“Where are you going to school?”
“What are you going to major in?”
“What are your summer plans?”
“What jobs are you applying for?”
“When are you two going to get married?”
“When do you plan on starting a family?”
If you didn't want to pop a Xanax at the end of that list then you must've already taken one earlier today because those questions scare the crap out of me.
While not exhaustive, I would like to venture that's a pretty definitive list of the most anxiety-inducing questions of all time. If you've managed to escape their grasp then kudos to you. They’re peppered throughout visits home as nosy but well-meaning neighbors attempt to make small talk. These questions can often be found around a punch bowl or a forced luncheon. Anywhere where conversation may be strained and awkward silences abound.
But they’re also our favorite questions to ask. They’re quick questions, casually fired around the dinner table and during casual pleasantries. Initially they seem to be safe questions and easy topics of conversations. Yet under their shiny and polished exterior there lies pressure, insecurity, fear, and doubt.
While questions about what’s next are well intentioned they’re actually detrimental.
These questions place undue burden on the future. They make us think that when we finally arrive at said destination then finally, finally we will be happy. We will have arrived. We will receive a badge of honor and everything will be figured out. We won’t have to stress out or make plans or worry about the future because we will finally be fully present.
These questions also bring about some unrealistic expectations.
The frequency with which they’re asked seems to mean that they’re very important. That we must figure everything out and plan every step of the way. If we don’t have a foolproof plan in place, if we don’t know the answer to every seasonal question we’re asked, then we must be failing. To look at your great aunt at Thanksgiving and reply “I don’t know” to any of the aforementioned questions would be a tragedy worth repeating around the same dinner table come Christmas.
There’s the expectation that our worth and our value are tied up in our ability to plan the future. We lack both omniscience and omnipotence and yet we treat each other as if we’re all knowing and all powerful enough to plan our lives out.
If we deviate from the plan, or better yet don’t know the plan at all, then we must not have anything to offer. Or worse, what if we don’t follow the plan? What if, by some freak accident, we don’t want to go to college or get married or have children? What then of us?
And I get it. These questions, they mean well. But they’re frail attempts at actually getting to know someone.
The implication of these questions is that now is not enough.
Where you are is not enough and therefore you are not enough.
The future me is when I’ll finally be enough. When I finally land that internship, get that husband, pop out those kids. Then and only then will I have finally proved my worth and my ability to answer the questions.
And yet I’m convinced that I am more than my stage and station.
I am more than what’s next. I am right here and right now. I am enough exactly where I am. I don’t need a college, a major, an internship, or a husband to define me or ascribe me worth. I am profoundly aware of the fact that I am more than my wedding date or my due date. I am a complex individual full of hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities.
And so are you.
You’re enough in the present. You’re enough where you are. You’re worth knowing right here and right now. You’re more than your ACT score, the girl you’re dating, the job you’re applying for, or the baby you’re carrying. And you’re worth knowing for who you are rather than what you’ll do or who you will maybe be one day. There are layers to you worth exploring, worth investing in, worth discovering slowly the way it was always intended to be.
So yes, it’s easy to reach into our grab bag of easy questions. But the next time we’re tempted to skim past the surface I wonder what kind of gift we could give by asking someone a real question and getting to know the real them.
No need to get creepy about it. We don’t dig into their deepest, darkest secrets or anything. That doesn’t tend to go well over a business lunch.
But maybe we just start small by asking what’s their favorite family vacation or how they enjoy spending their day. Maybe we ask when the last time they laughed so hard they cried or they cried so hard they just needed to laugh. Maybe we ask what gets them up in the mornings and what keeps them awake at night.
And then maybe someone will feel heard and known and loved.
It’s easy to know things about people but it’s hard to actually know people. I wonder what it would look like to know someone for more than what’s next for them. I wonder what it would look like to do the hard work of knowing and loving someone exactly where they are, no strings attached.
If we live like we’re loved as we are then and only then will we be able to love people as they are.
And until then, let’s all stack hands and stop asking these bullshit anxiety-inducing questions. We’re not doing anyone any favors in the meantime.