9 Comebacks You Can Use to Deal with Nosy Relatives

Tip: Keep your phone nearby for emergency distractions

by Maggie MK Hess

Many people sitting in folding chairs outside turned to the photographer behind them

Holidays are weird, emotionally laden times. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is in love and full of twinkling lights, and sometimes it feels like everyone is in a magical winter wonderland but you, and sometimes you’ve been in line at Target for forty-five minutes and you’re thinking about hiding in the pillow aisle and taking a nap, and your mom won’t stop texting you, so you text your sister, and then the eggnog you’re holding explodes.

Plus, you spend lots of time with people who have known you forever, but may not actually know you or anything about your life. And they care (let’s just pretend they’re doing it because they care!) so they ask inappropriate questions in the name of small talk.

If you’re unmarried and of a certain age, relatives love to ask you why. The right answer is a complicated Venn diagram depending on how you’re feeling about yourself, your life, and that relative on that day.

And while it’s tempting to think of something cutting to say in return, let’s be real. Your grandma has lived through multiple world wars and may not deserve that. So here are nine all-too-real interactions and survival tactics designed to help you last past dessert.

1.The Too Little Information

Scene: Your mother and her flock of neighborhood best friends—the women who raised you, fed you, hugged you, and sent you out into the world—call you over. They spend ten minutes dissecting the love lives of their children, their nieces and nephews, the mailman’s children, and their favorite celebrities’ children. They’ve all read the recent news articles about Tinder, ghosting, and this week’s Modern Love column. They cover which venture capitalists have invested in which apps recently. They analyze the changing statistics about how one’s income, age, and level of education affect one’s chances for getting and staying married. Then they turn to you and ask what it’s really like out there for you.

Comeback: “Good!”

2. The Too Much Information

Scene: Your dad’s twin sister really restrains herself this year. She waits until grace is said and in the pause while the table is still quiet, she booms out, “How’s your love life? You know, the problem with you kids is you can’t commit!”

Comeback: “I ate Honeynut Cheerios on my couch last night while watching Jane the Virgin, making a PowerPoint for work, swiping on Tinder, and deleting spam messages on OKCupid. Do you want to see the twenty-minute conversation I had with a man about the differences between Corgis and Dachsunds? I made an Anthony Wiener joke and he asked if I was a Democrat and then blocked me.”

3. The Interference

Scene: You and your uncle, who’s always been more of an older brother, are watching the parade on television while drinking beer on the couch. You’ve always idolized him as the epitome of cool—he was riding a motorcycle when you were in middle school, and he’s brought a series of beautiful girlfriends with awesome hair to holidays over the years. Watching him taught you everything you know about flirting. He’s holding his six-month-old and keeping an eye on his toddler, who is playing a game on his phone that appears to involve landing the actual Mars Rover on the moon. “You think you know how much it means to meet your person and build your own family together,” your uncle says. “But it’s even greater thank you think it is. You’ll see.”

Comeback: Your younger brother throws a football through the living room.

4. The Emily Post for the New World

Scene: Your priggish cousin Tad drapes his arm around his new wife, who is friendly, kind, and after the wedding discarded the boulder Tad gave her as an engagement ring in favor of a slim, plain wedding band. She makes you think Tad must have some redeeming quality that you haven’t seen in the thirty years you’ve known him. “Living the dream! No ball and chain dragging you down,” Tad says.

Comeback: Pretend you didn’t hear him and ask his lovely wife if she would like a piece of rum cake. You don’t have to be nice to people who suck.

5. The Truth Isn’t That Interesting

Scene: Your grandmother hands you a biscotti, pats your hand, and readjusts the one bobby pin in her nest of curls. “Now,” she says as she takes off her shoes, “tell me what’s going on with all those dating apps I keep hearing about. Have you met anyone nice recently?”

Comeback: “I’ve been on some very boring dates with some very nice people. I dated this one man for about two months but then his work transferred him to another city. I’ve been on three dates with someone I like okay, but I think we have different values around money, family, politics, and lifestyle, so I probably won’t pursue that much further.”

