What’s worse than random strangers at a holiday party grilling you about your love life? It’s your family inquiring: “Are you dating anyone?” Never mind that these are presumably some of the most important people in your life who genuinely care about you. Even the most secure singles can feel as if they’re attending an inquisition.
Of course, it’s fair game to be asked about your work or workout schedule. But there’s something about an inquiry into your romantic status that makes us bristle. I’ve heard both women and men reveal that the question made them feel like failures. Some even suspected their relatives were probing them on purpose to expose their inadequacies. Others hated this question so much that they planned to skip family events altogether.
I’ve read advice columns that offer witty comebacks to obnoxious relatives’ remarks or suggest you come armed with clever arguments about why single life is so great. This takes waaay too much work and blows a simple question out of proportion.
Instead of going on the defensive, I suggest a new approach: Be positive. Be authentic. Be honest.
Here are some tips on preventing nosy family members from wrecking your merry good time:
1) Give them the facts
Them: How’s your love life going?
You: Okay. I’d like to meet some special. I’m trying online dating.
Strategy: You don’t dodge the question. You treat it like any other topic and declare your goal and what you’re doing to reach it. Your matter-of-fact attitude doesn’t invite judgment. Plus, no can argue with someone making an effort.
2) Deflect negative comments by asking for support
Them: Finding someone is so hard these days. I wouldn’t want to have to date at your age. All the men online are losers. The women are just looking for someone to buy their meals.
You: Well, we all have to keep trying. Wish me luck!
Strategy: You’re not letting them drag you down the rabbit hole of hopelessness. You’re shutting down the discussion and taking away their chance to give you a speech about the “state of romance” today. You also shift the energy by asking your family to root for you.
3) Don’t debate your marketability
Them: Well, I don’t understand why you’re still single. You’re such a catch.
You: Thanks. I appreciate the compliment.
Strategy: You’re not engaging in an exchange about your value on the dating market and why potential suitors aren’t lining up to put a ring on it. (They might be, but your great uncle doesn’t need the details.) You’re not a sad story! So turn the tables by assuming they were trying to flatter you.
4) Get them talking
Them: Still single?
You: Yes. You know I never heard the story about how you guys started dating. Did you meet through friends?
Strategy: You take the focus off you. You give your second cousin a chance to talk about herself, which she’ll probably love. Plus, you just created the opportunity to connect with her and hear a good story. Maybe you’ll even learn something in the meantime.
Your relatives might keep badgering you, and you might need to escape by establishing your boundaries with “Enough talk about dating! I want to see if the pie is being served.” Give them the benefit of the doubt that they probably aren’t the most skilled conversationalists. They might not read your cues that the subject is uncomfortable for you.
They’re probably also talking to you through the lens of their own fears and insecurities. Marriages end. Spouses die. And they might be asking about your experiences to prepare themselves for a day when they might be single.
Instead of reacting, use the chat as a chance to reassure them that you’re still okay, whether or not you brought a guest. Then go get some pie.
About the Author:
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.