Jordan, Solo, Solo Travel

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34 Comments 22 February 2011

wedding

No, this isn't me...it's my parents over 51 years ago...

We had been driving for about an hour, and that’s when he finally asked me what he wanted to know.

“Cherry, I want to ask you question – private question.  Is ok?”

I knew exactly where this private question was going; I would have bet what little I have on what was going to come out of his mouth next – and I would have won.  I just wondered how long he had been sitting there wondering how he was going to ask me the private question.

“Ok” I said.

“You married?”

In my mind I weigh the pros and cons of telling the truth.

Pros: I’m proud of my decisions, independence, and my culture which accepts that women don’t need to be married. There’s a part of me that wants to educate other cultures to my own. I know they don’t have to accept it, but I think it’s important to understand different cultures have different thoughts around marriage.

Cons: Do I really want to get into this conversation yet again; trying to explain to someone who doesn’t have the best grasp on English (and consequently I can’t communicate very well with) why I am not married? Explain it to someone who has never been to America…let alone Europe. Will he then try to marry me off to one of his family members…yet again?

Drum roll……..

newborn

Babies...sure they are cute...but they aren't for everyone.

I answer, “No, I am not married.”

I know what is coming next .

“Sherry, you have children?”

I’ve already decided to go the truthful route, so I might as well keep trudging along this cultural crevasse.

“No, I do not have kids.” I answer.

The inevitable comes next, “Why not married?”

I sigh, and try to explain in 2nd grade English, how I haven’t met the right man yet and that he shouldn’t worry, I am happy with my life.

Then he surprises me with the next statement and goes off of the usual script.

“Oh…I am so sorry.” he says.

I don’t think I had ever had anyone express their sympathy regarding my single lifestyle before. That floored me. I of course quickly tried to explain that there was nothing to be sorry or sad about; I was indeed happy with my life and my freedom.

But I knew that I wasn’t going to get through to him.

He went on about how I needed to have children, they were the best thing in the world and I would be sorry if I didn’t have them. I don’t think he knew I was 40, nor did he have any idea that kids were the last thing I ever wanted.

Me and my some of my nieces...that's all I need...

I tried to explain that my brother and sister have children and I see them often; he didn’t listen and he kept on going on about how it would be too late and then I would be sorry. That’s when I gave up trying to explain my cultural oddities to him.

I knew we were at an impasse. An impasse that I’ve been at many times before.

Are you a solo female traveler (or male traveler!) who gets asked this question frequently?  How do you deal with it?

Read my other musings on Travel vs. Motherhod

Your Comments

34 Comments so far

  1. islandmomma says:

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked this over the last 6 years – even at my age! (64 now), and I’ve had two marriage proposals from 28 year olds (looking for papers obviously). I was doing volunteer work with immigrants from Africa, which is wound down at the minute. I tried to explain, with varied reactions including those who clearly thought I was crazy and others who pitied me, yes! The thing which puzzled them most, however, was that I was divorced. Of course, I never went into person details about why, but I would indicate that there had been serious problems and even then they thought I was weird. I did take to lying about living alone, though, in the end. I told them I lived with my son. Most seemed to think that a woman needed a “protector” (regardless of whether that “protector” might be more dangerous than being alone!) The thing which surprised me most was that these were all guys under 35. I thought that attitude might only be found in the older generations, but it does seem that the very young ones, those under 25ish were more informed and open to other ideas.

  2. No I don’t have kids. No I don’t want kids. Now please tell your child to quit kicking my seat. Thanks! :)

  3. Connie says:

    I think this is perhaps one of the biggest cultural differences Westerners face when traveling. I get asked that all the time (even from my own family!) and I think the only thing you can really do is accept that the idea of being single, independent and HAPPY is right for you. And that’s really the only person you need to answer to.

  4. Stacy says:

    When I said that I wasn’t married the response was “Did you not think to get married?” I thought in my head, “No, forgot!”

