The Dreaded College Question
By EveofForty on September 12, 2012
It’s coming. I can feel it.
Jill and Jennifer went to Georgia. Deborah went to Georgia Tech. Kathy got her MBA from Northwestern. And the “other” Barbara went to UPenn just to make it more fucked up for me. Thrice I tried to change the topic. Thrice.
When Kathy began telling the story of her initiation week at Karma Magma Llama (I have no idea) I started discussing that scene in Austin Powers when Dr. Evil talks about the “Liquid Hawt Magma” while the only person in the room holding a straight pin dropped it for what felt like all of the Milky Way to hear. As I bent over to pick it up, the slow-motion part of the scene kicked in to gear, and yeah, right around that time I knew I was about to be shot in the head with the bullet of inevitability.
“So, Barbara," said other Barbara as she chuckled her Ivy League chuckle, "you never mentioned where you went to colllllleggggge…”
Image: Ken Steinhardt/The Orange County Register via ZUMA Press.
I have often wondered what it would be like for an ex-con to stand before a suit during a job interview. I wonder what could be going on in their head as they go through the motions while awaiting the elephant-in-the-corner-question that is bound to get their palms sweaty, their heart racing and their cheeks flush. I wonder what they truly feel and what regrets they have as they are made to answer something so painful, and then today, I stop wondering because today, my brunch dates smashed me in the face with a reality pie.
In the past I have tried to waltz around the question with answers that were not untrue, but that were definitely over-glorified. For example:
- Answer given: “Oh, you know, I didn’t finish school. I was taking courses at Emory and it just got too much with the position I had taken at the time.” Translation: “I took two non-credit courses of French and one course of ballroom dancing at Emory’s Center for Lifelong Learning for which I not only did not receive a degree, but also never fully got the concept of the Fox Trot.”
- Alternate answer given: “I decided I was going to wait and have a family first before I finished school.” Translation: “Did I say finish? Oh, my, I’m sorry. I meant to say 'start'. Goodness, I always get those two confused. Probably because I never went to school (polite laugh/painful smile/tear wipe).”
- Additional alternate answer given: “Harvard.” Translation: “How you like me now, bitch? Yeah, that’s right. HAR.VARD. That’s what you get for asking a question like that….YEAH! And guess what? I lied!”
But these days I prefer to make the asker of the question (i.e. I.L. Barbara) feel just as uncomfortable as the askee (i.e. me) by being as honest and as short in my answer as I can be, because the reality is it’s the truth, and if all your college dollars couldn’t buy you some social skills, then allow me to teach you a small lesson that I learned in the highly acclaimed school of hard knocks… if you’re not ready for the answer, don’t ask the question.
“I didn’t go to college, Barbara.”
Yup. 'Tis fact. I didn’t go to college, and it is without a doubt the biggest regret of my life. Actually, I‘d even go as far as to say that it’s the only regret of my life because while I know I’ve made some mistakes - and some bad ones, at that – I have learned from them all and don’t regret any of them.
College, well, that’s my elephant. It’s my crime, and my shame, and when I’m asked such a stupid question that I know I shouldn’t get upset over, it makes me feel as if I were standing in a cell in Riker’s Island wearing an orange jumpsuit with numbers across the chest. My high school diploma is my prison and I vow to get out of it in time with good behavior.
Oh don’t worry, I let ol’ I.L.B. off the hook after all was said and done. The look on her face alone as she tried to clamor for a reason why my “not going to college was a good thing” was punishment enough, so I told her to relax and said, “Look, I know it’s hard to believe that someone in this day and age didn’t go to school and is still successful, but I was really lucky. I worked almost my entire adult life for guys who also didn’t go to college and ran successful businesses. I don’t recommend it, and don’t want it for my kids, but it’s worked out for me” and I Ieft it at that and allowed them to talk more about Pinterest before I politely excused myself for the day and purposely drove my car into the biggest oak tree I could find on the way home.
It’s rarely on purpose that someone asks something like that, but like I tell my husband, “Just because you didn’t mean it that way, doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.” And while as a society our skin has gotten thinner and thinner with each passing decade, please do try to remember that some topics are sensitive; that there are women out there who are unable to have children before you ask them why they haven't had kids yet, or men out there who have been unemployed for two years forcing them to be foreclosed on their house before you ask them what they do for a living, and that there are people out there, just like Yours Truly, who didn’t go to college because they didn’t have anyone to believe in them and tell them that they could, before you ask where they went.
If you want to strum up a conversation with a woman, there are a multitude of other topics available. With a guy (or with me) go for something sports oriented. If he wants to tell you what he does for a living, he will, and if she doesn’t want to talk about kids, she won’t, and since we’re not four-legged creatures but rather humans with social graces, we, as a society, should know the difference.
Counting Down to the Middle-Aged "F" word