It seems to be happening more often lately. I'll meet a random person in every-day life and when the circumstances are right we may end up making small talk. Sometimes it's more friendly. Sometimes it's completely random. For instance, this morning as I walked from where I park my car to my building (about .6 miles) I fell in behind a pretty young woman (probably a Sorority girl from her look, and probably about 22, but both are guesses), headed the same direction. She was walking a bit faster than I though, and soon I lost sight of her in the twists and turns of the pedestrian way we were walking on. I got the big intersection between that walkway and my building, and hurried across as the crosswalk sign counted down from 10 (10 seconds remaining). The woman was just on the other side and as we waited for the next crosswalk to turn, she turned to me and said,
"9am class?" (it was 9:15).
From her tone it was clear that she had a 9am class, and was quite sympathetic that I may be in her same position (late to class). And I was completely torn. Part of me wanted to lie and say yes! It would be the simplest thing. She'd feel happier someone else was in her shoes, and, more importantly, I wouldn't have to worry about explaining why I don't have a class but was still hurrying to school. I was "late." I mean, I try to get to my office by 9am...but this morning with Wiggles was one that ran long.
Instead I said, "No....."
And then the light turned and we were off across the street and then went separate directions.
But it got me thinking about how in similar situations, I try to find a white lie. Or at least avoid telling the whole truth. I would prefer to not tell random people that I am working on my Ph.D. Usually, if pressed, I'll start by saying I'm a student at University. If pressed further (for my "major" for instance), I'll tell them the appropriate department. And often that's followed up by, oh, how long until you graduate? Which I can answer honestly - and now is 1 more year (this was trickier when the answer was less clear - "oh, 2-4 years, depending..." elicited more than one raised eyebrow).
So why do avoid telling the whole truth? Simple. I used to. When asked what I do, I'd say I was a Ph.D. student at University. This was almost always met with a mixture of responses that ultimately would result in the person no longer wanting to talk to me. I think they felt "dumb". It was always awkward and uncomfortable for all parties involved - especially when, God help them, they asked what my Ph.D. was about.
This all just leads me to wonder, what really my best response is. Is the white lie approach the best? I find myself slightly panicked and worrying about how to craft the lie every time I do it. How much do I reveal? And it's not really fair to the other person that I'm already assuming they can't handle knowing what I actually do.
By contrast, I recently went to an invitation to dinner with some friends my husband recently made at work. It was two other families, both with 2 kids each, and the youngest in each set was about the same age as my Wiggles. I should add that my husband works in educations - so these were an educated set of folks. When the conversation came around to what I do, I started off with my non-committal - oh I'm a student at ASU. But when they asked what program, I replied in full - Ph.D. in Department. Maybe it's because they used the word "program"? Maybe it's because I suspected they knew or would find out from Mr. Random anyway. In either case, the reaction was completely the opposite of what I expected. They were genuinely interested and respectful of what I'm doing! It was so nice!
So am I cheating myself and other people by being so hesitant to tell the full truth?
What do other PhD's do? I'm not alone in this, right?