There is a strange irony that does not escape my attention as I write this. Until a few months ago I was feeling the ever so slight, (as in sledge hammer slight), rumblings that once faced our beloved Bridget Jones. Now this isn't going to be an article on why, when the 30-something bell tolls, men and woman alike are thrust into the spotlight of social expectation and we all start to sweat every so slightly.
This article is about something else, something which only occurred to me quite recently, while I was in the full Bridget-like glare of an overseas trip. As this new thought grew like an unwelcome fungus on my consciousness I asked a few friends what they thought and it seems that this little mushroom has been popping up all over the place, and what's worse - we ourselves are often just as guilty of it.
The name of this offending spore is, what I'm calling, 'Social Tabloid Curiosity'. I'm not sure when it started, I want to blame Facebook, I like blaming Facebook, but somehow I think this might be a tad older. But I know it came after the time that people wearing corsets would call on each other and smile politely and discuss the weather. Maybe we should blame the freedom of the 70's?
I don't know. But somewhere down the line we began to think it was perfectly acceptable to ask each other the most personal questions around the dinner table and not, for one moment think how that might feel to the person being questioned. Which is staggering since we've nearly all been that person ourselves!
The scenario goes something like this "Soooo, are you going to have a baby?" "When ARE you guys getting married?", "Why haven't you asked her yet?", "Yes, that's amazingly creative and everything but how do you make any money?", "Aren't you worried about being too old?". Or, "Isn't it time you settled down?" "Are you going to freeze your eggs?", "Do you regret having settled down?", "Are you and your wife still, you know...", "Is having kids really as bad as it looks?" "Don't you get bored?" "Is kissing a woman really the same as kissing guy?" "Why don't you eat wheat?"
I think we get the idea...
Now. This is not the nasty, auntie-you-never-see line of questioning that makes us avoid said auntie for all its worth. No, this is a Friday night at the pub, this is a BBQ with your close, wonderful friends. This is your best friend, this is also me. What I found while talking to others, is that even though we all might at some point bring these subjects up with people, why do we insist on having to know such personal information about each other?
Is it because we give our 'public' a taste with every Facebook and Instagram post. Have we invited in the press into our own private lives. Maybe. What I do know is that I don't think any of us like being asked a question that we know we can't really answer over a burnt sausage, while navigating a vodka soda. Usually we have no idea why we're not married, but thanks for bringing that up. Or when people hassle the girl about getting 'knocked up' without knowing she can't have children after five rounds of IVF. Or that actually no, you don't like being a mother, you love your kids yes, but you hate being at home, you resent your husband and you just want to go back to work and wear heels again. Whatever the question and whatever the answer you can bet, that at 8pm on a Saturday at a BBQ is not the time you want to really go there. There may in fact never be a time when you want to go there, because you don't want to ask yourself half of those questions.
It was a week after my epic Question Time trip that was filled with smiles and well meaning questions - but questions I had no answer to, that I found myself in a small jewellery store in London. While I got giddy with the cheap silver rings that I was going to wear on every single finger the guy behind the till turned on his little light. Drum roll... it was show time - again. "So why you no married? You have baby? You gonna have baby? Why no baby? You too old no" - his part of the song went something like this.
Now usually at this point in the show I do this. Big smile, flick of the hair, big hand gesture to win me some time, and then I start "Welllllll...... I hold this note as long as I can, "you knowwwww"... (dramatic pause) and then faster than you can say All That Jazz, I sing, "well see, life isn't just about getting married and having child, I mean there is so much a person can do, I've travelled, I made a film, I've seen so much and hey! (Pause to get my breath while reciting the rest of my CV), if it's meant to be it's meant to be, a life can be full no matter what you do, baby or not." Or something along those lines. I like to end with Jazz hands though.
But on this day I decided that the time of singing my usual song was over. This pony had a new trick.
I turned, slowly - again for dramatic affect, and with no Jazz hands and no drum roll, I said, "Well that's a little personal. What if I was just going through a divorce, or my partner had just died, or I'd just lost a baby during a miscarriage last week?"
His face wasn't so full of lights anymore. The curtain came down. I bought the rings while he wrung his hands in tight cringing circles and apologised profusely. I told him it was fine, I was fine, but I reminded him that the next person who came in might not be, and he should remember that.
So folks, while I hope you appreciate my show tune analogy and the irony that since that performance a few months ago I did get knocked up and proposed to and got my applause that we all want, the questions still haven't stopped. I'm pretty reclusive so I manage to keep my vocal cords in good health, but please know that if you sing your song at me, I might not respond the way I used to.
And here is the thing. This isn't about inappropriate questions that you ask me. We ALL do it - all the time. But what I'm trying to learn, is that if someone isn't mentioning why they haven't left their husband, or why they 'only' have one child, then there might be a good reason. And that reason will be shared when it's appropriate. It's our jobs, as friends, co-workers or family to allow people to decided when or if they want to share things with us.
Ask questions, but stay away from the juicy headlines. Leave those songs, those really show stopping tunes to the star to sing, when the time in their story is right. Because maybe you'll never hear it, but someone out there one day will, and that just means that they got better seats than you did.
The great thing is, if we allow others their moment to shine, without us trying to force the event, maybe they will let us have our own stage, and our own time to shine, and then that dear friends will be a song worth waiting for.
P.S I just got married and I now have a 5 month old baby, but the questions have just started again. One is not enough it seems ... here we go again! Jazz hands!