone who’s at least close to what I described.

But really, reasonable employers will get this. And because you can offer managers from college jobs, you’re not without references. They might not be ideal references (in terms of their ability to comment on the type of work you’re doing now), but this is a common situation for people to be in early in their career, and hiring managers are used to it.

{ 574 comments… read them below }

  1. Four lights*

    OP 1: Been there. It sucks. I remember an elevator conversation with a slightly intoxicated man who kept insisting my husband and I should have beautiful babies, while my husband and I awkwardly tried to disengage.

    Allison is right, there does need to be a PSA. What you decide to say may depend on your emotions, like if you think it will make you cry. The Today show is starting a series on infertility, you could use this as a segue. (“You know a lot of people have been asking me that, but I saw on the Today show that that question can be really hurtful to people with fertility issues.”

      1. Something’s Gotta Give Green*

        I was 3 days into a new job and my manager’s manager asked me if my then-husband & I were planning to have kids?

        And I promptly burst into tears!

        I was totally mortified and he was shocked/embarrassed. It just happened to be the one year anniversary of losing my baby and that was the wrong thing to ask me that day.

        My hope is he learned from that and never asked anyone that invasive question again (but I doubt it).

        1. Something’s Gotta Give Green*

          And I did overshare in my highly upset state, “I’m sorry for crying – today is the anniversary of when my baby died so that is a really painful question!”

          Not how I wanted to start off a new job but what’s done is done.

          1. SS Express*

            How awful, I’m so sorry. I don’t think it’s an overshare, I think it’s a perfect matter-of-fact answer that explains why asking that question is so inconsiderate!

            1. What’s your damage, Heather?*

              It’s also enormously inappropriate as well as inconsiderate.

              I’m so sorry for your loss, Something’s.

          2. Marmaduke*

            I’m so sorry for your loss.
            I believe that’s it’s not an overshare or unprofessional to give an honest response to an overreaching and workplace-inappropriate question, which is exactly what you did.

          3. Artemesia*

            No one should have to experience the pain you did, but I am glad you were able to share this with the clod who inflicted it; perhaps he won’t do it again and he might also discourage others from so doing. What a horrible experience to have to relive on the first day of a job.

          4. The Bimmer Guy*

            That’s not an overshare. An overshare is when you give someone information you really shouldn’t about your personal life, like–say–the fact that you went binge drinking all weekend and streaked across a casino. The information you gave your boss was None of His Business and he wasn’t at all entitled to it, but he caught you in a vulnerable moment (which is what can happen when you ask people such questions) and so the fact that you told him about your baby should be uncomfortable for *him*, not you. You did nothing wrong.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              “the fact that you told him about your baby should be uncomfortable for *him*, not you.”

              Amen to this! As a person who stuggled with infertility for years (and eventually had a beautiful baby girl who will be 34 next month!), I hope he was as uncomfortable as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. He earned it, and he deserved it!

    1. OPA*

      Totally agree on the PSA. I just got engaged and so many people have decided this is the moment to ask if I’m planning to have kids. I don’t know of any fertility issues, but seriously, slow down! I JUST told you I’m getting married in the near future, give me a second to meet one Lifetime Achievement For Women (But Strangely Not For Men) before I have to meet another! Especially if you’re not a very close friend or family member–you are on the post-birth notification squad, not the “woohoo! try for baby?” committee. It’s pretty offensive to be grilled on such a personal topic just to satisfy their curiosity.

      My point is that while infertility issues are a powerful reason to want to abstain from “you’re next” and other comments, you can back out for any reason at all. Or no reason. You don’t need to confess to your reason in order to not talk about this.

      I’m sure many others will have clever suggestions, but in my experience, the most charitable interpretation of baby fever is that people think, “Babies are a blessing, so if someone is having one then they must be happy, and I want people I know/care about to be so happy and blessed.” And if they are a parent themselves, often it comes with a side of “Please let’s talk about (my) baby” or “Please let me dispense wisdom about (my) baby” or “Please pityrespect me for working hard as a parent and be jealous of my joy. I need attention from someone not in diapers.”

      So asking them about their baby, or what their childhood was like, is one way to deflect attention on yourself. If you don’t want to discuss babies at all, maybe you can derail the conversation (“I couldn’t sleep last night either so I found this great cat video…”). If not, just don’t throw the ball back (“Babybabybaby” “Cool! Neat. Wow. Uh huh. Mmhm…”) and hopefully they will move on to more receptive people/topics.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        Uh, can we make it a “worldwide” PSA please? UK-based here and I’m getting the “leaving it too late” comments because I’ll be 40 next year.

        1. Femme d'Afrique*

          Agreed about the need for a worldwide PSA. I’ve yet to meet a single/engaged/married African woman – from ANY country – who hasn’t been asked this question. I’ve attended wedding ceremonies in which “are you prepared to accept children, as a gift from God” was part of the WEDDING VOWS.

          Make it stop.

          1. LPUK*

            I experienced the same at a catholic wedding in France. Not just as part of the wedding vows, but the priest was on the top table at the reception and made a speech that was so much about the couple having received God’s sanction to procreate which is the entire purpose of marriage, that I would not have been surprised to see him sweep the table clear so that the happy couple could get to it right there and then!

            1. londonedit*

              There used to be something about children in the standard Church of England wedding vows I think. Possibly still is, but you can choose which set of vows you want and I think a lot of people now opt for the version that doesn’t include the reference to marriage being a place to bring children into the world.

              1. valentine*

                “are you prepared to accept children, as a gift from God” was part of the WEDDING VOWS.
                “My insurance policy excludes acts of God, Padre.”

                1. Femme d'Afrique*

                  “My insurance policy excludes acts of God, Padre.”

                  Haha! I’d love to see the priest’s face after that one!

                  @londonedit: where I am, one can technically request different vows, but churches here don’t tend to so flexible. At a friend’s wedding, the priest agreed to leave out the “obey” part of the vows, but then made that decision the central theme of his sermon (which was remarkably progressive, I must say). Thing is, he was acutely aware that he had the power to refuse the bride’s request.

                  The “accepting children” thing is seen as largely non-negotiable, and I’m not sure people even try to get the priest to not say it.

                2. bleh*

                  It is part of Catholic vows. When I balked and wrote a long letter invoking arcane rule that allows you to not follow a church edict, the priest I knew from childhood said, “Oh, that just means you’ll accept baby-nephew if something happens to spouse’s brother and SIL.” It was a kindness and so thoughtful from an old-school priest from Ireland. So if you have to answer it, interpret as benefits your personal frame.

                3. Beth Jacobs*

                  bleh: Although that’s a generous interpretation, it feels wrong for other reasons. Close family dying and a nephew experiencing the trauma of orphan hood hardly feels like a gift.

                4. Anon here*

                  Beth Jacobs – I think the priest’s interpretation of the “gift” wording in that line doesn’t need to imply that the child’s traumatic *situation* is the gift – but that the *child*, regardless of circumstance, should be considered a gift from god and valued highly etc etc. Less “lucky you! dead relative means bonus baby!” and more a general directive to people “don’t think of this kid as being any less than any other kids you might already have, or an imposition, take care of the kid like you would an actual gift from your deity of choice” etc.

              2. PhyllisB*

                The last wedding I attended in the Episcopal church had this in their vows. I attended one wedding for an elderly previously widowed couple who had grand-children and this was included. The whole church cracked up.

              3. RoseGrey*

                I tried and was told it was compulsory. This was before knowing I couldn’t have kids. Had I known then it would have been all the more heartbreaking.

              4. Doubleblankie*

                Think you are right – I’ve been to quite a few C of E weddings and that didn’t sound that odd to me, think quite a few people still don’t take it out!

                OP – I really feel for you. I think telling your manager might help if she is a kind person especially? When we started fertility treatment. I had to tell three different managers (over a long-ish period of time) as my job required travel, and I needed to explain why I couldn’t travel sometimes! It did make me feel more comfortable with them knowing and supporting me, and protecting me from colleagues’ questions a bit too. Anyway good luck with everything, wishing you all the best.

            2. LadyProg*

              Brazilian here, same problem down south. “When are you getting married”, “why are you still single”, “when are you having children”… I no longer live there so I don’t go through it as much so yay!

              1. Michaela Westen*

                The cure for all this is to move to the big city and find a group of non-religious friends that includes couples who have chosen not to have kids and middle-aged single people. They don’t ask.

            3. MatKnifeNinja*

              That’s my family. I’m surprised they don’t have a room like after kings were just married to get “busy” after the service.

            4. That Girl From Quinn's House*

              The rabbi officiating my friend’s wedding included something about having many babies and raising a Jewish family in his speech before the exchanging of the vows. But he also referenced the meetings they’d had before he officiated the wedding, and they did have a baby shortly after, so I figured the topic had been discussed.

          2. saby*

            Standard part of Catholic wedding vows, at least where I am. At least they don’t include the “obey” line?? Shudder.

            A friend of mine who reacted to his parents’ very messy and traumatic divorce by going DEEP into Catholicism one time gave me a book all about how the Holy Spirit is as much a part of a Catholic marriage as the husband and wife, and if you use any form of birth control as a married couple when you SPECIFICALLY PROMISED in your wedding vows that you were open to children, then you are locking God and the Holy Spirit out of your marriage and That is why Birth Control is a Sin.

            Asked friend, if that’s the case then why does he believe that birth control is also a sin when used by unmarried couples who have never invited the Holy Spirit into their relationship? He had no answer. I guess now he’s a former friend…

          3. Archaeopteryx*

            It’s part of the Catholic wedding vows. Doesn’t mean you have to actively try for kids exactly.

          4. MatKnifeNinja*

            Those words are included in my family’s religious wedding service. It is a big part/deal of the vows.

            The only reason to get married is to have a litter of kids, “which are a blessing from God.” and the most “important thing a woman can do.”

            Not married. Can’t have kids. Sort of an albatross around my family’s neck, because that’s ALL my relatives are interested about me. Being married off and having kids.

            I don’t know who women with infertility deal with that religion. Being a mother is front and center to so many things.

            1. pancakes*

              Women with infertility issues aren’t the only ones who have to deal with that mindset, though—everyone who identifies as part of that religion is dealing with a world-view that depicts women as broodmares. Their friends & acquaintances are dealing with that world-view as well. To some extent we all are.

        2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          When I was 35 my dad offered to pay for having my eggs harvested because he was worried I hadn’t had kids yet and was getting too old. Then when I had a kid at 36 and someone else asked if I was going to have any more he laughed and said of course I wouldn’t I was too old now. Ugh.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            My dad hounded me to have kids all through my 30s. He kept saying he wanted grandchildren. It was very painful and insensitive, since I wanted to but couldn’t seem to find a partner. I finally shut him up by pointing out to him that he already had three grandchildren.

            1. NotAKidPerson*

              In college, I told my mom that if she was so set on me having babies, I’d go to the next frat party and get knocked up, and she could raise it. She left the topic alone after that, thankfully.

            2. Complicated Spirit*

              Some jackhole at a meet-and-greet thing my fiance and I went to asked my fiance (not me, I guess because they were both men) how many kids we were having after we got married. My fiance said we didn’t want to have any. He did the whole “Well ya gotta have kids!” bit, and went on to tell my fiance that he “shouldn’t negotiate” with me on kids because kids weren’t my fiance’s “problem”. You see, the only reason I wouldn’t want to have kids (since obviously it was all my fault) was because I was going to be the one actually going through the trouble of raising them, whereas my fiance would get to have all the fun with them. And my fiance shouldn’t let me take that fun away from him.

              I pray to God that man has no daughters.

      2. Ico*

        Getting married and having kids are still lifetime achievements for men. It’s not uncommon for people to ask me why I’m not married or when I’ll be having children.

        1. Princess Deviant*

          It’s not as common but yes it does happen.

          A younger male colleague got married about 2 years ago, and every now and then a couple of women in the office would ask him when he was going to have kids.

          You could see that he was a bit uncomfortable and he’d answer that he didn’t want them, to which they’d respond “oh you’ll change your mind!”.

          One day, the last time they ever said anything!, I piped up with “hey do you mind people asking about you having kids? It’s a personal thing isn’t it?” And he said “no” politely, but no one has asked him since. Job done.

        2. Princess Deviant*

          I’m sorry, my first sentence makes it sound like I’m denying your experience of being asked this invasive question which was not my intention, so I apologise!

        3. OPA*

          Sure, and maybe I was exaggerating a bit when I wrote that. Of course they’re important events for men. But there are whole industries and cultural narratives and marketing decisions and fairy tales pushing the idea that Marriage And Then Babies are the only achievements expected of women, or at least the most important things they will ever achieve (and if they don’t they are found lacking in moral character). The subtext and frequency of the questions are different, in my experience.

          1. londonedit*

            Yes. Of course men are asked about marriage and babies too, but there is this really pervasive idea that whatever a woman does, whatever she achieves in life, if she fails to have children then she’s somehow failed at The One True Purpose Of Womanhood.

            1. Ico*

              I have had so many conversations with my father about his disappointment that, as his only male issue, I’m not on track to father any children to carry on his name. That I’m ending the family line. It…concerns him, even if I think it’s silly.

              Every boss I’ve had has at some point asked me if I have children, and many have then asked why not and said that I’d get over it and change my mind as I got older, which is very unlikely to happen at this point.

              The pressure is different for sure, but it’s not restricted to only women. I’m not trying to say anything about the female experience, just saying that the conception of the male one discussed here doesn’t match the one I’ve lived.

              1. Arts Akimbo*

                Totally understand! A friend of mine wanted to change his name to match his wife’s after getting married, and the family FREAKED OUT. Because you see, male, and passing on the family name. :P

                The patriarchy hurts men too, in different ways.

                1. Artemesia*

                  My SIL and daughter created a new family name hyphenate when they married and as an only son with a somewhat unusual name he caught it from his family too. With the coming climate catastrophe a lot of ‘family names’ are going to be dying out — the names are the least of our problems.

        4. Anon this time*

          1. We know, we know, we know, we know, we KNOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

          2. Until there is a multi billion dollar industry dedicated to greed and infantilizing grown men, it simply isn’t the same. At all. And we really don’t need a man telling us what we already know.

          1. Ico*

            And I don’t need women to tell me about how having children is a “Lifetime Achievement For Women (But Strangely Not For Men)” when that’s clearly not true. The exaggeration is unnecessary.

            1. Ethyl*

              It’s simply not the same though. What you are hearing is annoying, but it’s not backed up by hundreds of years of patriarchal oppression. So quit acting like you live in a vacuum, ‘cos you don’t.

              1. Ico*

                I didn’t say it was the same – I said it existed in response to someone saying it didn’t. Your analysis of power dynamics doesn’t make what I said wrong or what the other poster said right. That has nothing to do with living in a vacuum.

            2. LunaLena*

              Gee, I love it when men explain that they know more about what it’s like to be a woman than, you know, actual women.

              Seriously, I only wish everything everyone is saying was an exaggeration, but if I said that, I’d probably be accused of having hysterics.

              1. Ico*

                Except, as I noted to someone above, I said absolutely not one thing about the female experience. Seriously, where did I try to tell anyone what it’s like to be a woman? I told a poster (who I’m assuming from the post was a woman) something that she had wrong about the male experience. That is the opposite of “mansplaining”. Even the poster herself admitted “maybe I was exaggerating a bit”, so maybe it actually was an exaggeration, so hysterics required.

        5. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          A single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. :)

          Thankfully not with younger generations, but with older generations, I used to frequently run into the attitude that a single woman past a certain age was a pitiable failure while a single man past a certain age had some dark secret. The idea was that all women were desperate to marry, so an unmarried woman had failed in her life’s objective while an unmarried man would have had to have turned down hordes of desperate, eligible ladies.

          1. Kendra*

            I think the subtext there was often, “if a man’s not married by 40, he must be gay,” but if a woman wasn’t married by 30, it could just be that she’s too unattractive to “catch” a man (UGH, to both attitudes).

            As unequal as things still are, I am SO glad I live when I do…

          2. EH*

            I always read that line as sarcasm – a single man in possession of a good fortune is a target for matchmaking mothers and ambitious single women, who then act as though he obviously wants a wife and just hasn’t met the right woman yet. But then, I read about 90% of Austen’s narration as sarcastic/ironic/caustic so maybe it’s just me. :)

        6. Dahlia*

          I dunno your situation, Ico, but I think this is especially true for queer dudes, and adds in a lot of pressure about whether to be out or just miserable. With bonus misgendering if you’re trans.

          Sorry you’ve been dealing with that, dude.

          1. Ico*

            Thanks for the reply. I’m some flavor of aromantic or asexual, thus bring unlikely to produce any sons “for” my father.

      3. EPLawyer*

        “t’s pretty offensive to be grilled on such a personal topic just to satisfy their curiosity.

        My point is that while infertility issues are a powerful reason to want to abstain from “you’re next” and other comments, you can back out for any reason at all. Or no reason. You don’t need to confess to your reason in order to not talk about this.”
        This. Soooo much this. Infertility issues aside, it’s a personal subject. It is no one else’s business. You don’t even need to get into your specific reasons for not wanting to field all the questions. Just a “wow, that’s personal” and change the subject. If you want to get really direct you can say “Why are you asking about mine and my husband’s reproductive choices?”

        This goes right along with the stop comment on people’s food. Leave the personal alone at work. There are plenty of other ways to fill the social chitchat at work.

      4. JJ Bittenbinder*

        I just got engaged and so many people have decided this is the moment to ask if I’m planning to have kids. I don’t know of any fertility issues, but seriously, slow down! I JUST told you I’m getting married in the near future, give me a second to meet one Lifetime Achievement For Women (But Strangely Not For Men) before I have to meet another!

        My sister’s MIL made a speech <i.at their wedding about how it was time to start in on giving her grandchildren. It was highly awkward, made even more so by the fact that she already HAD grandchildren by her other son, who were in attendance at the wedding.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Oh god… was it a favored son scenario? My spouse’s dad’s mother had very clear favorites in her family. Spouse’s dad was the Favorite-With-A-Capital-F, so when his sister got married and had kids, ok whatever, but when HE married and had a son, it was the Second Coming!

      5. Alexander Graham Yell*

        As somebody who is likely infertile (was told at 19 it would be EXTREMELY difficult to ever get pregnant), has a medical condition that would make pregnancy potentially dangerous-verging-on-life-threatening, and is childfree by choice it actually DELIGHTS me to be able to mess up peoples worlds about this. I’ve got an answer for literally everything, and love to make teachable moments out of it so that maybe people will stop asking every woman who hasn’t been through menopause about their pregnancy plans.

        They ask, I tell them I don’t want kids. “Oh, but you’ll meet somebody and change your mind!” Eh, but I still probably couldn’t get pregnant according to every doctor I’ve had. “Oh, but there are tons of medical options now that could help!” Yep, but it could still kill me. “Well, there’s always adoption!” Yeah, but they tend to check to make sure you want kids and I reaaaaaaaaally don’t want them. Pretty sure that would come out. “I…but…” Yeah, looks like God/nature really knew what they were doing! (Depending on the level of Jesus getting thrown at me, I’ll throw God in there, otherwise it’s “Looks like nature is telling me I *really* shouln’t have kids!)

        I can be cheerful about it. Nothing about this is painful for me. So yeah, I’m gonna wait for them to get really awkward and then say, “Man, it’s lucky this isn’t a big deal for me since I don’t want them. Can you IMAGINE how awful it would have been if any of this hurt me and you just kept asking? Dang.”

        1. Important Moi*

          “Can you IMAGINE how awful it would have been if any of this hurt me and you just kept asking? Dang.”

          This is brilliant and I will be using it for this and a variety of other issues. I know too many people who don’t understand appropriate boundaries.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I may borrow that too. My daughter is an only child and we were lucky to not need in vitro. I’m still getting “why not have a baby” and by now I can laugh and say “because I’m well over 50” and watch them back-peddle. Adding something like “gee isn’t it good I’m not upset by this” could be a service to society.

        3. Jadelyn*

          Oh, that’s a good one. Me, I just react with an only-slightly-exaggerated shudder and expression of horror at the idea of having kids. “Kids??? Oh dear gods, no. Not now, not ever. I don’t even like the little buggers.” It tends to throw people off pretty well and by the time they’ve recovered I’m giving them the “Pursue this further, I dare you” smile. They generally don’t.

          On the rare occasion someone does push past that, like the ones who go with the “well, but sometimes things just happen! You never know!”, I am not above saying outright “Sure, sometimes things just happen, but then that’s what abortion is for.”

          I have yet to have anyone try to keep the conversation going past that one.

          The more common “you’ll change your mind” response is less fun to push back on, I just usually go with a very dry “I mean, I’ve known I didn’t want kids since I was 12 years old and babysat for the first time, but you really think you know me well enough to predict a change of mind on something I’ve been sure of since childhood?”

          I’m turning 34 next month. Really looking forward to exiting my Expected Fertile Years and hitting the point where people assume if you haven’t by now, you aren’t going to.

          1. Former Employee*

            Hard to say when that will happen (when people stop asking) because these days many women have children well into their 40’s.

            I knew I didn’t want kids* back when so I never babysat except for my younger sibling, but sib was not a baby when I was pressed into service – around 7 or 8, as I recall.

            *To be clear, I knew I didn’t want a baby. I wasn’t sure if I would be ok with acquiring an actual kid along the way.

        4. Harper the Other One*


          And if anyone ever questions you about it being “God’s plan” you can always tell them that maybe God’s plan is for you to point out that they should STOP ASKING THESE QUESTIONS.

    2. ANOTHER friday anon*

      OP1, I’m so sorry for your health struggles, which must be so painful especially when kids have been on the table as an option.

      I agree there needs to be a worldwide PSA, I’m in continental Europe and I still get those questions from pretty much everyone in my office (all of my colleagues are heteronametively couple up or at least have kids) and I am permanently single by choice and don’t want kids.

