Single or childless? How to handle annoying questions from family and friends

Don't let awkward questions about your relationship and child-bearing status get you down during the holidays. Here’s how to deal with them.
Don't let awkward questions about your relationship and child-bearing status get you down during the holidays. Here’s how to deal with them. The Orange County Register/MCT via Getty Images

This is the latest article in a Global News investigation into fertility in Canada, and the emotional and financial impact infertility has on Canadians struggling to conceive.


There’s something about the holidays (like perhaps the copious amounts of alcohol consumed over the season) that unites us all in having to deal, at one point or other, with annoying questions at the dinner table.

It doesn’t matter if you’re single or in a relationship — no one is immune.

“It seems every year we fall into the same trap,” said Ottawa-based etiquette expert Julie Blais Comeau.

You know “Aunt Gertrude” will probably ask why you’re not married, says Blais Comeau. Nosy relatives will pester singles about why they haven’t found anyone yet and ask childless couples when they’re “finally” going to have kids.

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READ MORE: Stop asking couples when they’ll have kids, pleads Ontario man struggling with fertility

What the etiquette expert says

The best line of defense, according to Blais Comeau, is to be prepared. She suggests using humour to diffuse those uncomfortable moments. If the relative or family friend continues to prod, Blais Comeau says you could politely brush them off by saying something like, “I’m a really private person and I’m feeling quite uncomfortable right now.”

You could also ask them why they need to know (which might just wake the person up to their lack of social graces).

There’s also the classic distract and divert technique, where you change subjects on your socially awkward interrogator.

Or, if all else fails, you could just be brutally straight up with them. This might just make the person think twice before asking you — or another unsuspecting victim — a question that should be avoided.

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For the childless couple…

“You think you’re just having small talk, but you have no idea what people are going through,” Daren Hebert told Global News earlier this year.

He’s been trying for a baby with his wife for eight years. The hardest part of the fertility struggle, which one in six Canadian couples will battle, has been fielding questions like: “What are you waiting for?” and “What’s taking so long?” while being reminded they’re “not getting any younger.”

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He realizes people don’t mean any ill will, but the comments can still be hurtful and have sometimes gotten the best of him.

Hebert admits he’s snapped back with his own questions, like: “Why do you want to know? Do you really want to be up in my testes like that?”

WATCH: More on fertility struggles

He’s since learned to handle them with more “grace.” He tells people they’re “working on it,” and even have science and the provincial government involved.

That’s usually enough to either shift the conversation off the topic, or draw questions of more substance about the whole process.

For the singles (or unmarried folks)…

As for those who haven’t yet found “the one,” don’t let yourself be shamed over your singledom.

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READ MORE: People who get married young are at higher risk of divorce: study

More and more people are choosing not to get married, which might be a good thing because history shows the world needs single people.

As is outlined in the book All the Single Ladies, which came out this year (and could make a great Christmas present for anyone who nags you for being single), unmarried women played an integral role in social movements that “disrupted so much inequity,” author Rebecca Traister told Global News.

They changed the United States Constitution with their fight for suffrage and helped abolish slavery.

They also were key players in the labour movement on both sides of the border.

In Canada, in the late 60s and early 70s, female auto workers in Oshawa, Ont., began to raise concerns about sex discrimination on the job and within what is now UNIFOR, the country’s largest private sector union.

“For the most part, it was single, unmarried women. They said they tried to mobilize other women but they just didn’t have time because they had families — husbands, young kids to take care of,” said Pam Sugiman, the chair of Ryerson University’s Sociology department.

The discrimination against singles resonates with the recently divorced professor. During a solo vacation this year, she said she was constantly asked, “Where’s your husband?” She felt other couples “seemed to be either glaring” at her or pitying her. She wasn’t sure which is worse.

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READ MORE: Millennials shaking up traditional order of love, marriage then kids

“Society would be better off,” Traister said, “if people didn’t feel pressure to fit into a model that’s so restrictive.

“Your life is not on some kind of pause button because you’re not married. You’re living your life. Your life is full and fascinating.”

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