If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “And what are your plans after graduation?” I could probably pay for another year of college.
But that’s just kindly curiosity. People are just being inquisitive, or concerned for my welfare, or even just making small talk. I get that. It’s what we ask as humans, isn’t it? What are you going to be when you grow up? What college are you going to? What outcome are you aiming for after this Big Socially Recognized Transition?
What gets me is the number of opinions offered based on my answer, no matter what that answer is. It’s usually, “I don’t know,” to which they reply, “Oh, you don’t want to decide anything now, you’re so young!” If I elaborate, “Maybe grad school,” then the op-eds really start flying.
“Oh, you don’t want to get an MFA in creative writing – all you can do with that is teach.” “Oh, you don’t want to study literature – all you can do with that is teach.” “Oh, you don’t want to stay at the same school for your Master’s.” “Oh, you don’t want to lose any momentum by taking a year off.” “Oh, you don’t want to stay in school forever – work for a few years, then come back and get that degree.”
If I mention a job?
“Oh, you don’t want to stay here, publishing is much bigger in New York.” “Oh, you don’t want to go into editing, there’s no money.” “Oh, you don’t want to go too far from home.” “Oh, you don’t want to get stuck in some office job, you’re much too smart for that.” “Oh, you don’t want to waste any time, you should start networking now.”
And forget even hinting that the Engineer might come into it.
“Oh, you don’t want to make decisions based on a boyfriend.” “Oh, you don’t want to do a long distance relationship, so few couples can handle that.”
And on and on it goes.
I’ve been calling these bits of speech opinions rather than advice. That’s because of the four- or five-word formula at the beginning of each snippet: (oh) you don’t want to.
Don’t I, though?
Don’t I want, in some moments, to study more creative writing because it’s what I love? Don’t I want, at times, to elbow my way into publishing regardless of the paycheck? Don’t I want to take the person I’ve been dating for years into account?
How kind of these opinions, sensing my confusion, to tell me what I want.
I’m used to some of these. I’ve heard them before. “Don’t worry, lots of people change their majors,” acquaintances would say, trying to give me a way out after I told them I was majoring in creative writing. Sounds an awful lot like, “Oh, you don’t want to do that.” But I did, in fact, want to. It was like Warner thinking Elle Woods couldn’t get into Harvard even after she, um, did.
My chosen area of study, like Elle’s sudden decision to pursue law, has raised a few eyebrows. It seems implausible that writing would maintain such a strong hold on me, especially in a society that places so much emphasis on money making. I get it. And, following up on those undergraduate doubts, it makes sense that people would make similar assumptions about my choices post-grad.
I know most of these people mean well. They want to see me succeed, or at least not starve to death or bankrupt my parents within a year of graduation. They probably believe that their opinions are, in fact, good advice, and I appreciate that intention.
That’s where I run into trouble. I was raised to respect adults, to seek advice from those with more life experience than me. So I don’t really want to just start arguing with everyone – “Oh, you don’t want to [insert action here]” “OH YES I DO COME AT ME BRO.” But I don’t know how to politely disengage when the opinions are irrelevant to me (such as when the information is outdated or based on hearsay, or just has to do with their own worldviews that I don’t necessarily share).
And even if the advice underneath the opinion is sound, I can’t help chafing at that formula. You don’t want to. Words carry weight in my world, and that particular phrase is like an anvil dropped from a Looney Tunes cliff. If you know what I do and do not want – why did you ask in the first place?