Home for the Holidays…or Maybe Not

By Michelle Cove

Scores of single women around the country are selecting Thanksgiving recipes, booking travel arrangements for December—and trying not to think about yet another year of being cornered in the kitchen by that pesky relative who wants to know why they are still single.

Comments like “You’re not getting younger,” “You shouldn’t be so picky” are as common at holiday dinners as “Pass the turkey” and “Could I have another hot toddy?”

After interviewing single women around the country for three years for my documentary and self-help book Seeking Happily Ever After, I fully understand the brutality of these events and have come up with the following strategies.

Know where the exit door is. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re stuck with this dreary situation until you find a partner to bring home with you. You are a grown woman with a say in how you’re treated. Tell any family members who grill you about your dating status that you’re doing fine without a boyfriend, thank you. Then switch topics. If they keep meddling–and it’s starting to feel like a group sport—say good night to everyone and leave. You are under no obligation to stick it out, and there are no medals of honor for making it through the whole evening.

Refuse to be a charity project. This is also the time of year when married friends decide your single status is a holiday tragedy. What starts as an innocent Christmas dinner invitation quickly turns into a free-for-all about what they think you should be doing about your love life. In fact, if you don’t set limits, married couples can quickly make a sport out of pairing you off. As one single forty-something claimed, “You would think there is nothing else to talk about in my life other than what guy I’m dating and whether it’s going anywhere. I mean, seriously, my romantic life is dull right now but my married friends still want to hear every brutal detail. Get a life, people!”

Let married friends find a new way to entertain themselves rather than insisting they want to set you up with a great guy they know (and then don’t); or playing makeshift therapist by analyzing your dating flaws; or doling out tips on where the good men are.

Just about all of the women I spoke with could name at last one married person who was “making them crazy” with all the relationship advice. They just didn’t know how to put an end to it. Tell friends who are treating you like a pet project that you’d like to drop all the attention on your love life. You’ll let them know when there is anything to know. Bring up new adventures you plan on taking; ask them about their favorite travels, new restaurants around town, and what TV shows they’re watching these days. Hopefully, they’ll take the hint and snap out of investigation-mode. For those who won’t stop, assume there’s something “off” in their own marriage that is leading them to obsess about you.

It may be time to take a break from them because you do not need anyone dragging you down; you deserve friends who lift you up. On that note, don’t forget to shower with appreciation those friends who support you and reassure that you’re fine as you are.

Create your own holiday rituals. Lastly—if you’re dreading the holiday get-togethers–consider passing on them and creating a new ritual with people who lift your spirits. Invite a few like-minded single women over for a potluck dinner. Or, attend a holiday gathering with a friend’s (less judgmental) family. Plan a solo trip somewhere exotic, or volunteer somewhere where you’ll be truly appreciated. Celebrate the fact that you can no longer be forced by your folks into situations that leave you feeling terrible. You call the shots now, which is the best holiday gift you can give yourself.

The strategies above come from Michelle Cove’s self-help book Seeking Happily Ever After: How to navigate the ups and downs of being single without losing your mind (and finding lasting love along the way) published by Tarcher/Penguin (2010). The book is based on research from Michelle’s documentary Seeking Happily Ever After: One generation’s struggle to redefine the fairytale (www.seekinghappilyeverafter.com), currently screening at film festivals around the U.S.