Despite the fact that I know the subject of marriage and children to be perfectly culturally appropriate topics, and I should expect to answer questions about them when traveling, it always throws me slightly off guard when I’m asked if I’m married/engaged or if I have kids.
The conversation usually goes something like this. After a few minutes of chit chat the guy inevitably asks:
“Are you already engaged? Married?”
“No, but I have a boyfriend.”
“Then why aren’t you married?”
“Because I’m too young. I’m not ready to be married.”
“How old are you?”
“How old do you think I am?”
“Hmm… 19?” (oh dear, and I thought 23 was too young).
And then later on in the conversation I’m asked if I have kids. Sometimes I venture a joke along the lines of “but I’m not married how could I possibly have children?” as if that were actually a prerequisite for procreation. But today when asked this I wasn’t really on my game, call it jet lag or whatever you want, and I apparently had a truly horrified look on my face and replied with an emphatic “NO.” The guy immediately starting laughing and said it sounded like kids would be a nightmare for me. In my head I’m going “well at this point in life they kind of would be.” I most likely would not be in Gabon if I had kids, or if I were here the decision would have certainly been more complicated than it was. I stumbled along saying something along the lines of “I’m working and traveling, it’s too hard to have kids now,” as if it were something I were actually considering.
And so this conversation happened today and it will happen a million times over for the next four months and for as long as I continue to work internationally and/or with other cultures or groups where marriage and family are milestones that occur much earlier than they typically do in the U.S. (speaking generally of course). It’s one of those many scenarios where I smile and nod and bit my tongue so as not to be offensive or push my ideas on someone. Sometimes I’m pretty good at playing this game, on saying my lines, and sometimes I slip up.