As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout bring hope for a merrier Christmas around the world, families are slowly being able to gather once again for the holidays (still with safety precautions, of course) after many months of being physically apart.
Taking a cue from pre-pandemic holiday traditions, this season of family reunions also means catching up with relatives, enjoying great food, and having a good time.
In every family gathering, there is almost always this scenario: everyone’s having fun and here comes Tita Baby or Tito Boy beelining toward you with some of the most common “ice breaker” questions and comments they lovingly (or condescendingly) say, which are often along the lines of: “Why are you still single?” and “Uy, you’re gaining weight ha!”
Any of those phrases may be correct for whatever reason you may have at the moment—you’re still single because you feel it’s too risky to be dating away or you’re enjoying life being blissfully unattached; or you got in the bandwagon of “pandemic weight gain” (yes, it’s a thing according to studies).
During these family gatherings, there are countless reasons why some relatives pry on another family member’s personal life or casually comment about one’s body and weight.
Cat Triviño, MindNation co-founder and communications head, says in close family relationships, boundaries toward what to comment or joke about are often crossed as a way to establish or perceive one’s closeness.
“While inappropriate, there may be several motives toward relatives asking about things that we may not be so comfortable talking about, such as it could also be something that they’re deflecting, which is really more toward what matters or what can be a point of insecurity for them,” Triviño told PhilSTAR L!fe.
Everyone has the fundamental right to privacy. Everyone is entitled to share what they want to share and withhold what they want to withhold.
These questions or comments are common during holiday reunions, when relatives haven’t seen each other for a long time. Triviño said this may be a way for relatives to connect with you or strike up a conversation based on when they last saw you or what they thought mattered.
Though it is common for those who are on the receiving end of these questions or comments to just brush it off out of respect to the family members, there are also possible repercussions if this kind of conversations persist in one's family dynamics.
“Everyone has the fundamental right to privacy. Everyone is entitled to share what they want to share and withhold what they want to withhold,” said Triviño.
She added, “By allowing these boundaries to be crossed and ignoring how another might feel toward a certain topic or comment, it can cause unnecessary pain, trigger trauma, or completely shift mindset and behavior toward the family—overall affecting one’s mental health. It also sets a bad example to younger family members.”
Of course there are times when some family members let out these questions and comments without malice. But there will be times when one will feel these family members are being critical or intrusive to one's detriment.
In these situations, Triviño said reflecting on one’s thoughts and values may help in controlling one’s reaction toward other people.
Asking oneself questions like “why do I perceive these questions as intrusive?” or “why do these comments make me uncomfortable?” will allow one to respond in a healthier way while holding space for oneself to respect one’s own boundaries.
Now, how does one respond to a relative that’s crossing these sometimes fine boundaries?
“Do not answer for the sake of being polite—which is a common reaction if the one asking is an older relative or a superior at work—or because you feel guilty or are being pressured,” Triviño said.
Here are some ways to help one respond to and deal with some of the dreaded conversations during family gatherings as shared by Triviño.
Answer the question healthily—simple and straight to the point
When you answer politely—like giving an uneasy laugh or just answering for the sake of answering—the other person might not realize that their questions are inappropriate or are making you uncomfortable, which will allow them to keep crossing the line.
Answering healthily is by sharing your truth—make it simple and straight to the point.
Say things like: “Sorry I’m not comfortable answering that,” “I don’t want to talk about that,” or “Can we talk about something else? I’m not in the mood to talk about that.”
There is no need to antagonize or fight with the person (i.e. “You’re so rude” or “That’s so offensive”); not all battles have to be fought.
Embrace being single
Singlehood is also an important phase in anyone's life and has no age limit, don’t allow anyone to judge or make you feel bad about a time where you can focus on your growth and well-being.
Success and growth does not have to constitute a romantic relationship or any traditional relationship milestone (marriage, having kids etc).
Thank them or their concern
You can respond with other things that are important for you instead or if you are, you can openly discuss your contentment in the single phase of your life, too.
Be open to the possibility that they could help you
If you do need help, relationship-wise, and are open to them being part of the solution (networking or introducing you to others), you can also share with them how they can help in that area.
A self-deprecating response, especially to weight comments, is a no-no
As much as possible, please avoid responding with self-deprecating humor because it minimizes the issue and it allows them to treat something that’s personal to you as a joke.
If you’re comfortable, you can agree or disagree to the statements. But ultimately, you can respond with kindness and share that subjects like weight isn’t a good thing to talk about.
Escape the conversation if they press on
Do not let the other person, whether intentionally or not, manipulate you or force you to answer. If they keep pressing the issue or make strong statements that go against your values, you have every right to walk away.
Help a family member out
If you’re not on the receiving end of these questions and comments but are noticing these habits from others, help family members that are being asked these intrusive questions by responding on their behalf about how it may not be a good topic or sharing something better or more important to update everyone on like a new promotion or other good news that happened this year!
At the end of the day, family is love and the holidays can be a wonderful time to rekindle relationships and make up for lost time that the pandemic took away from everyone. But one’s mental health is also equally important. Being self aware and doing what’s best for you is one of the best gifts you can give yourself this holiday season and beyond.