Brunette getting a headache on christmas day at home in the living roomIf you’re the sole single at your family gathering, you may feel the heat.

Fact: Your relatives will ask you about your romantic status. They want to know! This might feel like a nuisance, a minor bump in the conversation, or it may feel very confronting. But it doesn’t have to be. You can’t change your relatives or their behavior, but you can change your response to them, and handle it all with grace and ease.

Here’s how to avoid letting this question derail your peace of mind over the holiday.

1. Take off the emotional goggles. Remember that the reason people ask is because the single person’s life is often deemed the most exciting and interesting, due to its unpredictable and social nature. The questions are often spurred by pure curiosity, not an attempt to embarrass you. Most people are bored and they think you must have something going on. Not a bad thing. Play that up (if you want). Or at least know that they often ask out of concern for you and your happiness.

2. Get honest about your triggers. What really bothers you? Is it that you’re not comfortable with the fact that you’re single, or that you hate how your Aunt Ida gets all up in your business? Big difference here. Drop your defenses and get real with yourself about what the issue is so you can address it separately, rather than try to work it out at the table. When you can get a handle on the emotional trigger and separate it from the question at hand, you’re less likely to be taken off guard.

3. Decide what you’re willing to share. So what is your deal—and what do or don’t you want people to know? ARE you seeing someone? Several people? Not a soul? Are you willing to engage on a meaningful discussion or do you want to just move conversation along? Be careful here—if you divulge a ton of details, you’re teaching others to keep digging. You can’t dish now and be defensive later. Pick an approach and stick with it.

4. Get an ally. If you can talk to your key inquisitor in advance, and make her your ally, terrific. Let Aunt Ida think SHE’S your ally and protector, even if she’s your worst offender. When she’s given the role of protecting you, your problem is solved. If your sisters tend to bully you about it, choose one of them and talk to them in advance and ask them to help you out when the topic comes up.

However, if that’s not possible, get one of the stronger personalities on your side beforehand, like a rowdy uncle or persuasive aunt. Say, Hey, when Becky starts riding me about being single, I could use someone to help. Make sure your ally understands how you feel and what point you want to get across, so you really are on the same team.

5. Secure a lifeline. Have a friend on standby so that you can send a text and get support when you need. Even better, ask a friend to do a sanity check with you during the day to keep your mood up and your sense of humor in tact. Having someone who knows you outside of that room can help you remember the sane and centered person you really are when you’re not feeling cornered.

6. Use conversational judo. Trust me on this one: The harder you dig in and defend yourself, the more tension you create. Don’t do it. Rather than get defensive in the moment, try one of these tactics:

  • Gentle redirect: “It’s so nice of you to be concerned. Honestly, not much to report yet, but something really exciting happened at work that I wanted to tell you about…” or “I’ve been dating here and there, sure. Nothing of note yet, but it’s so nice of you to ask. What’s going on with you?”
  • Joke & jive: “No Grandma, no one special yet, but when I do you’ll be the first to know! And now you know what you can get me for Christmas!” Keep it light, joke about it, and move on.
  • Turn the tables: “I’m not seeing anyone at the moment, no. Why do you ask?” This is great for drawing a subtle but firm boundary between you and someone whom you don’t think should be nosing around in your biz. This puts the onus on that person to defend her position, instead of on you to defend yours.
  • Go for dead honest: You may think this makes you vulnerable, but what it does is put them in a position of comforting, not challenging. This is not a weakness—this is giving them what they are after: an honest response. “No, I’m not seeing anyone right now, and it’s not easy. Sure, I’d like to find someone special, but it’s not happening at the moment. The good news I’m really happy with where I am in my life and proud of what I’m doing. I’m not worrying about it so you shouldn’t either.”

Remember, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with being single, and you owe no one an apology or explanation for it.

The goal here is not to change everyone’s mind or opinion about you on this one night. The goal to get through it unscathed, with your relationships in tact and your emotional reactions in check.

Good luck in there.

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