By Jessica Goodman
Getting together with family and friends over the holidays can be great—but it can also come with the stress of relatives or family friends asking unwelcome questions about your love life. These people often mean well, but the underlying implication of these questions is that they want you to “pair up and settle down,” says psychotherapist Aimee Hartstein. “Loved ones want you to be happy and they assume, rightly or wrongly, that the way to being happy means dating someone seriously.”
That assumption can be anxiety-inducing. “We may end up feeling as though we’re somehow letting family members down if we don’t tell them what they want to hear,” says Hartstein. “It can also be hard to be asked about dating if dating is actually something we’re feeling badly about in the first place.” There’s no real way to stop family from prying, but there are some ways to deal with all the personal questions. Here’s how.
Try the direct approach
If someone asks, “Are you seeing anybody?” and you don’t want to share the details of your dating life, love coach Emyrald Sinclaire suggests being really direct with your response. You’re not obligated to share personal information like that with anyone, and it’s appropriate to simply respond with, “nope,” “yep,” “I’d rather not say,” or “I don’t want to talk about it.” Plus, being a bit short can suggest to your family member that this is an off-limits topic.
Change the topic of conversation
You can also avoid getting into a conversation about your current dating situation by switching the subject. If you can’t dodge the question entirely, try answering with something vague and nonspecific (for example, “I’m only dating casually at the moment”) and then pivot by asking them something about their lives, suggests Sinclaire. “The majority of people actually prefer to talk about themselves, so make it about them and a topic you know they love to talk about.”
You can fudge the details
Of course, it’s best and preferable to be honest, especially with people you’re close with. “But with extended family or less close friends,” says Hartstein, “your first job is to take care of yourself. You’re absolutely not required to share anything too personal with anyone.” If it’s too difficult or uncomfortable to talk about your dating life, it’s fine to fudge a bit. For instance, if you’re not ready to dish about the person you just started seeing, it’s fair to say that you’re not dating right now. Or if a relative asks if you’ve been on any dates lately and you had an awful first date the night before, saying something like “oh, not for a while” is understandable.
Don’t take the questions personally
Try to remember that your loved ones’ prodding isn’t really about you. Their curiosity is more likely about their own worry, says psychologist and anxiety specialist Dr. Karen Cassiday. “They’re asking for reassurance to decrease their own anxiety.” Also, chances are they’re asking the same questions to every person who is single at the party—not just you. So if you want them to chill out, Dr. Cassiday advises saying something like, “It sounds like you’re really worried about me, but please know I’m feeling great about my life and the way I’m handling it.”
Reply with confidence
However you decide to respond to your family’s prying questions, it’s helpful to reply with confidence, even if you’re not feeling great about your relationship status—or their incessant bugging, says Dr. Cassiday. She suggests saying something like, “I can tell you care about me, but please know I’m totally competent to handle my dating life. There’s no need to worry about me.” Or try a few other lines that you know you can say with confidence, like “I’ll let you know when I have anything to report,” or “When I’m ready to share news, I will.” Cassiday says displaying this kind of conviction “helps protect your integrity and sends a socially polite message that you don’t want to talk about it.”
So the next time you find yourself stuck in a corner with Aunt Eileen’s nosy questions, remember that there are many ways to duck out of the convo. And if none of these do the trick, try an old favorite: excuse yourself to go to the bathroom. Works every time.