6. The Millennial

Scene: Your mom sits you down to have an in-depth conversation. After you’ve covered work, the presidential candidates, current events, and the changed recipe for blueberry muffins at the nearby bakery (less sweet, which is nice, but they’ve lost something in the texture), she asks about your most recent break-up.

Comeback: Start texting. Nothing is real except your phone. Be the phone.

7. The Jane Austen

Scene: Your second cousin Matilda on your father’s side has five cats, each represented by a bejeweled broach on her bouclé jacket. Her husband has fallen asleep at the table at every dinner you’ve ever attended with him. He snores gently beside her as she zeroes in on you. “When are you going to find a nice wife and settle down and give your poor parents grandchildren?” Matilda asks.

To her credit, your mother looks horrified.

Comeback: “Ah, yes. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Jane Austen wrote that in 1813. Have we really not changed at all in over a century? Is this still a truth universally acknowledged? I perhaps find myself more in need of the good fortune than the wife—having graduated in 2008, I’m earning less than my peers from 25 years ago and am deeply in debt to society for the cost of my education.”

8. The Wink and a Smile

Scene: Your aunt’s best friend swoops down you as you’re carrying a full load of precariously stacked dishes to the kitchen. You’ve met for the first time that night. Without any preamble, she asks how old you are. Startled, you answer. She trills cheerily, “Oh, you have plenty of time! I didn’t get married until I was 33!”

Comeback: “I also have plenty of dates!” Nudge her with a chummy elbow—and drop the plates.

9. The This-Got-Real-Fast

Scene: Your dad’s friend from business school, who always asks you to call him Uncle Harry and acts as though he’s family even though you’ve met him a total of three times, looks unreasonably pleased to be seated next to you at dinner. He has no children. He’s been married four times. “Looks like they seated the singles together!” he says happily. “Now, an old man like myself, I understand—although between you and me, I play golf five times a week and I’m more fit than I was when I was twenty, if you know what I mean—” He winks. “But a lovely young woman like yourself—what are you doing without a date?”

Comeback: “You know, I’m not sure. I think I’d be a good partner. I’ve invested a fair amount of time, energy, and effort into looking. They say you should create a happy life for myself and I’ve done that. But it just doesn’t seem to have happened yet. Maybe it’s a matter of luck? Would you mind passing the sweet potatoes, please?”

Maggie MK Hess

Maggie MK Hess lives in Seattle. Her writing has appeared on Salon and The Washington Post, among other places. She chronicles her dating experiences on her blog, Dear Mr. Postman.

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  • anon

    Family is the masters of Inappropriate Personal Questions. I’ve simply told my mother that every time she bothers me about children, a quota fills a bit more, and when that quota is full, we get another pet. We have 4. The threat is very real. We don’t get bothered about kids much anymore.

    • pajamafishadventures

      We’re at pet capacity (sadly) but every time my mom says “I’d love to be grandmother to more than just cats.” I always say “ok, we’ll get a guinea pig (/dog/rabbit/ball python).” It hasn’t got her to stop asking the questions, but it does halt the conversation when she does.

    • Kara

      Hahaha YES! This is what I do with my grandmother (my husband and I have 6 cats and 3 dogs), since my go to answer of “magically, we don’t get pregnant from anal sex.” doesn’t seem to work with an 85 year old woman.

    • Sarah E

      Bonus points if you create one of those thermometer things like fundraisers use to track quotas, and whip it out and color another segment of red in it when she asks.

  • Mary Jo TC

    The question I’m dreading this year is whether I’ll have a third child or not, since I’m pregnant with my second boy. I think I’ll probably answer honestly, which is to say that as of right now I’m open to it (we just bought a 4-bedroom house), but that could change, and either way, it wouldn’t be for a while because we can barely afford day care for two kids, and definitely have to wait at least until the oldest is in school before having a third. Don’t think I want to get into the gender thing with this question, although it is a huge issue, because honestly I do want to have a girl, but am also happy with my boys.