      I have actually brought up the “You know, this is a really painful question for some people, imagine someone was struggling with infertility or couldn’t have kids for other reasons, or imagine you were dealing with a trans woman.” and the answer I have encountered multiple times was “But this doesn’t apply to you, does it?”. I wanted to scream! Honestly I don’t know if I have fertility issues, as I don’t want kids that question has never come up. But I am so stumped by that answer that I have never come up with a good comeback.

      1. Myrin*

        “You don’t know that, now, do you?” in a steely voice which implies that you wouldn’t tell them in any case?
        (I’m just throwing out an idea at you since I’ve literally never been asked about this and as such have no experience with it, but I can imagine myself saying that. Although the particularly stubborn might still follow up with “Well, does it?!?” which. :| )

        1. ANOTHER friday anon*

          Yeah I’m afraid that would be the case at least with a few of them I can think of.

          It seems entirely inconceivable with my colleagues in general (this even spans departments!) and several of them in particular that a woman might elect not to have children or couple up. I’m in my mid 30s, so I guess it’s even worse.

        2. Zephy*

          Tempting as it would be to return awkward to sender with either that or a silent Look and walk away…eh, that’ll just get these gossipy old bints started spreading rumors, likely as not.

      2. Flash Bristow*

        I have a solution I use when asked about my (obvious) disability-causing medical issues:

        “Oh, are we swapping medical histories? Fun! You start!” And then give them an enthusiastic puppy dog look.

        That usually gets people to back off and realise they are being inappropriate (it makes them feel awkward too) – maybe there’s a version of this which could be tweaked for enquiries about future children, fertility etc?

            1. AKchic*

              Then you know exactly how strange the person is and won’t have to feel bad about avoiding them at all costs.

      3. Sciencer*

        “Did you seriously just ask me that?” Incredulous stare, watch them fumble, and if they try to double down, just shake your head and walk away.

        1. ANOTHER friday anon*

          Oh, that would just get me “Yes, so what?”

          It’s fine, generally. I have a lot of “I’ve never wanted kids” – “You’ll change your mind” – “I really don’t think so” – “What if your boyfriend wants kids?” (again, I’m single, they know this, but I humour them) – “Then he can look for a new girlfriend” discussions. Often multiple times with the same people.

          Interestingly, the willingness to break a (non-existent) relationship gets them to lay off temporarily. It’s just sometimes I get very fed up, because I’ve had the “You’ll change your mind!” discussion all my life and I’ve had to tell them “You’ll be the first one to know if I do” multiple times and “And if I do you’ll be my child’s godparent”.

          Then next usually is “But you never know, it can happen!” (with the non-existent boyfriend and the non-existent sex), which – sure, theoretically it can happen and I concede that with “I don’t think so. But of course, if it makes you feel better it could happen”.

          As you see, it’s very odd for everyone that I don’t want a partner and kids. They can’t understand. Meanwhile I don’t understand the urge to have children. It puzzles me why anyone would want to put children into the world, considering how broken it is (please don’t argue for it; you do you, I do me, if you want kids, good for you! I’ll be happy for you and buy a gift for the widdle one and hold them if you want me to). I’m happy for everyone who decides to have them, but it’s not for me. It’s really weird so many people don’t get this.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I think a lot of the desire to have kids comes from social structure and pressure. Society has a progression for people to follow: college, career, marriage, kids, house in the suburbs, happy ever after.
            I’ve seen many people who seemed to be following this progression without thinking about it at all. Doing what they’re told. Suppressing their real feelings and needs to conform. IMHO this is what leads to a lot of bad things, like cheating on the spouse, treating their children badly, leaving their spouse and children. They don’t really want to be there.
            People need to think about their real feelings and needs and determine what’s right for their lives ~before~ they marry and have children. Maybe that could be in the PSA.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Can confirm: I’ve watched more than one friend do this. Had kids because That’s Just What You Do At This Stage Of Your Life, and then…discovered they hated parenthood and regretted it. Of course, by that point it’s too late and you’re sorta stuck.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Yes, all of it is because That’s What You’re Supposed To Do.
                People think they want kids because they’re Supposed To want them.
                That’s what my parents did.

                1. EH*

                  I tend to assume that the aggressive YOU MUST HAVE BABIES people who have children are in that situation. It’s like dieters who don’t want you to eat food they can’t have, homophobic politicians and preachers who turn out to be gay, et.

                  If they have to suffer, you must also suffer, otherwise their righteous suffering is meaningless and unnecessary. Or something. Thankfully I’ve hit 40 without kids and almost never visit anybody who’s not cool with my no-kids life, but for a while I got that “WHEN BABIES?!!?” crap all the time and it was infuriating.

            2. Powercycle*

              We had our kids in our mid 20s so that question didn’t come up too often but some people sure are nosy: “Are you having another one?”, “When are you buying a house?”, “Why are you still renting?”, “Isn’t an apartment too small with kids?”, “Why don’t you have your driver’s licence yet?”, “When are you getting married?”…
              People, mind your business.

              1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

                Daughter was when I was about 27; swamped with questions about when I was going to have another. Son born when I was 29.5; nosy questions were split between whether I intended to stop/tie my tubes now that my family was balanced and when I planned to grow the family further. Son #2 was born almost exactly 2 years later; nosy comments included speculation on whether I’d nursed long enough and judgey remarks about having so many kids. Every time I coo at a visiting baby now, nosy comments include “Don’t you want another one?!” (spoiler: NOPE. I’m old now and all of my kids have some level of neuropsych issues that contribute to parenthood being exhausting. I’ve been done since 2003.)

          2. Jadelyn*

            I don’t get the urge to procreate, either. I’ve tried, I just can’t wrap my head around it. Why would you want to do that…? The idea that having a child could be a positive experience is just utterly incomprehensible to me no matter how hard I try to put myself in their shoes. I joke with people that I’m just missing whatever gene it is that confers parental urges on people.

            I’m a big fan of “well, that’s what abortion is for” in response to the “you never know!” type of pushiness. It shocks people badly enough that they back down pretty quick.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              @Jadelyn, you might want to be careful with that joke. It could play into the narrative of the anti-choice people who think only selfish women who don’t care about their unborn child have abortions.

            2. Michaela Westen*

              It’s interesting there are people who can’t see wanting to have a child. I always felt if in the right circumstances, I could enjoy being a parent. I was nowhere near the right circumstances though.

            3. EH*

              Ha! Love it. I’m in roughly the same camp, but have kind of come to understand it by looking at my own constant urge to adopt kittens. They’re tiny and cute! They make noises and messes but that’s okay, they make me happy enough that I don’t mind. Then they grow up and have full personalities and are great to hang out with. I figure babies must be like that for some folks? Maybe? The way I react to kittens does align a lot with how some folks react to babies (cooing, wanting to hold it and interact with it, etc). Cats are obviously not the same as humans, but it’s the closest analogy I have.

        2. Marmaduke*

          I got really sick of the questions at one point, and responded to “So when are you going to start trying?” with, “I’m sorry, are you asking for information on my menstrual cycle or on my sex life?” She became very red and silent.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I gasped aloud at that. Perfect!!! I bet she thought twice before asking anyone that again.

        3. Miss Petty and Vindictive*

          I thoroughly enjoy the completely bizarre and out-there replies, including:
          “Centipedes?! In MY vagina?!” – loudly, and very shocked.
          “To be honest, we’ve been asked not to by our doctor. Something about radiation, and spines. I wasn’t listening at the time so I think that’s it?” and then laugh.
          “Can’t. Gerbils.” – deadpan. Completely serious.
          “Oh, we were planning to, but then we found out about….*look around shiftily**whisper* the gnats”
          And my husband’s personal favourite:
          “Oh, we love kids! But you know what else we love? Money, and free time.”

      4. Emma*

        also, just throwing it out there, that there are other personal reasons other than health issues. Like, maybe you’re fertile but your husband is abusive and you’re trying to get out. You really have NO idea what is going on in someone’s life

    3. Julia*

      I’m a white woman married to a Japanese man, and people tend to really forget their manners when it comes to “half” babies. (In Japanese, mixed ethniticity kids really get called “half”, it’s pretty unfortunate.)
      I suffer from endometriosis and am pretty set on adopting if I ever want kids, so those comments are extra weird.

      1. Japananon*

        It’s kind of disingenuous to compare “half” in English with “hafu” in Japanese in terms of social context, common usage, etymology, and historical baggage. I think your comment will mislead many in the commentariat here who don’t have expertise on this, and it could easily get off topic.

        I’m sorry you get those weird comments too though.

        1. Gaia*

          It really isn’t. And while this is off-topic, I will say that my dear friend grew up as hafu in Japan and the horror stories she tells of how she was (and still is) treated make it clear that it really is not different at all. It is unfortunate and terrible for those kids and adults.

          1. Julia*

            Thank you. It’s one of the reasons I am reluctant about raising children in Japan – an opinion even some of my Japanese friends share. Being “different” here is stillv very much considered a bad thing, or at least something people can shamelessly and mercilessly point out, and telling someone they’re “half” is literally saying they are only half a proper Japanese person or even human in some cases. There has been some movement to call kids with two heritages “double”, so even some people in Japan recognize how bad “haafu” sounds.

            In any case, whether my kids would be “cute halfs” (ugh) or adopted or non-existent is still no one’s business.

    4. Booksalot*

      Even if the person brings it up themselves, asking questions can still go wrong. Yesterday at a July 4th picnic, my new step-aunt was discussing her children and grandchildren back in Europe (she’s an expat) and my husband asked how many children she had. Reasonable getting-to-know-you question, IMO, since she brought up the topic.

      It turns out that one of her daughters recently died in childbirth, and step-aunt got so worked up that she completely lapsed into French. We all just stood there, horrified, trying to make soothing noises and frantically waving my uncle over.

    5. MAB*

      I had a coworker’s boss who would not lay off the kids question. The final time he asked me about kids he had just taken a class that was required by the company that went over “questions never to ask an employee because lawsuits.” I responded with something like “Coworker’s Boss, that question is extremely insensitive and inappropriate to be asked at work. Do not ask me that question again.” He left me alone after that.

    6. Rebecca1*

      For #1, another plug for my favorite Miss Manners-inspired line: “When do you need to know?”

    7. MommyMD*

      I don’t understand the clods who think it’s ok to ask about other people’s reproduction.

    8. Clever Name*

      I can’t say if this is a great way to shut down the “you’re next!” comments or an awful way to shut them down, but a few years ago we had a bit of a baby boom at my office. During a happy hour, one of my coworkers looked at me and said, “Maybe you’re next!”. I smiled and said, “Well, that’s doubtful since my husband just moved out and we are divorcing.”

      1. schnauzerfan*

        I’m told my Aunt (this is pre birth control pill days) used to answer the you’re next statement with “Oh My God I hope not!” and then go on to rant about how she has dozens of siblings and the last two killed her mom, and they all went hungry and dirty and “how could you wish such tragedy on me??” Few people asked more than once.

  2. Jo*

    OP 3, if it turned out this woman wasn’t happy with you saying you’re married to her ex husband, or if you’d prefer not to say that, you could just say no we’re not related. It’s true after all. I don’t know if saying ‘No, not directly’ as Alison suggests might invite more questions. Or maybe not but I guess it comes down to what you/she are comfortable with.

    1. Edith*

      I think the kids offer a good additional choice of answer: “She’s the mother of my stepkids.”

      1. valentine*

        It seems weird to tell everyone and there are those who’d consider “no” a lie. I’d say, “Small world.”

      2. PurpleMonster*

        That would be nicely done, because it sidesteps the former heterosexual relationship thing, but surely she wouldn’t deny the existence of her kids.

          1. Zephy*

            That’s why PurpleMonster said “former heterosexual relationship” and not “former heterosexuality.”

            I’m not heterosexual. I’m currently in a heterosexual relationship, because the other person involved has a different sexual identity than I do.

            1. iglwif*

              Heeeey me too *fistbump*

              I’m never sure what to call specific people’s relationships but saying “heterosexual relationship” is certainly not the same as saying “relationship in which both people are heterosexual”!

              1. Jadelyn*

                Hard disagree. To a lot of us, it is functionally the same thing. I’m bi, a genderqueer femme who’s read as female by most people, in a relationship with a cis man, and I absolutely do snap back at people who refer to my relationship as a “heterosexual relationship”. My partner is heterosexual, sure. And our relationship tends to be read as such to those who don’t know us. But I’ve had that kind of line used on me too many times to try to push me out of queer spaces (see also: “bihet”), so I do not allow it to go unchallenged when applied to me and my relationship.

                I generally go with “mixed-gender relationship” for relationships that “look hetero” from the outside. Factual description without any assumptions on the identities of those involved.

                1. SunnyD*

                  Oh that’s helpful phrasing, thanks! I’ve heard from my cisgender / non genderqueer bi friends that they feel uncomfortable about their apparently straight relationships. It’s this big old bisexual erasure. How much more if you’re also genderqueer. Mixed gender relationship is good phrasing, thanks.

                2. TheSnarkyB*

                  Agreed – this makes a lot of sense. I’m also bi and in a relationship with a man, and I’m also biracial, so I borrowed a phrase to help me highlight this to people — I often refer to my relationship as “straight-passing,” especially when I’m critiquing the hetero assumption. It helps people check their assumptions real quick. I would not want to be labeled as being in a “heterosexual relationship,” because to me that’s a relationship between heterosexuals.

      3. Bree*

        I think, personally, that the kids thing makes it way less likely that she’d be trying to hide having been previously married to a man. If they’re co-parenting, chances are people around her know about his existence!

        Also, I’m a queer woman who used to date men but is now married to a woman, and I know tons of people in the same situation. No one I know really tries to “hide” their previous relationships. Still best to ask, but I think the husband may actually have a pretty good idea based on the way she wanted to approach raising the kids.

        1. Kendra*

          Yeah, I think this is a normal enough thing that it wouldn’t cause too much of a stir; many, many people have significant relationships and/or marriages before they have themselves fully figured out, queer or not. As long as she’s cool with it, I wouldn’t bother trying to dance around the topic; that just draws more attention to the situation, and might make people think that Something’s Up, when really it’s just an increasingly common family situation that our language doesn’t have very clear terms for (yet).

      4. Turnip-face*

        To me, referring to “the mother of my stepkids” sounds too much like one of those logic problems or riddles about who’s related to whom: I could imagine a few puzzled looks from people trying to understand the connection.

        1. Zephy*

          Yeah, if someone answered my “Willoughby? Are you related to Jane Willoughby?” with “she’s the mother of my stepkids,” I’d definitely need to take a minute to sort of diagram that out in my head.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          I don’t find it all that confusing. The primary difference between “mother of my stepkids” and “my husbands ex-wife” is the latter is explicit that she’s the ex-wife, whereas with the former OP’s husband may or may not have been married to the ex, all OP’s confirming is the existence of their children together. I don’t know that it super matters either way but in one scenario the focus is “we interact, if ever, because of co-parenting” and the other is “we at different times were married to the same dude”. If one wants to confirm any connection to the ex, I think it’s reasonable to approach it from either of the two directions. But if one really doesn’t want to confirm any connection at all, “no” is also reasonable.

          1. Anon Librarian*

            One could also just say “ex” and leave gender out of it. “I’m married to her ex.” And then, “We all get along and we’re raising two great kids. Yes, small world.”

    2. Orange You Glad*

      Since it’s client-facing, I’d stick with a cheerful, “Nope! Just the same name!” and move on.

      I think you’re feeling there is some level of “yes” to this question because of the relationship dynamics but in the strictest sense, you’re NOT related to her and it’s ok to just leave it at that.

      And if they ask if you’ve met/know her, you can say, “Yes, I have met her! So tell me about [something about them].”

      People are just trying to make conversation using your unusual shared last name as a jumping off point so you can feel free to acknowledge it and keep it moving.

      1. MK*

        The fact that this is not, strictly speaking, a lie would come across as disingenuous to anyone who later finds out the truth. People don’t want to know if there is a legal relationship, they are asking if the OP has any connection to this person. And it will come across as odd, or even hostile, if she is later told “Did you know is there is a person in X company that has your name?” and she tells them about the connection.

        1. What’s your damage, Heather?*

          Anyone who cares that much about someone else’s personal life has bigger problems…

          1. MK*

            Ok, they have problems. Or they are just exhibiting the not-particularly-pleasant-but-very-common-in-humans tendency to care about others’ lives. If these were social interactions, I would say “who cares”, but since they are clients, maybe the OP doesn’t want their impression of her to be “no love lost between them, huh?”.

            1. What’s your damage, Heather?*

              I’m not talking about caring others’ lives. I’m talking about someone petty enough to have an issue with not being told the exact truth in this situation. That’s not “caring”.

              1. Samwise*

                Because it sounds like a lie, which is not an impression one wants clients to have. “She’s my husband’s ex.” Short, simple, true, and something that’s probably pretty easy for others to find out anyway. If OP states it matter-of-factly, that should be fine.

                Most people asking are likely not trying to be prying or intrusive; it’s an obvious and fairly superficial question, meant to make a small social connection. If OP takes it in that spirit, I imagine most people won’t go any farther with it.

                1. What’s your damage, Heather?*

                  So you’re just totally ignoring my point basically?

                  If you care about seeing this as “a lie” you need to get a life.

                2. Ethyl*

                  How does it “sound like a lie”??? I’m so confused by this whole contingent of posters insisting that it’s somehow dishonest or weird or offensive or will cause clients to become angry or hostile if LW tells the truth that she isn’t related to the person with the same name. LW isn’t friendly or close to the ex, they don’t even seem like they’ll be working closely together, this person is a stranger to LW who happens to share a name. Nobody is lying about anything if LW simply says “nope, just the same name!”

                3. Katherine*

                  If I asked this person “Are you related to Jane X” and they told me no, and I later found out the whole story, I certainly wouldn’t be offended that I had been lied to. I’d think “Oh, sounds like a complicated personal story that’s none of my business and that would have taken some time for her to relate to me, so it was probably easier to just tell me no, not related to Jane X.”

                1. aurora borealis*

                  if it’s an ex-wife of a current husband, they are not related. not by blood and not by marriage.

        2. Jasnah*

          I would hope anyone later finding out the truth (which involves a divorce) would understand why OP would not claim a relationship to their husband’s first wife. Anyone who chose to insist they do have a relationship (despite being told otherwise) or that they were lied to (as if they deserve to know the details of a business contact’s family tree) does not understand social decorum.

          1. Flash Bristow*

            Yep. When I get asked about things involving others, the phrase “oh, that’s not my story to tell”, followed by breezy change of subject, can work quite well.

            If it doesn’t, a sterner face and lower toned voice, repeating “as I said, that’s not my story to tell” can shut the enquiry down.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            “Anyone who chose to insist they do have a relationship (despite being told otherwise) or that they were lied to (as if they deserve to know the details of a business contact’s family tree) does not understand social decorum.”
            Yes, and in a client situation there will be unreasonable clients. OP still needs to deal with them and foster a good client relationship.

        3. Ethyl*

          That’s……I don’t think that’s a normal reaction to finding out someone who said they’re not related to someone with the same name isn’t, in fact, related to someone with the same name.

        4. Ethyl*

          “People don’t want to know if there is a legal relationship, they are asking if the OP has any connection to this person.”

          But also — LW *doesn’t* have a connection to this person. The spouse and his ex aren’t friendly, and it doesn’t sound like they see each other or interact socially. Lots and lots of people are strangers to their spouse’s exes. Nothing to get hostile about!

          1. gwal*

            I think “have the same last name because were each married to the same man who also has that last name” is reasonably interpreted as a “connection”

            1. Ethyl*

              See, I just don’t agree with that. The ex is a stranger to LW who has the last name. My aunt kept her last name after her and my uncle divorced when I was five; I doubt now, 35 years later, she would say she has a “connection” to her ex’s wife, who she has never met.

              1. MK*

                Connection does not mean “close relationship”; in fact, it used to be used broadly for distant in-laws. Even if they are indeed total strangers (it’s not clear to me from the letter), there is a connection between them: they married the same man and one is an stepparent to the other’s children.

                Also, your proposed wording above is actually inaccurate: “just the same name” means it’s a coincidence and it’s not, it’s the result of them having been married to the same person.

        5. Silicon Chip*

          The fact that someone TOLD THE TRUTH would seem disingenuous to you? Wow. At that point, you’re just looking for ways to be a jerk! That is not a normal or reasonable way to think.

          Anyone who’d get bothered about this isn’t worth caring about, because they are ridiculous and if it’s not this they’ll find SOMETHING to get their knickers in a twist about.

          1. MK*

            You know, maybe the OP doesn’t have the luxury to decide her clients aren’t worth caring about.

            Also, I don’t think it’s either abnormal or unreasonable to hope that people won’t deliberately mislead you: saying you have no relationship to this person, while accurate, conveys that the name is a coincidence, which it’s not. Using Alison’s wording, or many of the others proposed in this thread, or saying “It’s a distant connection, I don’t know her well/at all” gets the message across that there is no relationship to speak just as well.

      2. another anon*

        Agreed! I kept my ex-husband’s name because by the time we got divorced, it was already over all my significant paperwork, my work, all that – changing it would have been SUCH a pain, and I didn’t have any strong feelings about it.

        It’s not a super-common name so every now and then I get asked about being related to his cousins or something. In the early days, I felt like I should Be Truthful or something, and you know what that actually turned out to be? Pretty awkward for the other person :)

        After a while I realised the easiest thing for everyone was to just take this kind of light “Oh, no relation” approach unless the person asking was someone who knew one of us well enough that the divorce situation wouldn’t have been weird for them to hear. Strangers almost never want to hear some kind of marital history, particularly because they always assume divorce means hostile/difficult/something so it becomes delicate territory and then it’s even MORE awkward navigating that.

    3. Kay*

      You could completely accurately say “we married into the same family”. However, if people find out later down the track that you married the same person, they may wonder why you hid it. Marriages are public events, I vote for being truthful.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        “We share some in-laws,” would be sufficiently descriptive and yet vague.

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        I would assume she “hid” the relationship because it involved a possibly-painful divorce and the two have no social relationship, so she didn’t want to complicate the situation.