  5. Gary Arndt says:

    I get this a lot too, but perhaps not as much as a woman might.

    The one area where men have it different is when you visit places like Manila or Bangkok. This is an exchange I had with a taxi driver in Manila:

    Driver: “You have Filipino girlfriend?”

    Me: “No”

    Driver: “You married man?”

    Me: “No”

    Driver: “You gay man?”

    Me: “No”

    Driver: “You no like Filipinos?”

    Me: “No”

    Driver: “Then why don’t you have Filipino girlfriend???”

  6. Laura says:

    I’ve been asked about this a lot but the funniest exchange was with two guides while we were hiking in a nature reserve in Jordan. We stopped at a camp to have tea and were discussing one of my guide’s recent prearranged marriage. The guides agreed that by the time a woman is 25 years old, she becomes too old too marry. Except when you’re blond. If you’re blond, they said it buys you a few years and you might be able to hold off until 30. It’s interesting how marriage is viewed so differently around the world.

  7. We always took to telling white lies. Although we are not married, we said we were, and when asked about children we said no…not yet. We’re lucky, although over 40 we still look young enough that there would be time. Maybe I will still use that answer when I am 60! I think it’s tough b/c in their culture they truly don’t understand not being married with a family any more than I understand how they can pray 5 times a day and live with their entire family. Lack of a common language doesn’t make it easier. Cheers!

  8. Julia says:

    It is so funny the way solo female travellers can be treated abroad, especially when the locals find out you’re not married and churning out kids at regular intervals. Some of my friends have even worn fake wedding rings to detract from this kind of attention, only to then be asked why they were on their own and not with their husband! You can’t really win, unfortunately. In the west we are just more accepting of solo female travel and taking control of your own life rather than expecting a man to fulfil it for us :)

  9. I get asked this question a lot in Indonesia because even though we’re married we chose not to wear our wedding rings. My answers to the question vary depending on my mood and whether or not I feel like telling a little white lies just to shake them off.

    The funny part is they don’t even bother prefacing the question with ‘this is personal’. They see it as normal of a question as ‘how are you?’ and ‘how’s your day going?’ :p

    • Sherry says:

      True – this guy was the first one who prefaced the question as a ‘private’ question…so at least he knew enough about our culture to understand that!

  10. We get a slight variation to these questions, seeing that we’re a committed couple in an 8-year LTR but have deliberately chosen not to get married.

    Most folks assume we are married (even though we don’t wear rings, don’t have the same last name, use the term “partner”, etc.) which is annoying but ultimately harmless.

    Whenever someone realizes we aren’t in fact married, though, the questions don’t stop! It’s hard to explain to people that we love one another and are committed, but we will NEVER get married… and it’s a decision we’ve happily arrived at jointly.

    Sometimes it really is easier to let it go or tell a small lie, tho… especially when traveling through more conservative countries!

    • Sherry says:

      I’ve certainly lied a few time myself; however I still find it hard to do. I can’t tell someone I’m married but I have told people I have a boyfriend. They are still generally disgusted with me!

  11. imho, little “white lies” to veritable strangers while on the trail are perfectly harmless, and have saved me no end of futile (and usually stuttered in a language I can barely speak) cultural explanations.

    My standard response on the subject of spouse/children has long been:

    (no doubt kindly and well-meaning, but nonetheless) Veritable Stranger: Are you married?

    Me: Oh my yes! My husband is… (working; back home with our 15 children; back at the hotel; due to meet me here any moment now and he’s reeeeealy BIG and STRONG…) You get the picture.

    I also happen to wear (mainly because I love it and got it in Mexico 3 decades ago) a conspicuous gold band (it looks like a gold “cigar band” that I remember pretending were rings as a child – which is precisely why I bought it and love it still.) And yes, it happens to only fit my left ring finger. My – how convenient! ;)

  12. Jannell says:

    Sherry, . . .I’ve caught up :)

    • Sherry says:

      Oh nooooo – now you’ll just have to be patient like everyone else!! I think you get the award for going through the whole blog. Only my mother and Michaela have done that!!