    • Ann

      That’s totally a gracious way to handle it. On the other hand you could go with the “Too Little Information” method above and say something like “We’re just so excited for this baby, we haven’t thought that far ahead.” It’s such a pet peeve of mine when people assume that the sex of a baby is a disappointment.

    • Amy March

      “Did you have too much egg nog? I am currently pregnant!! The last thing I am thinking about is more babies. One at a time please.”

      • Mary Jo TC

        Oh, believe me, the tone of the question and my relationship with the asker will definitely determine how open I feel like being, and a response like that one is certainly possible.

  • Laura C

    My least favorite one to deal with is the statement/question based on an assumption that’s wrong at base. In my case, not “do you think you’ll be buying a house in the next few years” but rather “should I put this antique desk into storage for when you have a house” (implied “with a formal entryway to put it in, because houses have formal entryways”) or not “is going part-time after the baby is born something you’d be interested in” but “would your job let you go part-time.”

    I’m in a different place, obviously, because my issues are with in-laws (my family being restricted to my parents, who a) know what’s going on with me and b) don’t ask inappropriate questions), but single, engaged, whatever, I’m sure there are analogs to this type of assumption, and it takes so much presence of mind to back the conversation up to what should have been the starting point and correct the assumption, let alone to do it in a gracious, non-confrontational way appropriate to a family gathering.

    • Ah yes. My grandparents are jettisoning a bunch of furniture because they’re moving into an assisted living apartment and my grandpa often asks “When are you going to get married and buy a house?” because I guess he doesn’t want to give up his furniture to just his granddaughter and her boyfriend living in an apartment. It’s not legit enough, or something.

      • Laura C

        Ugh. For us it’s that my MIL is downsizing, and we’re moving twice in the next couple years and have made clear we want to move as little furniture as possible, so she’s offering to put stuff in storage for us. But storing furniture for what might be five years until we’re ready to settle in a city and not move anymore doesn’t seem worthwhile, and most of it is for a house I’m not sure we’ll ever have (big formal entryway etc) since I have no particular desire to move to the suburbs where we could afford that. So it’s basically “you might want this when you move to the suburbs” as if that’s a foregone conclusion.But whatever the subject, the strategy of proceeding with questions from incorrect assumptions gives me so much trouble in responding.

      • pajamafishadventures

        Mine didn’t put house pressure on me, but literally every item that they weren’t able to take to their new apartment was “oh this is such a nice family heirloom, no one treasures these things anymore. Pajamafish it would make me soooo happy if you would keep this!” I have bins of stuff still at my parents house that I took because I just could not look my grandmother in the eye and say “I really do not have space.”

        • emmers

          Ugh, I totes recommend reading the KonMari book if you haven’t. She addresses stuff like this. It is so hard, taking on other people’s guilt-objects. But remember, they didn’t want them/didn’t prioritize their living space to keep them. It’s OK for you to get rid of that crap, even now!

          • pajamafishadventures

            The biggest problem was they did want and prioritize this stuff, but felt forced out of their home by my mom and uncle into a space that didn’t meet their needs (ie: It didn’t have room for all their stuff, and they certainly weren’t approaching hoarder status at all, but they were not in good enough physical health to continue living independently).

            They’re no longer with us, which ultimately makes going through the stuff I do have an insurmountable mental task

          • emmers

            That’s hard. I have some things from grandparents who have died. Some of it I have been able to get rid of using KonMari (she talks about thanking the object for its use and purpose before getting rid out if), and others I still guiltily hold on to too.

        • Laura

          Haha, my parents are king and queen of “family heirlooms.” They cannot believe that my siblings and I have no use for: two (!) anvils, a nasty old horsehair blanket, a decaying chaise lounge owned by my grandmother, my mom’s collection of 100+ antique-y Santas, three canthooks (used for moving large logs around), some weird stuffed scarecrow that my dad won from a cereal box in his childhood, etc., etc.

