At long last - the holidays are here! A time of love, festivities, and all-too-brief breaks from the work grind.
Every family has their own holiday traditions to celebrate, and mine is no different. So what do we do every year? We trim the tree, bake some cookies, turn on the televised yule log, and eat for hours. And of course, throughout this process, everyone grills me - the only family member in my 20's - about my love life.
What a shame it would be to end such a time-honored tradition, right?
If you're anything like me, you spend most of the year going about your business, running your post-dating love life however you see fit and trying your best not to answer to anyone with different ideas of how you should be finding love. You engage in a little techno-romance, hang out with the guys in your gaggle, and smile when you find yourself on spontaneously intriguing non-dates. Sure, you tell your best friend about that cute guy on your flag football team who wrote on your Facebook wall. But you don't fill Grandma in every time you receive an ambiguously flirty text message from a co-worker at 10pm.
However, here we are at the holidays! Over the course of the next week, you're probably going to be sitting down over slices of fruit cake with quite a few of your relatives. And because they can't help themselves, they're going to be nosy and demand some answers about your love life. A love life that probably doesn't fit their expectations, and won't make a lot of sense to anyone coming from a more traditional romantic perspective.
So how should you deal with the barrage of loaded questions? What tools will you need to combat the raised eyebrows and "kids these days!" sidelong glances? And can someone please pass that spiked egg nog over here ASAP?
Don't let your family's doubts and misunderstandings bother you - here are a few pieces of advice on how to cope with some common holiday scenarios in the post-dating world:
Your aunt and uncle invite you to Christmas dinner and make sure to drop, "And feel free to bring a guest!" When you decline that part of the offer for the third year in a row, you can tell that they're starting to worry.
People who have been in relationships for a long time tend to see others' love lives as fitting into one of two categories: single or dating. In their minds, "single" involves sitting at home alone on your couch with a pint of ice cream in hand, staring at your landline phone and telepathically begging it to ring. "Dating" means that you are officially going out to nice dinners and taking romantic strolls in the park with someone who should maybe-sorta-totally be getting closer to joining the family for holidays. Really, are there any other options?
Yes, there are!
In this time of romantic ambiguity and technological bonding and overall rule-breaking, connection and potential is everywhere - and not just in committed, explicit, traditional relationships. So talk to your aunt and uncle in Millennial-speak, and don't be afraid to justify your decision to turn down the extra dinner company.
"Nope, just me this year! Which reminds me, I've been emailing every day with this guy in Texas whose family has the most interesting Christmas tradition. You would love it."
"I'll be coming on my own, but sadly I'll have to head out on Sunday night to meet an old college friend for a drink. He's only in town for a few days, but we've always had a great connection and I'm excited to catch up with him."
"Oh gosh, no guests this time! I'd be scared to introduce you to all the crazy guys on my kickball team. *wink*"
These are all acceptable answers to show that you may not be in a committed relationship at the moment, but you're out there having fun and cultivating connections anyway. You are not destined to be alone forever, just because the dinner seat next to you is available!
While decorating the gingerbread house, your mother sees you smile when your phone buzzes with a text from that friend-of-a-friend who you met at a holiday party. Her verdict? "He sounds nice! So when are you two going on a date?"
Mom never flirted via 160 characters - it's not her fault! Try as she might, she's still wrapping her head around the idea that technology can be used to truly deepen connections and enhance relationships (and not just to plan late-night booty call hookups). So she's not going to understand that text messages can actually mean something. Especially in the absence of traditional dating.
This is your chance to school Mom in the ways of techno-romance. Get off the "date" topic as quickly as possible and validate the possibility surrounding this new guy.
"We haven't talked about dates yet, but Mom, he's so funny! Check out this Christmas joke he just sent me."
"We're not really doing the dating thing - we're both really busy and are just slowly getting to know each other. I'm trying to stay open-minded, so we'll see where it goes. And I'm thinking about joining this improv comedy group he keeps telling me about!"
Show Mom that you're getting to know each other in a mature, genuine way, and she'll hopefully forget about that "date" issue pretty quickly.
Your grandmother thanks you for the new bath kit you bought her and then, sighing wistfully, informs you that she recently begged her doctor to keep her alive until the day her granddaughter walks down the aisle. And pops out a few great-grandkids. No pressure or anything.
There's a good chance that, at your age, Grandma was working on Baby #2, 3 or 4. So it's only natural that she sees you single and immediately begins to worry about the passing on of the family name. Having grown older and wiser, she also values her familial relationships to an extent that can be hard to fathom in your self-centered twenties. Therefore, allaying her concerns (you're working too hard! you're traveling too much! you're wearing your hair too short!) might take some convincing.
Remind her that you're right on track - if there still is a track? - to taking those next steps...just a little bit later than she did. You're part of a generation where people are getting married older, so she needn't worry that there will be no prospects left once you're ready to settle down. Your timeline (or lack thereof) is normal these days.
"Haha, Grandma, haven't you heard? Thanks to all the medical advancements out there, you're not going anywhere anytime soon! There's still plenty of time for all that. Most of my friends are still single. Want another cup of coffee?"
That should do the trick.
In between the second and third dessert course, your father pulls out his laptop and starts surfing through his 34 friends on Facebook. He comes across a few photos of you from that infamous Sexy Santa party, and you can read the instant reaction on his face. Is this floozy my daughter??
Oh, fathers. Always worried that you're going to rebel against their protective upbringing and kiss inappropriate boys. Their image of you as Daddy's Little Girl would be cute, if it wasn't also so annoying.
Feel free to let Dad know that this isn't your typical mode of dress or partying - but, yes, you are young and exploring your options and learning about yourself, and part of that may sometimes involve putting on a short red dress and making eyes at a cute elf across the room. Millennial women are multi-faceted and complex, and we can party it up on Thursday night and then dominate the office meeting on Friday morning.
And that goes for romance as well. Who hasn't spent all night flirting with a casual new bar buddy, just to spend the next day having deep, meaningful (e-)conversations with a real romantic prospect?
"Oh man, that was a fun party! It felt good to get out and live a little after spending all week working on that major presentation for the boss. Did I mention how much she loved it?"
Just because we can play the role of party girl from time to time doesn't mean that we're not also just as proficient at being the strong, respectful career women that our parents raised us to be.
That sketchy older man (wait, whose side of the family is he on again?) won't stop winking suggestively at you and asking who your New Year's Eve date is. Problem is, you don't have a New Year's Eve date.
Not a problem at all! You probably have some plans in the calendar - maybe a party or a group dinner or a small gathering of friends who don't do the whole crazy New Year's scene. Any of these situations are prime for a group-non-date, and who knows where that will lead in the new year?
Oh, and don't even bother answering his question. Just consider yourself lucky that you won't be stuck on a formal date with some guy who could turn out to be a weirdo like him.
For more on the post-dating world, check out www.WTFIsUpWithMyLoveLife.com.
Follow Jessica Massa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jessmassa