The After Life: 5 Sticky Situations the After Life Will Throw You…and How to Handle Them

Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

You know how it feels. The shifting in your seat, the avoiding eye contact, the sinking in the pit of your stomach, one of several thoughts: “Jeez, is this real life?!” “I’m totally not mature enough for this.” ”What on earth do I do?!”
Unfortunately, this is real life, and real life–especially real 20-something life–can sometimes be pretty darn sticky.

**5 Sticky Situations the After Life Will Throw You…and How to Handle Them**

1. The office party / happy hour / summer lunch. Depending on the relative level of sociability in your workplace, you may find yourself flooded with sip-and-sup invites as the summer months go on. And more often than not, these extracurricular activities involve booze. Pressure to imbibe can be high at events like these, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–think before you drink! If you’re the assistant (or, even more dangerous, intern!) among higher-level professionals or clients, nurse your one glass and call it quits. And if you have to make a return to the office after a corporate lunch, it’s totally OK to refrain from drinking anything–that post-wine sleepiness might not seem so worth it when you’ve got a project to deliver by 4pm.
2. The “split-the-check” fiasco. You’re out to dinner with a group of girlfriends you haven’t seen in ages. The chatter is nonstop, stories are being swapped, laughs abound…and then the bill arrives. And when you do a quick inventory, you notice that you sipped one glass of wine and noshed on a (meatless) pasta dish while the rest of your friends went through several pitchers of margaritas, a few appetizers, and entrees from the daily specials. So what are you supposed to do when it’s decided that “OK, everyone owes $45!”
Excuse me?! 
Nobody wants to be the girl who makes restaurant math complicated. But you had your reasons (budget, diet, or otherwise) for ordering as you did–and it’s also not fair for you to shell out a ton of money for food and drink you didn’t partake in. Sometimes it can help to pipe up at the beginning of the meal, when your friends start discussing what apps to order or what the first round of drinks should be. Offer to get a separate check, or to be the one who does the math, since you’re the only one who’ll be paying separately. Most times, friends will be understanding if you give the group a heads-up in advance. And if anyone does groan and grouse, it’s OK to be friendly but firm in explaining that you really didn’t plan on spending that much.
3. The “innocent” gossip sesh. We all have our coworker friends–the girl in the next cubicle, the former-interns-now-assistants we eat lunch with, maybe even the mentor-turned-buddy. They’re the people who know about your crazy landlord and have heard you whine about your on-again-off-again relationship. Maybe they even celebrated with you when you got that promotion last month. But there’s no denying that “uh-oh” feeling that comes over you when one of your work BFFs starts badmouthing a supervisor–be it yours, their own, or somebody else’s. “I mean, right??” *pause* They’re waiting for you to affirm their gripes. They’re waiting for you to toss in your own complaints, your own personal pet peeves about this director or that manager. Stop, do not pass Go! No matter how confidential you think your conversation is, you’re still discussing one colleague with another–and talking behind somebody’s back is just never a nice thing to do (and for heaven’s sake, never have such an exchange via email!). Laugh it off, respond with something noncommittal (“Ugh, I’m really sorry that happened”), but your two cents are not needed here.
4. The Bermuda triangle of relationships. Regardless of which box you can check at this point in your 20-something life, people are going to have something to say about it.
Single? You might hear: ”Aww, I’m sure you’ll find somebody soon!” — Who says you’re not totally living up the single life?  Or maybe: “Good for you! Guys/girls suck!” — Well, easy for them to say–when was the last time they hit up a speed dating session?
In a long-term relationship? Have fun responding to: “Wow, years? And you’re not married yet?” — Gee…thanks?
Even better: “Long-distance? That’ll never work.” — What a cheering section!
Engaged? The winners: “It’s about time!” or “You’re awfully young, aren’t you?” or how about “…are you pregnant?”
Realistically speaking, the only solution in situations like these is to have a calm smile at the ready. As long as you’re comfortable with the state and trajectory of your relationship, it doesn’t matter what (admittedly frustrating) comments other people make. A laugh and a shrug–or a polite response, if you’ve got one on hand–can do wonders.
5. The career defensive. You’ve got a job, or an internship, or some form of steady employment! Congratulations! Except for, all of a sudden that isn’t enough. You’re comparing yourself to that coworker of yours–the one who started interning after you got your full-time job–who’s already been promoted. Or that guy you went to college with who founded his own startup that’s taking off in a big way. Even worse? The friend-of-a-friend or judgy-distant-relative third degree: “Where did you go to school again? …oh. I think I’ve heard of that place.” Or “You’re a _____? Where do you want to go with that job?” Can I get a collective sigh? In all fairness, such questions can sometimes be chalked up to honest curiosity (or an innocent lack of tact), but there’s no denying how stressful it can be to explain your entire life path, past and future (especially if you’re not sure yourself). You can’t make someone recognize your alma mater, but you can tell them how great a place it was to study your particular field. Nor can you invent fabulous career goals if things are still a bit foggy, but chatting about how you’re learning so much about an industry, or people-management skills, or even life in a different city, can be equally truthful.

Tara Powers encounters more than her fair share of awkward situations in her post-college daily life, and thanks her cousin for inspiring this piece. She also contemplated adding “That time when your coworkers found out you have a blog” to this list, but decided autobiography can only go so far.

Originally posted on Monday, July 23rd, 2012

3 Responses to “The After Life: 5 Sticky Situations the After Life Will Throw You…and How to Handle Them”

  1. Laura

    July 29th, 2012

    Ah, #5 I know too well… Please just be happy for me that I have a job. That was a hurdle in itself.


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