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For the last three years of my college life, I’ve played victim to an uncreative chasm of questions geared at family gatherings, friend dinners, bridal showers, you name it, all of which come with stock answers. When you see people you haven’t for awhile, you can almost feel the follow-up before it happens. A lighthearted hug, the chipper “how are you doing?” met by the almost-always “good,” and then: the procession.
We call these "the Bigs" — the questions people want answered: the stuff social media doesn’t always get right, the territory family members feel they should stake claim upon. But for the target of these questions (you, college student, or college-aged human), they usually host a bed of angst.
So here's a few brief warnings to those of you planning to monopolize a throng of family gatherings for the cold season.
Things you should never say to your college-aged cousins and neighbors’ kids alike:
1. "Are you dating anybody?"
For some, this is a hot excuse to give lengthy detail about your shiny new sidekicks. But unless you’ve seen a boy or girlfriend make a loud appearance, the odds are we are in one of these three states: 1) Awkward are-we-dating phase, where nothing is secure enough to tell blabbing Aunt Jo about. 2) Dating? I’m too busy to even feed myself. 3) Dating is a sport and I’m uncoordinated.
The odds are, if there’s a hunky human in the scene, you’ve heard about it somehow. This daunting question is out of the safety zone. Curb it.
Better question: oh, wait. There is no good way to ask this. Pass.
2. "How is the dating where you are?"
What you, question poser, are hearing: “So, are kids still going on dates, or is chivalry dead?”
What we, victims of this assault, are hearing: “So, are your roommates dating people? Is it your fault you’re single? Are you trying?”
Better question: "Any good albums come out recently?"
3. "Where are you working?"
Right. It’s expected that Great Uncle Charlie poses this fat one, but some of us are bombarded scholarship survivors, some of us are taking a gap year, and some of us are so riddled by anxiety, our call center jobs are not worthy of mention. THUS! Answering with, “Actually, I’m not,” and dreaming up a fruity explanation is the fast track to feeling like a capital-L loser.
And, a lot of millennials have rigged the Internet world and work from home, so when we have to de-glorify our pretty awesome positions by saying, “At home,” we don’t want to see that droopy look on your face.
Better question: "So, what's taking up your time these days?" (paired with a Grandpa-ish slap on the back)
4. "So, marriage?"
If I’ve exposed my soul to you over my exciting new "prospect" and you follow-up with the wedding question, you’re inviting anyone with a teensy pinch of insecurity about their relationship to feel downright bad.
I, like many human beings, was in a pretty lulling relationship for a year, and whenever this question (which I’d never discussed with my boyfriend, obviously) was brought up, my heart was blown to smithereens. Don’t be that gentle reminder that “everyone falls in love in ten seconds.” It’s false and infuriating.
Better response: "Well, I hope you're having fun." (Paired with sarcastic but non-threatening dating advice, thank you.)
5. “How’s school?”
“How is your 20-hour day? How are your unreasonable professors and those exhausting three hour tests? How do those 15 extra pounds feel on your body?” Everyone who’s surfed the college wave (maverick, really) knows that it’s a lifestyle: it’s not an extra thing hanging around that deserves compliments and rage reports. It’s just… school. You take the good and the bad in equal measure.
And, when it’s bad, it’s hair-losing, skin-mauling, mind-shatteringly bad. The fact that I’m here, at this Thursday night wedding, instead of re-reading Hemingway, means I came to discuss anything else.
Better question: "You staying alive in that war zone?"
6. [In Reference to My Major] “So, what are you going to do with that?”
Want to wake the defensive Krakken? Question my major.
It's a quick ticket to feeling all sorts of judged. “What’s the end goal?” said in a very diplomatic tone is the best way to realize that maybe I’m not job hunting: maybe I’m on the lookout for internships, or maybe I have something brewing in the cerebral cortex. Maybe I'm backstage with my freshman roommate smashing out Tesla-esque ideas on a drawing board. You don't know (and, likely, neither do I).
Better response: "Change the world, kid."
7. “Oh, that’s not very good for you.”
This is a statement that followed me through any conversation where my sleeping and study habits were mentioned. Hello? I’m doing my best.
Better response: "C'est la vie, right?"
8. “Well, why don’t you leave?” (Variations: “quit” or “move” or “try harder”)
If, for a second, you’ve found yourself asking a fellow human why they don’t up and bail their situation already, you haven’t considered all the details. Safety, security, and any time-savers are essential to being in our twenties. We don’t have all the resources to run buck naked and make money.
Better response: "You're a smart kid, you'll figure it out." (Thanks, Grandpa!)
9. “So, why don’t you want to be a [the occupation that usually falls within your major]?”
What you think you say: “Wait, why not the obvious option?”
What we hear: “Not good enough for you, eh?”
Not all curly-haired English majors are jumping to become teachers. A few million extra jobs have been added to the workforce in the last twenty-plus years. Who do you think is filling those spots?
Better question: "So, where to next, then?"
10. How are your roommates?
Drab. If you walked all the way across the yard to ask me about people whose middle names neither of us know, are we even family? Remember this! If the good, the bad, and the ugly are going to make their way, they’ll do so in hilarious conversation.
Better response: "Any good roommate stories?"
You want to get a twenty-something, stagnant, braindead friend of yours out of that funk? Fight for smoother conversation. Stick to something more colorful, and be tactful about it. But, as the older generation does tend to put our anxieties on a platform, it's only natural that we will continue to battle these looming questionss.
Be not afraid of Uncle Pete's slightly misogynistic advice! Take everything in a powerful stride, and we will ride our twenties to the max. (Oh, and also, get more sleep.)