If you ever want to give an introvert a panic attack, ask them this question. Go ahead, try it! It is by far the most horrible question you can ask the likes of me, even worse than the dreaded “Do you have kids?” question. Why, you ask? Because there is no way for us to narrow down or comprehend what you mean by this. Was I not suppose to be here? I have an invitation that I triple checked before getting ready to adult. Oh, wait. Did you think I didn’t like this place/activity/event? Seriously! Are you implying that based on previously recorded observations of my personality and past conversations I should somehow not be into whatever this is? Do you even know who I am? Am I not welcomed? See what I mean!!!
When people ask you this question you can reply with the real reason you are there. Add an “And you?” to reciprocate the gesture. People may really be curious as to why you are there. If you don’t want to justify yourself, politely change the subject by asking them a question or exchange platitudes and move on.
Asking someone point blank why they are there is a bit rude, totally suspicious and condescending. I know many think of this exchange as innocent and spontaneous but it doesn’t come across as innocuous at all. Is the person asking truly surprised we are there because they like us or because we seem out of place? Why must they pass judgement or require justification of my current state of being? Belonging is one of those triggers that makes even the most social of introverts over think the situation. There is no polite way to respond to this accusation, or to answer what has become a passive aggressive rhetorical question. We are different, we know this, and we will take your comment as a veiled rejection especially if you really knew me and remembered what we talked about in previous exchanges. I’m here because I do in fact belong here. Furthermore, if I thought you were out of place I wouldn’t make a big deal about it on the off chance I would hurt your feelings. I’d nod my head or wave at you from a distance and read your social media posts to figure out why you are there if I am still curious.
By the way, interrogator (s): If you were truly concerned we are not here because we Facebook /Yelp/Twitter stalked your check ins or latest status. Folks usually don’t secretly orchestrate a random meet up or track you to hang or bump into you by surprise. There is such thing as a coincidence. If you are happy to see someone, skip the Q&A session and let them know you are glad the encounter occurred.
My husband and I have been asked this question when we attend work functions and it always leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Usually a friend of a coworker, who turns out to be our friend, was also invited to the affair and didn’t realize it was for one of the organizations or causes we support. I get that you may not be aware of all the moves we make professionally and personally but come on! Asking me that question in front of my boss and team will give them the wrong impression of my commitment. Couldn’t you have said “Long time, no see!“, “What a coincidence!“, or “Hi! It has been a while since I saw you last. How are you?” instead?
There is a difference between what is socially acceptable to ask a human, what we should ask them about and how we go about asking. Many of these preprogrammed questions are falling out of grace because of diversity and, lets face it, by the sheer volume of outliers and exceptions to the rule we meet daily. There are no one size fits all conversation topics and chit chat which is why many people have developed social anxiety. You can’t win with anyone these days unless you put some thought into what you are going to say. The horror! True, PC can get out of hand but it is not what I am advocating. The value of respecting others and their dignity is in the execution of the political correctness, not on the words you are saying.
Life is about including people for real and not giving them a platitude to appease them or making them think you care when you don’t. What’s the value in that? This is why What are you doing here? needs to be addressed and defined as what it is: a direct attack or micro aggression that lets the other person know you are uncomfortable rather than content to see them. If this was not your intention you are being warned now of how the question may be misconstrued.
Choose your words carefully and your friends wisely.