As if straight out of a Hollywood movie, you may soon get asked some very personal questions in front of your extended family this holiday season. “Have you found that special someone?” you can practically hear your grandmother ask, or perhaps it’s your dad or uncle or brother who casts you under the spotlight once everyone sits down to that special holiday dinner. This article provides a few quick ways to handle this irksome issue so you don’t have to feel unnecessarily annoyed or uncomfortable.
First, identify the potential culprits.
Who in your family tree is most likely to ask you about your relationship status and put you on the spot in front of others? Make a note of this so that you are prepared. The best offense is always to be prepared.
Beat them to the punch by broaching the issue yourself.
This is a great technique that allows you to avoid potential discomfort or embarrassment. Catch the culprit when it’s just the two of you alone for a minute, and give them a little update about your life. “Life is good. Work is fine, happy enough being single, and spending time with friends.” The culprit will be less likely to offend you in front of the entire group if you’ve already had a brief chat about the subject.
Use humor if someone does put you on the spot on the subject in front of other family members.
Humor makes almost everything better. When you use humor, make sure your tone is light and playful, not defensive or angry. A couple of great responses: “Hold on, guys. We’re not suggesting that someone in a relationship has more value than someone who isn’t, are we?” Of course, the group will often chide and laugh in response, “Um, yes, we are!” Laugh with them and playfully mock them right back: “Aw, bless your hearts. May wisdom come your way!” Another example: “Is this the ‘Personal Questions’ segment? This is always my favorite part. It’s like a real talk show!” Another wink-required option: “If we’re doing personal questions, you know that means I get my turn, too…” That technique, by the way, will quiet anyone in an instant!
Show a little vulnerability if the subject inevitably comes up and “join them.”
Call to mind the old expression, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” In situations where you’re put on the spot, the tempting response is to get defensive or to do the opposite, to internalize it and sit there feeling foolish and embarrassed. You must remember the big picture in these moments. This is your family and they aren’t actual opponents. If you say something simple and honest, especially something that elicits a little empathy, you will offset the initial awkward question and make the situation a lot more comfortable for yourself. “I am single still, and the truth is, it isn’t so easy to meet someone you really connect with. But I’m not giving up!” The group will instantly come to your side and stop the pressure tactics.
Make note of who asks their questions harmlessly versus others who may actually want to provoke you.
Many times, a family member asking personal questions at holiday gatherings is meant to be a harmless way to connect and to hear more about your life; other times, the questions can reflect resentments, anger, or even envy. If someone catches you off-guard and asks annoying questions about your relationship status, identify whether the person is trying to connect or trying to make you uncomfortable. In the vast majority of situations, the asker doesn’t mean any harm and is simply getting a little too nosy. But when you feel that the asker is inquiring with a deeper, more negative motive or message, laugh off the question in the moment and then take a moment later to address it one-on-one if you a) truly felt uncomfortable with the questions and b) feel that the relationship is important enough to confront the uncomfortable.
Above all, remember to do your part and keep the overall peace at the family gathering.
Family gatherings can trigger each one of us because holidays often come with a host of stresses: travel, financial burdens, and socialization with some family members you don’t see regularly. In those cases when you do address dating or other issues, try to remember that your holiday experience will be the most enjoyable as long as everyone plays nice and chooses to not give in to negative emotions during this emotionally fraught season.
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.