My wife has recently started her own business based out of our home. She has known many of her clients for years when she worked in the corporate environment, but now they have a glimpse (although limited) of her home life.
Last week a client she has known for a substantial amount of time asked about her family. My wife told her she was married with a daughter which prompted the next question, “What does your husband do?” She told her client that her wife is a writer. She gave a long drawn out “Oh, really!”, as if she’d just heard a juicy bit of gossip about someone else. Then she launched into myriad invasive questions:
“Well when did you decide that?”
“But you had a husband, right?”
“Why a woman?”
“Have you always been that way?”
Not wanting to offend a good client, my wife answered her questions rather generally without going into too much detail. I was in my office and overheard this conversation. I was proud of my wife for handling it with such grace.
But I had to wonder, why do people in a business relationship feel the need to ask such personal questions? I couldn’t imagine that she would ask these things of someone she perceived as heterosexual. I started to picture her asking her male dentist, “When did you decide you like women? Have you always been that way? Maybe you just haven’t met the right man.”
A few weeks passed and she came back again. I was home and my wife introduced us. She smiled and gave me a rather odd look. I told her I was pleased to make her acquaintance and then I left to retrieve our daughter from school. While I was gone, the conversation turned to home improvement and it went something like this:
“Is your wife handy?”
I kid you not, she actually asked that.
“Umm, not really,” my wife replied.
Stereotyping aside, which I didn’t hear about until later that evening, I thought back to the conversation we had when my wife introduced us. I had a distinct impression from this lady when we made eye contact. I felt as if she was afraid that I would see something in her; that I would recognize tendencies that she might not recognize in herself. I have no facts to base this impression on; just my intuition.
I admit that when my wife told me what she said I got angry, also a little frustrated and my feelings were hurt. I know better, I do. It doesn’t matter what someone else thinks, blah blah blah. But I am human and even though I’m 44 years old, it affected me.
I know this client is a nice lady and she probably didn’t mean any harm. And after all I reminded myself that we are all fighting our own battles, even if they’re private ones.