11/28/2013 01:17 pm ET

The Question You Should Never Ask Couples This Holiday Season

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By Rachel W. Miller for

As families everywhere gather together for the holidays, it's likely that you'll find yourself making small talk with your relatives. And if said relatives are youngish, in a serious relationship, and not engaged, you might find yourself asking, "So...when are you getting married?" Take it from us: your propensity for asking this question is the reason your twenty-something cousins, siblings, nieces, and nephews (and their significant others) have been gulping their wine the second they see you approaching. Didn't realize this topic was on par with religion and politics in terms of cocktail party appropriateness? Here are four reasons why it's best to avoid it:

1. Because it's a sensitive subject for a lot of couples. Not all couples are on the same timeline with regards to engagement, and bringing it up at a family gathering often leads to major arguments in the car on the way home. (Surprise! Your go-to conversation starter has been inadvertently ruining couples' evenings this whole time!) Err on the side of caution and assume that if they aren't engaged yet, it's because one or both of them doesn't feel ready -- for reasons that are none of your business and probably not good fodder for small talk.

2. Because our culture expects men to propose to asking a woman when she's getting engaged often puts her in an extra awkward spot. If we presume that most men are doing the proposing in heterosexual relationships, and that the exact time/place/style of said proposal is going to be a surprise, then asking a young woman when she's getting engaged is just silly. That's not to say that you should ask the guy when he's going to propose because that's still obnoxious and awkward, but in our experience, this question is usually directed at women -- women who often just don't have an answer.

3. Because it's simply not an interesting subject for conversation. You ask, "So when are you getting married?" They say, "We're pretty happy now, we're not in any rush to the altar." Or they say, "Oh, we're just focusing on our careers right now, marriage will come later!" Or maybe they look pained and say, "I DON'T KNOW, MAYBE ASK YOUR COUSIN WHEN IT'S GOING TO HAPPEN!" and then try to act like they're only joking and they're totally cool with not being engaged. In any case, then what happens? Unless you're planning to tell them why their timeline is wrong (Hint: don't do that!) or start pressuring the person who isn't ready (we don't recommend that either), there is really no where to go from here. Are awkward personal questions the only way you know how to do small talk? No problem -- we've made a list of great conversation starters that aren't "So when are you getting married?"

4. Because if they wanted you to know when they are getting engaged or married, they'd tell you. Trust us.

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