The Expectations of Strangers

“So when are you going to grad school like your sister?” The woman asks. She looks vaguely familiar in the way that all distant family members do. I know I know her, but I’m not sure if that’s because I remember her or because she clearly knows me.

“I don’t think I’ll be going to grad school.” I tell her. How many times have I said that non-committal sentence? I’d rather say, “That was my sister’s path, not mine. And frankly, I’d rather jump into a vat of acid than suffer through higher education.” I don’t though. I’ve already used up my allotment of snark for this particular family function on the middle aged man that greeted my dad by loudly pointing out that he was balding. I had quietly asked how he could tell from down there. (What? He deserved it and I could tell dad wasn’t going to say anything. They all laughed. It was fine.)

The woman doesn’t drop it. We continue to talk about The Many Accomplishments of My Sister and why she was sure I’d eventually change my mind. After the conversation ended I ran into a man with greying hair who wanted to know just what I was going to do with a Computer Science major. “It’s a broad topic, and for now I’m keeping my options open.” I tell him, per usual. (Translation: I have no freaking clue. Are you asking because you have suggestions? Because that would actually be great.)

I get that this is all they know to talk about. They haven’t seen me since I was maybe five and the only thing they know about me is my major (and apparently everything my sister does) but I would really rather talk about how great it is that that purse they’ve had for twenty years is stylish again, or how crazy that dog of theirs is. Maybe they’ve gone on vacation, or their kid won some award from their college. I don’t really care, but that’s at least good for some conversation that won’t put me on the defensive.

It’s a pattern of conversation I’ve noticed mostly from the middle aged. Whether I know them or have just run into them at the mall, two minutes in they have me defending all my life choices. “College online? Say it isn’t so!” I don’t really know what to do with it.

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