          These are all “family treasures” that were discussed last time I was home. My parents were horrified that I have no use for them.

          • gingersnap

            And yet I worry that hypothetical future kid is going to be upset at me for keeping my mother’s yearbooks or the placemats my great-aunt made!

    • chrissyc

      Yesss. I don’t think it’s great to ask about potentially sensitivity topics–usually I just wait for the other person to tell me what I need to know–but I understand that sometimes people genuinely want to know what my plans are for the future. What I don’t understand is framing the question as “when” not “if”, or as if my plans were 100% dependent on my whimsy and didn’t involve other factors. (eg, I don’t control the job market, so I’m not pointedly living far from home; I’m living far from home so I can be employed in my field! Maybe that will change in the future, but who knows–not me!) There are definitely ways to ask questions in a non-prying, unassuming way, and I don’t know why people can’t master that.

    • Ano

      My in-laws always ask me WHEN I’m going to go back school and get a Master’s degree or (ideally) PhD. And it’s frustrating to keep answering, “Well, never, because I run my own successful business already and there are no degrees that would give me a good ROI at this point.” But they won’t hear it and imply that our future children won’t value education if their mother *only* has a Bachelor’s / make statements like “Well, we know you won’t have children until you have another degree!” (My husband has an MBA and his sister is post-doc, they’re both PhDs, etc., etc., etc…)

      Such an odd, annoying fixation, and always spoken in whens, not ifs.

      • Not Sarah

        My in-laws were very confused to hear that I am “taking more classes” (what they call getting my Master’s degree). Everyone has an opinion on your life.

      • Laura C

        Fun! I often wonder what will happen if my BIL ever brings home a woman who “just” has a BA. Because it has definitely come through to me that my PhD is one of the things that makes me an appropriate wife for my husband.

      • Sarah E

        “As I’ve told you, I’m never going back to school. Isn’t this boring by now? Oh, I know! I haven’t told you about this really exciting development in my industry. . .”

        • Ano

          On the one hand, I get that education is something they value, particularly with their cultural background (not American, kids are first-gen with a lot of expectation around academics—which somewhat changes the context, if not the ultimate way I handle it) and they want to ensure that it’s a value we pass on.

          However, I do find it frustrating that my pretty significant career achievements are seen as secondary to any sort of academic achievement, as well as the idea that being an autodidact or non-traditional education is seen as mutually exclusive to being a life-long learner or someone who values curiosity and knowledge.

          I remind myself that, unfortunately, it’s mostly a status thing (again, not American and definitely the case in their culture) and seen as a direct reflection of their parenting skills. Meaning, it doesn’t really matter what I say or do, because they’ll always be insecure about the fact that their son married someone less educated than they would have preferred. Since just constantly bringing it up is the only boundary violation in our marriage (at least at this point), all I can do is smile, reiterate, and change the subject. And drink lots and lots of wine.

          (And for the record, my husband does think they are ridiculous and often says, “Mom, you know Ano is amazing and doesn’t need a second degree to validate that.” But it’s generally a temporary respite and we’ve agreed together to kind of let it go, but not give it any fuel either.)

          • Alexa

            Just a vote of solidarity from someone with non-American in-laws. I actually had my masters before we got married and he has his now as well, but that just makes the question about PhDs. (Well, about PhDs and babies, because the idea that we are infinitely less likely to do BOTH of those at once is apparently not as obvious as it feels to me?)

          • Teacher

            Yup. I do have my masters, but it’s in education and my in-laws would have vastly preferred my husband marry someone in a math/science field. Honestly, if he hadn’t been 35 when we got married, it’s possible they might have objected. But by then I guess they figured a low-earning teacher wife was better than none at all. Sounds like the same or similar cultural background. They don’t say much about it, but I’ve already had the conversation with my husband that we will not be pressuring our children into math/science careers. My husband never felt he had any other choice. (He’s a former engineer, now doctor.)

