Being home for the holidays can be a wonderful chance to catch up with family and old friends. But for a lot of people, it’s also a time when we’re expected to open up – maybe more than we really want to – to distant relatives whose well-meaning questions strike just the wrong nerve.
There are only so many times a sane person can answer the same unvaried questions about their work or relationships, and if there’s something complicated or uncomfortable in your real answers to the “catch up on your life” small talk, these interactions can be downright painful.
How can we respond kindly to these inquiries without feeling the need to scrape at the raw areas of our lives for people who aren’t actually in our inner circle? There’s a healthy line we can walk to avoid feeling frustrated.
Your boundaries for sharing are your choice.
You can share as much or as little as you would like to with anyone that’s asking. Some people you may feel comfortable letting in on more intimate details of your life, while others you just don’t feel the need to share with them.
That is ok!
You don’t need to open yourself up to every question you receive. If you just went through a breakup, then all anyone needs to know is that it wasn’t working out and you’re no longer together. If you’re between jobs, then talk about what you’re currently working on in your spare time.
It’s natural for people who haven’t seen you in a while to ask more questions than you might like to answer, but that doesn’t mean you need to answer every one. After all, these are people who you see rarely. A little info goes a long way. Figure out your information boundaries and go from there.
What news in your life are you excited to share?
Think of the things you want to talk about beforehand. You may get questions you don’t want to answer, so pull a politician’s favorite trick and instead of answering the question that’s asked, deflect and talk about what you actually want to talk about. Maybe it’s an upcoming trip, or funny story from a recent night out.
Most of the time when you are reunited with family there are the same few questions everyone asks you over and over because they’re comfortable asking more surface questions. Others just want to get a taste for what’s going on in your life, so instead of waiting to navigate those monotonous and prying questions, be preemptive and come ready to talk about the things happening in your life that you want to share.
It’s okay to say you don’t want to answer.
You may find yourself cornered at the dinner table with a question that feels painfully personal, and you do not need to answer it.
You can politely say you don’t want to talk about it. Tell them you would rather not discuss it, then offer a topic you would prefer to discuss. You can also turn the conversation to someone else. Ask your own questions. Check in on what’s new in other’s lives if you are not feeling up to talking about your own.
It’s natural for people who haven’t seen you in a while to ask more questions than you might like to answer, but that doesn’t mean you need to answer every one.
Accomplishments in life are not limited to the professional or romantic.
It’s common that the two big questions you may get asked around the holidays are about your job and your love life. Surely, those are not the only things happening in your life. Talk about the other things you may be pursuing or considering.
Are you taking any classes? Are you volunteering anywhere? What other things are you looking forward to in the next year? The entire point of their question is that they want to know about your goals. You’re achieving things, so don’t be afraid to brag about yourself!
Different generations have different views of how life’s timeline should go.
Just a generation or two ago couples got married very soon out of high school and careers were often something they locked into for the long haul.
Today, many couples aren’t getting married until their 30s and careers are more likely to ebb and flow. One day you may feel certain of your professional direction only to find another route the next week.
Family gatherings are often a strong reminder of these generational changes. Just because you did not follow the timeline of your parents or grandparents does not mean you are behind in your life. There is also a lot of wisdom that you can glean from older generations, too. Things may have happened differently for them, but they have learned a lot throughout their years.
Remember that all of these questions mean your family is interested in your life; they care to know what’s new with you. They are coming from a kind place even if it may make you feel a little awkward. With a little preparation, you can navigate your way through these conversations, instead of being pulled through them like a river.
How do you keep your holiday conversations encouraging vs. cringe-worthy?
Images via Anna Howard