    4. Willis*

      I could see that inviting another question. What about, “no, not directly but we have some mutual relatives”? It’s vague but true and could align with a range of answers Ex-Wife could give if she were asked. (Although I agree with Alison’s first choice approach on this.)

    5. Kitty*

      I thinks it’s fine just to say No, not related. Because they’re not. People don’t need any more detail than that.

    6. Tuppence*

      Depending on the framing of the question being asked, I might go with something like “we’re connected by marriage, but I don’t know her well” (assuming that’s true, which is my read of the letter). On the other hand, if the question is “any relation?” then you can truthfully say no, no relation. I also like Edith’s suggestion of saying that yes, she’s the mother of my stepkids.

      These are all valid options which are friendly but don’t invite much further discussion. Useful to have a selection to pick from, depending on the nature and context of the question.

      1. desktop ladybug*

        That’s that I would do, something along the lines of “distantly through marriage” in the same tone/manner I would make a throw away comment, and then just move on to another topic.

    7. Gerta*

      I would prefer ‘not closely’ over ‘not directly’. I agree that ‘not directly’ probably raises more questions than it answers – I’m not sure what it really means. Whereas ‘not closely’ is perfectly clear. It acknowledges a connection without it having to be a significant one. Or if you wanted to be a bit more explicit and not imply a blood relationship, maybe rephrase it as ‘we are connected by marriage, but I don’t know her well.’

        1. Marmaduke*

          My sister’s husband was married once before, to a woman with the same first name as my sister. She (the first wife) kept my brother-in-law’s last name and still lives in the same county, and it’s not very uncommon for people to ask whether she’s related/connected to the other woman of the exact same name. “Not closely” works well for her.

      1. Slartibartfast*

        The phrase that came to my mind was “only by marriage”. And if asked do you know her, “I know OF her”.

        1. londonedit*

          I wondered whether just ‘Oh! That’s my married name’ – in a tone that conveys it doesn’t really have anything to do with the matter at hand – would work.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I had a very common last name and used to dumbfounded connection-seekers by flatly saying “my grandfather was adopted…do you know anyone named [his STILL extremely common birth name] from NYC?”

          2. Rhoda*

            I think that’s a great response, it’s not going into detail but doesn’t come across as prevaricating either.

    8. Trouble*

      If it was prefaced with no, the not directly part would just make me think that due to the uncommon name maybe there might have been a tenuous link somewhere in our ancestry but it isn’t one I’m aware of if someone said that to me. It has the added bonus of being true. They are not directly related. Due to the ex wife being prominent in their shared industry I wouldn’t really want to get into the same husband/stepmother thing just because if people know there’s a connection to the ex wife they might want to mine it for connections or inside info, assuming the OP would have some due to the possible co-parenting of the kids. I’m sure the ex wife doesn’t deny her ex husband as he is the father of her children but also, I wouldn’t want to be tied to her if we weren’t close but merely aware of each other and weren’t more than cordial to each other for the sake of the children.

    9. Corrvin*

      I’m surprised at the advice to ask the husband. It’s not HIS professional field, it’s HERS and OP’s. (And it’s her feelings, too.) It might be awkward but if it were me I’d call or email the ex-wife and ask her directly.

      I talked to my ex spouse about this kind of thing in a similar situation, and we may need another discussion as I’ll be returning to our joint alma mater next spring, where folks may remember both of us.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I think it wasn’t ask the husband what to do, so much as ask him his impression of how his ex might feel about it.

    10. nnn*

      That’s what I was thinking. “Not directly” suggests that you know what the connection is, which might lead to further questions. If you’re trying to avoid talking about it, it might be better to have a phrasing that either suggests there’s no connection or suggests that, if there is a connection, you’re not aware of it (the way two people with the surname Smith could be unaware of any connection, but can’t rule out the possibility of a connection centuries ago back in England or something).

      I think simply “No, we’re not related” does that job best.

      1. Katherine*

        Yeah, I thought the “No, not directly” seemed almost coy- like you’re almost trying to get the person to ask a follow-up question. It pretty inevitably draws more attention to the situation than most other responses, which sounds like it isn’t what the letter writer wants.

    11. Clementine*

      Some difficult situations may require obfuscation, but I don’t see this as one. If someone has her ex-husband’s surname and shared children, I can’t see a good reason to try to hide a previous relationship.

      A simple straightforward answer will stave off gossip. Otherwise, sooner or later, the situation will be people gabbing about the situation the OP is considering obfuscating.

    12. JSPA*

      “Indirectly, by a couple of marriages.” Sounds farther than it is, which puts off further questions nicely, without having to say anything negative.

    13. KeyboardJockey*

      I married into a family with a name that is extremely common in a specific part of the world, but extremely uncommon outside of it. I’ve been the recipient of a fair number of, “Oh my gosh, I went to school with someone with that name! Are you related?” My favorite answer is, “There are more of us than you might think!”

    14. Nana*

      Ex, his second wife, and I all worked in the same industry. If people asked whether I was related to her, I’d just say, “We’re related by marriage” Quite true and it stopped the questions.

    15. Cubicles*

      I don’t understand why it might upset the ex-wife to explain that she is the OP’s current husband’s ex-wife. That’s the truth and it doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about the ex-wife’s sexuality. Maybe she thought she was hetero but realized later in life that she’s gay or maybe she’s bisexual. There may be other possibilities that I’m not aware of. I admit I don’t have this life experience so I don’t know what I’m talking about, but it would not have occurred to me that explaining briefly about a current spouse’s ex-spouse when asked would be wrong or upsetting to the ex.

  3. Kella*

    Regarding OP2, I don’t know about other people, but I personally would be really nervous about saying, “Hey, can you keep it down?” to the coworker in the *middle* of one of her tantrums, especially since she’s taking out some of her anger on physical objects. I’d be worried about escalating her anger even further, motivating her to throw something at me or something. I don’t have a good alternative to offer though.

    I would be more likely to say something in the moment if I were on call with a client who could hear it. I’d put them on hold and say, “Jane, I am on the phone and they can hear everything you’re saying. Please calm down or find somewhere else to do this.”

    1. What’s your damage, Heather?*

      I’m having trouble reconciling the idea that she’s kind and sweet with the other information about her. If she really IS kind and sweet, you should be able to talk to her at some point, ideally when she’s calmer. But she doesn’t sound sweet!

      1. June First*

        I worked with someone like this. She was friendly and nice but sometimes would just fly off the handle yelling and screaming in the middle of the workday. She worked in a soundproof area and we could still hear her. She did not take it well when the office manager had a talk with her about her behavior.

      2. MommyMD*

        She’s not kind and sweet. No one with a hair trigger temper who throws tantrums is. Spoiled and selfish fits much better.

      3. DerJungerLudendorff*

        Perhaps we can apply the same principle as we do with being “nice”?

        She behaves kind and sweet towards her coworkers most of the time. How much of that is sincere at any one time can be hard to tell, but her tantrums imply she either has some severe mental issues with regulating her anger, or she’s perfectly fine with acting like an angry toddler when she decides to.

    2. Artemesia*

      I’d hold an empty phone line to enable this conversation — this is so not okay and no one should have to put up with it. If one clear conversation doesn’t stop it, escalate to your boss.

    3. BRR*

      I hate being nit picky about language but I would stay away from telling a frustrated person to calm down. I’ve witnessed way too many situations where that ends up escalating things.

    4. Melanie*

      oh wow, i think we worked with the same person! Except for the profanities, my colleague was famous for her tantrums, which 30 yrs ago in a law firm weren’t uncommon I hear. But I was fresh out of university and this was my second job and my boss appeared to have no issue with this woman’s behaviour – turns out she had been his boss until she wanted to go part-time and took a side-step role. No way would I have said anything to her. But I did raise it with my boss a few times, & that’s how I discovered he was never going to say anything either. Funny, but I now look back on her with fondness. I think my boss probably caused her a lot of stress and once he left she calmed down a lot. It was colourful that’s for sure – every workplace needs a bit of fire and interest! Perhaps engage with her about what’s causing her stress?

      1. MommyMD*

        No office needs the screaming temper tantrum employee who doesn’t care if clients hear. It’s pathological. Never cute.

      2. pancakes*

        I don’t think it matters at all what’s causing her stress—the way she expresses it is inappropriate. She’s foisting her anxieties on anyone and everyone with the misfortune to be in her vicinity. I don’t see any particular reason to believe she’d have an accurate handle on what causes her to act out the way she does, either. People with a strong degree of self-awareness don’t tend to act as if they’re alone when they’re not.

      3. Jadelyn*

        …grown ass adults behaving like cranky toddlers is not “fire and interest”, nor is it something any workplace ever needs, at all. What a weird way of framing that.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I think it needs to be addressed in the moment for her to realize how she’s acting. Unless this woman gives her any other reasons to be scared of her, I don’t think it would be an issue. And I would trim down Alison’s script. It’s completely unacceptable for an adult to act like that when she’s frustrated and apologizing for her frustration isn’t on the OP to do. By ignoring the behavior, OP is telling her it’s ok to behave that way.

      1. MommyMD*

        I’d tell her I was on the phone and to knock it off. Behavior like that is so outside the realm of normal that it should not be tiptoed around.

    6. ASDperson*

      I also want to throw in the possibility that the co-workers “tantrums” would be something else. Does she show any signs of having Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism? If that’s the case, then these “tantrums” might actually be meltdowns where the individual cannot help themselves. While not professional, the individual can’t control them. Time, therapy, and alternative coping strategies can help if this is the case.

      1. Homer Simpson*

        While this may be true, it is really not in OP’s remit to try to diagnose their co-worker with anything. Plus, regardless of where the behaviour is coming from, it is not acceptable in the workplace. OP needs to focus on the behaviour, not worry about why the co-worker is behaving that way, or what they could potentially do to stop it (aka your suggestion of therapy).

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          This 100%. Regardless of WHY this is happening, it is NOT the OP’s responsibility to fix it. If it’s a medically diagnosed condition, it’s up to the co-worker to find ways to cope.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed. It may make OP more sympathetic/patient to imagine someone as being on the spectrum, but OP already sounds exceedingly patient to me. Unfortunately it would be problematic for OP to suggest treatment options.

          All OP can do is address the actual behavior in that moment, and I’m not sure that the scripts or strategies change—in this context—based on the neurodiversity of the coworker.

      2. MommyMD*

        Nope. If you act like this at work for any reason, esp when clients can hear, it’s unacceptable. Everyone is not on the spectrum.

        1. Parenthetically*

          ASDPerson literally said it was unprofessional. They in no way said it was “acceptable.”

      3. JSPA*

        “This must change” ≠ “you are a bad person.” “this is not acceptable” doesn’t imply, “this is easy to control.” Or even, “you certainly currently have the ability to control it, and are being an entitled jerk.”

        It means, “You can’t make those sounds in this place, so developing a strategy to ward off, control, muffle, export or otherwise deal with outbursts is an absolute requirement of your job, and must be prioritized.”

        People can melt down with a pillow against their mouth. Or learn to do “check ins” where they consciously assess their stress level indirectly (as a third party would do it) even if they don’t otherwise notice their stress building up. Or step outside, if outside is close enough, as they’re starting to blow up. Or learn that if they’re freaking out because they can’t find “X” in their purse, that they and their purse must go to the loo, before any further examination of said contents (even if the phone or keys ends up being in the desk). Or create dedicated time in their calendar and a dedicated space on their desk for every last one of the day’s “must find” items, before work starts.

        People on the spectrum navigate these issues all the time, whether it’s “quiet in the library” or “not waking the baby” or at work. In fact, having a hard-and-fast rule can be an actively good way to ward against the extra stress from having to make a judgement call, about what is or isn’t bothersome / what is or isn’t acceptable.

    7. SheLooksFamiliar*

      A long-ago boss told me how she handled tantrum-throwers on her team. She said she treated them like toddlers, since they were acting like them. First, she’d get their attention with a loud, ‘Hey! Eyes on me, now!’ That usually startled the TT into silence. In a low, calm voice she’d say, ‘This is not the way you behave at work. We’re going to my office to talk about what just happened. Now.’ Any protests were met with, ‘Come in, let’s go…’ Behind closed doors she’d ask what the problem was but also stressed that tantrums were not ever acceptable. She swore this approach worked; I never saw her do it, and have my doubts. Yelling to get TT’s attention sounds risky to me.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Back when I was young and stupid, my tiny fawnlike self kicked a person having a psychotic episode out of my workplace by using the calm, low voice.

      1. Anon for this*

        I don’t think I’d be comfortable pulling someone who just had a tantrum (an extreme one like OP described) into my office alone with me right after the incident. Once it had passed and they were calm, yes. But it’s definitely not appropriate to throw a tantrum in an office.

        OP, you say your organization is “flat.” Is there really no one to go to if talking to her doesn’t help? I’m in an organization that had an incident of workplace violence, and I don’t think anyone would want to get into it with their coworker knowing what could happen.

    8. Lora*

      Worked with multiple people like this. They either score a job someplace sort of crappy to work for which is notorious for never EVER firing anyone no matter what, they find a niche job at a very small company that is desperate for warm bodies with a modicum of technical skills, or they start their own company so everyone who works for them just has to suck it up and they have a revolving door of employees.

      This is basically the reason I don’t bother trying to fix Personality Problems. I know there exist managers who try to work with Personality Problems and make them work somehow, or transfer them around the company and try to find something they can handle, some role that doesn’t involve a lot of contact with other humans or isn’t very critical. In my experience, they don’t change much even when you tell them, “the next time you throw something – ANYTHING, even if you aren’t throwing it AT someone, even if it is a piece of paper and harmless, I mean ANYTHING – I will fire you without mercy. Understand?” They still end up looking at you like they cannot hecking believe that they are actually being fired for throwing crap around the office and screaming.

      The closest to “I’m sorry I will try to curb my behavior” I ever got was a lady who sobbed and said she only did it because she cared so much about the work. She threw another tantrum a few weeks later, so…now she’s at one of those companies that never ever fires anyone.

    9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I am floored to hear that so many adults throw full-on toddler tantrums in the workplace.

      (I believe all of you! I’m just floored.)

      1. voyager1*

        I work in dept with two tantrum throwers for corworkers. One told then boss to F’Off and the other tossed papers across the room then stormed off for 90mins before returning to work. This is just the silliness for this year.

        Both still employed and one is the team lead.

      2. The other Louis*

        I worked with someone who had tantrums. I would *never* have risked saying anything to him in the middle of a tantrum. And, really, it needs to be a boss.

        I’m kind of surprised that Alison didn’t give her standard (and great) script for talking to a boss–take this to a higher-up and ask what to do about people on the phone who can hear the tantrum.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        In the “good old days”, such stories were told with a hint of pride that they could behave so badly with no consequences.

        I like working at a place where that is not acceptable, period, even from big-book-of-business partners.

    10. Laoise*

      We had someone in my office who would yell frustration at her computer so loudly it upset and scared clients who had called the switchboard located about 30metres away.
      She would also discuss confidential client info on her phone so loudly that the switchboard callers could overhear her instead of the switchboard operator!

      When asked to quiet down in the moment, she threw things. At people.

      She didn’t think she was a problem. She told all sorts of people she was being targeted unfairly simply because she was loud and “passionate about doing the job well.” “They shouldn’t have put my desk near other people if I’m not even allowed to use the phone here!”

      But the fact is, there’s no room in any office for that sort of yelling, and especially not when it turns into angry tantrums.

    11. Arts Akimbo*

      It would only stand a chance of working if you used The Mom Voice. Naughty children of all ages tend to respond to it.

      1. Kendra*

        My mom was my high school principal, and she sometimes didn’t even need the voice; she’d just throw somebody The Look (as my sister and I called it), and they’d usually sit back down and look slightly sheepish (adults, too, not just students).

        1. Elise*

          This look works for librarians too. We aren’t the stuffy shushers people think we are, but people tend to know when they are not behaving appropriately in the library, and one raised eyebrow at them sometimes stops the behavior before I even have to talk to them. Especially teens.

    12. StaceyIzMe*

      For the OP who shares an office with a temper tantrum thrower- maybe it’s easier to swap offices? (Since it’s a flat organization and she’s ensconced in her position?)
      Otherwise, this is definitely one for her manager. It may be a flat organization, but someone who is so (angry? clueless? abusive?) as to throw fits in the office and in need of being counselled on the matter is above your pay grade. Plus, why should you suffer through the flak of addressing this with her? Go up the ladder and phrase it as “client relations are being harmed and it also interrupts your focus when you’re working…”.

    13. nonegiven*

      I’d consider talking to a boss and security about how to 911 for help with her. Tell them you are afraid of her reaction and that you feel unsafe.

    14. NotTheSameAaron*

      It all depends on the person. With some people, like myself, a simple interruption is enough to derail the anger train. With others, an interruption can cause the anger to be directed towards the interrupter and even lead to physical violence.

      Scenario One:

      Yeller: [Expletive], [Expletive], [Expletive]
      Asker: Do you think you could not yell so loud?
      Yeller: Oh, sorry.

      Scenario Two:
      Yeller: [Expletive], [Expletive], [Expletive]
      Asker: Do you think you could not yell so loud?
      Yeller: [Expletive] you, you [Expletive]! I’ll teach you…

      OP should make sure which is likely to result before confronting.

    15. charo*

      LW says clients can hear profanity, so I’d take this seriously. Go to HR or boss and focus on clients hearing profanity and it interrupting you on phone w/them.

      If you tape her cursing and play it, emphasizing that clients can hear it, I can’t imagine they’d ignore you. Play several all at once for max. impact. There’s nothing like hearing a tape of a meltdown, the actual words and tone.

  4. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    OP1: “That’s a very personal question/statement.”
    Repeat as necessary.

    1. We have a cat.*

      Oh I tried this once. “That’s actually a very personal question.”
      “No it’s not!” D:

      1. Jasnah*

        I wish you could see how high my eyebrows went up. This person has missed all the points.

        Next time instead of “how are you” ask what their (or their partner’s) uterus is cooking!

        1. Zombeyonce*

          That is the worst. I was asked by a man when we were going to have kids and why we hadn’t yet one week after a miscarriage (that he didn’t know about). It was all I could do to hold it together and say “I’d rather not talk about it.” His response was “Oh, but you can tell me!”

          He was a friend of my in-laws and I saw him once a year for Thanksgiving. Of course, Dave, you’re at the top of my “share emotional things” list! Why didn’t I realize we’re so close that it makes it okay for you to say that?

          I managed to eke out a “You’ll be the first to know” and let my husband drag me out of there.

          1. Vicky Austin*

            Ugh, I hate when people do that. I used to have a roommate like that. When I (or one of our other roommates) had a date, he would ask “How far did you get?” When I told him it was none of his business, he’d continue to push, saying, “Aw, come on, we’re roommates and friends! You can tell me!”
            Some people just don’t get it.

      2. Femme d'Afrique*

        In response to, “That’s actually a very personal question” I got, “Why?”

        If someone is determined to boundary stomp, sometimes there’s really no stopping them.

        1. EnfysNest*

          I think I would have a hard time not replying to “Why” with something like “…You do know how babies are made, right?”

          Because while there are of course a million other problems with the baby question, if you’re asking my about my baby plans, you’re also essentially asking about my baby*making* plans, and that is super not an okay topic of conversation for any general acquaintance, let alone a coworker!!!

          1. Marmaduke*

            YES THIS!

            Due to personal trauma, my husband and I spent MONTHS after our wedding working with each other and a sex therapist to even get to the point where conception might be a possibility. When people would make comments and ask questions about when we’d start having kids, I had to fight back a giggle wondering what they’d say if they had the slightest idea what they were actually asking–essentially, “Is it in yet?”

      3. Redundant Department of Redundancy*

        I said this the other week and they looked really hurt and said they were ‘Just curious about it’. I followed up with ‘it’s a sensitive topic for me and I don’t like the discuss it at work’.

      4. Lepidoptera*

        If they return with the “no, it’s not” or “oh you can tell me” and you’re comfortable with this follow up you can remind them that they are literally asking if you are having unprotected sex with your assumably reproductively appropriately equipped partner on certain days of the month, or if you are seeing a medical professional who is doing medical things with your and your partner’s or someone else’s reproductive materials/organs, so really it’s quite invasive thank you very much.

        You *might* be able to tell that these sorts of questions really get me going.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      I’m a huge fan of returning awkwardness to sender personally. My boyfriend and I have been together for years and we have a lot of people ask us when the babies are coming. My boyfriend had a vasectomy (by choice) and I had a hysterectomy (by choice and for medical reasons) so there will be no babies happening in our house and trust me we’re thrilled with it. But I find the baby questions really annoying so I just give my sweetest smile and say that we can’t have children and are both quite sterile and then I just watch them squirm. I hope one day to live in a world where people keep their business out of my uterus (or my lack of one I guess).

    3. JSPA*

      “That’s not an easy question for us.”
      “that’s a complex issue.”
      “it’s not that simple, for better or worse.”
      “I’m afraid that’s not a good topic.”
      “let’s not go there.”
      “Ah, well. Subject change now, if you don’t mind?”
      “Sore spot, no pushing, please.”
      “That’s not a work-appropriate subject for me at the moment.”
      “I’m going to need some space around that topic.”
      “I think you know I’ve had some medical issues?”
      “Not something I can banter about.”
      “I wish that were a happy topic for me, but it’s not. Moving along…”

  5. What’s your damage, Heather?*

    #1 I wouldn’t waste your energy trying to make a point. Nobody ever gets it (speaking from experience). It would take a longer, more draining conversation to make them get it, and generally they’re more likely to be oblivious or defensive – so I strongly advise you have the more realistic goal of just shutting them down.


    – That’s really personal. Anyway, about other unrelated thing…

    – You weren’t to know*, but that’s a difficult topic for me. Anyway, about other unrelated thing…

    *Yes, they should have known, but this is an effective way of shutting people down.

    1. Lena Clare*

      I really really like the “you aren’t to know but…” then change of topic.

      Am stealing that one!

