Ah, the holidays—overflowing with treats, merriment, and unwanted opinions from family members. While that last one is certainly not the gift that keeps on giving, it’s bound to happen, especially if your relationship status has recently changed. And yes, most of them mean well (except for Uncle Jerry, he’s just trying to rile you up), but you’re still going to want to arm yourself with some handy answers and attitudes for when those inevitable questions and unsolicited advice start rolling in. So we’ve rounded up some of the relationship statuses that may be relevant to you—and some ways to cope with what they can mean during the holidays. (This plus spiked eggnog is the way to make it through unscathed.)
Relationship Status: Single (never married)
What you can expect: To hear a lot of “Any guy/girl in your life?” type questions. Try as they may, this just seems to be the first thing that comes to mind when catching up or making small talk. Plus it is sort of the most risky-yet-rewarding question because if there is someone new, it can be a really fun, juicy conversation.
How to handle it: One approach is to scream “NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!” while hurling a fruitcake across the living room. But since that rarely ends well, a great way to handle this onslaught is to either be a saint and fill them in on the newest crush (if there is one) or pivot the conversation toward an area of your life you’d like to discuss. Such as hobbies, work stuff, books you just read, the presidential election…you know, all the safe topics. (Wink.)
Relationship Status: Newly Single (post-breakup with someone everyone liked)
What you can expect: To feel a little weird. Breaking up around the holidays is hard and extra sentimental. “Fun” bonus: People are undoubtedly going to ask about or bring up your ex. They just are. It will either be from people who don’t realize you’re no longer together or people who want to express condolences. And, if your former significant other has been to holiday functions with you in the past, you should also prepare for certain photos, decorations, or memories that will include him or her.
How to handle it: Before walking into the holiday event du jour, it’s good to remind yourself that your friends and family are allowed to miss your ex or express their feelings about it because, well, you brought him or her into their lives. The key is not to dwell or let anyone guilt or question your choices. And also, try to add new traditions into your repertoire so that all of your holiday memories aren’t enmeshed with that one person.
Relationship Status: Newly Dating (and spending your first holiday together)
What you can expect: Everything to feel magical and wonderful but also sprinkled with pressure. You should also expect his or her family to feel foreign to you in many ways. Not only because this is likely the first extended amount of time you’ve spent with them, but every family is different (and seemingly weird from the outside). So prep for those feelings: “Oh, this is how they do it and it’s totally different than how my family does things.”
How to handle it: A good rule of thumb here is to have an “expectations” chat with your new partner. (Fun, right?) This will help you both understand better what you’re walking into and how each family handles things (like gift traditions, sleeping arrangements, and alcohol). Basically, don’t make any assumptions because families be crazy.
Relationship Status: Dating (and dating and dating and not engaged yet)
What you can expect: Hearing “When are you two sealing the deal?” over and over again. I heard a story recently where a friend went home with her long-term boyfriend and her mom set a place card for him at the table that simply read: “No ring? No dinner.” Not his name, just the light-hearted question on everyone’s minds. Gadzooks. On the brighter side, you can also expect to be in a happy groove for holiday celebrations: Work holiday parties aren’t awkward, you know each other’s families well enough that gift giving isn’t (as) stressful, and you two have your own established traditions.
How to handle it: If you’re around the pushier types, try to remind yourself that everyone means well. If you’re itching to get engaged, bolster yourself for a slew of engagements from friends and acquaintances on Instagram (according to WeddingWire, about 33 percent of engagements go down between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day). Stay calm, stay centered, and keep your eyes on your own paper.
Relationship Status: Newly Married
What you can expect: Mixed emotions! It’s incredibly exciting to officially start new traditions together as a couple, as well as feeling even closer to your in-laws, but it can also be stressful to handle the logistics of trying to see both sides of your now-larger family.
How to handle it: A great thing to do is incorporate some of your partner’s traditions into your side of the family’s gathering. When planning how to split up time in an attempt to make everyone happy, a solid lesson here is, well, you simply can’t. A great start to figuring out the who/what/where/when of celebrations is to focus on what you two want and go from there in terms of prioritizing. You will always be pulled in several different directions but if you are on the same page and team, it will make it much less stressful.
Relationship Status: Newly Divorced or Separated
What you can expect: Aside from the obvious hurt, sadness, or anger, it’s natural for the holidays to feel a bit odd or fragmented. There is a whole group of people you once considered family, many you likely won’t see this year. You can expect that since the rules are being rewritten, many family members (on all sides) won’t know exactly how to progress.
How to handle it: Be gentle with one another as you adjust, take care of yourself, and allow yourself to remember holidays past (even if it’s a way to say goodbye to that season of your life). Now can also be a good time to put away (or give back) the holiday paraphernalia belonging to or representing your former spouse. Also, if you happen to be a resolution type of woman, this is the time to wipe that slate clean, bang out some goals, and look to the future, not the past.