How To Answer Awkward Questions

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.

As a young, unmarried introvert suffering from severe depression and high-functioning social anxiety, there are few things worse than an awkward conversation.

Let me explain, after the fashion of Lemony Snicket. Young, here, means that I feel obligated to listen, smile, and nod when receiving unsolicited advice from older people, and to answer questions about my personal affairs. Unmarried means that I do not have a best friend/co-pilot to help me steer my way out of those awkward conversations. Introvert means I do not want to have these awkward conversations to begin with, because I walk a delicate line between appreciating the beauty of human individuality and hating everyone. Severe depression involves a lack of progress, because people seem to schedule these conversations every week, expecting my answers to their questions to have changed and acting surprised when they have not. High-functioning social anxiety means that I actively dread these conversations, but once I’m having them I can sort of behave as though my body is not threatening to activate autopilot functions and run away.

And finally, awkward conversation means, in this case, a general question that every person between the ages of eighteen and thirty has heard at least once: “So, what are you doing with your life?”

This question has a series of subquestions, as well. “What are you studying in school?” is a relatively innocent one— at least, it was for me, because I would look the person who asked in the eye and say firmly, “English,” with an expression that (I hoped) would just dare them to make a joke about working at McDonald’s. These days, I have the luxury of saying, “I’m a college graduate.” It’s extremely satisfying to be unafraid of mockery when answering that question.

Slightly more painful to hear is, “So, are you dating anyone?” My answer to this is always “no,” with a completely straight face, stony expression— I believe the kids these days call it RBF, or resting b**** face. Internally, my answer is always “please, God, send me a man I can talk about books with, and who will do the dishes because that is my least favorite household chore.” I’m obviously not married, but I’m pretty sure that young, married people often get the question, “So, when are you having kids?” I have not experienced this, but it’s rude and I imagine it to be very, very annoying, and I offer my sincere sympathies and condolences.

Possibly the most awkward question is, “So, what do you think of [political event]?” I am usually able to fob people off here with a smile and, “I’m sorry, but I like you too much to discuss politics with you.” I’ve found it works beautifully, and this way you can reserve political discussions for people who will actually take you seriously, and who will be understanding when your response is emotional instead of intellectual. (I can’t look at it intellectually. I just can’t. Please don’t ask me to do that.)

But I don’t find any of these questions nearly as painful to endure as, “Where are you working?” My answer to this is always, “I’m not working right now.” Until a month ago, I could also add, “I’m learning how to drive,” and the person asking would nod understandingly and ask how that was going, instead. These days I do not have that luxury, because I got my driver’s license a month ago. Now, I have to say, “I’m not working right now,” and leave it at that. A polite person leaves the follow-up question, “Why not?” in their eyes. A well-intentioned but tactless person will allow it to escape their mouth.

Why am I not working right now? Well, there are a lot of answers to that question.

  1. I don’t currently have a job. I can’t work if I don’t have a job. (This is a smart-aleck answer, but come on. Have you met me?)
  2. I’m working on finding a job that fits my skill set and also doesn’t sound mind-numbingly dreary. I could probably get a job, if I weren’t being picky about it. My qualifications are twofold: I would like something kind of in my field, or something I have experience with; and I would also like to enjoy it at least a little bit. I am being picky about it, because I have the luxury of being picky about it.
  3. I have this problem where I self-sabotage because I am afraid of change. December 2014: I would have graduated a semester earlier than planned— if I hadn’t started freaking out about what I was going to do with my life. This coincided with the realization that Zoloft was seriously messing me up. Instead of graduating, I came home, started on Wellbutrin, and took an entire year and a half to do two online classes. I then took nine months to learn how to drive. I could have graduated in 2014 and I could have learned to drive in three months or less; but I deliberately let things drag out because they were a status quo with which my mind could be content. Right now, I’m trying very hard to find a job without self-sabotaging. It’s difficult and I hate it.
  4. I am afraid of getting a job and being good at the job itself, while still having medical problems like “I’m too sad to get out of bed today” and “I’m freaking out about something and my stomach is a churning tornado and my fingernails and cuticles have been chewed raw because of it.” I am further afraid that these problems will cause my employer to fire me because they believe I’m a whiny, entitled snowflake who’s too special to handle the real world without a safe space. (I’m using all of the buzzwords to identify jerks. If you see someone say any of these things on Facebook, the probability is very high that they are A. politically conservative and B. a giant a-hole. I will say that the two are definitely not mutually inclusive but I have personally met a greater number of mean conservatives than mean liberals.*shrugs loudly*) Despite the good work of Title IX and other laws that prevent discrimination based on disability, the stigma of mental illness in the workplace is still Very Negative.
  5. I am afraid of getting a job and being bad at the job and being fired because I am bad at the job, which will land me back at square one but with a termination on my resume which will in turn make it much harder to get a job.
  6. I am afraid of looking for a job that I really like in a place that is not in the general vicinity of my family home because I’m worried about number 4 and number 5 with the added fear of moving out of my house but then having to move back in if I’m fired and can’t afford to live away from home anymore.
  7. People keep asking me if I’m working as though they think the answer is going to change overnight. I’m fairly sure it’s genetic, but I have this thing where people expect me to do something and I resent it so much that I don’t want to do it anymore, even if it’s a good thing. Like getting a job.