      OP1 I’m sorry, and I hope your health problems get sorted soon. People can be inadvertently sucky while trying to be well meaning.

    2. MJ*

      And some people like to dig down further.

      I had some incredibly insensitive people tell me I could “always have more children” after my husband and our two boys were killed by a drunk driver.

      1. BookishMiss*

        I am so sorry for your losses, and for the inconsiderate jerks who said that to you. Wow.

      2. Lena Clare*

        Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry for your loss. What incredibly insensitive people.

      3. Doug Judy*

        I can’t even express how much rage I feel on your behalf. What an awful thing to say. I’m deeply sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine.

      4. Dame Judi Brunch*

        I’m so sorry for your losses.
        The insensitivity of those people takes my breath away.

      5. SheLooksFamiliar*

        MJ, I’m so sorry for your loss, and that insensitive jerks add to your pain.

      6. sjw*

        MJ, reading that took my breath away. I’m so sorry for your loss and incensed at insensitivity that someone would say such a thing.

      7. Exhausted Trope*

        OMG!!! I can’t even fathom the sheer gall it would take to express that thought.
        MJ, I am so sorry! My condolences to you.

      8. Elise*

        I audibly gasped at the insensitivity. I am so sorry for your loss and the horrible insensitivity you received in the aftermath.

      9. Robbenmel*

        I am so, so sorry, MJ. I wish I could say I was surprised, but I am not. Just so very sorry you had to deal with such a person.

    3. lnelson in Tysons*

      Still single and never wanted to be a mother.
      I have been asked by non-family members why I never had kids. My answer is pretty much the same: “I have always thought that I would make a lousy mother and even a worse single parent.” It does shut people up.

  6. Glengarry*

    OP 1: I shamefully have to admit that many years ago I once without thinking happily asked a newly married female colleague when the babies were coming, and the glimpse of pain and devastation on her face was just awful (she didn’t say anything specific, but it was pretty obvious that there were some issues in that area).

    It was a harsh enough lesson that I have never since asked anything like that again, and have also been really careful about asking anyone ANYTHING that might bring up a potentially upsetting issue or memory.

    I still desperately wish I could have learnt that lesson, though, without having to hurt someone the way I did.

    1. Everdene*

      I did something similar Glengarry, but to my cousin who I didn’t know was struggling with infertility at the time (but that’s what people do when you’ve just got married – ask about babies). I certainly learnt my lesson and just wish I had been taught not to ask instead of this being a more that acceptable topic for teasing/questions.

      Now, as someone who would like kids, but isn’t ‘trying’ and doesn’t know if it’s even possible for me due to health issues, I see it as my public duty to educate people when they ask that this isn’t ok and why (when I have the spoons) as it isn’t emotionally fraught for me*. Or I deflect to my husband who always shuts them down. The difficulty is this does often come from a place of kindness and ‘normal small talk’, although not always, and many people would be devistated to realise how much pain they have caused over the years.

      *Once I did snap but that is a story for another time.

    2. What’s your damage, Heather?*

      Serious question, not meant to cause offence: why do people need to be taught this? Is it because you grew up in a family where this was a normal question, or because you happen not to have friends who’ve experienced fertility issues?

      I ask because I genuinely don’t understand why it isn’t obvious, which is partly why it feels so hurtful to me when people ask (because it’s unfathomable to me that they don’t realise it’s hurtful – but I hear that some people don’t).

      1. OPA*

        Glengarry I have made this mistake as well. It wasn’t super painful to this person as I knew she wanted kids, but it was definitely not the time/place/level of closeness for me to know and I regretted asking it and I’ve learned my lesson.

        Posted upthread, but I think some people ask because they see babies as a blessing and want you to be so blessed, or they think usually parents are happy to welcome a baby, so would you be happy to welcome a baby? Wouldn’t you? Not thinking that some people don’t want kids, or that they want them but can’t have them. I think people are genuinely not thinking of how anyone will react, they’re asking in a kind of teasing way. Like when people clink a spoon on their glasses at a wedding to see the couple kiss; they don’t actually want the couple to make out in front of everyone, they want to see them blush happily.

        Very close family and friends ask of course because they are curious about how you see your life playing out and want to connect with you. I’ve asked people this question for this reason, especially close friends who live farther away, since I don’t get to see the little things that would otherwise signal it to me. Of course I have no right to know, but this kind of thing is an acceptable topic to me at a certain level of closeness. But it’s definitely weird when people presume a higher level of closeness than there is.

        1. Quandong*

          OPA it’s interesting that you feel that you can ask these types of question at a certain level of closeness but not others.

          In my life, the most persistent and intrusive questioners were my then-MIL and my other ILs. They felt close enough that they never, ever backed off asking me. And then I divorced my husband so I don’t have to relive those experiences any more.

          But had you (general you) asked ex-MIL she would have felt that we were close enough to discuss my reproductive status. Despite all evidence to the contrary!

          1. Copenhagen*

            Yeah, my in-laws are reeeeeeeally bad about this. And it stresses me out to a point, where I get really anxious when seeing them, since I can’t handle the thought of having to talk about my potential, hypothetical future children.

            For me, personally, the level of closeness does not change how negatively it impacts me. But I’m fully aware that it might not be the same for everyone else.

            1. Quandong*

              Copenhagen I’m so sorry you are dealing with this! I hope you can get your partner on board to stop this intrusive crap.

              For me the cumulative effect over years was almost indescribable. And there was no respite when others in the family started to have babies. Ugh.

              OPA, for comparison, I only ask a person about their plans for pregnancy or children if I am their medical provider (not the case) or their partner (I’m happily single so this doesn’t apply). For everyone else, zero questions ever, unless I’m directly informed of a pregnancy or upcoming adoption or foster placement.

        2. PVR*

          I never told anyone even my closest friends that we were struggling to conceive. It was too painful to talk about. You would never have known if you had ever asked, I usually cheerfully evaded with a “we’ll see” or “someday maybe” when asked… but inside, I was hurting and I wished friends would have not asked and let me bring it up if I wanted to. I definitely understood the place the questions came from, but it didn’t make the questions any less painful.

      2. Glengarry*

        In reply to What’s your damage, Heather?, I was in my early 20s at the time, none of my friends my age were even thinking about having children yet, and no-one in my extended family or friends of the family group had any experiences with infertility (to my knowledge).

        It certainly wasn’t something that was a normal question in my family, it just genuinely didn’t occur to me that this is actually an issue that people experience.

        And also I thoroughly suck at small talk, so when my colleague mentioned she had recently got married I really had no idea how to reply to that*, so just blurted out something like “oh, OK! So… I guess that means babies now, right?

        *I really shake my head at my younger self, now – I mean, how hard is it to just say something like “Congratulations! Hope you had a lovely day”, ya know?!

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          I feel like most genuinely good/well-meaning people can point to a time in their lives when they made a comment like this, it fell very flat or worse, and they learned from it. It’s the people who DON’T learn from it who I mentally move out of the category of kind and well-meaning.

        2. Former Retail Manager*

          I definitely agree with not realizing that so many people struggle with fertility because no one in my immediate circle or family struggled. I too made a couple of these comments when I was young and naïve. I no longer ask anyone about any future plans….kids, honeymoon (maybe they can’t afford it), buying a house (maybe they can’t afford it or like the low maintenance rental lifestyle), etc. I just say “congrats” on whatever they’ve told me and move right on to another topic.

      3. Ico*

        It is a major life event that many people go through, so a lot of the time it does work as a way to make small talk on common ground.

        1. Lena Clare*

          Asking “do you have kids?” can be.

          Asking “when are you going to have kids?” or saying ” you’re next!” (wink wink) isn’t.

          1. londonedit*

            Asking ‘Do you have kids?’ and then finding another conversation topic when the person says ‘No, I don’t’ is perfectly fine.

            Asking ‘Do you have kids?’ and then when the person says ‘No, I don’t’ launching into ‘Oh! Well, there’s still time! You’ve just got to meet the right person! What do you mean, you don’t plan on having them? Of course you will! Just need to meet the right person! Oh, you can’t say you don’t want to have kids, children are wonderful! Doesn’t your mother want to be a grandma? Who’s going to look after you when you’re old? You’ll change your mind eventually!’ is REALLY NOT OK.

            1. Lucy*

              Yes, agreed. “Do you have kids?” can be as neutral as “do you live in this city?” or “do you have a car?” which means it’s usually the follow-up which is obnoxious.

              That said, it’s at best tedious when you’re in that situation and it feels like it’s the first question out of EVERYBODY’S mouth, plus or minus nosey follow-up. When there was a question mark over my secondary fertility I found any related questioning upsetting, just as talk about parents can be upsetting to those who have lost theirs. It doesn’t mean it should be a banned topic, but just one to approach with a little sensitivity and discretion. There’s better small talk!

              1. Quandong*

                I agree, Lucy. There are so many other subjects for small talk! And, in my experience, people with children usually mention them quite a lot, to strangers and friends alike; the direct question is really not necessary.

        2. PennilynnLott*

          It can be, but man for those of us who have experienced pregnancy loss it’s still such a loaded question. My first child was stillborn this spring, and every time someone asks if I have kids I have to do intense mental math. Do I say no, which is lying and feels like I’m not honoring his memory or my grief? Do I say yes and seriously overshare with someone I barely know? How likely am I to burst into years with my answer, and am I in a situation where I can quickly duck out and compose myself? I know that’s not the fault of people who ask me, but man, I would really love for this to not be a standard “neutral, getting to know you” question.

          1. Lucy*

            I’m so sorry for your loss. That’s so very recent, I’m amazed you can even hear/read the word baby without sobbing.

            You are and always will be his parent and your grief is entirely your own business. However you feel you need to answer in that moment has absolutely no effect on the love and respect you have for him in your heart, and I would urge you to protect yourself by saying what you need to at any given moment without entertaining for a fraction of a second any notion of betrayal or guilt.

      4. Liza*

        I’m in the same boat as you, WYDH. When I was growing up, we didn’t really have anybody in our social circles who had babies. As a young adult, 2 out of the first 3 pregnancies in my own network were unplanned, and so met with concern rather than joy. To me, having babies is far from an automatic life choice, but a huge deal, highly personal, dependent on medical and financial circumstance, and NOT something one asks about.

        Like OP, I have encountered this line of questioning in the workplace, and was dumbfounded by the fact that people considered this normal conversation. I have been asked why I am not married, why don’t I have children. As a queer woman, and somebody with medical issues, this is a hugely delicate topic and I don’t like feeling the pressure to either lie or disclose my minority status. My standard response is to deflect with “That’s really quite complicated” or “I don’t want to go into that”. Depending on the situation, I sometimes try to go into a little more detail to point out to people that this is an intrusive line of questioning, but my experiences thus far is that people who ask these questions are rather set in their idea that marriage and babies are default life courses rather than a choice, and my attempts to point out that not everybody has the desire or capability to do so is met with “oh but you should, because “. I actually find this more emotionally exhausting because my knee jerk response of “but that’s a terrible reason to have babies!” (case in point, the “children love you unconditionally” argument) feels like it runs the risk of offending the other person. I’ve started deflecting more often than engaging, but I do wish people would realise just how intrusive they are being.

        1. SunnyD*

          As a cis-het person, I’ve noticed that the kind of person who persists with ‘of course marriage and babies’ talk is the same kind of person who is very invested in keeping their own privilege, AND very invested in denying that privilege, with great outrage and faux victimhood.

      5. The Other Dawn*

        I’m someone who never wanted kids and didn’t have kids, so I never asked people when they were planning to have kids; I just wasn’t interested in hearing about baby plans. And I was always asked when I was having kids. Very annoying since their response would always be, “You’ll change your mind!” “It’s just a phase!” “It’s different when they’re your own!”

        That said, for me it was just what people did in my family. I come from a big family, so I guess babies were on usually on people’s minds in some way, shape or form. Also, I never had a family member or friend who was struggling with infertility or didn’t want kids. And had I been someone who wanted kids, I would have been asking, too. Someone would have had to tell me that I shouldn’t ask.

      6. Zephy*

        It’s probably a combination of both, honestly. Historically, it has been a normal thing to ask a person, and people were less forthcoming about their fertility struggles in the past than they are now. I agree with Everdene that most people have just never stopped to think through the implications of questions like these – don’t ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

      7. Rachel Greep*

        People need to be taught this because they really aren’t aware of how inappropriate it is. If you grew up in a family where marriage and children were the expected norm, where such things were part of everyone’s plans and no one experienced fertility issues, it might not occur to you that this isn’t true for all. My youngest sister escaped the “when are you giving me grandchildren” pressure from our mother only after our middle sister experienced years of fertility problems. That’s how mom learned the lesson and swore never to pester anyone about it again.

      8. Everdene*

        I think my family are a pretty fertile bunch and mostly my parents generation got married and popped out kids. It was talked and joked about and a totally normal conversation. In addition my mum was an epic spotter of early pregnancies ‘sue hasn’t been to the morning service for 3 weeks in a row and was looking a little peaky at church this evening, she’s pregnant’ and invaiably she was*.

        I remember my older cousin having several miscarriages and it was awful, my sisters and I learnt not to send excited ‘congrats on the baby’ cards too early, but during this time my cousin was still VERY open about what was going on/planned (her on the phone ‘oh yes, we are having lots of fun practicing’ teenage me in same room *blushes*). It honestly never occured that not everyone would talk about their baby plans.

      9. karou*

        I think for many people the kids question was just a thing that folks joked about to newly someone married or engaged. It seemed normal/harmless. That doesn’t make it right, of course. I do think that’s changing though as people become more aware about fertility issues and other ways to have families, and as more people choose not to have children. I’ve only been asked about babies by two people — my sister-in-law who is obsessed with babies and comes from a family obsessed with babies so she has no boundaries in this area, and a young coworker (early 20s) who probably hasn’t quite learned what a loaded question that is yet.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          “I think for many people the kids question was just a thing that folks joked about to newly someone married or engaged.”

          Yes, I think so too. Like a “Oooh, we know what you newlyweds get up to!” kind of thing. My MIL took it one step further and joked, on our wedding day, “Aren’t you guys glad you’re married? You can have SEX now!” We had been living together for two years. My MIL is a card.

      10. iglwif*

        I think there’s a lot of stuff going on here.

        Asking if someone has kids seems to me, in general, no different from asking whether they have a significant other, whether they’re from around here or grew up somewhere else, whereabouts they live, whether they have pets, what kind of music they like, do they bike/ski/play an instrument/drive/like to cook/whatever, etc. It’s a way of establishing common ground with a new acquaintance, and lots of people do have kids and enjoy talking about them, and most of the time it’ll be fine. There will be people for whom just being asked if they have kids is already SUPER PAINFUL ::raises hand on behalf of younger self:: but if you can just say “no” or “not yet” or “I’d rather not discuss that” and have the conversation move on, you can deal with it. There are so many topics about which an innocent question will be painful for some people, but you have to talk about *something*!

        But asking “do you have kids” is one thing, and asking “Why don’t you have kids?” or “When are you having kids?” or “Isn’t it about time you started a family?” — or saying stuff like “You think that now, but you’ll change your mind!” or “Oh, you just haven’t met the right person”, or “Everyone thinks that until they have their first baby” — that’s a WHOOOOOLE other thing, and none of that is okay, IMO. Like, by all means ask me if I have kids, and I will tell you yes, I have one kid, and that’s all cool; if you then say “Cool, how old are they?” or “Cool, what are they doing for the summer?” or something like that, we’re still cool, but if your follow-up is “Why do you only have one?” we are gonna have a problem.

        Also, yeah, a lot of people don’t know anyone who has experienced fertility issues … or they don’t know they know anyone who has. (IME, the former is more likely to be true of folks in their 20s, and the latter of folks in their 60s and up…) Infertility is painful to talk about, and also talking about it exposes you to comments like “But why don’t you just adopt?” and “Have you thought about taking a relaxing vacation?” and “Oh, that’s because you don’t eat meat!”, so a lot of us avoid the subject.

        And having kids is still super, super expected in a lot of communities and cultures.

        I’m not defending people who ask rude and intrusive questions, or attacking anyone who shuts those questions down. But I also don’t think simply asking someone if they have kids should be considered rude or intrusive, as long as you *never, ever* follow up a “no” with any form of “why not?”.

      11. Cercis*

        I came from a culture where it was literally the question you asked a newly married couple. I mean, most people assumed the bride was probably pregnant before they got married (which was often true). So it didn’t occur to me until I left that area and started getting to know people “outside” how messed up that was (along with a whole lot of other things I didn’t realize were wrong). There’s a reason that many conservative christians don’t want their kids to go to college and if they do, only to a very select few colleges.

  7. Sylvie*

    OP1: Wanted to stay been there but I AM there. I have a repeat offender in my office, and she’s only been here a few months! After two weeks she asked me what my plans for babies were, and I tried to dodge the question but she kept pushing on and forced me to confess that “Nope, I’m not planning for it and not open to the idea either!”.

    A few weeks later I got both “You’ll have so much to tell your children when you have them!” and “Sylvie, don’t have children with an idiot.” (she’s a single mom). I talked to her after that and told her that I don’t want to hear about when or where I’ll be procreating and to stop, and her first response was to say “Awwww, Sylvie!” and then try to HUG ME. I don’t like the word, but she’s a true mombie, so my guess is she thought I was telling her to stop talking about it because I can’t have kids? The comments have stopped though, at least for now.

    1. MJ*

      A quick search has it coming up as a sleep-deprived “mom” who feeds on caffeine. Not sure why that is offensive, but “types” isn’t.

      1. Theelephantintheroom*

        Why is it offensive? It’s a state-of-mind people choose to be in. Seems on par with saying it’s offensive to call someone a bigot when they are being one.

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          Being a bigot is not really equivalent to being a parent. Having kids doesn’t suddenly make someone a ‘former’ feminist any more than it makes them a ‘former’ intellectual. (I realize that’s Urban Dictionary’s wording, not anyone here’s, but still.) And ‘mombie’ would be fine if used as commiseration between new parents, but used by other people who are annoyed that parents of babies talk about (what a surprise) parenting babies, the main new project in their lives, it’s rude and plays into society’s dismissal of moms.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      I’ve only been asked about children by people who don’t know me well to which my response is “I hate children.” It’s really funny when they find out I have one. At which point, my response is the same. Of course I love my daughter, who is now an adult, but she was unplanned and I’d never wanted children. Parenting is NOT for everyone and it’s not something I’d consider an accomplishment or even one of my greatest joys. Mostly it’s been stressful, emotionally and financially, and anxiety inducing. I’ve told a couple of folks just that. It has succeeded in shutting them up, although they all seem to view me as some sort of evil monster who wishes she could vaporize her child.

      I’m happy for folks that have kids if that’s what they want and they can afford them. It’s just annoying that everyone assumes that women of reproductive age want children at all or want multiple children.

    3. Rebecca1*

      Those sound to me as though she is wanting to talk about her kids. Take a page from Lorelei Gilmore’s book— ask her about her children and give yourself a half-hour of not needing to listen to her.

  8. Observer*

    #1 You TOTALLY have my sympathies. Dealing with difficult health issues is really tough. I hope you have a really and compassionate care team.

    Dealing with the questions about having kids can be difficult under the best of circumstances, but when it’s coming on top issues like this, it can be hard to hold it together. I just honestly don’t understand people who do this.

  9. NforKnowledge*

    OP3: I think given that she kept his name, mentioning her former marriage is 100% fair game.
    You don’t have to explain just because people ask, of course, and it’s a good idea to check with your husband if he knows what she would prefer. But I don’t think it’s inherently problematic if you want to go for a short flat statement of truth.

    1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I think so too. Also I don’t really understand why this person wouldn’t want people to find out that she’s been in a heterosexual relationship in the past. Maybe I just don’t get it because I’m not gay, but I think there are many gay people who have had heterosexual relationships previously and are open about it, and of course there are also bisexual people. In general I would presume GLBT people to be quite tolerant about different sexualities so I don’t really see what the issue would be. Or is OP afraid that if people found out about the ex-wife’s straight past, they would start to question her sexuality?

      1. Jasnah*

        My reading was not that she wanted to hide or downplay the relationship because it was heterosexual, but because she and ex husband are not super friendly anymore and she probably just doesn’t want to deal with his family/stuff anymore. If I were in OP’s shoes I would want to respect that and not claim a stronger relationship with my husband’s famous first wife than I actually had, that sounds like the #1 way to start some family drama.

        1. Myrin*

          Although I don’t think it’s “claiming a stronger relationship [than the one that exists]” to say matter-of-factly “oh, she’s my husband’s ex-wife” – I don’t see how that could possibly start family drama, since it’s a simple fact. Or am I misunderstanding your last sentence?

          1. Jasnah*

            Oh I agree, but NforKnowledge brought up the idea of what the ex wife might prefer/reasons why it might be uncomfortable for OP to claim they’re related. If ex wife wants to keep her distance, I don’t think it would be because the ex wife “wouldn’t want people to find out that she’s been in a heterosexual relationship in the past”. I think it’s more plausibly for reasons like she just doesn’t want to be cozy with her ex’s new family, or because she doesn’t want people claiming connection to her to use her fame (“Yes I’m related to Kim Kardashian”). Of course all this is speculation but I think these reasons are plausible and worth OP checking with her husband.

            1. valentine*

              I think given that she kept his name, mentioning her former marriage is 100% fair game.
              The name is hers and telling clients her business is overstepping.

              1. London Calling*

                I read that and what fair game for what? as far as I’m aware it isn’t some sort of crime to keep your ex’s name when you divorce and the current wife doesn’t have exclusive rights over it. I did that and I’ve had my married name longer than I had my single one – if someone decided that made me ‘fair game’ with total strangers over it that would make me very irked indeed.

              2. Seacalliope*

                It’s overly precious to act like the ex-wife is the only person who has a say in describing the mutual interrelations of these three people. LW can be honest and forthright if she so chooses and it is hardly overstepping at all.

