The questions arise when you're passing the potatoes or putting out the nut cups. Are you seeing anyone special? Playing the field? When are you going to settle down?
Singles are often grilled about their personal lives in a way their married relations rarely are. When was the last time your sister and brother-in-law were asked to defend their "married lifestyle" to a table of 12?
Most of the time, the inquisitors don't mean to make their single relations uncomfortable. They're just curious, and maybe a little concerned. But they can still drive even the most self-possessed singleton to the cocktail cart. So, here are a few conversational exit strategies to some of the holiday's most irritating questions.
What They Say: "Why are you single?"
What They Mean: "You're a very appealing person, so clearly, this is a choice you've made."
What You Hear: "What's wrong with you?"
How to Respond: "I don't know."
This might sound weird, but I find it's the easiest answer. Otherwise, you're likely to start dissecting all of your psychological eccentricities, musing about whether you're too picky or too independent, slowly shredding your dignity like a cocktail napkin. "I don't know" stops the conversation.
What They Say: "Are you seeing anyone special?"
What They Mean: "I'm curious about your life."
What You Hear: "Prove that you're not a lost cause."
How to Respond: "Not at the moment."
Again, short and light is key. The temptation might be to give a passionate speech about how amazing your solo life is and assure your curious relative that you're too busy with work and friends to even think about dating. That's fine if it's true, but oftentimes we give the "too busy" speech as a hedge against pity, bending over backwards to assure family members that our lives are deeply fulfilling, non-stop fun or both. That's too much work, and it can also send the wrong message. Who knows? Your cousin might have a cute neighbor or co-worker she wants to introduce you to. "Not at the moment" leaves you open, but also assures your relatives that you're not worried about your romantic future, so they shouldn't be either.
What They Say: "Aren't you afraid you'll spend the rest of your life alone?"
What They Mean: "Because the idea scares the crap out of me."
What You Hear: "I'm looking into your future, and I see a cranky hoarder with 35 cats."
How To Respond: "I'd be more worried about spending the rest of my life with the wrong person."
Being alone is a big fear for a lot of people, which is why many choose to settle for mediocre relationships. You may not always love being alone, but if you have been on your own for a while, then clearly, you're not afraid of it. This is not necessarily true for the person passing you the cranberry sauce.
But again, be gentle and avoid righteous speeches, since they rarely take dinner table talk to a good place. And remember, there is one guaranteed way to change the subject: Stop answering so many questions about your life, and start asking others questions about theirs.
This post originally appeared on eHarmony.com.