Why I'm Asking More Uncomfortable Questions
I’ve never liked asking questions. In secondary school, and even through most of medical school, I was the girl who would pretend to understand information she couldn’t wrap her head around. Countless times, I’ve nodded along when asked if the teacher’s explanations were clear, and then sighed in relief when a braver student asked the same burning questions I had.
It’s something about the attention, the way all the necks and bodies in the room automatically swivel in your direction when you open your mouth. Asking questions has never been my cup of tea.
Even in one-on-one relationships, I’ve struggled with asking questions and more so, the right questions. At the beginning of romantic relationships and friendships, when people are usually brimming with questions for each other, when invited to ask something, my mind would suddenly empty, unable to produce any questions. I’d overthink every potential question until it appeared unnecessary, silly even.
In retrospect, I realize this happened due to a mix of a lack of true curiosity; the fear of offending, embarrassing, or scaring away potential friends; and the irrational desire to seem cool, and not at all nosy. Then, there’s also the fact that I hated difficult conversations. What if I asked a question that led to an anxiety-inducing conversation?
It took ages to realize a deficiency in my level of curiosity. I’m still not sure if constantly suppressing my curiosity led to not asking questions or if the reverse was the case, but somehow it happened. I stopped being curious. Instead of pursuing interesting concepts and needling at them until I understood, I either made up my version of the truth or made peace with not knowing.
As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve begun to learn the value of questioning and I’ve had to do it the hard way. Either by assuming, and then being proven woefully wrong or pretending to understand and then being shamefully discovered. I’ve also often held off asking certain questions for ages, and then doing it and being pleasantly surprised by the enlightening responses I received.
In the past, I’ve asked extremely personal questions as a clumsy way to force intimacy in new friendships - something that has often ended in catastrophe. But now I’ve realized that intimacy must be nurtured, must develop organically, fostered by knowledge, trust, and the confidence to be one’s truest self in any relationship.
Still, without a doubt, my favourite discovery this year has been that most people actually enjoy talking about themselves and their lives. I have met the occasional secretive individual or two, but for the most part, people want to share - especially if they’re older women. They’ll tell you about the love stories that went sour, the choices they’re proud (or not) to have made, and all the ways they’re glad they broke the rules.
Since I decided to ask more questions, I’ve asked my happy single friends if they would like to get married someday, asked childless friends if they’d like to have children, and asked other friends how much they earn. Now, I didn’t ask those questions just because I needed to know their business, and I wouldn’t ask just any stranger such questions.
I asked my single friends about their desire to find love because they seem truly happy and are much older than I am. When I posed the questions, I also made sure I knew why I was asking, because most people can detect insincerity. They said that while they’re happy single, they’re still open to meeting and loving someone. To me, it was such a wonderfully vulnerable response. Independence doesn’t have to mean not wanting love, or expressing a desire for it.
A friend who is blissful without kids also gave a surprising answer. She always thought she’d have children, but when she finally got married, she and her husband enjoyed life as a duo so much that they just scrapped the idea of having kids. I’d only ever heard of the reverse scenario; women changing their minds to have children after marriage.
Asking questions - especially about difficult issues and choices i.e. love, friendship, marriage, money etc - broadens your view of life and the world. It helps you understand the way other people think. It gives you nuggets of wisdom far better than any Google search yields, while strengthening your relationships. Most importantly, it helps you pull back the curtain of highly-curated Instagram grids and see people for who they are; confused about life, incredibly flawed, and at the end of the day, simply human.
Where do you fall - are you quick and happy to ask difficult questions or do you avoid them as much as possible? What kind questions do you avoid asking your friends?