      2. triplehiccup*

        I am a bit woman married to a lesbian, and I have a few major ex-boyfriends that come up very occasionally (e.g., “Oh, I know XYZ mountain town–my college boyfriend’s family had a house there”). Often people take it in stride or with a minimally perplexed look while they work it out, but, almost as often, they make a disproportionate fuss and ask a lot of inappropriate questions. I chalk it up to the intertwining phenomena of bi invisibility and “born this way”, “knew since I was 6” narratives about LGBT-ness.

        To NoMoreFirstTime’s point about sexual tolerance among LGBT people: Almost never is the fusser an LGBT person. If the ex-wife is hesitant to disclose this information about herself, it’s probably because she wants to avoid the chance of a rush of deeply personal questions in a work setting from perdominantly straight/cis people, not because of her own feelings or the rare person who is both LGBT and clueless both queer people can have straight pasts and that these questions are invasive, particularly at work.

      3. Tupac Coachella*

        Depending on the community, it’s actually not a safe assumption that other LGBTQ+ people will be accepting of one’s identity. I’ve heard many times about discrimination within supposed safe spaces, specifically against bisexual and trans* people, to the point that I’m semi-closeted as a queer person (hetero-romantic bisexual), but would feel like I’d be ok with coming out if I were a lesbian. My best guess is that an ex-husband with whom she has children is unlikely to be a secret and OP is probably fine with “I’m married to her ex-husband” if she wants, but it’s considerate and appropriate to check, or to avoid specifying the connection. There’s also that recent letter that brought out the fact that some people have strong feelings about divorce in general. IMO, it’s pretty sweet of OP to be respectful of the possibility that her husband’s ex might prefer a polite fiction of no previous significant partners at work.

    2. Trouble*

      If ex wife is prominent in a smaller field I would worry ‘she’s my husband’s ex wife’ might spark off questions about connections and networking or make people think that OP has some leg up she doesn’t have because of this connection, when it isn’t really one. Then you might get into details you don’t want to share like they’re civil for their kids but I really don’t have a relationship with her myself and I personally wouldn’t want to get into it. I like the ‘not related’ shut down better as they’re not. Husband is, but OP isn’t. I really like Alison’s ‘no, not directly’ as to me it says ‘maybe somewhere ten generations ago due to uncommon last name but not in a meaningful way.’ Most people wouldn’t ask further questions then I don’t think.

      1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

        In fact she isn’t related to Ex Wife at all. Unless they both choose to be family, Current Spouse and Ex Spouse of the same person aren’t related at all. She can straightforwardly and truthfully say, “We’re not related,” and could also add, “Not everyone named Scoresone is related.”

  10. AJ*

    OP3: In the previous marriage, did your husband take the ex’s family name, or did she take his? If the latter, the fact that she still goes by her married name would suggest she’s not being secretive about her former relationship, and I would say that it all comes down to what you feel comfortable sharing.

    1. Zephy*

      She might have kept her married last name for professional reasons. If she has publications or licenses under that name, she might have thought it made more sense to keep the name and deal with the social fallout – maybe rehashing the story of her former relationship seemed less taxing and expensive than reissuing licenses.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        This was my thought, especially if she’s prominent in their field. When you make a name for yourself with one name, having to change it after a marriage ends may not be worth having to re-build (partially or completely) that same name recognition.

    2. league.*

      This. IF (and only if) she took her husband’s name upon marriage, and she’s now kept it, I wouldn’t even bother checking with her or the husband about whether it’s okay to say anything. She kept his name! Of course people are going to think she’s connected to other people with the same name.

      That said, OP3, would it make sense for you to send her a professional email that says something like, “Hello! I just started working for X doing Y. Your name keeps coming up because people ask if we know one another, so I wanted to introduce myself….”

  11. whale.ona.cliff*

    Dear OP#1,

    A few years ago, I had a surgery that left me unable to have kids. I often found myself having to explain WHY to people after the surgery, if they found out I can’t carry a pregnancy, much less give birth. Then I’d have to ‘gracefully’ explain why all their ‘suggestions’ were not feasible/still endanger my life/or extremely expensive, etc

    I was 21 when the possibility of not being able to have children was discovered- at 24, I had a surgery that enabled me to walk and physically function again, but left me unable to carry a pregnancy. For me, I had a while to process the info; I’m very sorry for all this stuff hitting you at once. It’s a lot to take in, and I hope you have a good support system out of work.

    For me, as a result of various unfortunate incidents and some genetics, I have various health issues. Luckily, I had a boss who was understanding. As a result, I felt comfortable disclosing more of my conditions and was able to be more frank on days where I was not able to function properly.

    IF your employer is someone who you trust with your information, and is someone you feel comfortable with, I’d really recommend disclosing more information- but only what you feel comfortable with!

    It helped me a great deal, and my coworkers were really great about it too. On certain days, or if I was put on different meds, I would do a morning check in with my boss and ppl I’d be working with to give them a heads up- (like, my coordination is off today, or I’d have people double check certain things for me if I was having issues with being able to read that day, short term memory problems, maybe I’ll need more breaks because of nausea/side effects of new meds, etc) and I found more often than not, people were understanding and accommodating.

    There WAS one time I stumbled into a conversation all of my coworkers were having about children. I was busy (worked as a baker, and that day I had to make like, 10 more loaves than usual, and the pastries were disappearing at an alarming rate) and a guy asked me what I think my future kid would be like? He shouted it from across the kitchen.

    And because I was busy, I just yelled back, “I can’t have children!” while refilling a tray of cookies.

    And hooooooboy! It was like the air got sucked out of the room. And for a second, it went completely silent. I think mostly because no one was expecting that, and I was kinda caught off guard at how casually I revealed it. (And because I’m very much like my mom, I started laughing because of how weird the situation turned, which probably did not help the awkwardness…)

    BUT after that second, everyone continued on like nothing happened, no one made a fuss, the guy who asked me came up at the end of the day and apologized profusely, and a few coworkers confessed they’d be more prudent about those kinds of questions in the future. I wasn’t mad or sad or anything, but I did ask them to consider it in the future. You never know what answer you light get!

    Like, yeah, it was awkward for a second, but then people went on, and they learned something. BUT I was, and am, in a place where I’d known for a while; so it just kinda fell out of my brain and out my mouth. But the reaction from my peers was good, and none of my working relationships changed.

    If people do feel the need to press me on it I find that saying, “I’d rather not discuss something so personal.”

    If they continue: “Why do you need to know? It’s personal, and not related to work at all.”

    If they still bug you: “Stop asking about my uterus/ovaries/internal organs- you’re being invasive and weird!”

    If they go the, “I’m just trying to help!” kind of route you can shut it down with, “I never asked you to, and you’re making me feel uncomfortable. If you really wanted to help me, you’d never bring it up again. This subject is closed.”

    So, disclosing health status can be good, if you are comfortable with it, and have an employer who gets it. Also it depends on your coworkers and office culture; but I’ve been constantly surprised by how well received and supportive good coworkers are.

    I do understand being reluctant to disclose certain health info. There have been people or work places/events where I was more prudent in what I told people and how I worded it.

    So all in all, I’m sure if my long post helped or not. I’m sorry for what you’re dealing with right now, and I wish I could give you more definitive answers and information. But all I have are my personal experiences, pros and cons. Whatever happens, I hope you find a solution that works for you. Good luck and best wishes to you, you’re going through a lot, but it’s gonna be okay <3

    1. London Calling*

      Sometimes it takes a shock like your shouted comment to shut people down from asking intrusive questions like that.

  12. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #3: Depends on how common the name is.

    If your name is Smith, or something, I doubt anyone would ask.

    If you name is something like Hinklesworth-Farnley, then yes, people will ask.

    Either way, it’s fine to say no. She’s your husband’s ex-wife. You’re definitely not related to her.

    1. FairPayFullBenefits*

      OP said she’s already been asked in the first couple weeks of her job and that other people have asked her about it before, so it must be a fairly uncommon name.

      1. Cog in the Machine*

        Not necessarily. I have a pretty common last name. The last town I lived in had 3 fairly prominent people with the same last name, and none of the four of us were related. Whenever I was introduced to new people, practically the first thing they asked was if I was related to one of the other three.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yeah I would go with the “no, not directly” option as Alison suggested. Saying something else will lead to more questions that you may or may not want to answer, and that are frankly none of anyone’s business.

      1. BadWolf*

        My instinct is a vague “not directly” as well, but there are definitely people who would take it as a conversation starter rather than an ender. “Oh, so like a fourth cousin? On which side?”

      2. YetAnotherUsername*

        I would go with “we’re distantly related by marriage but we don’t really know each other well” or something along those lines.

        1. Chinookwind*

          I would drop the “distantly related” and just say” through marriage but we don’t know each other well.” Coming from small towns and small industries, I have learned that this is enough for people to stop playing “5 degrees of separation” and/or looking for an instant connection.

          I would be tempted to reach out with the ex, though, to find out what she is saying when your name comes up . With luck, she is treating you with as much respect as you are treating her.

          I had this happen with a friend of mine who was also my past president at an organization I was president at had the same last name as me though neither we nor our husbands were even distantly related. We also had people in our pasts that we both knew but never crossed paths before. Luckily, we were friends, unlike the person with the same first and last name who was being hunted by creditors and used the same pharmacy. In both cases, simple explanations were enough to for all but the nosiest people.

      3. Parenthetically*

        I don’t know why there’s even a need to be coy about it. “Oh no, I’m not related to Suzie, but I’m married to her former husband.”

  13. Likethecity*

    I’m so sorry, OP1. I don’t understand why people think that this is a topic that’s open for public discussion. At my last job, I went with a quick “no plans yet” or something similar until I couldn’t take it anymore. During a company-wide baby boom (4 born in the span of 6 weeks with plenty more scattered throughout the year) a coworker thought it was a good idea to loudly suggest in front of a large group that they thought it was my turn next and that I should hurry up. I told him that I made it a habit to not discuss my reproductive organs at work, so could he please do the same. Suffice it to say that no one ever said anything like that to me again at that job. No one at my new job has asked and I’ve been there a year so some people have the decency not to ask!

  14. Batgirl*

    OP3, as someone still saddled with a really unusual name from an ex, I tend to go with vagueness when asked about his relatives relationships to me, and say “Oh only through marriage.” Or “Distantly, I think” or “It’s my married name – I’m not up on all the relatives!” Or “I think there is a link somewhere”. In your shoes I might just say “Oh it’s my husband’s family name originally, not mine” which does answer the question about you two not actually being related.

    1. Mae Fuller*

      This was going to be my suggestion as well. I have similar relationships with a couple of people whom I want to acknowledge but wouldn’t always be comfortable giving the full explanation, so I tend to go with “we’re distantly related” or “very extended family”. People don’t tend to push beyond that, partly because the explanation genuinely is longer than it is interesting and I think most people aren’t interested in seeing the details of a stranger’s family tree!

      1. Reliquary*

        My very first thought was “Oh, I think we’re related by marriage.”
        Vague, yet not a lie!

    2. Moray*

      “By marriage” is fine, but I think there’s a risk to some of the other responses you mention when there’s only the one degree of separation. The OP might come across as deliberately misleading if someone happens to know/find out the truth.

      1. Batgirl*

        There definitely is a risk of pushiness; I’ve found it best to just keep vagueblocking it till they give up.
        “Oh distantly”
        “Distantly how?”
        “Just by marriage”
        “Oh, a sister-in-law?”
        “Not exactly, no”
        Honestly, the conversations are a lot longer when you say “Oh he’s my ex’s father” because people are weird about divorce and gossip.
        Sometimes you do get someone finding out on their own; very few come back to you about it, and if they do, you just say “Oh yeah, I just didn’t want to get into it” (which works superbly as a hint!)

    3. nnn*

      Oh, I like “through marriage”! It’s true and also sounds incredibly boring so is almost certain not to invite follow-up questions.

      You could even handwave it a bit more – “Oh, indirectly, through marriage – I don’t actually know her well” (or “I’ve only met her in passing once” or “I don’t actually know her” – whatever’s true)

  15. CouldntPickAUsername*

    honestly I’m in a similar situation to 4, I’m hopefully wrapping up a masters this year, I can use a prof for a reference but outside of that I’ve pretty much just had a retail job, which while I have held for 9 years I think there’s actually a policy against giving references aside from confirming employment. So that’ll be “fun” when I finish.

    1. Alli525*

      Even if it was “just” retail, the fact that you’ve been there for nine years is significant, and I’m sure prospective employers will consider your longevity a good thing! Retail is also such a good way to develop “soft skills” that aren’t usually taught in school, so your manager at the store will be able to speak to those as a reference.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Don’t discount your retail job – I have more than one supervisor who looks for people with retail and food service experience because they figure if you can handle the general public, lawyers will not be a problem for you.

  16. coffee cup*

    I do not understand the rude obsession with asking people their baby-related plans! I don’t get it at all. I’d never dream of doing that. Apart from the fact it’s absolutely none of their business and it’s 2019 and many people don’t necessarily want to have babies, it just totally inconsiderately ignores what some people are going through. Just shut up, society.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      And it’s not just with babies. I didn’t meet my husband until I was almost 40, and every time I would go on more than one date with someone, they wanted to know when we were getting married. After we did get married I had a few close friends ask if we wanted kids (I was fine with that) but my longest friend kept bugging me about it. When I told her we decided we were too old, she always countered with we weren’t too old since she had her last baby after 40. I had to get nasty with her and tell her to drop it. It’s so obnoxious.

  17. Jeny*

    Op1 I have a similar problem, my husband and I have one child, I would love another but while my husband absolutely loves children, for various very sensible and practical reasons he doesn’t want another, and while I agree with his reasons it doesn’t stop the longing I feel to have another child.

    My husband and I work in the same building, and every now and then one of his coworkers will say to me “your husband’s getting broody, time for another baby” and the first couple of times it happened it gave me false hope that he must have said something to his coworkers that meant he was going to change his mind, but he hadn’t. I’m sure his coworkers just think they’re making conversation but it feels so cruel in the moment. Yesterday someone did it I just raised my eyebrows and said sarcastically “I doubt he said that very much” and walked away, maybe they’ll get the message that it’s not a suitable conversation but I’ve just prepared myself for people saying it now so I’m ready to shut it down and not let it upset me.

    1. WellRed*

      Ugh, that is not the way to make conversation! Also, can you imagine if your coworkers said the same thing to your husband?

      1. valentine*

        his coworkers will say to me “your husband’s getting broody, time for another baby” and the first couple of times it happened it gave me false hope that he must have said something to his coworkers that meant he was going to change his mind, but he hadn’t.
        That is so rough, Jeny! I like your response.

        I can’t even imagine anything real led to this, unless he’s dressed as the Batman and cape-sheltering a minimum of one orphan.

    2. Aunt Vixen*

      I’m exactly where you are, Jeny, and it’s so hard. Some time in an open thread I’d be interested in hearing your strategies for not getting upset, because I have been *struggling.*

      1. Jeny*

        I’m sorry to hear that Aunt. I don’t have strategies as such, just trying to remember they don’t mean to be hurtful and try to shut it down ASAP. As far as I’m concerned these people have no right to know what’s going on in my personal life, so even if I was trying to get pregnant or already pregnant they’d get the same response.

    3. Observer*

      Just when you think you’ve heard it all, someone comes up with something new. I don’t know if this hits a new high or a new low, or may both. But it definitely IS superlatively gross and awful.

  18. UpLateTonight*

    OP1: That absolutely stinks. I am sorry this is happening. When my husband and I got married we dealt with this a lot as well. More me than him by a long shot, but rarely at work. Still imagine you may be getting this from multiple angles. My favorite response, to make a point, to anyone outside of work who asked this was something like “… If we’re going to a go there when did you last have sex?” It reminds people of how massively inappropriate this question is and how they would never ask it if they thought about what they are actually asking… I wouldn’t use that one at work, but it is terribly satisfying to see a person’s face when you say it in a social setting.

    1. Aqua409*

      Oh yes, a few years after having my 13 year old kiddo; I had an uncle ask when another baby was going to come along. I shot right back with, “Why are you asking about my sex life?” And he never asked again.

    2. Avoiding Baby Talk (OP1)*

      To be honest, I 100% could never try any version of “weird how we’re talking about my sex life” in this office, because people WOULD run with it! I understand how and why that kind of comeback would work in the average office, but my company is very “we’re family/BFFs/bros” (which is a separate issue that I don’t really want advice on and don’t feel like tackling in this thread as I have bigger problems right now, and I’m not planning to job-hunt yet).

  19. dealing with dragons*

    I recently had someone ask if me and my husband planned on having kids, then go into detail about how they regretted theirs and would have only had one if they could have a do over. Awkward.

    1. Ethyl*

      Oh my gosh, that’s definitely a take I haven’t heard before (insert screaming emoji)!!!!

    2. Magenta*

      To me this is no more awkward than the people who go on about how amazing kids are, its just that one point of view is considered more socially acceptable than the other.

      1. londonedit*

        So true. I’ve had a few – very few – reactions like this and I’ve always found it quite refreshing when someone says ‘Oh, well, good for you – I’d probably have made the same choice if I could do it again’. Society fetishises parenthood (and especially motherhood) to frankly bizarre levels so it does make a change when someone actually says ‘Hey, parenthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I kind of wish I hadn’t done it’.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I hope the person’s kid doesn’t find out that the parent wishes the kid didn’t exist.

          1. Grapey*

            It’s not always the worst thing. My mom told me I was an oops baby (and I’m an only child) and while the words “I wish you didn’t exist” never came out of her mouth, I also never got the impression she felt ‘motherhood is magical’. She was a single parent that left school and her job to take care of me and is still living with those repercussions in her elder years.

            I feel like I got a more nuanced view of motherhood because of her struggles, and I’m grateful to live in a part of the world where I can skip the whole ordeal without too much hassle.

      2. Julia*

        Maybe. But my SIL, for example, will always complain how having a kid is soooo hard, and how lucky I am to be “still” free from kids, and then ask when I’ll finally have one. You can probably tell that she doesn’t work in marketing…

      3. Anon this time*

        Speaking as a kid whose mother regretted having children and wasn’t shy about sharing it…. it absolutely is more awkward.

        1. Marmaduke*

          I agree. My mother makes it pretty clear that she wishes she’d had only two children.
          I’m the fourth child.
          When you say you regret having children, you’re telling a specific person you regret their very existence. That’s a very big difference.

      4. dealing with dragons*

        It was awkward because I am planning on having kids and I like them in general lol

      5. marmalade duke*

        I think saying you regret the existence of your actual, real, living human child is far more awkward than presuming people would enjoy having children. Invasive questions about pregnancy are awkward, don’t get me wrong! But parents also shouldn’t be making their children feel like a resented burden, and if they’re explaining how they regret having kids to strangers, I would bet A LOT of money that their kids are verrrrry aware of how their parents feel.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yes. One of my parents had zero interest in me once I developed a personality and interests of my own and moaned constantly about parental responsibilities interfering with their hobbies and free time. It was quite blatant, though they put on a show for people outside our house. I am fortunate that I have a wonderful extended family that filled the gap, but I’m quite aware that one of my parents loves and wanted me and the other didn’t do either – and living with someone who barely acknowledged my existence for years was no picnic either.

      6. Observer*

        No, it’s not just about it being a social convention. It’s about not being a hypocrite – don’t act like everyone “has” to have babies and then complain about yours. And it’a bout being a decent person. If you HAVE kids, have the decency to shut up about how much you hate the fact that they exist. Even if you don’t say it to them, they know all about it. And it’s just cruel. These kids did not ask to be born.

      7. Parenthetically*

        Mmmm, maybe in theory as opposite ends of a spectrum, but not in practice. “I value and am excited about small, immature humans, they’re great!” is definitely not the same as “I wish these children I chose to bring into the world had never been born.” And certainly not from the perspective of the children themselves.

      8. Zombeyonce*

        I think it’s definitely more awkward because people are basically saying they would be happy if someone, a real live person that relies on them(!), didn’t exist. That’s a lot more uncomfortable to hear and try to respond to than someone dishing about the wonder that is their child.

      9. NotAnotherManager!*

        Well, sure, because when a parent says they regret having children, there are actual human beings involved who may have to deal with the fact that their parent wishes they didn’t exist. Whether or not one has those feelings, they have to be expressed more carefully than the how-amazing-kids-are side because the potential to hurt their kid(s) is real and substantial.

    3. embertine*

      I get this much more commonly these days than the “oh you’ll change your mind” nonsense, probably because I am closer to menopause than puberty, and it’s just as unpleasant to hear. You wish your children didn’t exist! Fantastic! Tell your therapist mate, don’t tell me just because you know I don’t like children. I may not be a kid person, but I still feel extremely sorry for yours.

    4. Pommette!*

      Yup, this is a thing.

      I’ve had coworkers who complained about their family a lot (usually in a loving, “you won’t believe what happened last night!” way), and who just couldn’t complain without pausing to tell me how lucky I was not to have children. No. I am not lucky. I am heartbroken.

      Complain if you want to complain, but don’t presume to tell me what is or isn’t right for me. It’s so hurtful. And guess what? I’m actually happy listen to your stories and to offer sympathy, even though I don’t have kids.

  20. Quandong*

    OP1 I’m very sorry you are dealing with insensitive people, while also managing your health. I had a lot of ‘well-meaning’ people asking me about babies when I was married – especially women, and women older than I.

    What worked best for me was a combination of therapy for myself, practising some replies, and being prepared to make the questioners feel very very awkward and uncomfortable.

    I made sure to take a deep breath, keep my facial expression neutral or serious, and my tone low but authoritative.
    If the questioner was a repeat offender I definitely showed them I was irritated by the way I responded. I didn’t laugh or soften my replies to minimize the discomfort to the questioners.

