Yeah, no. We shouldn’t.
de•co•rum: noun, di-ˈkȯr-əm
Propriety and good taste in conduct or appearance [Merriam-Webster]
When someone asks you a rude or inappropriate question, it’s not rude to refuse to answer. You’re entitled to your dignity, and you don’t owe people private information.
A coworker asks if you’ve gained/lost weight. Appropriate answers include “Excuse me?” and “That’s personal, thanks.”
A guy you have a crush on asks what kind of underwear you prefer. Appropriate answers include “That’s private” and “Ew, why are you asking?”, preferably with a side of antarctic frigidity and/or a request for an apology.
A near-stranger asks a group of young women about their sex lives or the existence thereof. Appropriate answers include “I’m not comfortable with that,” “I don’t feel a need to share that information,” and “buzz off, you’re being creepy.”
You don’t have to answer even less-rude questions like “Do you have a crush on Bob?” or “So are you seeing anyone?” You get to choose whom you share information with.
What’s the harm in answering? Well honestly, there’s very little benefit. At best the rude one gets some form of titillation from having gotten you to describe your drawers. Once you share info it’s no longer yours, and we all know how uncomfortable it is to end up as grist for the rumor mill, whether it’s yia-yias talking or fellow 6th graders or people you’d like to be friends with. The internet is forever and info travels fast.
At worst this turns out to be the first of many boundaries they cross, because they know they’ll get away with it. (Please read The Gift of Fear.)
It’s okay for it to be awkward if you don’t answer. You didn’t make it awkward, they did. Your refusal to answer simply acknowledges that it is already awkward for you.
Speaking up can be hard, but it’s easier if you practice 2-3 responses in front of the mirror so you don’t have to come up with an idea on the spot. And it’s always OK to just change the subject, no transition or acknowledgement needed. If they were miles out of line, and you preface it with a really uncomfortable silence and change the subject extra graciously to save them from their faux pas, so much the better.
Putting up with bad behavior silently means the badly-behaved ones get away with it, while everyone else has to feel uncomfortable. That’s backwards, don’t you think?
Other answers to keep in your back pocket for rude questions, offensive statements, or unwanted advice:
…wow, awkward. So, weather’s been really nice lately. Any weekend plans?
Hmm, interesting. Did your sports team win this weekend?
Excuse me, I’m going to go get some water.
Not cool. Back to work, do you have _____ for (project) ready?
I don’t understand. Why would you want to know _____? Keep playing naïve and sincere until they realize how far out of line they are. Works well for racism and sexism too, ie “Huh, why is that funny? Do you think all _____ are _____?”
Sorry, I didn’t catch that. What did you say? Bonus points if you can get them to repeat it three times before they realize they were out of line.
Gee, if someone didn’t know you, they might think you’re (a predator, racist, creepy).
Oh! You don’t really mean that!
Did you really just ask that?
Um, that was your out-loud voice.
Oh dear! This seems to really stress you out. It’ll be okay! Here, let’s talk about _____. Say it soothingly, interpreting their anger as panic. Works best when someone’s gone off on a rant.
Aren’t you an interesting case study.
Thanks, I’ll think about it.
That’s nice, dear.
Thank you for sharing.
Or, just laugh (awkwardly, hysterically, incredulously—your call) and then walk away.