“get a life” means “get *my* life”

It’s a rare phrase that makes me lose my cool. Any variation of “get a life” does it every time.

“You need a life”

“I wouldn’t do that, I have a life”

“You have too much time on your hands”

All these phrases really mean “I am disrespecting the way you utilize your time. You should spend it the way I do.”

Having focused myself quite diligently in the past year to be hyper-aware of how I use my time and attention, this was an even more surprising and confrontational phrase in that moment.

In fairness, it was just an ill-informed comment from someone who probably does not remember my last name. And so it will not sit with me as a grudge. Instead, it is a catalyst to ask myself why it bothered me. And the implications of the phrase.

“Having received all your letters over the years, and I’ve spoken to many of you, and some of you have traveled… y’know… hundreds of miles to be here, I’d just like to say… GET A LIFE, will you people? I mean, for crying out loud, it’s just a TV show! I mean, look at you, look at the way you’re dressed! You’ve turned an enjoyable little job, that I did as a lark for a few years, into a COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME!”

-William Shatner in a 1986 Saturday Night Live sketch (Shatner later apologized and named his 1999 autobiography after the gaff)

As Star Trek fans have said over the years about the SNL sketch, the phrase “get a life” is often used to diminish what someone else is talking about or doing. But key to that is the inherent implication that what they are talking about is all that they are.

The Trekkie who needs to “get a life” is reduced to the moment they are existing in – in a costume at a convention asking a pedantic question.

But none of us are only that.

That fan may fill the rest of their hours as a parent, volunteer, non-profit employee, caregiver, and so much more. Their fandom is a fragment of who they are, but those throwing around that dreaded phrase are defining them by only that fragment.

As well as what this says about the speaker, it also reflects society’s view of how we should be allotting our time.

Someone who watches the Olympics every waking moment is defined by our society as “showing national pride.” If I binge watch Sense8 in a week, society says I “need to get out more.”

People create an instant picture of someone based on the moment they see. Like that old rude joke about “but do they call me McGregor the bridge builder?”, we get dropped into a slot.

Do I, indeed, need to “get a life?”

I think my life is quite satisfying, to be honest. I am a caregiver, a husband, a pet owner, a blogger, a youtuber, a slow living advocate, an art lover, and so much more.

If that isn’t “life”, then I want no part of what they are selling.

Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.