At any rate, I get this question fairly frequently. I’m a church-going girl. Church is a place where I go for spiritual fulfillment; it unfortunately comes with a side effect of kind, considerate people who want to know how you’re doing.

I can’t get too mad, I guess. People ask me these questions every week (sometimes the same people) and I grit my teeth and answer politely. I think about it: these people are busy. Most of them have jobs, families, things that fill their time. I can’t expect them to remember what I’m doing from week to week. It’s a conversational filler question so that they can show you that they care, that they’re thinking of you. That they consider you a friend. Having friends is nice, right?

Sure, it’s nice. It’s nicer when your friends ask you questions and make the effort to remember your answers.

Here’s the thing: I am an introvert, but I’m a weird introvert. I hate questions like “Are you working?” and “Are you dating?” and “Are you still living at home?” But I absolutely love questions like “What did you dream about last night?” and “What’s your favorite color?” and “How is your writing going?” These are questions that I like answering, and I’m a weird introvert because I will actually talk your ear off if you ask me one of those questions. The things that are important to me right now are writing and video games and staying alive. The other questions are questions that people ask because most people find fulfillment in working and dating and moving out of their parents house. I imagine I will find fulfillment in those things, too; but I need to take it at a very, very slow crawl (December 2014-April 2015 to get new medication and start therapy; April 2015-April 2016 to complete my last six credits, only two of which were actually necessary; April 2016-January 2017 to learn how to drive a car. A very, VERY SLOW CRAWL).

What I’m trying to say is: don’t ask me the question if you aren’t going to try and remember the answer. All that tells me is that you see me as an obligation. You believe that you have to ask me what I’m doing, because Nice People Care about That Sort of Thing.

I get that you want to keep up with me, that you are genuinely interested in my life, that you want to see me succeed.

But, you know… when I do get a job… it’s not like I’m going to keep quiet about it.

Look, the whole point of this blog is that I hate talking in real life, but if I can type then you can’t get me to shut up. The whole point of this blog is that long Facebook posts are extremely obnoxious. The whole point of this blog is to talk about my life and also to form a digital writing portfolio which looks good on a resume. The answers to all of your questions about me are here, on this website.

If I get a job, there will be several celebratory Facebook posts. There will be blog posts. I will text people. I may even take a large step outside of my comfort zone and call a few people I really care about, on the phone. It may take you a few days to hear about it, if you aren’t one of the people who follows my life with genuine interest; but you will hear about it. Chances are, I’m not going to shut up about it— partly because I will be happy and relieved and excited, but also because I want everyone to stop asking the stupid question, and answering the question before they ask it is the most efficient way of doing so.

It’s not that I don’t want you to care. It’s that I don’t want to invest my emotions in answering the question (and yes, it requires emotional investment; it always has, and I don’t know how to detach without undergoing a frontal lobotomy) if you’re just going to ask me again next week. There’s no balance in that relationship.

Some witty person said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In this instance, the the best comparison I can think of is a medieval torture chamber. I’m on the rack, being stretched slowly inch by inch; you’re leaning over me and asking the same questions, over and over, and expecting a different answer. The only thing that changes is how irritated I get at the question— which then affects my response. The more annoyed I am, the meaner I’ll be about answering. I’m really mean, and I’m really good at being really mean.

It occurs to me that you might be expecting actual answers as to how to deal with awkward questions. Because, you know, the title. But really: if I had an answer to this question, would I have written a blog post to complain about it? The only solution is to get a job and a spouse and start popping out babies as fast as possible. At this point, you will probably enjoy answering those questions— and the people who ask will finally deem you successful in life important enough to remember the answers. Won’t that be fun?

If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.



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