As you and I both know, we’re at that time of life when everyone wants to be all up in our business. For me, this has only increased since starting to date Josh and then getting engaged. I’m glad I made an effort in the past to learn how to deflect questions I don’t want to answer, and so I’ve decided to write out an incomplete guide to deflection. I debated whether or not to write this, mainly because as soon as I publish it people will be able to read it and know my secret, which is: I don’t want to tell them anything. Here’s the thing: I have almost no patience for weirdly personal questions. Why do people need to know so much about me!? They don’t, that’s what. There are some things I will happily talk about with everyone, and so many more things that I don’t care to discuss. To this end, I have developed and gathered strategies to deflect all kinds of questions from all kinds of people. They aren’t 100% effective, unfortunately, but they are good. For examples I’m going to use questions I’ve actually been asked. For some I’m just going to think of questions where these methods could be applied. And so, may I introduce you to:
The Deflection Toolbox!
The Intimidating Persona
TBH if everyone is just a little bit afraid of you, they’ll think twice before asking you questions.
The Soft No
This is the one to use when you’re taken aback by a sudden question that you feel is inappropriate. The other day someone asked Josh and I how many kids we’re going to have. They didn’t ask if we’re going to have children (still not okay), but how many kids we’ll have. Like, what??? How is this your business??? This was a person who I didn’t want to offend and don’t know very well, so the best first option was to signal that the issue is off the table and so I said, “I think we’ll get married first.” The key here is to offer little to no information about what they asked and prod the conversation in a slightly different direction. From babies to weddings. You get the idea. While this didn’t work in this particular situation and I had to turn to another tool, it does work quite often. Using this tool is pretty simple, but can be surprisingly difficult, especially if you’re flustered. It can be hard for others to perceive a soft no, and if you find that this is happening it’s time to move on toooooooooo…
Someone implies that you should have some specific thing at your wedding that you think is extraneous/unneeded/gross? Shake your head, widen your eyes, maybe throw in a chuckle, and say “everyone has an opinion! It’s so crazy! Did you see that episode of Say Yes to the Dress where one of the people said that she was going to descend from the heavens in a huge Faberge egg when she entered the ceremony?? Oh man, wouldn’t that be hilarious and awesome! How much do you think a giant Faberge egg would cost??? Hahaha, Josh and I think it’s maybe a bit out of our budget but maybe if we give up the egg we can have white tigers! Isn’t this funny?!” By doing this you are implying that everyone is on the same team here, us against the Wedding Industrial Complex, and everyone has an opinion. This one works because you can subtly change the tone of the conversation from “what you are personally doing” to “look at all the different things people do, wow.” (I lifted this tool directly from The Life-Changing Art of Not Giving a F*ck / Sarah Knight, which I highly recommend).
The Strange Question
When I realized that if someone asks you a strange question, you can say “what a strange thing to ask,” it was a revelation. This a) gives you a moment to gather your wits, b) gives the other person an opportunity for self-reflection, and c) gives you a chance to change the subject. While I haven’t actually deployed this one, as far as I remember, here are a few situations where I can see myself using this tool: someone asks what type of birth control you’re going to use? What a strange thing to ask! Someone asks if you have a good relationship with your parents? What a strange thing to ask! Someone asks if you should really be spending your money on _______? What a strange thing to ask! (I got this tool from Friendshipping, one of my favorite podcasts).
This is another one I don’t use much, but one I like to have in my back pocket. It’s pretty similar to the Soft No. Listen to the question/comment, absorb the question/comment, and then answer the question/comment that you wanted them to ask that is maybe but not necessarily related to what they actually said. Someone asks if your house is good for raising a family or if is more of a starter home? Imagine you are a politician at a debate and say, “I’m glad you asked that. Here’s what I want: more jobs for the working class.” You know, do that thing that we hate in politicians and pivot to your talking points. The house is on a big lot. The basement is undeveloped. We think we’ll paint one or two of the rooms. Our first project is insulating the basement. The key here is to know your talking points ahead of time. If they clarify the question after you answer, either continue with The Politician or turn to another tool.
The Extra Mile
This one is my favorite. It’s where you just straight-up tell a bald-faced lie. Someone asks how many kids you’re gonna have? Actually, you’re gonna adopt several spider monkeys and/or three-toed sloths and they will be your children. Someone asks why you went to New Zealand for fun instead of for a missions trip? Actually, you went so that you could have a secret baby, you think it might have been a boy, it’s hard to remember, maybe his name was George. Is that a tattoo? No, it’s a weird bruise, I was out for a run and a bird ran into my shoulder really hard. The key with this method is to stick to the bit. Do not give up, do not surrender. Once you say you’re going to adopt sloths and call them your sons, do not back down. Deadpan these answers and act surprised if anyone reacts in a way that suggests having sloths for children might be less than totally reasonable. If you want to practice this one it is easy: just start telling weird lies and commit. For example: someone says a bridge looks cool? Tell them the bridge was made by wolves. The bridge being made by wolves is your whole reality now, do not even entertain the possibility that you are wrong. You will probably have to invent background info on how wolves would go about building bridges, don’t worry, it’ll come to you.
The Purposefully Obtuse
This one is related to the Extra Mile. Here’s what you do: someone asks something like “do you have any *news*??” (wink wink they want to know if you’re engaged/close to getting engaged wink wink) and you reply by saying, “do you mean the news about *insert preferably sad current news item here*? I heard about that. It’s awful what’s happening to those people/crazy that sink holes open with no warning/horrible that octopus even exist.” The key here is to feign innocence in such a way that they know that you know what they meant but you’re not going to give any info and you know that they know this. This one can come off as rude or insensitive, so practice caution.
The “It’s Personal”
I use this one quite a bit, usually when people ask what my tattoos “mean”. It goes likes this: “hey, does the bird on your shoulder mean anything?” “It’s personal, actually.” Easy! You can throw in a “really” or “very” or “quite” as you see fit. People usually accept this and continue the conversation. If they don’t, there’s an equally simple follow-up: “I prefer not to discuss it.” The one-two punch of “it’s personal” and “I prefer not to discuss it” is practically foolproof, all it takes is a bit of heel digging-in and voila: you do not have to surrender information that you don’t want to share. It can be weirdly stressful! The first few times I said it I felt awkward and apologetic, but that wore off. Now I am all about telling people that things are just plain old not their business. And if this doesn’t work, there is one more step in the “it’s personal” process: say “I’m going to excuse myself” and peace right out. If someone is unwilling to respect your boundaries, there’s no need to stick around. You can also swap out “it’s personal” for “none of your beeswax” for that 90s flair.
The overall key to the Deflection Toolbox is to know what you are comfortable with sharing, and with whom. Two people could ask the exact same question and one will get deflected and one will get an answer. This is fine. You can also choose when and where you might share more information, or if there’s a medium (such as this blog) where you’re going to be more free with your personal info. You can choose to change a person’s access status at any time for any reason. And if people think you’re rude for deflecting? UH, THEY ARE RUDE FOR ASKING. And if it feels awkward to deflect uncomfortable questions? You are not the one who created the awkward situation, the asker did. And if you’re concerned for your safety or the situation just doesn’t feel right? Dispense with any effort to be polite and GTFO. The Deflection Toolbox isn’t about being rude or maintaining a mysterious reputation, it’s about boundaries and consent.