Moment of Truth

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.

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4 responses to “Moment of Truth

  1. This really resonated with me. My situation is different, but I understand completely that tradeoff. I’m a single mom with two very young kids. When I became a single mom, they were one and three. Now they are five and almost three, but still–young enough that strangers always, always assume I’m married. On a regular basis, random people ask me if I’m planning to have more kids (even prodding me–“Are you sure? Maybe the next one will be a boy!”), or what my husband does for a living, and so on. When I’m with my kids, I always tell the truth (without a lot of detail since these are very nosy questions coming from strangers) because I don’t want them to see me lie. But there are times when I’m alone that I just go along with the easy, obvious (lie) response because I’m just too tired to deal with people’s responses.

    I found your blog through the Happiness Project, incidentally. I’m adding you to my reader.

    • Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your story! Sometimes when I have these decisions to make regarding what to share with people about my past, I think of the “choose your own adventure” children’s books that I used to read as a kid — As the reader, you assume the role of protagonist and make choices about the main character’s actions (by turning to a specified page number) thus deciding the plot’s outcome. Have you heard of these books? As a kid, I’d always try to think several steps down the line in attempt to find the most interesting ending…In real life now, I’m trying to do the same thing but find the best path toward avoidance of the parentless topic with strangers. Still, the similarity between the “choose your own adventure” series and my current “moment of truth” conversation decision tree makes me laugh sometimes. Again, thanks for commenting and reading. Hope to hear from you again.

      Lauren
      @laurenthaler
      The Infinity Game

  2. Hi Lauren,

    I (like many others it seems) found your blog via The Happiness Project. My dad died suddenly in 2006 and yesterday (Father’s Day) was the 5 year anniversary. Although I am neither an only child nor an orphan, this dilemma resonates with me. My family is incredibly, perhaps unusually close, and now my mom, brother and I are probably closer than ever. As such, I frequently tell stories about my family, my dad included. Whenever people ask me about him, or holidays like Father’s day come up, I can’t come up with anything else to say but “my dad is dead”. I hate all the euphemisms, and I feel like the abruptness of using the word dead represents my feelings about the event, which is to say that both his death, and the way that I learned about it, were abrupt. In addition, I hate the stigma that comes with separated or divorced parents. My dad was a HUGE part of my life and I hate to imply that my mom is a single parent due to any other circumstance. As a result, I usually make a big deal out of making sure that people realize that he is dead and that it was recent, not for pity or attention but because it is somewhat central to the person I have become.

    I look forward to reading this blog!

    Natalie

    • Natalie,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story — I can completely relate. I prefer that people know what happened to my parents rather than draw their own conclusions. For me, this manifests itself in my personal and professional life. I want people to understand why I’ve made certain decisions, haven’t been able to do things, etc. etc. — I was my mother’s caretaker and had the full time job of managing her estate after her death. Thank you again for your comment, and I hope you were able to find comfort in spending time with your mom, brother or close friends yesterday. Looking forward to hopefully hearing from you again.

      Lauren
      @laurenthaler
      The Infinity Game

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