Oh, the holidays. A time for cheer, family gatherings, and avoiding uncomfortable personal questions around the dinner table.
Whether it’s your perfect sister-in-law, your sweet grandma, your Karen-y aunt on her third husband, or a cousin you barely know, if you find yourself single around this time of year (“cuffing season,” as it’s colloquially known), chances are you’ll be asked why you’re unattached in some form or another. The problem is apparently so prevalent that it was covered in The Washington Post.
Let’s face it: it’s an annoying question. Rarely are we asked about our hobbies or professional lives. There’s something intriguing to others and something about the environment of holiday gatherings that makes it almost unavoidable.
Sometimes it’s bad enough being alone for the holidays without having to be reminded of it. Try these responses and see what works best for you.
Why the Interest?
Asking young relatives why they’re single is a time-honored tradition, and one that conjures to mind the first five minutes of Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Good or bad intentions aside though, the question never really seems to be “Why are you single,” but more an implied “What’s wrong with you?”. (If you didn’t already know this, I’m here to tell you: there’s nothing wrong with you.)
Before you reply, it’s important to contextualize. Who is this relative to you? Are they someone you regularly keep in contact with, or someone you only see once a year?
It’s important to contextualize and consider why they’re interested.
And what’s the interest? Why is your personal life, in particular, so intriguing? Are they asking in order to flaunt a newly-acquired engagement ring, or sympathize and commiserate?
Writer and Ph.D. Kac Young advises, first and foremost, to always assume the best. Doing the opposite could lead to defensiveness and tension, and that’s not really the vibe you want around cutting the turkey (bringing up politics will do that well enough). It might be hard, depending on the person, but try to assume that they mean well. This gives you a good footing to start off with and better equips you for a follow-up.
Responding to Nosiness
Lesli Doares, a relationship consultant, sums up this category best: “There are nosy people in all areas of our lives. But just because they want to know something doesn't mean we have to provide the information they are interested in. It is imperative that if someone asks you a question, they receive a response. But the response does not have to answer the question asked.”
Assuming that their intentions aren’t geared towards your wellbeing — yikes — there are a couple of routes you can take.
Answer with a pointed or shrugged off “I don’t know” and smoothly change the subject. Try topics like dogs, sports, or mutual acquaintances.
Turn the conversation around.
You can answer quickly, and then ask them about what they’re up to in their own personal lives. If there’s one thing rude people enjoy, it’s talking about themselves. Or, flatter their interest, ask them for advice, and let the misguided dating tips and tricks roll in (with this option, I would personally recommend having a strong cocktail in hand).
There are a lot of freedoms and things to be enjoyed in singledom that you can’t get in a relationship.
Talk about the benefits.
Let’s be real, there are a lot of freedoms and things to be enjoyed in singledom that you can’t get in a relationship. You can try a “I’m not sure, but...” and continue with an interesting place you traveled to, close friends you hang out with, or hobbies you’ve picked up. Self-improvement and development are very admirable, and if you’re confident and making the most of your singleness, that should be respected and applauded.
Don’t be afraid to push back when it comes down to it.
Be firm, but explain why. Respecting boundaries is important, and the ones who usually become uncomfortable in those situations don’t understand why boundaries are necessary in the first place.
Responding to Concern
There’s a flip side to the question: what if the person asking is really just concerned?
I’ve always hated when family members worry excessively about certain aspects of my life, until I remember that I do the exact same thing. Worrying about others can often seem more overwhelming than worrying about ourselves.
Especially when it comes to love and relationships, a lot of good-hearted people just want you to be as happy and content as they are, and this is their way of expressing it. This is the best possible motivation you could hope for. Even if the question gets on your nerves, your uncle, step-mom, third cousin, or whoever probably just wants to see you happily paired off and settled.
A lot of good-hearted people just want you to be happy, and this is their way of expressing it.
In these instances, you should feel gratified and start out by being honest. You can go into past partners or relationships that haven’t necessarily worked, and even clarify what it is you’re looking for and what you might be waiting on. Who knows, maybe the person asking has a tall, well-dressed, and handsome acquaintance they wouldn’t mind setting you up with.
If you’re happy and just fine with being single, that works as well. If they truly care for you, they’ll trust your answer and hopefully not take it any further than it needs to go.
Be sure to thank them for their concern as well. Worry is just another form of investment into your life, and that speaks volumes about this person and what they want for you.
Holiday family gatherings can be a slippery slope, especially if you’re going it alone.
If you’re happy in your singleness, let your confidence shine through. Let your contentment in yourself be so obvious to everyone in the room that it’s not even necessary to ask the question in the first place.
If you’re unhappy in singleness and searching, don’t despair. Seasons of our life come and go, and this too shall pass. Even if this is the year you’re alone, for the first time or yet again, it doesn’t mean it will be that way forever. The holidays are a time for hope and possibility and excitement, and taking that to heart should be an encouraging reminder.