    My scripts were along these lines, and I always either changed the topic or walked away afterwards:

    I don’t want to talk about my reproductive status. Thanks for understanding.
    I’m not discussing my body or my reproductive status with you now, or ever.
    Wow, what an inappropriate question. *silence* *raise eyebrow if possible*
    My ovaries and uterus and other reproductive organs aren’t up for discussion. *silent glaring*
    Are you really asking me about my sex life? *leave an awkward silence while looking them in the eye*
    Sorry? Maybe I didn’t hear you but that sounded like a question about me and my plans for f^cking? [obviously choose your audience for this one]

    And if it’s persistent I also recommend something like this:
    I’ve told you I don’t want to talk about this and your questions/statements are unwelcome. I don’t ever want to talk about my reproductive status or my parenting status again. If you continue, I’ll consider it harassment and will follow up with HR/ grandboss / other authority.

    Best wishes with everything. I’m so sorry you are also receiving this gross and unwanted intrusion in your life.

    1. BookishMiss*

      +1 on “that’s not an appropriate question/comment” paired with prolonged eye contact.

    2. Moray*

      A friend of mine shuts things down with “no baby plans, no baby conversations.”

      1. Avoiding Baby Talk (OP1)*

        Ohh, I love this! Though I worry it would turn into people assuming I don’t want kids and deciding they need to convince me I should.

        But that could always be paired with “this is actually a really tough topic for me, and I’m not discussing it” if that happens.

    3. Zombeyonce*

      I’ve only gotten up the nerve to respond to these types of questions with “Are you asking if I’m having unprotected sex with my husband?” once, but it was definitely worth it for the shock on their face.

      1. Marmaduke*

        Unprotected *vaginal* sex, no less. Because as my college roommate once cheerfully informed her horrified relatives, “Sorry, my favorite positions don’t make babies!”

  21. Winry Rockbell*

    OP1: I am a single woman in my 20s and I get a “BABIES?” fortnightly, usually from customers. With them, I just paste on my cheeriest smile and say “Not me, but do you have kids?” and that usually distracts them. With coworkers, at my library, I’m one of two people who are young enough to have kids, but the other one has a baby and takes up all the baby breathing room. Whenever “when you have kids…..” conversations come up, I just say “I get my fill of them here!” in a jokey manner and change the subject to the other person’s kids/niece/grandbabies. I had a conversation with a coworker early on about how I am not in a place to have children, and if I ever thought I was and I wanted her advice, I would let her know. This shut her down pretty effectively!
    I hope that everything you’re going through resolves itself, and also that people stop sucking so much. *hugs hugs hugs*

    OP3: Definitely err on the side of vagueness! If I were her, and I was so deeply in the closet for so long that I’d had a husband, I would rather those memories rather not be reactivated. “Oh, not directly” or “You know, it’s my husband’s last name originally” are both true and keep people from going to her and saying “You know, I just met your ex’s new wife, OP3!” Being circumspect doesn’t guarantee positive points in her points jar but it will help prevent negative ones.

  22. only acting normal*

    The babies question is one of the few times my innate social awkwardness has worked brilliantly for me.
    One memorable time, while toasting my SIL’s announcement of imminent first child (and first grandchild), my MIL turned and demanded when her son and I were going to have kids. The silence (while I looked at the floor) was very long and excruciating, and she never asked again.
    So if you can bare an awkward silence I recommend it.

    I usually, truthfully, just say I have never wanted kids, but that invites discussion, and the silence might be easier to achieve for anyone with more painful reasons for not having children.

    1. Name Required*

      Yes; if it’s a question and not a comment, a long and intentional silence is an incredible way to send a message. I tend to smile warmly and look the person directly in the eyes. Sometimes they repeat the question, assuming I haven’t heard it, but by the second time, it’s pretty clear I’m saying nothing on purpose.

  23. Feminist in the Deep South*

    Re OP1: As a women in my mid forties, I know this type of questioning all too well. And frankly it and questions about marriage plans tick me off in general. Not only are people digging into areas that can be host to landmines, it’s reductionist. We, as a society, need to stop reducing women to baby making machines. This isn’t a question men have to contend with on a regular basis and the idea it should be a general topic of conversation for women is rude for many reasons. I shoot this topic down with a glare that shuts most people down immediately. Not a polite response, I know, but this question is a no go for so many reasons. My most polite retort would be to ask if they’re moving into my bedroom without my knowledge.

    1. EnfysNest*

      Absolutely! I recently replied to a “When are you getting married?” question with something like “Well, that’s not really a unilateral decision I get to make on my own, is it?” I’m not dating anyone. I’m also not psychic and I’m not a fairytale royal who has to get married before a certain birthday – so how on earth would I know when or IF I’m going to get married?! Besides being completely inappropriate to ask about marriage/babies, it’s a totally irrational question – even if someone *wants* those things to happen, it’s not like they get to just single-handedly pick a date on the calendar and it will magically happen then!

      1. Never Married Person*

        And add to that, if you are past a certain age, “why didn’t you ever get married?” “well, um, no one asked me…”

        1. Liza*

          This is where I’m at now! And there is absolutely no way of my answering this without going into far too much detail than I feel appropriate in a work environment. I’m shocked that people would ask this of relative strangers but I’ve had it a few times now. When I deflect, I often get that pitying look and comments like “never met the right man?” I find this rather offensive too, as its so cringingly heteronormative and also kind of… implies I would OF COURSE have gotten married if give the option.

          Lately I’m also trying to reclaim some empowerment as a single woman by stating “it’s never been a priority of mine” (which is true) because this helps avoid the “oh poor you” feel and make it seem more like an autonomous choice rather than something inflicted upon me.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            Now that I’m over it, the story about my ex is golden for answering this question.

            “33 and single? What, don’t you want to get married? Clock’s ticking!”
            “I mean, I do, but the only guy to ask me ghosted me when I said yes, so I’m really just a wedding dress away from being Miss Havisham.”

          2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            I always say, “I’m not the marrying kind”. There is a Mr. Gumption but marriage isn’t anything we want

        2. LPUK*

          Oh and the advice you sometimes get that you should ‘settle for less’. As if any husband is a prize. I want to scream I DID settle – I settled for a productive, happy successful life as a singleton and I’m glad I made that choice every day!

        3. Exhausted Educator is Exhausted*

          Not to mention the implicit idea behind this question that if you’re a woman past a certain age, it’s no longer possible to get married, or that marriage past a certain age “won’t count” . . . ?!?!

    2. Name Required*

      I mean, you could also try earnestly saying, “Oh gosh! Not sure. When are you going to get divorced?”

    3. Avoiding Baby Talk (OP1)*

      The double standard drives me nuts!! My husband really only gets baby comments when he’s with me, or if he happens to be alone with one my relatives (grandma, most often).

      But it was the same with the wedding too – every darn event we went to be in the *months and months* before the wedding, I was bombarded with wedding questions while he got to talk about his job, hobbies, funny stories that recently happened to him, etc… and HE was the one who wanted a traditional wedding (and did most of the planning). Apparently everyone was convinced I was lying about that and just couldn’t even fathom having to ask him how parking was going to work at the venue?

  24. Violette*

    OP2, you have my sympathies. I used to have someone similar at the desk accross from me. All day long she’d talk to herself or sing to herself (literally what would be an internal monologue for someone else was ALL said aloud by her, all day long) and she’d regularly get really upset at people on the phone, then bang the phone on the desk and curse. Then she’d wonder why people never picked up her calls. We have number recognition, and she’d alienated all our colleagues with these outbursts! Of course they didn’t pick up.

    I started by dropping hints and then outright asked her to quiet down. It would help… for a day or two. Ultimately she was just really set in her ways (35 years at the company), she also thought it was beneath her to have to share an office at her seniority level so she basically treated the space as her private office. It drove me crazy for a while because it’s so, so hard to focus while someone 3 feet from you is just letting out a constant stream of noise with intermittent bursts of rage all day. She eventually transferred and work life is so much better now. I hope the same happens for you, because in my experience talking to the person directly didn’t solve things long term. If she hadn’t transferred I would have asked my boss for another desk because it was making me dread coming into work.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I hope if this ever happens to you again, you actually speak to the person. Dropping hints does not work and if she was disturbing you to the point of distraction, that affects your ability to do your job. It’s not a personality conflict – you’re at work and if you can’t do your work, it needs to be addressed. Confronting people like this is not rude or wrong. And if it doesn’t change, you need to escalate the situation to a manager.

      1. Violette*

        I outright asked her to quiet down, as stated in my post. Every time I did this she’d be quieter for a day or two, but not in the long term.

  25. LPUK*

    As a resolutely single and child-free adult ( once in a company debrief about benefits which used the phrase ‘dependents’ a lot, I asked ‘ what about the benefits for those of us who are joyfully unencumbered?’) of the female persuasion I have also had this a lot! My somewhat flippant response, which works better in a work situation is to say airily ‘ oh I looked at the job description for wife and mother and didn’t like it’. Generally puts a stop to the conversation. Hate that even now, when it must be obvious that if I have never married or had children ( who would now be adults) by my age, then it must have been by choice, I aim still receiving side- eye. My choices don’t invalidate your choices, they’re just different to yours!

    1. WellRed*

      So what *are* the work benefits for the joyfully unencumbered? Oh right, probably none.

      1. London Calling*

        You get to cover Christmas and summer holidays for parents. I mean, single people don’t have anything else in their lives but work, do they?

      2. Glum Mum*

        This week I have realised that my childbearing has completely torpedoed my career, so although I know that isn’t what you meant, I would gently remind you that some of the family-related benefits offered by employers are there to mitigate the difficulties rather than provide an actual advantage.

        Of course good employers offer flexible benefits to everyone, and don’t discriminate based on actual or perceived, but we don’t all work (and haven’t all always worked) for good employers.

        Don’t mind me. This is just bad timing. I made my choices and I don’t regret them … but I do resent the not-quite-illegal treatment those choices brought on.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          Thank you for putting this in a calm and sensible way. I was scrolling down, preparing a less-calm response to the trope that “childless people always have to pick up the slack for parents!!11!” That’s just not universally true.

          We’ll do a lot better as a society if we advocate for better benefits for all, rather than picking apart whose side of the fence the grass is greener on.

        2. marmalade duke*

          I think the real problem comes not from giving benefits to parents, but assuming that the thing employees might need accommodation for is caring for their children. What about caring for their parents? Their grandparents? Their siblings? Themselves?

          Raising children takes a lot work, and good employers will help parents out. Giving no help to parents can effectively penalize good employees – but so can not giving help to employees who need flexible benefits for other areas of their life.

          1. Dr. Pepper*

            I could not agree more. While I think giving benefits to parents is a good thing, it often seems like certain benefits are ONLY given to parents and the idea that you’d want/need flexibility to take care of someone or something other than a child is not considered. My husband had to take time off to take care of me (and all the things that I normally take care of) one time when I was very ill. While his boss did accept his sick leave request, it was very clear that she did not consider the reason “good enough” and she was doing it grudgingly, (“ok, fine, I guess… if you *have* to…”) whereas leave has been granted immediately and not at all grudgingly to parents with a sick child (omg of course, take all the time you need, I hope little Susie feels better soon!”).

            1. Marmaduke*

              We’ve experienced this with my husband’s boss too. We have a young child; also, I have several disabilities. There are times where my husband has had to take time off to provide essentially the same care to either me or our child (round-the-clock minding, feeding, and toileting care) and the boss was much more understanding when the care was for a minor rather than a spouse.

      3. LPUK*

        At the time I was an ex-pat. If I had had a husband and children, they would have relocated up to 4 children, provided home flights for all once a year, covered their private schooling costs, and funded a larger house, but nothing was on offer for me because ‘ you don’t have a family’. I very much DO have a family and it would have been nice if they’d had covered the cost of housing big enough for my family to stay when they visited ( as my own house was) and maybe an annual flight allowance so that my family and friends weren’t facing higher costs to visit me just because my company decided to move me to another country. In addition they would pay for death benefits to cover loss of income to the family, but not cover costs of say, critical health insurance for if I was no longer to be able to support myself. As someone mentioned below, I don’t think the issue should be treated as a zero-sum gamewhere one side loses to the other, but it would be nice if employers recognised that, just as people with family incur costs from their situation, so too do single people, just different costs.

        1. SunnyD*

          You’re pretty much implying that people with kids DON’T have friends and family they want to have visit (at high cost), or that families wouldn’t also want a bunch of unused rooms for visitors (so you get 3 rooms per person and they 1?), and that you lose out by kids getting educated with money that’s not yours? That’s all really deeply unreasonable, bitter, and deeply entitled.

          1. Anonymous 5*

            Huh? There’s a *massive* degree of unfairness in a company explicitly naming “not having a family” as a reason to deny a single person benefits; and the ones LPUK named are pretty major. There’s nothing unreasonable here except the company’s policies. Loss of income in the event of death is a devastating situation; so is loss of a single person’s *only* source of income in the event of being rendered unable to work. Heck, even when it comes to travel allowances/housing/visiting: families with kids can consolidate a bit to leave one of their three bedrooms (for example) free for the week when the grandparents visit; a single person in a 1-bedroom can’t exactly do that when their parent(s) come. LPUK was pretty darned clear about not expecting that families with kids should have to give anything up.

          2. LPUK*

            This seems rather a nasty comment to me. Anonymous5 has explained my position very well. Living in a foreign county poses many problems whether you are married with a family or single: the company policy attempts to mitigate those that married with children have, but makes no similar attempt for those without direct family. My male and married colleagues who moved their families had support at home- the men especially could hit the ground running while their spouse unpacked, set up utilities, searched out the right shops, etc etc, whilst I had to struggle with all of that ON TOP of getting to grips with my new role, in a country that didn’t really operate outside the 9-5pm boundary. And when my lovely lovely parents came out to help me with all of that, it was completely at their own expense – I couldn’t even get the company to pay to take them out for a meal let alone flights. If the company relocation policy is to mitigate the impact of moving and to ensure the relocating employee is free to concentrate on work, do you not see that it is unfair if they aren’t willing to extend help more flexibly? I’m not trying to dismiss the very real problems that people with families have in relocation, just to point out that those without direct families ALSO have problems. It was very lonely living in a new country without the support network of family and friends, and a willingness to provide flexible benefits would have helped me to mitigate the impact of that – if a company is willing to spend. X on relocation if you happen to be married or have kids, then why not think of extending that to single people. It wasn’t as if they moved single people in preference to married/parents- they were quite willing to spend the money in those cases.

    2. saby*

      Love it! I’m going to use that!

      I made it through my 20s without hearing much in the way of “when married? when babies?” but now that I’m in my 30s and many of my friends are having kids and talking biological clocks I expect to hear more.

      1. LPUK*

        When I’m asked why I never married my response is that people kept expecting me to be the wife, when they would have had more luck if they offered me the role of husband!

  26. No real name here*

    “I always find that question awkward. It’s ultimately a question asking about my sex life.”

    Maybe not to really use but certainly fun in my head?! :-D

    1. marmalade duke*

      I like this! It might not work in all offices, but in the ones I’ve worked in, said with a friendly/joking tone, it would be fine. However, my concern is that people might think you were joking entirely and feel entitled to ask you again later, so following it up with something a little more serious, like “Really, though, I’d prefer not be asked about my plans for children. Thanks for understanding!” might be good.

    2. Marmaduke*

      Health, sex, and finances: basically the three things you should never ask casual acquaintances about. It is bizarre that when all three meet, it suddenly becomes totally okay to ask!

    3. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      “Are you asking me if I’m having unprotected sex?”

  27. Delta Delta*

    #3 – Not sure why this wouldn’t work, but maybe you could… ask her? You say husband and ex are civil and have children. I assume you’ll run into her or have reason to interact with her at some point, so you could just ask. Or, alternatively, be proactive and invite her for a cup of tea or a walk in the park, say you’d like to get to know her a little more since you’ve got a common thread in your lives, and mention it then. Chances are people may have asked her if she’s related to you. Til then, if someone asks if you’re related, the breezy, “by marriage” answer is probably sufficient as an answer.

      1. Triplestep*

        Seriously! I know I am very late to this, but LW#3 is the step-mother to this woman’s kids, and they work in the same field. Ask her!

        If she’s OK with it (I’m not sure why she wouldn’t be) I would then answer like this: “Yes, we are kind of related, but not the way you might think. I’m married to her ex-husband. But I get this question all the time!” This will give it some levity and allow the asker to feel less awkward. Answering with just the facts is likely to be followed by an awkward long pause.

  28. triplehiccup*

    4 – are you sure you can’t ask your current supervisor? It’s not a universal law that current supervisors absolutely never give references. After working with my last supervisor for 2 years, I knew I could be open with her about the fact I was jobhunting and she was happy to give a reference for my current position.

  29. Blue Eagle*

    #3 – Alison’s answer makes me a bit uncomfortable because I would prefer that someone else not give information about me to a third party. My response to this question would be along the lines of “Lastname is my husband’s lastname so she is not related to me”. Which is basically what I say when people ask me if I know other people with my current lastname (which is my husband’s lastname).
    Using this approach allows LW to not have to mention that the ex-wife was previously married (which may not be anyone else’s business).

      1. WellRed*

        Eh. In this context, because it sounds like there’s some professional overlap. Great if it works for you, though!

    1. JJ Bittenbinder*

      I mean, I get what you’re saying, and I’m firmly on the side of answering vaguely that we’re not directly related, etc. However, I also feel like if it was such an enormous secret that she’d been married before, she would have changed her name after the divorce. Marriages are also public record, after all.

    2. Booksalot*

      This is what I do, sometimes with a joke thrown in if the situation warrants. “I’m not related to anyone with my name, since I borrowed it from my husband. No knots in that family tree!”

    3. Chinookwind*

      While I agree with not giving out personal information, I disagree that answering this question is doing so or, more correctly, that this is only the ex’s information to give. My relationship with other people is also my information to give as I see fit unless I am told explicitly not to (usually for reasons of safety).

      If the ex wishes to keep her previous marital status quiet, then she needs to take steps to do so and not expect her ex and the OP to read her mind nor hide information about themselves.

  30. LGC*

    Shameful (okay, not THAT shameful) Confession Time: I myself didn’t realize until relatively recently just how sensitive it was to ask about people’s general family plans. So I can definitely see me a couple of years ago going “Congrats! Babies?”

    …okay, maybe not to coworkers in general or strangers, but to my friends.

    With LW2, would it be possible to request a different office if things don’t work out? There’s two separate issues – the far bigger one is the coworker’s tantrums (which is a phrase that I type WAY TOO MUCH on this site), but also it sounds like LW2’s job is more external than their coworker’s.

    Also, she may have 20 years of experience on you, LW2, but apparently you have (your age-2) years of maturity on her. It’s pretty shocking that she throws tantrums often enough that this is a routine thing.

    1. Zephy*

      > It’s pretty shocking that she throws tantrums often enough that this is a routine thing.

      That’s what jumped out at me, too. Who does this lady report to, and why don’t they care that she’s literally throwing toddler-style temper tantrums? How did this happen more than once?

      There’s two possibilities that I see. One, she’s been like this since day one (for TWENTY YEARS?), and now it’s been going on for so long that nobody feels like they can say anything. Which makes me think she has some serious dirt on the person(s) that have the power to discipline her for this conduct. That makes her a doubly dangerous person – OP, I hope she doesn’t know anything juicy about you.

      Alternatively, this is a new development for her, and no one is really sure how to address it. If the tantrums are new for her then something else has to be going on – problems in her personal relationships that are bubbling over at work, or some kind of medical issue (certain kinds of brain damage cause sudden, extreme changes in personality, for instance). None of that is anyone else’s business, to be sure, but the “why” doesn’t really matter – it’s disruptive and someone needs to say something to her.

      1. Myrin*

        Additionally, it doesn’t sound like these outbursts are necessarily caused by something in particular? When I read the headline, I thought this would be someone who just flies off the handle as soon as someone says something to her she doesn’t like but OP simply says it happens when coworker is “frustrated” which… is something that probably happens to most of us at least once a day. I can totally imagine this being very jarring, you’re just sitting there minding your own business while, unbeknownst to you, coworker at the other desk just read something frustrating so she’s suddenly starting to yell and pound her fists.
        Coworker needs a stern talking-to; I’d probably try to do it once, maybe twice while referring to the first time, and then escalate up the chain; this is unacceptable!

        1. Zephy*

          I’ve been playing a lot of The Sims lately, so I was picturing OP’s coworker as a Sim with a low needs bar of some kind. Sometimes they just start shaking their fist at God and shouting angrily, even and especially when you tell them to do the thing they need to do (like eat, or sleep, or pee).

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            I’ve been playing a lot of Dwarf Fortress recently, so I’m picturing something similar in ASCII. “$Dwarfname is worried after being unable to pray to $Deity for so long” and is yelling at someone in charge or punching random people rather than going to the temple that’s right down the hall. Sigh.

  31. FridayAnon*

    Re #1 – been there too. We went through fertility treatments and everything, and it’s really challenging. I’m sorry you’re facing this.

    We were a bit more smart-alecky when it came to our responses when people would ask about baby plans, or now if we’re going to have another (our miracle baby is now 6 yrs). Quite a few “Oh, we’re still practicing” comments, or “Why do you ask? Are you offering us tips on how to conceive?” depending on who was asking. :)

    1. Batgirl*

      Did anyone ever tell you WHY they were asking? This one word might be the nip in the bud needed here.

  32. Ginger Sheep*

    Hi OP1! I had been married 14 years with my husband before we had our first child (at the birth of which he promptly left me for another woman, but I digress), and so I accumulated a huge experience with fending off the “When are you having babies?” question. When I was at the younger end of that span – mid to late twenties, I found that just saying cheerily “Not in the immediate future!” worked very well – and it could mean just about anything, from Not in the immediate future (and never ever if I can help it) to Not in the immediate future (because even if I get pregnant tomorrow that’ll still be nine months away). I stopped using it when I hit my thirties, however, because I got a couple lectures in response on how my biological clock was ticking and how I should not be putting kids off forever… (They didn’t go over well.)
    Getting in my thirties I also got more than a few people presuming I was infertile and trying to be conforting/supportive about it (ick!) – apparently, people cannot fathom that you can be happily married and NOT be trying for children?

