Believe it or not, Passover is right around the corner.  As we sit around the Seder table this April (or Nisan, if we’re being technical) discussing the exodus from Egypt and why the “mortar” tastes so darned delicious (hint: I make mine with sugar and honey), our family and friends sometimes use the holiday as an opportunity to talk about our own lack of exodus… from singledom.

Time and time again, over a big helping of brisket at a family gathering, Aunt Mildred decides to break out the question, “So, when are you going to bring a significant other home for the holidays?  How hasn’t anyone snatched you up yet?”  This is when we start turning the color of the beet horseradish that’s sitting in front of us.  Why can’t this question just be forbidden to ask?  Why can’t this year be different from all other years?

This intense curiosity, or backhanded compliment if you will, is certainly not restricted to the Seder table.  It also happens on first dates.  Believe it or not, a client actually emailed this to me right while I was in the middle of writing this article:

“I get this question a lot on a date, ‘Why are you still single?’  I swear, I hate that question so much!  I feel like men think it’s a compliment, like, ‘Oh, you’re so attractive that it’s hard to understand why you’re single.’  Or maybe they are just trying to find out if I’m crazy or not, but I never know how to answer it.  I want to say it’s because men don’t act right, but I realize that might be a turn-off.  LOL.  How do you think I should respond?”

I have clients who also don’t know how to respond when their first dates ask equally inappropriate questions, like:

  • “Why did you get divorced?”
  • “Why haven’t you ever been married?”
  • “Why don’t you have children?”

I’d lump Mildred’s “interest” in with the questions above.  They’re things that shouldn’t be asked, at least not in front of a crowd or on a first date… but that doesn’t mean that people won’t ask them anyway.

How does one graciously deflect questions when family asks about your dating life during the holidays?  As I would say to anyone trying to avoid the inevitable discomfort, just respond with something that does not put you on the defensive, but instead looks to the future.  Rather than yelling out the first instinct — “Leave me alone!  I just haven’t met the right person yet!  Pick on someone your own age!” — you could instead reply, “You don’t want me to bring just anyone home, do you?  When it’s right, I’ll let that special person in.”  Or even, “Thanks for noticing I’m a catch,” and ending with a smile.  Some other alternatives that might get the job done are, “I respect myself too much to be with just anyone.”  Or even better, “Is that you offering to pay for my JDate subscription? (wink wink.)”

Just remember that the only person who has the right to judge you is, you guessed it, you.  The only person who looks bad in this scenario is that family member or date who lays it on too thick with the personal questions.  So, rather than hurling an equally low question at Aunt Mildred — “Why did you and Uncle Fred get divorced again?”— just hold your head up high.  You know that wherever you are in the process, or whatever life decisions you choose to make, no one has the right to make you feel badly about them.  If all else fails, just tell her how delicious her pickled herring is.  That compliment should last her until, oh, next year in Jerusalem.

Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge and author of acclaimed Love at First Site. Her work has been seen on NPR, Talk Philly, The Washington Post, and more. To join her mailing list for tips and events, please join here.
  1. I’ve been both the giver than the receiver of these questions, and now knowing how it makes me feel when I’m asked, I’ll be sure not to do that to others. Thanks for this.

  2. Is “I just haven’t found the right person yet” a totally acceptable answer? Hey, it’s true, at least for some people.

  3. Craig,

    Thanks for the comment! Of course that’s an acceptable answer, and I agree that it is the truth for many (or even most) people. I just don’t want anyone to make you feel badly about that or put you on the defensive. It’s not their right.

    Thanks for reading,
    Erika (the author)

  4. “I wanted to explore my sexuality when I was young and cute, now I want a provider and wonder why they don’t find me attractive any more.”


  5. I have not even finished reading your article and I felt compelled to comment based on your response that men do not act right! That is a riot and so nicely said in a lady like manner! I may try that sometime as it is nicer than what I often say or at least am inclined to say!

  6. Suggested answer… If I answer correctly will you find me a suitable wife (husband)? If not,why do you ask? Brings humor to an awkward situation and passes the ball to the intrusive questioner. Next you can offer any answer and promptly ask,”Was I right?”Where is my bride(Groom)? By the time everyone has stopped laughing,you can smile,remain silent,No-one is offended and the ‘situation’ has disappeared. Dr. Bob;From Dr. Bob’s book of invaluable repartee Been there,done that.

  7. To Erika,

    Hello again, sorry I only saw your response now, a month or so later after the fact, but thanks for it all the same. I just wanted to acknowledge that.

    Sincerely, Craig

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