I want to follow up my earlier question please. As I wrote, this year is husband's 10 year high school reunion. Some schoolmates emailed him about catching up separately. He's grappling — society, at least in Canada, dis-respects his job listed in this Reddit post. On the other hand, he exceedingly wants to reconnect — he has no friends except me! I think he shall!

Yesterday he "took a flyer" and met up just one schoolmate. He thought if it went well, then he'll reunion. Unfortunately those answers didn't solve issues. Call his schoolmate Jo.

Jo — So lovely to see you! How've you been? What have you been you up to?

Hubby — Yes, lovely to see you too! Nothing special. Oh, my work is boring, but it pays the bills. Do you still live in Toronto?

Jo — Yeah. I work at a downtown hospital.

Hubby — Congrats! I hope it pays well?

Jo — Well my job isn't that special either. Being a surgeon has its ups and downs — the hours and stress are crazy! Hey — I remember from school that you liked food and cooking? Weren't you gonna open a high class Cantonese restaurant?

Hubby — Well.....I just do pen-pushing, data-management, customer management, office stuff, report-writing.

Jo — Oh I'm just curious. I remember from school that you were a private person. I care about privacy too.

Hubby — Yeah. I don't want to talk about what I do.

Jo — You don't have to worry – it's not like I'll tell people anything from this lunch – I wouldn't want the same for me! I can keep everything private like I always have. You can trust me!

Hubby — I'm too skeptical of people. I feel most people judge people by occupation and look down them. I don't think they should. That's why I'm being cagey. Sorry!

Jo — I get it! So do you think you'll go to the reunion?

Finally they changed topic, but ambiance immediately got and stayed awkward, uneasy, unrelaxed. He knew that in truth Jo didn't "get it". Jo put on cheery face and kept being amiable, but he knew she was dashed, unhappy. Hubby knew she felt that he didn't trust her. After a 90 minute lunch, they shook hands and left smiling, but hubby left with sour taste in mouth.

Looking back — what could hubby have done better, without betraying his occupation?

  • Does husband have extensive experience of a previous job he can deflect with?
    – Caius Jard
    Nov 10, 2019 at 18:41
  • @CaiusJard No sry. He doesn't want to talk about any jobs.
    – user2423
    Nov 10, 2019 at 18:41
  • Is he averse to talking about a job in a bland sense? For me the entire conversation went wrong when he said "i don't want to talk about what I do" -> if he'd thrown a "office work for an insurance company" throwaway job desc initially and then followed on with something more interesting and relevant to Jo, then the latter point would probably have become the focus of the conversation. He kinda has to understand that for the most part, people aren't very interesting and their lives are usually filled with either kids, or work - it's something we all have in common and will come up in convo
    – Caius Jard
    Nov 10, 2019 at 18:46
  • (especially at a reunion, where there;s a reasonable number of people who will remember him from school and wonder what he's doing now more for their own reasons of measurement - "did i end up doing better in life than Tom?" type thing. Quite a lot of those conversations go like "yeah, I'm a plumber" (=>relative failure) "but I get a few jobs where I can make like $2000 in a weekend" (=>compensatory success story), alas.. Which brings about another Q for me; you/he wants to have more friends - why does that have to be a school buddy/come from a reunion? Join a club/do something with new ppl?
    – Caius Jard
    Nov 10, 2019 at 18:48
  • @CaiusJard " "did i end up doing better in life than Tom?" type thing. Quite a lot of those conversations go like "yeah, I'm a plumber" (=>relative failure) " You got it!!! hubby doesn't want dick measuring contest!
    – user2423
    Nov 10, 2019 at 19:06

4 Answers 4


Edit: This is from experience of being a somewhat private person and living in a place where “what do you do?” is the common opener. If the other is an extrovert I just get them talking about themselves. If a fellow introvert, they usually won’t “fight” my direction of the topic.

Answer to “What could hubby have done differently?”

If the script is accurate, she gave him an opportunity in the very first line!. She never asked his occupation.

Jo — So lovely to see you! How've you been? What have you been you up to?

And his answer went right to a deflecting about his job.

What have you been up to? can be answered with literally anything, and can be answered truthfully with literally anything you have done since the last time you saw the asker, which for him was a decade. So he could have chosen the topic.

Great, great. You know Pam and I are living in the (city/country/burbs). We’ve been furniture shopping, can you believe that!

I’ve taken up (running, hiking, cycling, building guitars, stamp collecting, posting on SE while eating leftover candy)

This morning I went to the cutest (biggest, nicest, worst, scariest, most bizarre) farmers market.

Etc. It can be about a single time point or ongoing like a hobby. It can be about a trip you are planning. It can be an observation about where you are. It can be a funny anecdote. It can impersonal.

It will become the first topic and Jo can jump in

Oh, furniture shopping? I took a year to buy a table! I (love/hate) furniture shopping.

tl;dr Opening questions do not have to be answered about one's employment. Moreso when given a very general question.


The best way to avoid answering a question is to change the subject and answer a different question. I often have to do this when, for example, people ask about other people and I'm not allowed to reveal, say, a pregnancy or an upcoming job change.

In the conversation you quoted, I see your husband trying to avoid saying his current job to such an extent he is missing opportunities to change the subject. For example:

I remember from school that you liked food and cooking?

could have easily led to talking about how much he still loves to cook, how he does most of the cooking at your place, or how he has found some marvelous restaurants in the town where you live, or even how he came to realize that opening a restaurant wasn't a good plan after all. No secrecy or vagueness required, meaning that "Jo" can stop pushing on the one question he's not answering.