    1. Everdene*

      Yes to the presumption of infertility! A couple of years back I had a whole pile of women ‘confess’ their struggle to concieve with me like we were sharing/swapping similar stories. It felt so awkward as while I can (try to?) empathise I am in a completely different situation. It felt like they were waiting for me to say me too. These weren’t people I was close to but neighbours/colleagues/partners old school friends (including his teenage gf). It was weird and it started to stress me out.

  33. Cucumberzucchini*

    OP1 – I am so sorry about your terrible health news, I’ve been dealing with some health issues that cause infertility myself lately. I hope this isn’t too pushy, but I hope you get a t least a second opinion. I just got through an 8 month journey of seeing 6 different doctors before I found one that was able to actually help me. I don’t know what your diagnosis is, but removing ovaries is pretty scary so I really hope you get a few opinions. In my case is turned out I had Endometriosis which a lot of Gynocologists give very damaging and ineffective treatmeants for. I ended up with an Endometriosis expert and they did careful excision surgery three weeks ago (without removing ovaries or my uterus) and for the first time in a long time I feel amazing. I know that you may have something completely different but I just wanted to share my recent experience in case it might be helpful.

    1. Avoiding Baby Talk (OP1)*

      Unfortunately, this is the culmination of over a decade of female health issues and a long family history of the same issues. Trust me that I’ve gotten many many opinions over many many years. I have already have had a couple surgeries and one ovary reconstructed, was pretty much given a deadline of X years to do the baby thing (which we are nowhere near), and optimistically thought I would actually have that long.

      I truly appreciate the impulse to help, but I really don’t want health advice/guesses – I really just want advice on how to make people leave me alone on the fertility topic without needing a rundown of my whole medical history :/

  34. Stitch*

    I married young and so waited about 7 years to have a kid, so I got this a lot. I found this question annoying but didn’t have any health issues. But my close friend who badly wants kids has several ectopic pregnancies, including having to have surgery. Just, don’t people, don’t. If you are close enough to know, you won’t have to ask.

  35. Jamey*

    I’m getting married in the fall. We’re a gay couple but I’m trans, and we still get a lot of comments about babies. I presume it’s because strangers often perceive us as a straight couple still, but it’s very awkward for me. I know most guys are not asked about when they are going to get pregnant and it triggers my dysphoria a lot.

    1. SunnyD*

      Ack! I asked that to a gay couple once, in the early days of gay marriage as a way of signaling how supportive I was (gah), and how of course it was normal and routine for gay guys to have kids if they wanted. It was borne out of hearing a lot of ugly right wing smears about gay adoption.

      But it was still weird, and I’m not sure any of that came across.

      (All to say, it may have nothing to do with your being trans, and could actually be a sign of perceived as obviously gay. If that helps at all as a reframe.)

  36. saby*

    OP1, if you don’t want to get into the fertility conversation with your manager, maybe you can just play up what they already know about your health issues. “I know you mean well, but I just can’t think about that right now with everything happening with my health!” or “I would appreciate if you stop making those jokes, I have so many other things to worry about with my body right now. Let’s just focus on *your* bundle of joy!” There are a lot of ongoing but not overtly serious health issues that would make pregnancy more complicated. If your manager is expecting a child then presumably they’ve read the baby books and are familiar with some of the many ways that pregnancy can be hard on your body!

    It won’t solve things long-term but it could at least get your manager out of this habit.

  37. Student*

    For OP 3, the easiest answer is, “We’re connected by marriage, and I’ve met her a few times.” Which is 100% true, doesn’t imply that she’s been married, and prevents people from thinking you’re buddies. (Sub in actual frequency of meetings as necessary.)

    1. Moray*

      This is a great response–casual, perfectly friendly, but about as opaque about the actual situation as you can get.

  38. CookieWookiee*

    OP1: Been there. The best response I have in my arsenal is, “my husband and I aren’t bored with each other yet,” said with a smile. Watch them get defensive, it’s hilarious.

    I just (as in a few weeks ago) had a hysto and partial oopho myself at 42. If you do need to get surgery, I strongly recommend looking into an oncologist if you can, even if it’s not cancer-related. They’re super-experts in this kind of surgery.

    Cool story bro: My husband and I work together, and got married after we’d started at our company (we’ve been together since college). One really bizarre guy followed my husband into the bathroom and demanded to know when he was going to give me a baby. He even told DH that if he wore his socks he’d make a boy. Same dude also asked me when I was going to get pregnant. (No, we didn’t report it, we were young and less confident, and this guy was a known troublemaker. We would have been told to let it go to avoid a scene anyway.)

    More recently another guy informed me that if my husband and I didn’t have kids our marriage “didn’t count.” I ripped him a new one for that, and he avoided me until he was forced to retire for unrelated but serious issues. (He’d previously been fired for good reason, but sued to get his job back. TPTB were itching to force him out.)

    But OP, good luck, I hope everything works out for you healthwise, and soon.

      1. CookieWookiee*

        Yes they are. Sometimes I feel like my company has more than its fair share of weirdos. I have some stories that I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t believe.

        What gets me is that in my experience, it’s nearly always men making the weird comments about pregnancy. (The only female-related one I can think of was my aunt, who asked during my wedding reception if we were going to have kids. I asked if I could please get through the reception first.) Like, dude, why are you so interested in my uterus and what’s happening in it? I don’t ask questions about your motility or sperm count, so lay off.

        I don’t get a lot of comments anymore, I’m guessing because my husband and I have been together, and at this same company, for almost 20 years now, he’s in his late 40s and I’m in my early 40s, and there are no babies in the offing. Pretty much everyone has gotten the message, I think.

    1. Observer*

      HR would have advised you to “let it go” in order to “avoid a scene”? Are these people nuts?

      I know, I shouldn’t be shocked at incompetent HR. But I just can’t help sometimes.

      1. CookieWookiee*

        Yes, and yes. :)

        There’s a lot of “missing stairs” in our company which we’re expected to jump over, to use Captain Awkward parlance. Again, I have SO many stories.

        Mr. Keep-Your-Socks-On-For-A-Boy has done a lot of suing of our employer over the years for various reasons. Most recently he sued because he wasn’t promoted, claiming discrimination on multiple fronts. (Because of course it couldn’t be because he was completely incompetent and useless, which he very much was.) My husband and I were among those subpoenaed, since we were in the last batch of promotions, and CLEARLY it couldn’t POSSIBLY be based on merit if WE got it.

        I know my work history, and my husband’s, and having worked with him for years, I knew Mr. Socks had done diddly squat in all the time I’d known him. I’d probably done more in that last year than he’d done in the last ten. His case wound up being dismissed, as had all of his previous cases. I thought he’d finally retired after that–I was gobsmacked to learn he is STILL working for us. Well, I say “working,” but ykwim. Sigh.

  39. Alex*

    Right now, I’m working at my second “grown up” job, and when I was going through the hiring process for this one, my boss did actually call and speak to my non-grown-up job boss. I was/am still pretty close to that person, and so they told me my boss asked about my reliability, integrity, etc. I did have some senior people at my then-current job on my references list, but my boss ONLY called the person who clearly would know me best, rather than know about relevant job skills.

  40. NewGlassesGirl*

    On baby stuff.. my boyfriend and I are long distance. In his area it’s very conservative and people constantly ask him about kids. It doesn’t happen for me at work but I couldn’t imagine the awkwardness! Personally I’m not sure if I want kids so I’ll def be using those provided lines.

  41. Dana B.S.*

    OP1 – THAT QUESTION IS NEVER OKAY IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. As other posters mentioned, you don’t need to make this about your fertility issues. All couples can have any number of reasons for not having kids. Infertility aside, people should never ask that question unless they are prepared to have an conversation about personal finance problems, the state of the marriage (seriously, I have friends who were separated/getting divorced and not advertising it yet get asked about their baby plans), and reasons why people wouldn’t want to have kids.

    Also, are you going to be at that company forever? Could you get away with a non-committal “We’re just enjoying being married right now!”

    1. Avoiding Baby Talk (OP1)*

      I highly doubt I’ll be here forever, so that is a good point that simply putting babies out of their minds for now should be enough :)

  42. Kids*

    We need a moratorium on kid-planning conversations at work, unless actually brought up by the person in question. I am the age where I would’ve had kids. Strangers assuming I’m a mom or questioning why I’m not one really hurts, considering I wanted them but could not have them, and am walking around with a dramatic visual reminder of that fact. I know many people mean well, but it’s so hard to take…

  43. OP2*

    I’m OP2 and I really appreciate everyone’s thoughtful responses on how to handle a very uncomfortable situation. Unfortunately, we have a very, very flat organization and if I escalate the problem I have to go to the C-suite.

    Normally when her outbursts begin to make me nervous I ask if she’s okay and if I can give her space. I find a place to squat until I think it’s over. She often will send an apologetic email later that evening so I think she’s aware of her behavior.

    I’m going to try your suggestions and be direct next time this happens, but I feel most comfortable waiting until the tantrum is over. If it continues, I might ask an office manager if I can switch offices to be closer to staff who work on projects with me.

    1. Bree*

      Yes, the apology e-mails do indicate she’s aware it’s a problem. Could you reply next time and say you appreciate the apology, but when she gets upset it really does disrupt your work? Then, ask if she can please leave the shared space next time she becomes so upset. It’s a completely fair request, she’s given you an opening by apologizing, and maybe going for a walk or something would make her feel better. You shouldn’t be the one who needs to leave.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        “You shouldn’t be the one who needs to leave.”

        Exactly. She’s the one disrupting everything. It’s great she apologizes, but it doesn’t excuse her behavior. Maybe she thinks that the apology makes it all OK, but it doesn’t.

    2. Kathleen_A*

      Honestly, OP, if this continues you’d be well within your rights to escalate it to the C-suite! It’s wildly inappropriate and waaaaaaay outside office norms. I mean, if it had happened just once or twice due to extraordinary circumstances, that would be one thing. But it’s happening regularly! That’s not right! If she knows it’s a problem and still doesn’t correct it, it’s still not right! I’ve now used four exclamation points in one paragraph, so I’ll try to tone it down, but this truly, truly, truly isn’t some minor thing that the C-suite doesn’t need to know about. It’s a Big Deal.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Especially since clients are hearing the profanity laced tirades while you are on the phone with them. This isn’t just an internal issue which makes it something the C-suite will want to address sooner rather than later.

    3. Mockingjay*

      I suggest not asking if she’s okay. Direct your comments to the effect on your work in the moment.

      *puts hand over receiver or pushes mute button. “Hey, Sheila, I’m on a call with a client. Please keep it down.”

      The age difference, while a factor, is not the overriding issue. Her nonprofessional behavior is. In the workplace, regardless of our role and experience, we are ALL expected to conform to certain norms of behavior in the workplace. If she is disrupting calls to the point that CLIENTS notice, you absolutely can call that behavior out. If you are not comfortable addressing that yourself, this should be handled by your manager. Again, keep it focused on the work outcome. “Boss, lately Sheila has been vocal about some work problems. Her outbursts have disrupted three calls with clients this past week alone. I need a calm, quiet environment to complete my work and I don’t want to put off our clients.”

    4. Lemon Zinger*

      I think at this point, you need to escalate this to her supervisor. These tantrums aren’t acceptable in any workplace environment, particularly when they’re violent (!). The fact that you need to leave your office while she melts down… unacceptable.

    5. Batgirl*

      I think the apology might be part of the problem. People who haven’t learned to manage their anger have sometimes internalized this idea that they’re helpless against it, that anger is something that just happens to them. The apology is how some people justify and live with it: “I can’t help it but I always say sorry”. A bit like apologising for a burp. It says nothing reassuring about her ability to assess her behaviour and change.

      Addressing it will help change her mindset from “Oh OP2 understands that I’m sorry when I have a tantrum and that I just can’t help it” to “OP2 needs me to sort myself out and stop, even if I am sorry”

      I’d actually address it when she’s in apology mode, if addressing it in the moment doesnt work. “OK, you’ve apologised a few times now and not only has nothing changed, but you carried on/was unreasonable when I asked you to stop disrupting my call with a colleague today. At this point, the best apology would be a plan of what to do differently when frustrated.”

    6. Koala dreams*

      In a flat organization, it would probably be perfectly fine if you bring this up with her the next time you have a chat in the office (when both of you are calm) and tell her that her frequent outburst need to stop, and if she can’t do that, she needs to step out of the office. I understand that her behaviour is making you nervous, but they are also a serious work problem and you can bring it up to her with that framing. That being said, if her behaviour is making you feel unsafe or if you feel it would be pointless to have yet another conversation with her, you can bring it to the C-suite.

    7. Observer*

      You’ve gotten some good responses. I’m jut going to reiterate that you should feel totally free to go to the C-Suite if she can’t / won’t get the problem under control.

      Emphasize the work impact – you can’t get work and and clients and noticing it.

    8. Elizabeth*

      An apology without change is just manipulation. — Sierra Monaee

      The original quote is in reference to abusive spouses, but it is an accurate reflection of your situation, as well. She has manipulated you into interrupting your work, leaving your desk, finding another random place to work, and then accepting this as normal.

  44. SaffyTaffy*

    OP2, my mother has lost jobs & friends over her temper. Now that her outbursts are more controlled, when she looks back, she often felt there was no other choice but a tantrum. Now, it’s your coworker’s responsibility to learn a better coping technique, but I think that kernel of information, “she thought there was no other choice,” can be valuable for bystanders.
    When you say something to her, presenting an alternative may be helpful. It’s not your job to do that, but it’s possible that something like “get up and walk around the cubicles for a minute” hasn’t occurred to her. So I do agree with Alison that you should say something. Adding an alternative behavior may make it more effective.

  45. emmy*

    OP4, not a silly question at all. I’ve been in my current job for a couple decades and it is also my first job out of college. The only person in the company superior to me is my manager, who also is the CEO. I have absolutely no idea what to do for references and it’s inhibited my willingness to job search.

    1. Late Career Changer*

      Me too! I freeze when it comes to adding the references.

      I changed my job focus in the middle of my current position. I’m half hoping someone from my job leaves so I can finally have a reference that reflects my current skills and abilities.

    2. DCR*

      Have you worked with other senior executives who left the company? Any one who is at your level or above? Any of those people can be a reference.

      1. emmy*

        Nope. I’ve worked exclusively for the CEO and technically there is no one above me. Peer-level employees have all been here and in their jobs for well over a decade, if not several decades and would rat me out in a heartbeat if they thought I was leaving. In my particular industry, reasonably high level folks either cycle out after a year or two or stay with the company for ages.

  46. SoloLikeHan*

    OP2 – It sounds like this person may have something else going on, such as being on the spectrum, Tourette’s, or another learning difference that may lead to a lack of self-control. If that is the case, she may not be able to control her response/be able to self-regulate. Does that seem like a possibility to you? I’m not into diagnosing other people, but if she is not able to manage the behavior, she may need a space to herself, which would be a reasonable accommodation to make through HR. No idea how you would approach that conversation, but I think it’s a smart idea to go into the conversation knowing that change might not be a possibility for her.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      We don’t speculate about this stuff here. Please refrain.

      Even if the coworker has a medical or mental health issue, her behavior isn’t acceptable in the workplace.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        Right. And even if the coworker needs some sort of accommodation, the OP has no power to give it to her. That’s up to the folks higher up the supervisory ladder.

        1. SoloLikeHan*

          Understood. To rephrase- I am concerned co-worker might not be able to control said behavior, so OP should document, refer up, and probably get out of the space quickly. (Better? Asking sincerely)

          1. Kathleen_A*

            She might. But then again, she might not, and in any case, I honestly think it’s better – for a lot of reasons – if the OP just leaves the whole topic alone. For one thing, if this was a factor that the OP wanted to talk about, surely she would have by now. So everybody is better off, IMO, if they just assume that the coworker is the one who can manage this, and leave it up to her and/or her supervisors to manage it (either through accommodations or just, I don’t know, anger management classes or something).

  47. stephistication1*

    OP1: Just wanted to say, as someone who had a total hysterectomy in 2017 I understand the pain of the “more babies!?!?” comments. It still hurts me to this day since I wanted more children. Hoping there are alternatives for you 100%

    I’m not a fan of airing my business but I have responded to some of those with “unfortunately no since I’ve had a hysterectomy….” The look on their face is sometimes satisfying.

  48. Late Career Changer*

    Me too! I freeze when it comes to adding the references.

    I changed my job focus in the middle of my current position. I’m half hoping someone from my job leaves so I can finally have a reference that reflects my current skills and abilities.

  49. Anonymous Poster*

    As a man I’ve gotten the baby question from time to time after I got married. People didn’t realize that my wife and I had gone through multiple miscarriages. The most supportive bosses I’ve had through that were my female ones, that once they found out we lost one baby just gave me a hug and let me stay in the office and work to try and take my mind off of things. They didn’t expect any real work that day (and I did not disappoint), but they believed me when I said I needed the distraction right then.

    My wife and I became more open about having miscarriages, and because of that, people have laid off the baby question. Others have said that they just don’t ask after it anymore because most people don’t share if they’re experiencing problems like this. Yes, people need to stop asking, but sometimes the best way to get them to stop is to make them stick their feet in their mouths. If you’re not in a place to do it, then I’m certainly not urging you to do so. But if you are, the tiny squirm they get from it is also a little be, in its own evil way, rewarding. But they started the awkward, after all.

    It also makes us sharing news that we’re expecting and the issues we’ve seen with previous pregnancies aren’t appearing that much more great to share. Which is also a very, very different boat than many people are in. It let us share in our own way, though, instead of being peppered with questions about it.

    Some folks really love kids and their marriages are defined by their children. I don’t fault that, and that’s their touchstone with your marriage, I’m guessing. Depending on where you are, responses from “What a strange question, but back to the report…” to “I can’t have a child” followed by a couple beats of silence should help communicate that this topic is inappropriate and should not be followed up on.

    1. Batgirl*

      I have a single male colleague who was being badgered about babies and his very visible discomfort made me want to stand up and ask people have they ever considered that men face fertility issues?
      It’s sooo private; no matter who you’re asking!

      1. Observer*

        Actually, probably people have NOT considered this at all. Although, as you know, infertility is NOT just a female problem people tend to assume that only women can be infertile.

  50. nnn*

    When people say “You’re next!” about having babies, I enjoy reacting as though it’s a threat. (May not be appropriate for someone who wants children, may not be appropriate in every workplace, but it’s entertaining)

  51. CAA*

    OP4 — if you are at your current job for a few years, it’s very likely that some of the people you work with now (maybe even your current manager) will leave for other positions before you do. Whenever someone who knows enough about you and your work to be a reference leaves, get that person’s contact information. When you ask for it, you can even say you’ve enjoyed working with them and you hope they’d be willing to act as a reference for you if you decide to move on in the future. This is exactly what LinkedIn is for, so if people in your industry use it, set up a profile and start connecting with contacts there so you’ll always be able to reach out to them when you need to.

    It’s great that you’re thinking ahead about this and making some plans now can save you a lot of effort later on.

    1. Elbereth Gilthoniel*

      I was going to post this same advice, so I will just second CAA’s comments.

      In addition to being good references, this is how you start to build your network. I’ve been in the workforce for ~15 years now and am still in contact with colleagues from my first job. It is great to have them as a resource and to have become a resource for them as well! It is very helpful to have colleagues who are in different career stages (for advice, different perspectives, etc.)

  52. 4Sina*

    LW3 – are these people who need to know the nature of your relationship, or are they asking a casual question with the most basic curiosity? If it probably won’t add to their body of knowledge other than to speculate gossip, I would think shutting it down with a “no, not really!” and moving on would be the best option.

  53. pentamom*

    LW3, if the conversation about whether the ex would mind you explaining doesn’t work or doesn’t seem appropriate for whatever reason, I would think “Only distantly” would be a short, sweet, and appropriate answer. I don’t think it’s subject to a negative reaction if people find out the actual relationship later, because I think most people would perfectly understand the sense in which “only distantly” was meant.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      I don’t tolerate this kind of stuff from anyone. In the past when I had to work “for the man” I’ve even told bosses “you aren’t allowed to yell at me.”

      If it’s a peer throwing a tantrum, at me or just at the universe, I have no issue whatsoever telling them to knock it off.

      Seriously I’d be like “WTF is wrong with you? Are you five? Do you really think it’s ok to behave that way…in public and to make everyone around you have to bear witness to your meltdown? Do you act this way at home? I feel sorry for your SO/kids/family. Knock it off. Grow up.”

      *My standard caveat: I know not everyone can/is willing to do this and not everyone is as willing as I to bun it to the ground…so grain of salt and all that.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Ok either nesting fail or operator error (more likely) but this was supposed to be directed at OP 2…

  54. lnelson in Tysons*

    #2, If you hadn’t mentioned that your co-worker is female I would have ask if we were in the same office.
    I have a screamer here. He gets frustrated very easily, blows up, fortunately calms down very quickly.
    It can be very disruptive for most of the folks here.
    I don’t know if anger management classes would be a good idea for him. I am tempted to suggest it.

  55. Database Developer Dude*

    OP1: If you’re feeling particularly evil, you might want to take some inspiration from an old joke I heard from a woman friend of mine:

    She said: Every time I’d been at a family wedding or baby shower, all the old aunts would come up to me, poke me in the ribs, and cackle “You’re next”. That stopped when I started doing it to them at funerals…..

  56. Database Developer Dude*

    I’m absolutely gobsmacked at the idea that a person at WORK who is not a member of your family feels entitled to comment and judge your life choices, especially when they don’t affect them in the slightest.

    Not that it’s right when a family member does it, but that’s an entirely different discussion, and I’m not prepared to have that discussion at this present time.

  57. CS*

    OP#1: Unfortunately, in most workplaces, coworkers are always going to ask about children. At best, they’re just trying to make conversation, and at worst, they’re being intrusive. It seems like the worst culprits are those who already have children and don’t think twice about asking others if they do. The way I would approach it is just to take the question at face value and answer very matter-of-factly (e.g. “not planning on doing so”; “not right now;” etc.) in the same way that you would answer a question like “Did you have lunch yet?”.

