Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Once, I was a different woman. When people I’d just met, or people I vaguely knew, asked me something wildly, inappropriately personal about myself, I would be so startled that I would just answer the question honestly. Seriously, up until about two years ago, if you met me at a party for the first time and asked me point-blank, “Is that your real hair?” or “Are you into threesomes?” or “How much money do you make every month as a writer?” I would just…tell you rather than deflect the question or make any kind of scene.

But times have changed, y’all. I’ve become a lot more guarded when it comes to answering someone when they probe me for private details. Maybe it’s all the clips of interviewers asking Hillary Clinton sexist questions—or of people asking female public figures, athletes, and celebrities totally inappropriate questions in general—that’s made this an important issue to me. I’m not sure what changed! All I know is that now, if I don’t want to answer, I’m not going to do it.

No one has a right to information about you that you don’t want them to know. Not friends, not romantic partners, not family members, not casual conversationalists at parties, not Uber drivers, not strangers on the bus. You get to decide what you want others to know about you, and there are ways to get out of answering questions that make you uncomfortable! Here are a few of my favorites:

Be blunt.

Let’s say someone at a party offhandedly asks you if you’ve ever had sex and you don’t want to tell them. You could say, “I don’t know you very well, and I feel weird answering that.” You could also say, “That’s a really personal question,” and then either change the subject or leave. The average person who asks inappropriately personal questions will feel mildly rebuffed/embarrassed if you call them out on it, and 95 times out of 100, they won’t push the issue. If they do urge you to respond, raise your eyebrows, look directly at them, and say in a voice that makes it clear you think they’re an alien, “I’m not answering that.” Then walk away.

Be incredulous.

A non-friend at school comes up to you and says, “Hey, we were wondering—are you a lesbian?” Fun! You could always use the strategy mentioned above. But you could also try doing a deadpan, Daria-type voice and say, “Oh, wow, it is amazing to me that you feel like this is an OK question to ask someone. Wow.” Shake your head like you can’t believe it. Then walk away, if you can. Alternately, you could try, “HOLY SHIT, I can’t believe you think it’s OK to ask me that, WOW,” and make an unhurried exit, shaking your head and chuckling to yourself, like, What children these children are. What matters here is confidence, or at least the appearance of it: You’re showing someone that they way out of line, but also that the answer is of zero interest or consequence, and that they’re acting immature for asking.

Throw it back at them.

A friend’s father asks you if you have a boyfriend yet. Gross. Innocently look up at him and ask, “Do you have a boyfriend yet?” He will hate this, and either laugh uneasily or get uncomfortable. Asking the asker the exact same question they just asked you is a great (kinda-sorta bratty) technique for showing someone how inappropriate (so! inappropriate!) their question was.

Be a gracious goddess.

This technique is actually my favorite. I use it at parties a lot. Let’s say someone (hint: a guy) asks you, “Does the carpet match the drapes, ha ha?” Smile sweetly, as if you were delighted someone finally asked you this question, and say, “You seem like such a nice, polite person, and I’m sure you didn’t mean for that question to come out in such a rude way. Here’s what we’ll do: I’m going to let you try talking to me again, and I’m sure you’ll do better this time.” Keep smiling. This technique terrifies grown men. They will then either (1) clear their throats, straighten up, apologize and/or get really embarrassed, and try again with a normal conversational opener, or (2) go “Wow, you’re a bitch” and leave. Either way, it works great.

There you have it, Rooks! Now keep your business to yourself as you see fit. ♦