Dropping the question
You’re catching up with an old friend, someone you lost touch with over the years. They’re slightly older than you, so they think that those extra years give an edge of extra wisdom. May be true, may not.
You feel like the conversation is going well. It’s been too long, hasn’t it?
Then they ask you: “How is your social life?”
Well, how is it?
It’s been years after all since you’ve been in touch — they have a right to know. Forget that they don’t need that information to develop their social connection to you. And forget that it puts you on the spot. Forget that it might be a little rude. And answer the question.
If you thought that was tough, don’t forget your therapy appointment the next day. (Yes, we’re pretending that you have one, for this little example here.)
Okay, so you’re sitting comfortably on a big couch, opposite from your psychologist. She has a Ph.D. by the way. She knows her stuff.
She asks you how is work going, how’s the family, oh and how are you doing? You reply to her questions, relaxing more in the couch.
Then she asks: “Great… and how is your social life?”
You gulp. What was that quota again? Wait, what is the quota? There’s got to be one somewhere… Well has your social life at least gotten any better since last night? You were catching up with an old friend — yes, tell her that. It has to count for something.
Well, anyway, you’re on the spot now, and you’re all on your own. She’s a psychologist, remember. Any answer you give better be a good one. Or it better be really honest. Because if you have a problem in the “social life” department, you’ll need her help.
What the question probably means
Hopefully, you gave the right answer to your psychologist. Oh, no right answer you say? May be true, may not.
Though, for sure we do know that her job was to assess your answer, to analyze it to best of her ability to contextualize the greater state of your overall mental health. Meaning, she was making judgments on how your social life fits in with your well-being and your identity, and how it might be creating or solving problems. Otherwise, she probably wouldn’t have asked the question.
What the question actually meant, at least coming from her, was: “Are you adequately socializing with your peers?”
Adequately — well I don’t know the quota, and I don’t know who does. And, I don’t know if there’s a time limit as in the amount of time you need to spend with each person. There’s got to be some set criteria though. Forget that the web is blurring the line between online and “real” social interaction — there have to be guidelines for that too. And I’m pretty sure that if you are socializing with more than one person at a time, that’s bonus. Meaning, AIM might technically score a point load.
Well, never mind what the correct answers are, because we may never know.
What the question really means
Most likely, when someone asks you “How is your social life?” it’s masquerading for another question. One that is too blunt, impolite, or self-revealing.
Now, there are probably exceptions, and when your psychologist asks you, there may be no subconscious entanglements. But consider that therapy can be about analyzing your social life, or it can be about consciously solving the problems you want to solve. There’s a difference.
“How is your social life?” really means one or more of the following:
1) “I’ve already judged you before asking the question. No matter what your answer is, it won’t be good enough. Besides, it’s already established that there is no right answer — so any answer you give can be wrong. What I really want is to find any little micro movement that gives away some problem you have. So I can see that you’re not perfect, and it’ll distract me from my own problems.”
2) “I’m too afraid to ask my real question… [So, do you have a boyfriend? Have you met any nice girls? Are you sleeping with anyone? When are you going to get married? How is marriage working out for you?] and I am so nosy that I have to fish around somehow.”
3) “It’s my business to know if you are adequately socializing with your peers, because I want you to be normal because I care about your well-being and if I know this information I can better take care of you. And I base my decision off of quantity, and not quality. So if you only go out once a month with friends but have a great relationship with yourself, it won’t count because that’s not normal.”
4) “I’m not sure what I will do with the information, but I might as well have it. We live in a society where socializing trumps solitude, so maybe I’ll know how normal you are, and how normal I am. By asking you, I don’t have to think deeper, and see that such a social standard is usually more codependent than anything.”
How to answer the question
When you can hear what people are really asking, the question won’t make you so uncomfortable. You won’t feel the pressure to have the right answer. You’ll be secure enough in yourself that it won’t matter if they’re actually judging you, because you’ll be able to separate their judgments from the truth.
You’ll respond to the question any way you want to, answering or not answering the question. You might even ask them to clarify the question first. Like whether AIM does really score the point load.
Okay, now for the fun part
You’re a bestselling author, or a famous TV personality, take your pick.
You catch up with that same friend, and man it’s been years. And guess what?
He dares not ask you how your social life is now. And why would that be?
Because your success is public and you’re practically a household name, so it’s obvious you have friends, and enough to meet that quota — whatever it was. If you don’t have friends, at least you’ve got fans, and respect. I mean, obviously you’ve got it together.
And it’s probably clear to him that it was never his business anyway. If he wants your friendship, he’s got to earn it — not size you up to some nonexistent number or scale.