Even if — generally speaking — you find yourself to be pretty self-assured and fulfilled, the holiday season can feel like a constant reminder of the fact that you’re partner-less. From the holiday parties and the romantic winter outings to your siblings bringing their significant others home and you’re misplaced in a guest bedroom, being single during the holidays can be tough. And what can make it feel that much worse and maybe, even trigger some sad thoughts and anxiety? Everyone asking ‘Why are you still single?!” everywhere you go from Thanksgiving to New year’s.
"The holiday time is like wedding season for the winter; we are invited to many events that typically allow a plus one. When you are single and unhappy with that status, those invitations are a constant reminders of the status and possible feelings of loneliness. Family or friends asking about one's single status can also trigger feelings such as loneliness,” sex and relationship therapist, Courtney Geter, LMFT tells Bustle. “Some family members may ask out of curiosity and not realizing your single status is a sensitive topic. It has become very common for 'why are you still single' to be a default question. If a family member hasn't seen you in a year, it may be a way to see what has changed in your life since the last gathering. Another reason for asking is a family member may think you're a great person and trying to understand what's keeping you from getting coupled up OR they might be trying to set up a blind date and assessing you really are single. None the less, the constant reminder of your status hurts.”
But if you feel like there isn’t enough eggnog to help you dodge the question or you’re a bit worried you might snap (hey, it happens) the next time someone promises that ‘your time is coming soon!’— here’s how to handle your least favorite question the most effective — and kindest —way possible:
First, Accept That Everyone Feels Nostalgia
The holidays are bound to bring up memories — both good and bad. And regardless if you are single or taken, many people will find themselves thinking back to other times in their lives and how they experienced this time of year in the past. Before you can respond to anyone about your single status, you should accept that those feelings of nostalgia could be part of what’s making you feel a bit bluer than you normally are.
“We tend to become nostalgic and if we're single, we often reminisce about Christmases past when we were snuggled up under the mistletoe with someone we hoped would be The One (but obviously wasn't). Then we head to New Years parties full of happy couples kissing at midnight while we stand alone on the dance floor throwing back a martini. It can feel pretty lonely flying solo throughout all the festivities,” Dr. Karin Anderson Abrell, psychologist and author Single is the New Black: Don't Wear White 'Til It's Right, tells Bustle.
Secondly, Prepare What You’re Going to Say
Before a big presentation at work or when you had exams in college, you probably studied, right? When you’re going into another situation — like a family gathering — that could make you uncomfortable or pose to ask you about your relationship status, think about what you’re going to say. When you’re armed with information and yes, a canned response, you are less likely to lose your cool or be rude. (Even if, yes, the question itself is personal).
“Create your script before the event. If you're already anxious and you know there is a chance this question will come up, go ahead and think of your response before family events,” Geter suggests. “Knowing your response will help manage and decrease anxiety by not putting you on the spot and creating awkward or unpleasant conversation or interactions. You can state your response and move the conversation along. Then take a deep, cleansing breathe to remove any left over anxiety.
Thirdly, Know Your Audience
How you would answer this question to your mother is probably different than what you might respond to your dear best childhood friend after a few glasses of mulled wine, right? Abrell, who was actually single herself into the age of 42, says it’s important to approach each person differently. Though you want to craft conversations that make sense between you and whoever is doing the prying into your love life, you can try Abrell’s suggestions to get you started:
Casual friend: "I know—it's crazy, right? Everyone knows I'm a catch!" and then what? Abrell says to move the topic to something they’ll be chatty about: did they just have a baby? Go on a big trip? Get a new job? You can put the ball and attention in their court to make them less likely to keep chatting about you.
Close family member: "No, really. Please don't worry about me. Things are going great! Did I tell you about the promotion I got at work?" This tactic works because you’re showing them — or rather, educating them— that there is far more to your daily existence than searching for Mr. or Mrs. Right. Instead, you’re filling your life with work you enjoy, adventures you work hard for and more than enough happiness to fill whatever void they are trying to point out.
Your Mother: "Mom, I know you love me and you worry about me sometimes. But you have to remember, you raised me to be strong and capable and even though being single can be challenging, you gave me all the tools I need to handle it. Don't worry, I'm not crying myself to sleep every night! I have a very full life and I hope you can be proud of me for all my accomplishments, even if — at the moment — these accomplishments don't include a spouse and kids. Thanks for checking in, but I've got this." You have to remember, Abrell says, that your mom has your very best interest at heart and she only wants to see you as full of joy as you can be. This approach lets her know you appreciate her concerns, but that you’re doing just fine and there’s nothing to worry about.
Lastly, Try Not to Get Defensive
It’s easy — it really is — to go off on someone when you might already feel under-the-gun yourself. If you’re single and you really wish you weren’t, it might even be harder to not roll your eyes or get upset when you’re pushed for an answer. To this, Geter says to remember the reason the person is asking.
“Keep in mind your family member's intention isn't malicious and he/she may not realize the topic is sensitive to you," she says. "Family gatherings can be stressful under pleasant circumstances, and defensiveness may create conflict or more stress. Plus, if you didn't drive yourself, you might not have the option of leaving early! If the topic is sensitive, you have a right to inform the person, change topics, or remove yourself from the situation."