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Originally published Saturday, September 14, 2013 at 5:05 AM

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Explaining the value of a liberal-arts degree

How to answer those who ask, “What are you going to do with that?”

Syndicated columnist

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I obtained my degree in Art from the UW, and have had a great career as a professional... MORE
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Dear Carolyn

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

DEAR CAROLYN:

I see that you have a liberal-arts degree. I just earned my Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, and I am proud of it. You would not believe the people who say, “What are you going to do with that?” Or, “You won’t get a job with that.”

I have a very long explanation of why liberal-arts degrees are still relevant, but their remarks seem to call for a shorter response than a dissertation. How can I respond without being rude, perhaps even illuminating them in a concise way?

It doesn’t help that I haven’t actually figured out what direction I want to go in professionally, but I do know my degree has made me a more critical thinker and a better writer, and I am glad I did something I loved.

– Proud

DEAR PROUD: All of which is wonderful, and none of which your questioners give a (poop) about, since they’re mostly invested in confirming their own biases.

So, just tell them this: The moment you actually get a job, you’ll let them know how wrong they are. Illuminate them in a concise way that not all liberal-arts majors take themselves too seriously.

Re: Liberal-arts degrees:

I am surprised you didn’t mention your all-purpose “Wow.” People who say things like “You will never get a job” are rude. Just reply neutrally with a “Maybe” or “OK” or “If you say so.” Be a smart-aleck punk like my brother, smack your head dramatically and say, “Oh no! I did college all wrong! Now I will live off the taxpayers FOREVER!” (He majored in philosophy and has been employed for 12-plus years, gainfully enough to keep him and his family living comfortably.)

– Anonymous

DEAR ANONYMOUS: “Wow” is for ugly things, not stupid ones. Stupid just gets the “OK, whatever you say” treatment, in whatever form amuses the person delivering it.

DEAR CAROLYN:

Back on the dating market after a multiyear relationship, and I’m feeling a little unimpressed with the guys I’ve encountered so far. One thing I’ve noticed happening repeatedly (five-plus different guys) is that after going on a few dates, the guys will always leave the ball in my court, usually by saying, “Text me if you want to go out again.”

To me, this reads as lack of interest, but then they want to know why I haven’t texted. This feels like terrible laziness and/or fear of rejection to me. Am I just behind the times? (I’m not even that old!)

– Singlevania

DEAR SINGLEVANIA: If their asking you to text them is “laziness and/or fear of rejection,” then what do you call your refusal to text them?

Equality isn’t a la carte, so in that sense, what these guys are asking is not only fair, but culturally overdue: If you want to see them, then say so. To me they’re just being pragmatic.

But if it’s not for you — for core reasons, not arbitrary ones — then it’s not for you. Either give it a try, or tell these men upfront that you’re not comfortable being the one to initiate, so they can know where you stand and decide whether that’s OK with them.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living

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