    • TeaforTwo

      I think this is the worst. Not necessarily furniture, but the assumption that you have a certain set of values/plans/wishes etc. with no room for discussion.

      A lot of the questions being discussed here can be fairly innocuous: sometimes asking people about plans for marriage or kids is pushing an agenda, and sometimes it’s value-neutral curiosity about what you’re about. When I have asked (carefully!) friends in long-term relationships if they are plan to marry, I am never asking “when are you going to get married already?” It’s more that I’m curious about whether they “believe in” marriage, because I’ve found that people’s reasons for not marrying are often really interesting reflections on the nature and meaning of commitment.

      I think the main thing is not having a horse in the race. It’s the assumptions that you SHOULD be married/having kids/buying a house/advancing professionally etc etc that are rude.

      For example: when we were in the middle of fertility treatments, I started a new job. Independently of one another, four new coworkers asked me if I had kids and when I said “no I don’t,” (totally unoffended) they then CORRECTED me to say “Oh, not yet.” After that, I was offended.

  • Amy March

    I love these! I also sometimes give people jobs- like, no, friend’s husband’s friend, I am not going to regale you with tales of the dating world for your amusement, but I would like to know if you know a single well educated guy in his 30s who is on team Christmas, likes his family, and wants kids. With the clear implication that if you do not, you have nothing to offer me on this subject and should instead by getting me a refill on wine.

  • I was lucky – I never got the “why are you single?” questions from family. But now that I’m married, everyone wants to know when we’re having a baby. I’m looking everyone square in the eye and responding (in a calm voice) with “Stay out of my uterus. When we’re pregnant, you’ll know”.

    No one’s gotten offended, I think they think I’m joking but I’m so serious – stay outta my uterus!

    • Lisa

      I have the opposite going on! I got a lot of “So when is that boyfriend of yours going to propose?” when we were dating from some of my more conservative relatives, but now that we’re married, nothing about babies whatsoever.

    • Caitlyn

      OMG so stealing “when we’re pregnant you’ll know!!”. That is seriously the best response and can actually be said to grandmothers without looking like an a-hole. Our families have been especially relentless lately.

      • Eenie

        You don’t like responding with “When is the next time you’re having unprotected sex?”

    • Danielle

      My hubby heard this comeback and we both love it:

      Q: “Are you trying to have a baby?”
      A: “Yep, we tried twice last night!”

      That should shut any further conversation down.

      • AP

        My husband’s cousin (who’s 6 months pregnant) suggested this comeback when we saw her at Thanksgiving:

        Q: When are you two going to start having babies?
        A: Well, we’ve been trying, but I don’t think it’s possible to get pregnant the way we like to do it!

      • Ooh that’s good, gotta use that one too!

      • Spot

        My favorite variation is putting on a puzzled look and replying in a hushed voice, “…are you asking if we’re using condoms?”

        • Lizzie

          YES. I love playing dumb to make other people feel awkward. Only when they deserve it, I mean.

      • I replied to an aunt (who is an awesome lady and laughed it off) by asking if she wanted to help. :)

    • Kayjayoh

      “they think I’m joking but I’m so serious – stay outta my uterus!”

      Unless you are my fetus or my IUD, you have no place there. :)

    • toomanybooks

      My fiancée and I were with my parents in a shop that happened to sell onesies (it was mostly a jewelry store) and when I picked one up my dad was like, hah, babies are a lot of work but then they grow up to this! & gestured at me, as if to say, isn’t having kids a great idea? I literally laughed and responded, “This is a hard sell!”

      (Earlier in the week my dad had been giving me a ride to an appointment and he was like “having a car will be useful if you have kids!” and I said that neither my fiancée nor I particularly wanted kids… He was silent the rest of the trip!)

