Five Ways to Respond to Questions About Your Love Life This Holiday Season
The hashtag #OverheardAtThanksgivingDinner trended on Twitter recently. Of the first twelve tweets I saw, twenty-five percent mentioned vexatious comments from family members concerning one’s relationship status. It’s a universal phenomenon—you go home for the holidays, you see someone that you haven’t talked to for a few months or more, and they ostensibly voice their surprise that an attractive, young catch like yourself hasn’t made it to the altar yet. My late Grandma Louise was a repeat offender. Every family gathering she would sidle up next to me with an impish grin and probe, “How’s your love life?” Whether it actually strikes a nerve of discontent with riding solo or you really would like a way to elevate beyond superficial small talk, here are five suggestions for taking the high road when faced with filing the same report year after year.
1. Ask them: “What do you think relationships are for?”
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not proposing disrespect or glibness here. I’m proposing communal truth-seeking. If you can summon the grace, certainly thank them for their interest in your life and happiness. Then extend an earnest invitation to a fascinating discussion exploring God’s designed purpose for romantic relationships. It could in fact provide a meaningful connection and insight into their spirit. Not much unites curiosity like a few ponderous questions humbly connected with personal experience. We all need to have more conversations like this.
2. If they are married, encourage them.
I suspect there are many reasons married relatives and acquaintances unfailingly ask about the status of our love lives. Among them, though, I believe is a desire to find fellowship in the difficulty of commitment and fidelity. Misery loves company, right?
That was a joke. My bitterness is showing, but I’m not too jaded to acknowledge the genuine goodness of marriage. While drowning in save the dates and newsfeed relationship updates, we can miss that two unbelievably complicated human beings enduringly linking themselves together in a way that only death can sever is miraculous!
Fellow single adults, be ready to affirm and support your married loved ones’ example of honored vows. Ask them what the secret to their anniversary count has been. Ask them what makes marriage hard. Ask them what makes marriage worth it. Then tell them you don’t take enduring faithfulness for granted, that it is not a guarantee—just like finding a mate.
3. Don’t assume they disapprove/look down on you.
In many cases the pressure of cat lady stigmatization and sexuality questioning is real. Just make sure none of it is coming from you. We all know the struggle of inventing and inflating negative perceptions of ourselves. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is as good for you as it is for them. Since love is the subject, take strength from a passage that, perhaps like your homecoming conversations, is too often pigeonholed into a wedding context: “Love is patient and kind…it is not irritable or resentful…Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.(I Cor. 13)”1
4. Ask them why there are essentially zero Thanksgiving songs.
On principle I’m not one to endorse deliberately changing the subject to avoid an uncomfortable topic, but I submit this as a worthy redirection that doesn’t have to be disconnected from your answer to said irksome inquiry. For starters, try opening with the assertion that playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving is what made Black Friday black. Think about it. SOAP BOX ALERT Stretching Christmas across more and more of the calendar actually makes it less special, and wouldn’t even be a problem if we had some decent Thanksgiving songs to buffet2 the ever-enlarging dark heart of commercialism.
Seriously though, gratitude—in the midst of singleness and a relationship and life—is an extremely underrated virtue that needs more cultivation everywhere. Frankly, that’s a languid cause without—at the very least—an identifiable playlist that steers our human hearts toward gratefulness the same way Silent Night steers us towards childlike wonder. Maybe that uncle or cousin perpetually on the verge of artistic stardom could contribute to your traditions by creating a song, poem, or work of art about the exceedingly abundant3 ways God has blessed your family. After all, producing a plus one isn’t necessary to celebrate gifts beyond our prayers.
5. Be hopefully honest.
This is the last and most intimidating option. Yes, it’s going to look different depending on your audience. Not everyone needs or wants all the details about the bad taste left in your mouth from the time you kissed dating goodbye. But they will be blessed by the truth. In Christ, with sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, we are free to request privacy, rejoice in singleness, express fears, review lessons learned, and confess sin. I know it sounds rugged, and it probably will be. That’s where the hope comes in.
Hope grasps that getting out of our comfort zone to confide in a trustworthy member of the body of Christ is actually trusting Christ Himself. Being bae-less may not be a burden for you. Many in the Church and around the dinner table need to stop assuming it is. If it is though, claim the liberty of inviting someone into their purpose as an image bearer and allow them to carry your burden (Gal. 2:19). Dare to hope that your frustration in waiting, your joy in the gift, even your pain in brokenness can be communicated and can be understood.
This was not supposed to be an indictment on marriage. I happen to think marrying young is underrated. This effort was supposed to reduce the fear of those preoccupied with getting people married—those well-meaning individuals with the shenanigans of a matchmaker lurking deep within their eyes. Frankly though, matchmaking isn’t close to the worst intention someone can have for you. Instead of complaining—dare I say gossiping—on social media about it, engage with them! Admit the expectations weighing on you. Be the one to talk graciously about the idol of relational happiness that—with a lot of help from Disney and Hollywood—parasitically attached to the Church’s promotion of Christlike marriage.
Grandma Louise started interrogating me at a benign age, and it was much more endearing than embarrassing. Even so, by late high school it had primed me for a vindicating satisfaction in announcing the acquisition of my first girlfriend. I finally had a response I could be proud of! Looking back, I know it would be silly to blame Grandma for the fact that I’m not eager to reminisce about the results of that relationship or, for that matter, glorify my current bachelorism. However, I am eager for things like camaraderie, a clear conscience, maturity, redemption, all of which are found in Christ Himself and among His body. As the venerable Lady Elisabeth Elliot, someone who experienced prolonged singleness in a time with even greater condescension for unmarried adults, said, “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”4
- Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Insert image of smorgasbord defense system here.
- Ephesians 3:20-21. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Elisabeth Elliot, “A Quiet Heart,” The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter, March/April 1995, 2.
Photo courtesy of Felix Russell-Saw.