Got family? How to handle awkward holiday conversations

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Now that the holidays are in full force, we can all look forward to getting together with family through the next month, and celebrating all the things we’re grateful for with some food and festivities.Make no mistake, that’s merely the expectation of what an idyllic holiday dinner should be.When reality sets in, the holiday tradition generally means finding yourself at the dinner table and ON THE SPOT, fielding a flood of uncomfortable, embarrassing questions about your personal life that you’d rather not answer, or worse, getting wrangled into some awkward conversation about topics that should be banned altogether from holiday discussion -- namely, Hillary, Trump and religion.And if the holiday banter becomes too intense, a perfectly nice holiday dinner can devolve into a confrontation (read: domestic altercation) that you’d just as well avoid altogether if it wasn’t for some decently half-baked turkey. But when you’ve been put on the spot at the dinner table, there’s nowhere to run when those annoying queries come your way.

We’re here to help you keep your cool, and give you the tools you need to handle those annoying questions, and avoid a fight, on Thanksgiving and the entire holiday season. Here’s how to do it.If you’re single...If you’re tired of the election...If you don’t have kids...If you’re a vegetarian...

"Why are you still single/Are you dating anyone?/Why aren’t you married by now?"

Escape strategies to employ:

  • Bridge the topic of dating or marriage into a compliment or reverse reflection to the asker

  • Use humor to avoid the question

  • Shovel mouth full of food and attempt to answer with your hand over your mouth

Some suggested responses:

  • "I’d love to find someone as lovely as Aunt Charlotte to share my life with. How is she doing, by the way?

  • "Mohnohunnyightow" (Translation: "Oh, nobody right now" with a mouthful of mashed potatoes)

  • The catfishing/fake Internet bride answer: "Just $3,000 more to pay off all her debts before she can come to America."

Of course, none of these replies apply if you actually are dating someone, and if they accompanied you to Thanksgiving dinner, you wouldn’t get asked one of the above questions by your nosy relative. If your main squeeze couldn’t attend, be truthful in your answer. If they didn’t want to come, you might want to reassess the future of your relationship.If you’re not dating anyone, and those Zales commercials playing over on the TV this time of year make you want to down another eggnog or three, deflection is your best defense. Flatter your family member with a compliment. Ask them some specific questions about themselves, or inquire about the relationship status of (other cousin/niece/nephew/random relative). Replying with a mouthful of food (see options above) usually prevents the question from getting asked a second time.Of course, if you just want to keep it in the family, say so:

If all else fails, obfuscating the situation by merely changing the subject should suffice, but don’t get defensive or disrespectful; after all, your mother/grandmother/aunt/etc. just want to see you happy, so don’t take your singledom too hard.

"Who did you vote for?"/Can you believe Hillary lost?"/"Can you believe Trump won?"/Random opinionated political question

Escape strategies to employ:

  • Feign ignorance

  • Use pop culture as an analogy anytime politics are mentioned

  • Turn questions back around to the asker

  • Invite others into the conversation

Some suggested responses:

  • "Hillary who?"/"Donald who?"

  • "Who do you think is a robot on Westworld?/"Who do you think will be the next person to die on The Walking Dead?/"Who do you think will be the next person voted off of The Bachelor?"

  • "None of your business."

Though politics is on the holiday blacklist, you’ll need to go into your holiday dinner resigned to the fact that someone in your family will invariably bring up the recent 2016 Presidential election (only after downing multiple glasses of Pinot Grigio).

Yes, that opinionated uncle is the very type of person who should be reading this article before dinner -- and no, they most likely won’t. So, your best course of action is to either play dumb, speak in agreement, rally together other family members, or flat out lie.If you’re cornered and asked about who you voted for, or your opinions on Trump, Hillary, Obamacare or other political trope, tell token family member that you didn’t follow the race this year; "work/school/other commitments" simply got in the way. You might turn it back around with a "What did you think of the election?" If you’re faced with a belligerent family member with radically different political/social beliefs than yours, don’t feed the troll … er, antagonist, and just nod in accord.Rather, join others in on the discussion and get them to ask the question while you make your escape into the next room. Swiftly demurring the convo to asking them about the latest Westworld fan theories, the Walking Dead, or which team might make it to the Super Bowl are guaranteed effective holiday conversation changers.

"When are you going to have kids?"/"When are you going to get a real job?"

Escape strategies to employ:

  • Act confused by the question until the asker stops asking

  • Get physical by acting out your job on the spot with CNN level detail on what you’re doing

  • Hint that you are a spy and note that it’s top secret

  • Feign a medical allergy to kids

  • Discuss your active attempt to have kids in vivid detail until the asker tells you to stop

Some suggested responses:

  • "When I/we get around to it."

  • "I already have a real job and/or kids."

  • "I already have two cats, what more do you want from me?"

To your family members, they might just be curious if a new addition to the clan is in the pipeline, or some career development in the works. Depending on the line of questioning, it might be something you’re perfectly comfortable addressing, or it could be crossing a boundary you’d rather avoid."Don’t worry, grandma," you might say, "we’re just practicing until we get it right," if pressed about having kids. Or, the "Not in the near future" response if you’re still single (see tip number one above for more on that approach). If certain family members have forgotten that you already have kids, a gentle reminder will do.

Then there are the frustrating questions about your choice of career that crosses the line into condescension -- as if the college degree and job you’ve got at current is never good enough for your parents, elders or relatives. "I have a real job" is all the response that’s needed from you.(And if a cadre of cousins begins to bluster on about how having a college degree is a waste of time and money, or, how a particular career path is impractical, let the unenlightened find their own way while you keep doing what you love. You only see them once a year anyway.)

"Why aren’t you having any turkey?"/"When did you become a vegetarian?"/"You’re still not eating meat?"

Escape strategies to employ:

  • Confess to your gambling problems and dive into a story about a bet you made that you’d stay away from meat for the holidays

  • Launch into another story about a recent altercation with a turkey; instruct family member not to ask

  • Pretend to be a famous celebrity vegetarian

Some suggested responses:

  • "Vegetarian? I might become a fruitarian. Vegetables have feelings, too."

  • "I’m allergic to meat." (Guaranteed to get anyone to back off; health issues are rarely questioned.)

  • "My pet turkey wouldn’t approve."

Nothing can seem more frustrating (and rude) than the short-term-memoried family member(s) who don’t remember that you’ve been a vegetarian for the last several years; despite openly stating your dietary choices, it’s as if each holiday is the first time they’re hearing it, so the shock, surprise and criticisms about animals as food and protein intake ensue.But what’s the worst is when the carnivorous of family members may pass off your lifestyle as some passing fad or phase. It’s a sign of disrespect and can seem insulting, but do your best to take the high road. In this case, just be blunt and brief: "Nope, been keeping away from meat for (X) years now. You should try it sometime!"Remember to put things in perspective. It’s only Thanksgiving, so unless someone’s asking you for your expert opinion on a topic in question, take their assumptions, closed-minded comments, or awkward conversation-starting words with a grain of salt. Always aim to take the high road and don’t resort to creating family schisms over simple differences of opinion -- after all, you can’t control what people think or say, but you can be in control of how you respond.And if all else fails: Sit at the kiddie table. Your younger cousins and siblings won’t bombard you with silly questions.

Image: Freshpet