Friday, October 30, 2009


I dislike the question, "What's new?" I prefer the more open-ended, "How are things?" or "What have you been up to?" Those questions anyone can answer, because there are always "things" going on in life and anybody is always up to something or another. But "What's new?" makes me feel some pressure to think, "What is new in my life? What is new to this person? Or what's new this week? Or what big, monumental, NEW thing has occurred in my life recently?" This past summer, I would answer that question eagerly, "Everything's new! My house, my roommates, my job, my practicum, my classes!" But a few months later, the newness of such things has worn off. Nothing right now feels as new as all those things did a few months ago. Completing a learning disability assessment, co-facilitating my fourth group of college students with depression, buying plane tickets to New Orleans, going to a Regina Spektor concert, none of those things seem as monumentally NEW as all the changes that have occurred for me in the past five months.

I also feel like the questioner is fishing for something, like they expect me to share something NEW that will satisfy their curiosity. It's almost as if they're thinking, "Something is new about her, but I can't quite put my finger on what it is . . . " I know it's just a socially acceptable question that us white americans have been conditioned to ask one another when we're curious about another person's life or feigning said curiosity, but I feel like it implies a need for the other person to have NEW, exciting, life-changing events and experiences. Maybe my life is average right now. Maybe the only thing that's new are the clothes I'm wearing. But is that good enough for you? Am I not fulfilling your expectations for my life to be continuously NEW and fascinating?

Even more irritating to me is when I've already been talking to a friend for 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes, sharing about different things in each other's lives, and then the friend asks, "So, what else is new with you?" I want to respond, "I've spent the past 20 minutes telling you about NEW things in my life!" Do they think I'm hiding something from them? That I'm beating around the bush? Or was what I just shared not interesting enough for them? Are they waiting for me to reveal some big NEW event, that all the other things I shared were just leading up to?

I'll have to be honest, as an unmarried person, I sometimes feel like when people ask, "What's new?" that they want to hear about some new relationship development. A new crush, a new boyfriend, a new serious development with current boyfriend etc. Maybe they don't. I don't beat around the bush with those kinds of questions, I straight up ask, "Are you seeing anyone?" "How are you and so-and-so doing?" "Do you see a future with him?" But I feel like many people don't have the guts to ask such straightforward questions about what could be a sensitive topic to someone other than the closest of friends.

Maybe people are just curious about each other, and ask questions that sound ok to ask. Maybe I'm just projecting my own insecurities about the newness of my life onto others. Maybe no one else but me cares how new or old the things in my life are.

Whatever it is, the question still annoys me. Just ask me how I am, pretend to be interested in what I share, and trust that I will share what seems important for you to know.

At least it's a relatively open-ended question, even if the questioner is leading towards something. Last night, my friend told me how her friend kept asking her, "Aren't you sooooo good?" How does one respond to that? "Yes, in fact, I am soooooo good," or, "Actually, no, I'm not soooooo good," or, "Wow, you're right, my life is good, thanks for convincing me of that!"


images of hope from a wandering artist said...

I completely understand! When people ask me "what's new?", and I don't have anything to say, I suddenly feel like such a boring person! Although I'm sure I ask people that all the time without even thinking about it. Plus in my case, 99% of the time people ask me that it is code for "So, are you pregnant yet?" :)

I miss you!I hope all of the not-so-new things in your life are going well!

crackers and cheese said...

Haha, that's hilarious! I forget that married people are also under pressure to create new "things" in their lives :P