The Dreaded Question

It’s that conversation everyone hates. The long lost cousin, old school friend, ex lover or ex-tutor, in the supermarket/pub/street/wrong turn, armed with the dreaded question, “so what are you up to these days?”

Simultaneously you fill with dread and search your brains madly for a convincing not-so-white lie:

“I edit an independent magazine actually” (you and your mate have a blog with big intentions, little money and even littler prospects)

“Me and Dave went our separate ways, (he dumped me) I just got my own place actually, (moved out my mums into a flat share) really convenient, just right for me at the moment (all I can hear is trains at night, and it was all I could afford)

“I’m in brand promotions, (they let me write the cocktails on offer on the chalk board at work) I just got a promotion actually, (minimum wage just went up), yeah, it’s great, I love it” (I hate my life).

You know the drill, and it’s oh so tedious. This intense desire to prove yourself comes from nowhere, the need to impress and maintain dignity, or at the very least not break down into a squirming mess of tears and regret. Because it’s a certain type of person that asks this question, someone who, no matter what state the economy is in or how sparse the job market is, is ‘doing well’. They got the job, the girl, the promotion, the free time to pursue their oh-so-trendy hobbies. It’s this person, this smug, self assured, dare I say it successful bastard that asks this unnecessary and wholly terrifying question, because they know all too well that they’re doing better than you.

One such conversation befell me at reunion drinks one fashion week not so long ago. Whilst sitting at a table in a too busy, too expensive and my god, too east London bar, surrounded by my university peers (I wouldn’t go as far as to call them friends) I find myself questioned, to possibly the worst effect. Asked by possibly the least favourite acquaintance I ever made during my degree, I discover not only had we recently been to the same interview that I was gushing about in a mad attempt to save face (“it seemed to go really well, we were chatting for ages, I’m sure I’ll hear soon”) he had just got word that he’d got it. Never has a girl felt smaller than me in that second. Truly heart breaking, confidence smashing, and dignity disintegrating stuff.

But the sad part, the truly despicable part, is that I love my jobs. Yes they may be somewhat menial, at times below my qualifications and experience, and on the whole, underpaid, but they’re mine. My freelance bits and bobs, my admin job, and my pay-the-rent bar job make me happy; I’m lucky enough to say I adore the people I work with and often have a great time at work.  So how dare these smug hipsters and overachieving, flat cap wearing, job-stealing bastards make me justify my situation, and why do I feel the need to shine in their eyes?

It’s that archaic need to appear better off than one actually is, to do the peacock thing and show the fuck off. This gets hard when you’ve not got the proverbial tail feathers to front with though, and leads to faking it, through what old Veblen would call conspicuous consumption – being seen to have shit, do shit and waste shit, because you’ve just got so much damn shit. Which is why we have hipsters, so cool it doesn’t matter that they’re unsuccessful. They chose to live in a smelly warehouse apartment, they chose to intern, they chose to go on a sugar free, vegan, no-carb diet.  Nothing to do with them being skint and not having a job then.

I can’t decide who is worse, the successful, or the fake successful. I of course sympathise with the fakers, I feel their pain, but I just can’t summon the energy to actually do these things to save face. Or maybe I don’t care as much as I thought? Either way, next time the dreaded question comes my way; I hereby pledge to be honest. They can scorn, they can sympathetically smile, they can pity amongst themselves when I go to the toilet, and they probably will, but perhaps it’s time I remembered that ‘they’ are not the people that matter. The people that matter (the tax man, the man that runs my fish and chips shop, my family and friends) are ok with me and my life, and I make that a success.


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