Tell Me About It: How to steer conversations away from grad school

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(iStock)

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: I'm a grad student who's perilously close to finishing my degree. I'm at an insanely stressful period in my life and at this point I am so sick of talking about anything related to grad school.

Problem is, this is how my family relates to me and it's pretty much all my parents ask about when we talk on the phone. I know I'm going to get all kinds of questions about it when I go to visit family next week ("How's your dissertation going? Where are you applying for jobs? Have you gotten interviews yet? When are you going to a conference next? How's teaching? What other research projects are you working on?"), and I'm already dreading having to answer these questions over and over.

How do I make it clear that this subject is off-limits, politely shut down the conversation if it goes in that direction, and retrain family members to talk to me about nonschool things?

Answer: "You're kind to ask, and here's my answer: I'm at a point where I need to talk about anything but grad school. Tell me about you. Tell me a bad joke. Tell me dirt on people I don't even know."

By the end of your visit, you'll have it down to three words and a hand signal. If you'd like to pre-deliver this message via friendly in-family messenger, that might save you some explaining. Good luck.

Reader comment: I can all but guarantee if you sit down with any family member who is employed in any manner and say, "Least favorite coworker and why: Go," you will easily fill all available time and give the family members in question the gift of a very Christmas-y vented spleen. Deck the halls!

Answer: Nice!

Question: This is partly a holiday question, and partly a year-round question. My husband has a number of elderly relatives. None has e-mail (or a computer, for that matter). He and everyone in his family expect me to correspond with them. Christmas cards, birthday greetings, etc. Handwritten, with pictures of the children. My husband doesn't even have addresses, so I have to keep track of those.

I really wouldn't mind if I could e-mail people, but I can't. I e-mail my sisters (my husband has never written them, nor has he talked on the phone to them in the last 20 years). I understand Uncle Don who is in a nursing home enjoys the letters and pictures, so why can't my husband help? His aunt told me I am selfish for not keeping up the correspondence. Is there any reasonable compromise?

Answer: A compromise isn't reasonable, because these are your husband's relatives and his expectations. The only reasonable course is for him to handle his own darn mailings.

That is, unless you and he have a division of labor in which he covers things for you that otherwise would be entirely your responsibility.

Decide what you're willing to do, exactly, within the context of your household chore distribution; tell your husband that; and say the rest is up to him or else it won't happen. That's a reasonable line to hold.

 


tellme@washpost.com.