  13. Alison says:

    Well, I know you and I talked about this but I can so relate. The questions don’t stop when you’re married. Explaining our decision not to have kids is hard enough with people from OUR culture let alone others. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me “oh you’ll change your mind…” Well, I could have bought a baby by now ;)

  14. Ok, I don’t have to be traveling and in a different culture to get these questions….I get them all the time at home! The head tilt of sympathy rather than the words is particularly annoying. I vary how I handle it…sometimes I tell the truth, other times, if I’m feeling particularly peeved, I lie to put the person on the spot for asking the question, hoping they’ll feel uncomfortable enough to think before asking someone else in the future. I like to think I may be helping the potential next victim :)

    • Sherry says:

      Wow – I guess I’m lucky as I never normally get questioned about it in the US. But when I’m traveling the married question is normally in the top 3 questions they ask me after “Where you from?” and “What’s your name?”. No one in America would ever ask if I was married or not within the first three questions of meeting them! At least I hope not as I probably wouldn’t be as patient about it with my own culture!! However – I do appreciate you helping out other poor victims and educating people about it!!

  15. Gray says:

    Oh yes, I’ve gotten this question many times and my answers echo yours almost identically. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone try to persuade me that my choices are wrong, though. They mostly just accept my answer and conversation moves on.

  16. Mark H says:

    Sherry, I am in a similar situation to you and have been asked many times. I also answer truthfully as they are often equally interested in my lifestyle/values/country as I am in theirs. Mostly I have been asked the marriage question in Africa, South America and the Middle East – maybe more a cultural norm in these locations.

  17. Eric H. says:

    I can’t remember ever being asked the question when I was in Turkey. I’ll be traveling to Africa next…I’ve been warned, not sure yet how I’ll handle it if it happens. I like Mark H’s approach, I think honesty is best….most of the time. There are times when a “little” lie might be more appropriate, especially if you’re traveling alone! Right now my common answer for not being married is “either we haven’t met yet or we have and just don’t know it.”

  18. Yes, we get asked this a lot .. and being male doesn’t seem to deflect that “Do you have kids?” question either. In many cases, people say that perhaps I will change my mind or perhaps I shall have some in the future as if to console themselves with the thought. They then look at me as if I’m the weirdo when I say that I’m pretty sure that will not happen.

    Sigh …

  19. Tonya says:

    My approach to this question is easy. Usually the question comes from a more traditional cultural environment where religion and faith play a much bigger role in the west, and if I’m asked if I have children, I simply raise my eyes to the sky, lift my hands, and say “no, but if god wills it, I will” or something along those lines. Doesn’t bring up the debate of choice, but also bridges the cultural divide and provides a question that the asker can relate to.

    • Sherry says:

      Tonya – a very great way to bridge the cultures! My problem is that I’m too honest and there are times where I want to teach them about my culture too. I don’t want to have kids or have a need to be married. It just depends on how much I feel like getting into the conversation with the person…sometimes I try to explain, and sometimes I just let it go. Thanks for reading! Hope you stop by again!

  20. I have yet to be asked that question… yet. I’m only traveling around Europe though, but have just reached Italy, a child friendly place if ever there was one… I’m pushing 40 and also don’t want kids. I have a boyfriend who I might marry one day, but kids have never been a priority for me. Now my dog is another story… (:
    Loving your blog, by the way!

  21. Nicola says:

    In Indonesia, I’ve debated answering this with a grief-stricken look and “I was married once. He died.”

    Has anyone had any experience with that?

  22. Lisa says:

    I’m going to be travelling solo through Latin America for a couple of years (hopefully) and although I am inclined to be honest about being single, I have been told it helps TREMENDOUSLY in that particular region to say you are engaged to avoid any hassles. Hmmmmmmm… glad i happened upon this blog Otts!!


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Where am I and Where am I going?

British Columbia CA -> Ireland

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