Some people only talk to me about it when they are drunk. Some want to talk about it when I don’t. And others want to talk about it all the time – whenever they see me – no matter what is going on: Sitting at a restaurant, ordering lunch. At work, on a deadline. At work, on a conference call. At the airport, boarding group 3. You get the idea.
But, to be fair, I take part of the blame because I don’t try to hide it. When my neighbor on a BWI-bound plane sees my D.C. driver’s license and asks, “Traveling home to visit the parents?” – I simply say, “Actually, my parents died,” in an ordinary, humdrum tone that I’m still perfecting.
It’s not that I’m purposefully seeking out sympathy or attention; I’m not trying to cause a stir or raise eyebrows. It’s just that I’ve arrived at this response through a careful process of elimination.
Take two: “Traveling home to visit the parents?” “Yup.”
Don’t get me wrong – It’s tempting to play along. A lot easier, you might think, and you’re right 50% of the time. The question comes and goes, and that’s that. The other 50% of the time, however, there are follow-up questions and harmless curiosities, like, “So, where do they live in DC?” or “What does your father do for a living?” And when the first follow-up question is underway, I have one of two choices. First, I can continue playing along, my answers and demeanor on the brink of aloof in attempt to preempt further questioning:
“Northwest.” (An abrupt one-word answer.) “My father is a psychiatrist.” (No friendly, ancillary information provided.) Personally, when this scenario develops, I feel like I’m playing “House” or like I’m talking about imaginary friends.
On the other hand, I have a second option when the follow-up questions get going. I can tell my air travel companion the truth, which ends up catching him totally off guard and implicates me in the earlier fib. And worst of all, we’re stuck sitting next to each other for the remaining 4-hour plane ride from San Francisco to BWI. Awkward silence ensues, or he becomes one of those people who want to talk about it the entire trip. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m a mind-my-own-business, read-my-book-or-magazine type of gal on the plane.
In conclusion, it’s an exercise in tradeoff strategy. Business school taught me about tradeoffs – customer tradeoffs associated with purchase decisions. In real life, I’m dealing with interpersonal tradeoffs associated with parentless decisions. To me, it seems a lot easier to share the simple, unembellished, straight up truth from the beginning than to flip the coin and hope for the best. And, if I’m lucky, I’ll get an amazing nugget of a true story as a result.
“Traveling home to see the parents?”
“No, actually, my parents died.”
“Oh man, I’m sorry to hear that. My pet ferret died yesterday so I kinda know what you’re going through.”
Like I said, true story.