The holiday season is here, and we're preparing to stuff our faces, see distant family and friends, and brace ourselves for those cringe-worthy questions relatives tend to ask about personal issues that are really no one's business. Still no boyfriend? When are you two going to have children? When's the wedding going to happen?
Why do people grill you like this in the first place? "Often this kind of persistent prying is caused by a kind of entitlement or confusion about what belongs to whom," Jason Wheeler, PhD, a psychotherapist in New York City, tells Health in an email. And some people ask lots of personal questions to divert any inquiries about their own lives. Sneaky.
Of course, you never have to reply to a question that makes you feel uncomfortable. But there's a better way to handle things than walking away or giving them the evil eye over the dinner table. Responding in a courteous, respectful, yet guarded manner is the best option, Elaine Rodino, PhD, a psychologist in State College, Pennsylvania, tells Health. These comebacks strike the right note and let you shut down the conversation fast.
Still no boyfriend?
Questions about your love life could reveal a number of things about the person asking. They may want to set you up with someone they know, or are interested in you themselves, says Wheeler. It could also be a covert way to ask about your sexuality. Or they simply hope you'll say yes so they can commiserate with you about being single.
With so many possibilities, replying with a pleasant but firm "Why do you ask?" is a smart course of action, says Rodino. You share no personal details, and it puts the ball back in the asker's court. If they follow up with an offer to put you in touch with a great potential partner, for example, you can take it from there. But if they keep prying with a reply like "Because you're such a catch, I just can't understand why you're still single," shut them down with "If and when I settle down, you'll be the first to know!" and smile.
Did you lose weight?
Body questions can really rile your defenses, especially if you didn't shed pounds and sense some judgment behind the query. But first give the asker the benefit of the doubt. "The person might want to know if you have any great diet or exercise tips to share," says Wheeler, in which case you might reply without saying yes or no but launching right into, "I've been easing up on my sugar intake and have never felt better." That shifts the conversation to health, not weight.
If you've decided you don't want to talk to this potential body shamer and just want a fast escape, turn the question back on the asker with a friendly "Did you?" It's a polite way to demonstrate how uncomfortable answering such personal questions can be.
When are you getting married/having children?
When people ask this, they're usually interested in small talk—or are anxious to participate in the wedding or be a big part of the family they hope you'll be starting. If you don't want to talk about your future plans in depth, opt for a vague response that turns an entirely different topic back on the asker. "Sometime in the next 10 years. So how are the home renovations going?" or "I'm not sure. I love your sweater, where did you get it?"
Be prepared for relatives who might dig for a more detailed response, especially if they feel entitled to an answer. "Realize how anxious someone is to be a grandparent, perhaps because they have some empty-nest problems," says Wheeler. If your in-laws keep asking, "I'd rather not discuss it but thanks for asking" should put an end to the convo.
You’re a vegan/vegetarian? Why?
Questions about a diet or lifestyle choice tend to come from a place of misinformation, explains Rodino. If someone is judging your food preferences or trying to convince you to take a bite of turkey or sausage stuffing when they know you don't eat animal products, an educational response could help the situation.
"Start with 'That’s a good question, let me explain to you,'" says Rodino. This phrase respects the other person's question (even if it's an underlying dig) and allows you to deliver the facts confidently. If you're vegan, tell your uncle how cutting down on meat intake helps the environment. If you've given up alcohol, say how amazing you've felt since making the switch.
How’s that job search going?
There's no shame in being unemployed—but that doesn't mean it's a topic to discuss at a gathering of family members you haven't communicated with since last holiday season. The best comeback is vague and positive (even if the job hunt really isn't), like "Very well, thanks for asking" or "It's been productive—but did I tell you about the recent camping trip I went on? It was a great experience. Let me show you some photos." You'll get the asker excited to hear about your life without discussing a topic you want to keep to yourself.
And remember, you can simply choose to not answer any question on any topic with a simple "Gee, that’s a personal question. You know, I don’t feel comfortable answering that." It may feel awkward, but a little awkward silence never hurt anyone. Plus, it's not your job to put nosy busybodies at ease.