To do this with short forms. Imagine you don't want to say A or anything that would enable guessing A - in your example, your precise profession. Someone asks "so, A?" and you demur and change the subject a little and ask them about their A. They answer, not hiding it but trying not to brag or dominate the conversation. Then they ask about B. And you reply "I am not going to tell you A." So they reassure you that being private is cool, and ask about C, and you reply "my A is a very vague thing I don't want to discuss." You see how that's counterproductive and basically keeps the topic on A and not talking about A instead of on something else (anything else!) he is willing to talk about.

So for the reunion your husband needs to gather up non-employment related answers to typical reunion questions. "What have you been up to lately?" can include:

  • we've had 3 children
  • we just moved into a new house/apartment
  • we went to Europe for a fabulous ski-ing holiday
  • I just ran my first half-marathon
  • I've learned to knit

And a thousand other things that have nothing to do with your job.

When someone asks about your job, you can say "one great thing about it is that it pays enough to fund my climbing habit" (or some other unusual hobby) and then immediately start talking about that. "There's a bouldering gym near me and I go at least 4 times a week" or "our last 4 vacations have all been to places I can climb" or whatever.

It could be quilting, running, cycling, beekeeping, you name it. It doesn't have to be something expensive that others will be jealous of: he could read a lot or be an avid fan of The Bachelor. Something that he enjoys and is happy to talk about. Your kids and hobbies are great for this, but it doesn't matter specifically what it is, just that it isn't his job and that he is happy to talk about it.

Talk a LOT about everything else in your life and people won't ever notice that you never happened to say the name of your employer or precisely what you qualified in after high school. Answer every question with "oh my work is boring let's not talk about that" and everyone will remember how secretive you were about your work.


We live in time and age that answer

I cannot say, you know confidentiality case

is perfectly normal, uderstood and acknowledge. Or should be. if someone is persistent with the "oh coomone I won't tell anyone" you could add

It's so secret I can't even name the brand of pencils I'm pushing.

I had friends who worked for certain asian coporations that couldn't even confirm they worked in the city I met them in.

Remeber that "I don't want to talk about" is the same as "I cannot talk about it". And the reason why "cannot" can be left to the recipient.

  • 3
    Telling someone you cannot tell them something is typically a great way to get them to pry more, rather than move on?
    – Caius Jard
    Nov 10, 2019 at 18:35
  • 1
    @caiusjard you're right!
    – user2423
    Nov 10, 2019 at 18:38
  • @CaiusJard I've had a job with nice 6 number figure fine if I tell (before finishing) anyone what I'm doing. "You can tell me" don't exist anymore. People who could pay the fine are not interested in such information. People who can't afford it shouldn't have it. Nov 11, 2019 at 19:06
  • I disagree with @CaiusJard. I have a job that I can't talk about, and when people ask, I say: "Oh you know, office stuff, I can't really talk about it," and everyone I've ever had the conversation with has dropped it. Nov 12, 2019 at 20:52

Although your stated goal is to point-blank refuse to disclose the occupation, there is another goal stated in your background information:

He exceedingly wants to reconnect — he has no friends except me!

Your husband hopes to gain friends from the reunion - that is his real goal! Would it be fair to say that any solution to the goal stated in your questions would be pointless if it prevented, or hindered him from making friends?

Ask yourself:
- What is the point of a friend that I can't talk openly to?
- What is the point of a friend that I can't be honest with?
- What is the point of a friend who does not respect the choices that I make?

As a frame-challenge, I'm going to suggest that he does disclose his occupation, and demonstrate that he is happy about the decision he made to do that work.

A lot of my closest friends are really smart people that chose menial jobs because they valued their family above career status. A number of them are window-cleaners and gardeners, for example. I'm a senior data-analyst, which is a skilled job. Some of them earn more than me, but that has no influence on whether or not I respect them. I think they all made choices to support their families, and they are all happy because of the time they get to spend with their families. Some people in skilled jobs are not as fortunate as me and have to work long hours to please a boss and further their career.

If your husband wants real friends - friends that respect him no matter what his job is, then he should just be honest and open. Hiding it through various means might get him through the one night of the reunion, but it will not secure him long-term friends. It is even possible that some people who might have respected him for being honest will go home from the reunion wondering why he was so evasive about his job, possibly imagining it is so much worse! Unless he's a freelance assassin, or he's mining blood-diamonds, he should just go in there and say he's a garbage truck driver, or whatever, and say it with a massive smile because he's proud of it!

In fact, if it is a boring job that does not lend itself to much discussion, there is a much greater chance that people will ask him about other things, like his family, hobbies, interests etc. At a later stage in life, people are much more likely to bond and form friendships with like-minded people than those who just happened to go to the same school. I did not attend my own high-school reunion for personal reasons; however, over the years I have bumped into a few people that I did not get along with at school, even people that bullied me at school, and things were a lot different because we spoke about the things we had in common now, like our kids. That is more likely to happen to him if he doesn't spend all night avoiding saying what his job is. On the other hand, if someone says "I'm a brain surgeon", you can pretty much guarantee that people will ask that person questions all night about what it's like to be a brain surgeon, but when the night is over nobody will have anything in common with them (unless they are also a brain surgeon).

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