    FWIW, I have a 6yo son and my wife and I get questions a lot about whether we are planning on more. We sometimes get creeps that won’t stop talking about how we need to have more children because… we’re a biracial couple and “make beautiful children.” Usually I shut down such suggestions by saying things like “I’m too old”; “it’s hard to have two children with such a big age gap” etc. and then direct questions back at the asker (e.g. “where do your children go to school?”).

    Most people are just thoughtless but don’t mean any harm when they ask these sorts of questions or make such comments. I don’t know if it helps you but the way I treat personal questions like these is to shrug them off, but I realize that it is not an option.

  58. iglwif*

    OP1, I feel you so hard on this. (Although in my case, my in-laws were actually waaaay worse than my co-workers? But some of my co-workers were pretty dang bad.) There’s nothing like being asked “Hey, you’ve been married for a while, when’s it gonna be your turn?” in the buffet line at a baby shower, only a few days after you’ve had to schedule surgery that will prevent you from ever getting pregnant without serious medical intervention.

    Sometimes you genuinely do have to be borderline rude–or even all the way rude–to get people to stop. If it’s any consolation, know that THEY WERE RUDE FIRST, because none of this stuff is anyone’s business!!!

  59. Bend & Snap*

    OP 1, that sucks. I’m sorry.

    It took me 7 years and some losses to have my daughter, and I was in a client facing role, and people were freaking relentless about the kid thing. At one I point I looked at a client who wouldn’t let up and said “We can’t have kids” and without missing a beat he said “BUT YOU CAN ADOPT.”

    I wish I had some advice, but I never figured out how to handle it graciously. And people get pissed off when you get rude about their rudeness.

    1. Asperger Hare*

      Yeah, I had the same when I tried to shut down a coworker who was asking me about whether I was going to have children. I said, “I can’t have children,” (because I don’t want any) and her next thing was, “You could adopt!” Long story short, I reported her to HR.

      She’s the same person who keeps pestering me to know How I’m Feeling about my recent bereavement, which has taken another trip to HR to shut down. You’re a random coworker; you don’t have the rights to my life and my feelings.

  60. Friday La La La!*

    OP2: When she’s done her tantrum, turn to look at her and then say, in a very quiet voice “What are you doing?” with complete confusion and concern.

  61. Beckie*

    OP3: How about the phrasing, “Oh, just a coincidence!” when people ask you about a relation/connection? That will shut people down, while providing a true-enough answer (as in, it is a coincidence that you and she have both been married to the same man).

    I think it works whether or not you know her personally, and whether or not you are likely to come into direct contact with her at work.

  62. Koala dreams*

    #1 This is maybe less of an advice for you, and more for the other commenters who choose to not have children. It also works for topics such as getting married or buying a house. It doesn’t work for medical questions, I would think.

    I find it quite effective to say something like this instead of answer the question: “Oh, I think it’s so nice that women/people can choose nowadays. You can choose to have children or not have children. Isn’t that great?”
    Then people will usually murmur something vaguely agreeing and change the subject. A few people will tell you about life choices they are making.

  63. Stepmom*

    OP3 here. I appreciate the various suggestions. I’m still mulling over the best variation of “through marriage” that will answer the question truthfully enough. “No” does not seem correct either because I am with my stepkids/her kids at public functions and it would be weird for those who believed there was no connection to their mom at all. That was the case the first time someone asked me they saw my name tag at a non-work event with the kids there. I said I was the kids’ other stepmom and got many confused looks.

    One more layer that I didn’t mention – she and I belong to a tight-knit minority ethnic community where it is common to ask each other about personal backgrounds/family trees. Plus the surname is not common, even among this community.

    For those asking about her surname. I presume she kept it a) because it is also the surname of her kids/my stepkids and b) she has two advanced degrees and various publications from when she was married to my husband.

    1. Bree*

      Do you know for sure if she actually wants to keep her previous marriage a secret, or does your husband know based on how they’ve managed kid-related functions in the past? Can you ask her? Because if she’s cool with it, it honestly seems like a straightforward “she’s my husband’s ex-wife” might work best, especially in a close-knit community.

      I wouldn’t necessarily assume that because she’s out now she’d be actively trying to hide her past. I’m queer, and from my experience that’s not common.

      1. Stepmom*

        I don’t think she wants to keep it a secret but it’s definitely not something that people seem to know about. I think they presume she had kids with her current partner (they’ve been together since the kids were very little).

        I’ve said the “she is my husband’s ex-wife” a couple of times and it just makes people react so strangely. Maybe they are embarrassed? I have no problem saying this but it seems to make the other person so uncomfortable that I’m trying to find a smoother way to answer the question without the resulting awkward moment/extended pause after.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Honestly? Their strange reaction seems strange to me. Is this an ethnic minority where divorce is frowned upon, or something?

  64. mf*

    #1: This is not just a painful question for those suffering from fertility issues–it can be uncomfortable for people/couples who are on the fence about kids.

    My husband is enthusiastic about having a couple of kids. I Ia straight woman) don’t like kids and have never had the desire to have one of my own. Seeing as we’re in our early thirties, this has become an unresolved source of conflict. (We married young, before I figured out that not wanting kids was going to be a long term thing for me.)

    In the past year or two, several people have asked us point black, “So, are you two gonna have kids?” It’s really painful, like they’re pouring salt into an open wound in our marriage. And it’s incredibly awkward, because I have no idea how to honestly answer that question.

    Other people have made passive-aggressive comments like, “Well, since you two are having kids…” in order to suss out our reproductive plans. And that’s equally awkward because, well, we don’t know if we’re having kids. And even if we had it all figured out, we shouldn’t be made to feel like we have explain our reproductive plans and choices.

    Moral of the story: if you’re not married or in a long-term romantic relationship with someone, don’t ask about their plans for kids. It’s a fraught question for lots of people for lots of reasons.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      “And it’s incredibly awkward, because I have no idea how to honestly answer that question.”

      Here’s the thing…you don’t have to answer it, honestly or otherwise because it’s so not their business…not even family.

      If it were me (and only speaking for me because I know not everyone is willing to burn shit to the ground to make a point) I’d start by shrugging and walking away. If they pushed, I’d just let them know in no uncertain terms how intrusive and rude it is to ask such private, intimate questions…and walk away.

  65. Róisín*

    “And someone needs to fund a nationwide PSA campaign to get people to stop asking this question.”

    And can we have Captain Awkward write the commercials? Please?

  66. Josie*

    I think the lady with the health problems has a good answer, (Not any time soon!) If you go ballistic and accuse them of being rude, it will just be awkward and make them wonder WTF. And I would just tell my boss, but I am a very open person, so…
    I don’t remember anyone asking me this when I got married…I guess it IS kinda weird. But people are just making stupid small talk, IMHO. They don’t mean to be malicious.

  67. Amethystmoon*

    #4, have you done any part-time or temporary work while you were in school? Or even volunteer work? If so, those would be great references. Otherwise, if you babysat while in high school or did lawn mowing, worked at McDonalds, etc., a reference from one of those people would be better than nothing. Perhaps one or two of your college profs could provide a personal reference?

    After you have been working for a while, you can leave the high school jobs and professor references off your resume, but anything is better than nothing for your first job.

  68. Jaid*

    Thank goodness my parents are happy to be cat grandparents. And now that I’ve had the fixture taken out, there’s no issue of my having children.

    BTW, I have pictures from the surgery. If anyone is foolish enough to ask me if I want kids, I will happily whip my phone out and do a show-and-tell.

  69. moneypenny*

    #2: Eric Clapton and George Harrison married (then divorced) the same woman but stayed friends, and they referred to each other as “husbands-in-law”. If the OP wanted to throw some lightness into the equation instead of the awkwardness, that’s one way to do it.

  70. Dahlia*

    Oh, man, OP1 I am in a similar place to you.

    Been at my new job for 2 weeks. In this 2 weeks, one person has said, “About time for you to start having your own kids,” and I was like, “Nope!” And another person went on about how cute some of the little baby clothes are (which they are) and then something about ovaries, I’ve forgotten. I replied with, “My ovaries are broken” (which is also kinda true) and followed with, “I’m not having kids.”

    And then she said, “You’ll change your mind.”

    And I kinda just walked away, lol.

    1. Dahlia*

      Oh also, I’m not even married! Or dating anyone! I’m aro, though my coworkers don’t know that, and I’ve never talked about a partner at all. So like. People are just rude about it sometimes.

    2. Luna*

      I don’t know what’s worse — the people who keep asking this question or those that insist they know you better than yourself, and that you’ll ‘change your mind’. Not only is it really disrespectful to the person (like not wanting to have kids is some mutation that disappears because of the biological clock), but also hurtful to those that may change their mind, but their physical body still refuses to *let* them get pregnant.

  71. Dahlia*

    OP4 – Have you done any volunteer work during college? I’ve used references from some of mine, as I actually worked pretty closely with some fairly high-up people in my volunteer work. Maybe not something you wanna do for like, the rest of your career, but in this stage, it can help.

    (My current manager is actually someone I’d work with for some volunteer stuff. Small world!)

  72. Trixie, the Great and Pedantic*

    OP1: good luck with your health issues. Unfortunately, some people do not understand the concept of babies not being forthcoming, no matter how it’s explained. You’ll need patience to deal with them, and patience for not having the patience to deal with them, and it’s not fair that you’ll have to spend emotional energy on them not minding their business.

    1. Luna*

      I have to ask why one should have patience with someone, who’s not gonna ‘get it’, anyway. Tell them, at most, twice that you are not answering that question. And any further questions regarding that topic will be flat-out ignored.

  73. Luna*

    LW#1 — I wonder how people would react if you ‘answered’ all questions regarding “babies?” with a very cold, unblinking stare… An unsaid answer of ‘do not ask this question again’.

    LW#2 — “Jane, do you need put into the time-out box?” She is acting like a child, and perhaps holding up a mirror that, yes, her acting like a toddler is being noticed, and she will be treated like a child, if she doesn’t try to compose herself better. Even if this means she has to say, “I need to take a quick breather” and then heads to the toilets or somewhere private to vent to herself about how frustrated she is. If that’s how you fix your emotions so you can keep working, that’s totally okay — as long as it doesn’t distract or interrupt other people from their work.

  74. Len F*

    “And someone needs to fund a nationwide PSA campaign to get people to stop asking this question.”
    Which nation? Why only one of them?

    1. Jasnah*

      This seems deliberately nitpicky and off-topic, or maybe there’s a joke somewhere I missed?

      1. Len F*

        It is snarky, yes.

        The USA isn’t the entire Anglosphere, and it’s irritating when folks from the USA assume their audience is only people from the USA, and exclude everyone else.

        1. Lance*

          It wasn’t the greatest choice of words, certainly, but I think the point could be made better without taking an active jab at it. And, in some fairness, I’m fairly certain readership here skews very heavily toward US folks.

          1. Len F*

            It’s absolutely CONSTANT, though, from American internet denizens. The constant exclusion get wearying, and weariness leads to irritability.

            1. Aqua Child*

              It’s an American blog written by an American and intended for an American audience. Of course its dominated by Americans. It doesn’t have to be inclusive of other countries just because people from other countries also read it. If you don’t like it, go start a blog called “Ask a Non-American Manager”

              1. valentine*

                We don’t know OP’s nation and you can get the ball rolling in your nation.

            2. Archaeopteryx*

              Or maybe it’s because PSAs tend to be broadcast in one country at a time only, so it fits better for the joke? Not sure if this is light trolling or genuine oversensitivity, but either way, yeesh what a pointless beef to pick.

            3. Archaeopteryx*

              … Trolling perchance? It’s hard to imagine someone is genuinely offended by such a pointless beef. PSAs tend to be broadcast nationwide anyway, not worldwide, so it makes more sense for the joke/comment.

            4. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Then please read elsewhere. I write from an American perspective and it would be incredibly arrogant to think I could write from any other. Much of what I write about is culturally specific, and often intersects with legal information, which is also U.S. specific. I’m happy to have non-American readers, but there’s no way whatsoever that I could pretend to address them in the same way I address people who live in the culture I’m writing about. You should find a different site that meets your needs; this one is not it.

              1. Parenthetically*

                And this guy’s comment is AFTER you put a reminder to read the commenting rules. Oof.

              2. RUKiddingMe*

                “You should find a different site that meets your needs; this one is not it.”

                This, this non-pandering, straight to the point kind of thing is why I love you Alison!

        2. LPUK*

          ..or maybe it’s because Alison, conscious of the fact that USA isn’t the Anglosphere, has made the decision to speak only for her own country rather than assuming other countries ha e the same issue? Why not assume positive intent? One of the things I love about this site is the quality of the commentariat, and Alison’s meticulous moderating, from whom I have learned lots, but I am now starting to see some pickiness and snark I don’t think is warranted. If you want to snark and get on board the outraged and offended train, there are PLENTY of other places on the internet to do that

        3. FairPayFullBenefits*

          But Alison *is* from the US, so it’s reasonable that she’d make a reference to it. Also – is this as big of an issue in Europe as in the US? Genuinely curious.

          1. Cazfiend*

            I get asked when I’m getting married and when I’m having kids in the UK. Even saying that I have no interest in those things does not shut it down. I get told I will change my mind and its life changing. Which is the point for me I don’t want my life changed. But I don’t know how widespread it is. I’m in my 30s so people think this is the time for it I assume.
            I don’t agree with the snark but I can understand the frustration of assuming everyone is American. Though personally I did not get that from Alison. I assume she’s going to have us centric perspective unless the emailer references another country. It only makes sense to speak about what you know.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              This is the same kind of feedback I get about my research. It is focused on heteronormative, self-identified as monogamous, partnered couples in domestic violence situations. Why oh why do I research only *those* people? Why not every single other type of coupling? Why not poly groups? Why only hetero couples? Why, why, why not this, that, or the other?

              Well … that *one* combination resulted in an 800 page dissertation with something like 2500 sources (edited it waaaayyyyy down) and like ten years of my life just to research/write, not to mention the past 30-ish years of continual research and revision as new information comes to light, social norms change, society as a while becomes better informed, etc. I don’t think I could live long enough to research even one other type of relationship, but thanks dude (almost always a literal dude btw…) for your input into how I choose to spend my life.

              Oh! All my research subjects live int he USA… guess I should spend time in all other countries too then? Just so no one feels left out… j/s

              1. Former Employee*

                There was a soap opera called “One Life To Live”.

                I guess you could tell people that if you had more than one, you could do research on more than one type of relationship.

          2. londonedit*

            UK here, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with a lot as a childfree-by-choice adult woman. We don’t tend to get the religious angle so much, and we don’t have as much of a community of super-conservative-traditional people as I think parts of the US does (people, in general, with the obvious caveat that there are exceptions and I happen to live in London which is liberal anyway, tend to be more liberal) but I’ve frequently come up against the ‘Oh, don’t be silly, you’ll change your mind – everyone does!’ attitude.

          3. Myrin*

            I’m in Germany and have literally never been in such a situation, but I don’t think that is a cultural difference so much as it’s my work situation – when I’m running around stocking items or preparing salads, there’s not much time or interest in making smalltalk about husbands or kids; this has always felt like more of an office thing to me – and most of all my general… presence (I guess?) – I also don’t get cat-called or spoken over or interrupted and this kind of stuff seems to fall under the same umbrella; there’s just something about me that makes people Not Do The Thing, apparently.
            (Although I get the feeling – and our receding birth rate would confirm that – that Germans as a people are much less interested in having children than those from other countries. But I don’t know that that necessarily means there are less busybodies regarding this topic.)

            1. Miso*

              The very first thing my new neighbour asked me when I moved in recently was “Do you have kids?” (fair enough), followed by “Ah, but you’re going to have some, right?”
              My coworker also sometimes does the “Ah, when you have kids some day…” thing. But he also asks every woman with a stomach “Oh, congratulations, when is it due?”, so yeah, he’s not good with that kinda stuff.

              What I’m trying to say is, totally happens in Germany.

              1. FairPayFullBenefits*

                Thanks to everyone who shared experiences from other countries, this is very interesting to read!

          4. Observer*

            Oh, I’m sure it’s an issue elsewhere in the world, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure that there are some places that are worse in this respect.

            Still a ridiculous bone to pick.

        4. hbc*

          Come on, Alison has no way of knowing (I assume) if people ask this intrusively in Japan, Belgium, and Peru. Making a pronouncement about it’s universality is much worse than making a narrow statement (that didn’t actually state that the problem was limited.)

          1. PB*

            In addition to this, there generally isn’t such a thing as international PSAs. They tend to be geographically specific.

            1. Lucy*

              Precisely this. Besides, I read it as an intensifier (“nationwide PSA” v “local PSA”) rather than a restriction. Like “louder for the people in the back” without needing the snark of “what about those with hearing loss” or “what about those waiting in the lobby”. It. Was. A. Metaphor.

        5. What’s your damage, Heather?*

          I’m not American. I don’t feel excluded by the term PSA. Thanks?

        6. Femme d'Afrique*

          “Anglosphere?” LOL!

          It’s kind of ironic that you’re taking issue with a perceived lack of inclusivity, and then… write that. ;)

        7. Jasnah*

          I get it, I’m not in the US either. Not even in the Anglosphere! But phrase you’re taking issue with isn’t even related to the actual topic of the letter? I think we should save our “US=/=the world” outrage for when it is relevant to the topic at hand instead of an intentionally silly turn of phrase.

        8. Falling Diphthong*

          I don’t think there are PSAs that play in multiple countries. Each nation would have to make its own, using tea cups or fruit bats or whatnot as props to personalize the message.

    2. londonedit*

      Jeez, this is a ridiculous thing to have a problem with. If someone says ‘We need to fund a nationwide campaign to stop people asking about other people’s reproductive choices’ it’s clearly tongue-in-cheek and the mere use of the word ‘nationwide’ clearly isn’t meant to exclude anyone.

      I’m from the UK and – being a reasonable sort of person – I understand that a lot of the specific advice here doesn’t work in my situation. But a lot of it does, and I’m here for the excellent job advice, fascinating stories, and awesome commentariat. I’m capable of reading references to FMLA and Thanksgiving without getting my knickers in a twist.

      1. WellRed*

        And we Americans like hearing other viewpoints here, as well as phrases we normally don’t, like “knickers in a twist.” ; )

        1. LPUK*

          I was going to add the phrase ‘wind your neck in’ to my comment if you’d like to add to the collection!

        2. Alli525*

          Well, that’s mostly because “panties in a twist” sounds strangely infantile (I remember a contest ~20 years ago, in either a magazine or a major underwear brand, to find an alternative word for “panties” because it’s such an icky word on the level of “moist”) and knickers is just a superior word ;)

          1. Cercis*

            I hate the word “panties” and just say underwear. I mean, why do underpants need to be gendered? We call them underwear for men, why not women?

            1. Marmaduke*

              I always assumed it was because “underwear” encompasses both underpants and bras, for women. And all the shapewear, too, I suppose.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            I prefer “bloomers.” :-D

            Actually knickers is a better choice I think because it’s pretty non-gendered. I always said “panties” but never liked it. It was a long time until I could really identify the reason…then I just started saying “underwear.” I don’t have an issue with “moist” though…go figure. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  75. Food Sherpa*

    LW #2- My boss is a very ‘passionate’ man. When I joined the office he would regularly erupt in screaming fits, complete with fist pounding, spittle flying, repeating himself tirades. Another woman in the office was the victim of severe violent domestic violence, another employee is a vet with issues and I have a history of violent parents as well. The office banded together and explained the screaming fits had to stop as they were terrifying. When we pointed out we felt that we had traded abusive ex’s for an abusive boss, we can’t think when we are scared and that leads to zero productivity, and the vet is worried he will react violently to protect himself. The boss actually listened. We haven’t experienced another fit since.
    Is it likely someone down the hall can hear this but isn’t healthy enough to respond appropriately? This sets up an HR nightmare for the company.
    If you have to go to C-Suite, please highlight the lack of productivity this situation creates and the potential of a hostile work environment. They will listen to arguments that affect their bottom line.

  76. Avoiding Baby Talk (OP1)*

    Thank you everyone for your replies and advice! Sorry I wasn’t able to respond in the moment on Friday. I’m glad most people seem to agree the “babies?” topic is just NOT appropriate in general. I never liked it before “everything” started happening, but this has obviously cranked it up a notch. I have a lot of ideas and phrases to try in the coming weeks that I think will work well (and I can swap one for another if it doesn’t work, since there were a lot of good ideas!).

  77. Lx in Canada*

    Regarding #4: Have you ever moved teams and/or departments? I’ve moved teams a couple times and have moved divisions so far once. If I were to look for a job outside of the government (unlikely, but you never know) I’d use some of my past supervisors and also maybe subject matter experts who could speak to the quality of my work, my attitude, etc.

    1. Lx in Canada*

      I should probably add that this is my first post-university employer as well!

  78. charo*

    Re: noisy coworker, I’m surprised by the answer. It was reasonable but after she wouldn’t stop humming and yelling [cause you know she won’t] the NEXT step is to record her being noisy, esp. in a meltdown. We live in a world saturated w/tech., it’s easy to do.

    If it’s as bad as LW says it could get worse, she sounds abnormal. If a client complains about profanity LW could be affected. Recording her [even video if she’s visually distraught] is a protection. Then, play it for HR as you point out the problem for clients hearing it.

    Hearing several times she’s done this, all at once, should convince them to move her, or at least protect LW.

  79. charo*

    I suggested taping her meltdowns and “humming” to play later, for HR or boss. Then I read other comments and was surprised not one other one suggested that.

    We live in a world full of tech. and videos and audiotape of her profanity that clients can hear is necessary, I’d think. It’ll sound even worse to play it later. And it protects LW if the woman gets more out of control.

    A voice-activated tape recorder like reporters use has to be cheap now. Just tape her. Video her if she’s visually disturbing, too.

    1. LawBee*

      Taping someone without their consent is not necessarily legal in all states, and could open the door to more problems than not regardless.

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