How to Answer Uncomfortable Relationship Questions Around the Holidays

If you’re single, and especially if you’re a woman, prepare to be interrogated.

Seems there is no holiday topic more enticing than the love life of the single daughter, sister, aunt, or cousin. Everyone just has to know why she’s alone at the family dinner … Again. Never mind all that she’s accomplished this year. The burning question remains, “when are you getting married?” Or having children?

If this is you, then this time of year can be challenging. Mental preparation must often ensue for the onslaught of invasive inquiries and inappropriate remarks you know will be endured during family gatherings. I like to believe they mean well. But, do they really? I’m not sure what’s accomplished by putting the single woman of the family on the hot seat. Maybe the thought is that you can be pressured or shamed into surrendering to romantic attachment.

Even if not a challenge, this environment can definitely be exhausting. Mom is “concerned” and wants to make sure she’ll be around to attend your wedding. Everyone wants to know when you’ll contribute to the mob of screaming children wandering about. Somehow, who you’re dating and what happened to the last person you were with for like three seconds finds its way into the conversation. There doesn’t need to be a natural opening for the debriefing. Eventually, at a lull it’s just, “so, are you seeing anyone?”

I know women who refuse to spend holidays with family for this reason, or they do so reluctantly. This is disheartening to me. It shouldn’t be this way. Holidays are supposed to be a carefree time of joy, laughter, and enjoying the company of those closest to us. However, this is hard to do when you feel badgered and attacked, and sometimes even belittled.

My advice for women who face such circumstances when hanging with family during the holidays is to just let them talk. Address the comments you’d like to, and ignore the ones you don’t care for with an understanding that neither course of action will matter much as far as their perceptions are concerned. We can tout being an independent woman, feminism, and standards until we run out of words and it won’t make a difference. All they hear, all they’ll see, still, is that you’re single. And to them, this is a problem that needs fixing.

Often, trying to offer a rebuttal and explain things only makes the situation worse. Once we engage, family feels justified in going deeper and hitting harder. Now they want to mention all they think is wrong with you. How so-and-so was perfect and you ran the person off. Your perceived flaws are laid out on the table for all to see. Suddenly, people want to tell you exactly why your last partner left — or why you’ve struggled to find the next. So, my response would be to not allow the unwarranted assessment of your love life.

You have to know your personnel. Some family members can have a logical, respectful discussion on the topic and some can’t, or won’t. Nonetheless, the idea of your private endeavors becoming dinner-table banter can be annoying. Especially when it happens year after year.

Another way to handle these incidents would be to offer a more direct response and take control of the narrative. This is my favorite retort. If you’ve done a bunch of awesome stuff this year and family defaults to questioning your relationship status, counter with your accomplishments. Let it be known that you don’t hinge your significance to whether or not you have a significant other, and many great things are happening in your life that you’d love to talk about. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly exceptional.

Sometimes, just reminding people that you have inherent value and that the worth of a woman isn’t only found in becoming a wife and a mother can make them think about their behavior and perceptions. It can force family to face their personal biases and realize that whether intentionally or not, in their incessant questioning of your marital status, they reduce the sum of who you are. If they care, they’ll be more careful and thoughtful going forward.

In taking this route we also give our family a chance to show that despite how it may appear, what’s important to us is important to them. They know when we’re single. However, they can’t ask about things of which they are unaware. Sometimes we can make the decision that they’re not concerned about other elements of our lives without offering the opportunity for them to demonstrate otherwise.

Ultimately, you just can’t let it get to you. I know this isn’t as simple as it sounds. But, I think the worst possible way to handle these situations is to lash out and answer questions about finding a partner with snarky remarks such as, “Why? So I can be miserable like you and uncle Larry.” It’s tempting to call out the relationship failures of those attempting to lecture you on the subject, but it’s also fruitless. All it will do is further solidify the misguided notion that you’re unhappy and bitter, because you’re single.

Understand that the behavior of others says more about them than you and it will be easier to not take it personally. This, in turn, makes it easier to ignore or call out in a non-defensive manner — whichever method you’re up for and would be most effective with your personnel. The point is just to not allow family gatherings to feel like a burden weighing on your holiday spirit.

Author of the critically acclaimed book on women and relationship status, “Single That.”

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