‘So what are you doing with your life?’

In case you weren’t already panicked, the holidays are quickly approaching. Or, if you’re like me, you’ve been near-constantly aware of this fact for the last several weeks and are just trying to remain calm. Don’t get me wrong — I love the togetherness and goodwill that a lot of holiday traditions bring, and I really do love the chance to spend extra time with my family and friends.

But the downside of all this, especially for emerging adults, is hearing the same exact questions over and over and over until you just want to snatch a whole pie and run for cover.

For most people, the list of questions runs something like this:

  • (If you are in school) So how’s school? What are you studying? What are you going to do with that?
  • (If you aren’t working) So have you found a job yet?
  • (If you are working) So how’s work? What do you do again?
  • (If you aren’t dating) So are you seeing anyone?
  • (If you are dating) So when are you getting engaged?
  • (If you are engaged) So when are you getting married? This is often followed up by assumptions regarding details and unsolicited input
  • (If you are married) So when are you having kids?

Of course the people asking all these questions (often pointedly, whether that is their intention or not) do care about you and are just interested in what’s going on in your life. Maybe they’re unaware of how the question comes across to you, or don’t realize that you’ve already had to answer it six times this afternoon. In some cases, you may have discussed all of this clearly and they frankly just didn’t listen. But loved ones are who they are, so sometimes different tactics are needed.

In the cases of a lot of stories friends and acquaintances have told me, these questions are unfortunately often coupled with projected expectations, approval or disapproval, and a note at the end of the question that sometimes feels like it’s asking the person answering to prove that they are somehow doing enough for wherever they’re at.

So here’s the advice: If you’re an emerging adult dreading these questions, have stock answers prepped. I have a little cache of stock answers I give to people for all the usual questions I get (which is about half that list). The answers are honest with some detail, but not too much, since I don’t love to discuss my life plans in-depth. Having answers prepped ahead of time also helps me, as an introvert, feel less caught off guard — and therefore less put off — by the questions. Still, as off-putting as they can be, try to be polite. Part of being an adult is handling junk that annoys you maturely. In general, these people really are trying to be nice and not to make you uncomfortable. That said, if someone is completely disregarding your feelings, you also don’t have to take crap. Be polite, but clear.

If you’re one of those friends or family members who might be asking the questions, please think about whether you have asked before. If you aren’t sure, then just say that. Honesty is welcome, but listening attentively is also important. Additionally, keep in mind that while yeah, these are milestone kinds of things, a lot of these questions are also deeply personal. The person you’re asking might not be ready to talk about it yet, or not in that setting. They also might not be happy with the answer. For example, I really don’t like being asked about job searching, but understand that it’s a relevant and reasonable thing to be asked at gatherings; I don’t like talking about it because things aren’t where I want them yet, plain and simple. So some of the discomfort in the situation may be due to that. But if someone has made it clear that they don’t want to talk about something, or has had to repeat themselves to you several times, please respect their answer.

Finally, for everybody in the room: Give some grace. Give grace to yourself for asking a genuine question or not wanting to give an answer, and give grace to your friends and family for being a little overeager to ask the same questions on a loop or being less than enthusiastic about them.

Remember what the holidays are about, and try to laugh at the moments life throws at you — even when it’s the same questions over and over. Then, rinse and repeat.

Just for fun, if you’re willing, I’d love to hear some of the least favorite questions you’ve been asked or heard of others being asked at gatherings. Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

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