Miss Conduct

They said what?

How to respond to rude questions, plus explaining the rules of the open house road.

By Robin Abrahams
July 17, 2011

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In the fall I’ll be attending a women’s college. I’m excited to start and proud of being able to attend such a good school, but some people have been very rude when I tell them I’m going there. Some have even asked me point-blank: “Are you a lesbian?” How do I respond to these types of questions? I’m not gay, but is it anyone’s business whether I am or not?

H.U. / Gloucester

When people rudely question your decision – any decision, whether to attend a women’s college or to go for the sweet potato fries – you are not obligated to justify yourself. “I’m happy to discuss my choices, but not to defend them,” you can say politely, regretfully, or with a hint of steel. That will do the trick, as will “I can’t talk about my decision with you if you ask in that tone of voice.”

If the questions are merely clueless, cut the asker some slack. You have made an unusual choice, and the nature of unusual choices is that people wonder about them. So come up with a sound-bite answer that will get you through the next four years. There’s no need for a snotty “I thought college was about education, not about finding a husband.” (Not that you would say such a thing, of course.) Good-natured absurdness is often the best way to get people to realize they’ve been out of line. If anyone asks if you are a lesbian, reply, “No, I’ll probably major in economics!”

I asked a couple of Smith alumnae for their advice, and one of them provided an excellent sound bite for you: “I chose my school because I felt it was the place where I could get the best education possible and find a supportive network of other strong, intelligent women to help launch me into the world.” (She went on to add: “If the interrogator won’t give up, then she can unleash the ‘I also chose this school because I will be surrounded by smart women and won’t have to deal with small-minded people who ask me dumb questions.’ ” Miss Conduct passes this response on without comment.)

Another alum said to be patient, that the questions would eventually cease: “I found that after graduation, when others found out I’d gone to Smith, they tended to express admiration and envy rather than confusion or homophobia.” So you’ve got that to look forward to!

Would you please review the food and beverage rules for open houses meant to celebrate an engagement, graduation, or the like? These events are usually from 3 to 8 p.m. and involve at least three generations of family and friends arriving in different waves. We have more than once left an event a bit dizzy and disappointed.

P.J. / Sudbury

The best food and beverage rule if you are a guest at an open house is to eat before you go. Ideally, of course, hosts keep a steady flow of food and drink coming throughout the long hours, but in reality even the most energetic hosts often flag. Stamina drops with each glass of wine and every time you have to say things like “Kids, don’t leave the screen door open. Kids! Kiiids!” And too often, by the end of the evening, the house isn’t merely open, but a cavernous wasteland of cheese rinds, cracker crumbs, and plastic wineglasses (with an inch of Two-Buck Chuck) teetering on the bookshelves.

I assume that you are writing because you plan to host an open house yourself and don’t wish your guests to be disappointed, as you have been. But if you are doing so because you want to have grounds to scold your hosts for insufficient generosity, you’re out of luck. Hospitality should always be graciously received as it is, and nutrition bars should always stock the purses of those of us with low blood sugar.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.


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