  • pajamafishadventures

    “Oh geez, I’d love to chat but I have so much homework!”
    “But I thought Christmas…”
    “Nope!! No breaks in grad school!”
    (go hide quietly in a corner and play the copy of roller coaster tycoon you got for $5 on steam)

    • Not Sarah

      Roller Coaster Tycoon still exists??? That’s amazing!

      • pajamafishadventures

        Yes!!! It was the best/worst thing to discover right before actual finals

      • UH OH. My heard be still. That thing where you fuck up the g-force and everyone throws up? But also, the sims online was an excellent family avoidance game, RIP.

  • gues

    Thankfully, since I’m married I don’t have to deal with these questions anymore. Babies come up occasionally and I usually pretend I didn’t hear anything. Now if you have any advice on how to get my husband’s grandfather to stop touching my ass (multiple times) at each family function, I’m all ears.

    • Saxyrunner

      Be very noticeably and increasingly startled every time it happens until it becomes too awkward to sustain.

    • Not Sarah

      I would scream. Because that’s what I do when I’m startled.

    • Danielle

      Ugh. Can you tell your husband how uncomfortable that makes you, and have him talk to his grandfather alone, before the next family get-together? You shouldn’t have to deal with inappropriate touching.

      • guest

        Oh, my husband knows, is mad about it, has talked to him, etc. This has been going on long enough now that my husband’s mother and grandmother have talked to the grandfather about it (supposedly, I wasn’t there), but the general attitude of the family seems to be “he’s harmless and old, don’t worry about it.” I’ve tried yelling at him, slapping his hands away, even tried finding a chair and not moving (harder than I thought it would be). Other than leaving the gathering or not going in the first place, I’m really not sure what else to do.

        • Danielle

          That. Fucking. Sucks.

          (That it’s happening and the family’s general acceptance of his predatory behavior.)

          I just searched on Captain Awkward and found this: http://captainawkward.com/2011/07/16/variations-on-a-theme-how-can-i-get-my-friends-to-stop-touching-me-question-76/ Might be useful?

          You don’t have to go, and leaving is a perfectly acceptable response to someone touching you inappropriately. Would you expect anyone else, like your best friend or mom, to go to dinner with someone who kept harassing them?

          I’m sorry that this is happening to you.

          • guest

            Thanks for that Danielle – it’s one of those things that everyone else is trying to minimize, so I was beginning to question myself. I really appreciate you taking me seriously.

          • Danielle

            You’re welcome. I don’t want to project my own anger onto your situation — but it makes me mad! You really don’t deserve to be touched when you don’t want to.

            And I know the feeling of doubting yourself. But you sound like the sanest one of the bunch.

            Please check out Captain Awkward. She makes a really good point in the link above: “Predators operate in spaces where their behavior is excused and they know they won’t be called out.”

            Your husband’s grandpa knows he can get away with what is basically abuse, because the whole family has allowed it up until now. Un/fortunately, you and your husband will be the ones who have to change the pattern — even if it just means not being there.

          • Eenie

            This is definitely not “normal behavior” and don’t let anyone bully you into thinking it is. I think it’s perfectly ok to decide you don’t attend events until he passes or is no longer mobile.

        • Amy March

          Since stabbing him with a fork is probably not going to go over well, yeah, I think you and your husband RSVPing “No- because grandpa keeps sexually assaulting my wife and its not okay with either of us” would be a logical next step.

        • Violet

          Oh my gosh. On the one hand, the fact that someone is sexually assaulting you should hopefully be reason enough for your husband to take a stand with you. The stand could be either insist grandfather not be there, you both leave if he is there and does it, or neither of you go to these events, whichever makes the most sense to you both. But obviously that isn’t reason enough, so as for some rationale he can provide to his family in taking this stand with you:

          “I get that you think he’s old and harmless, but the fact that he can’t seem to control himself from grabbing my wife is a bad sign. Regardless of how well we know grandpa, assault laws don’t actually have an age cap. If he’s doing this to her, he could easily be doing this to women elsewhere in his day to day interactions. And just as you shouldn’t expect my wife to forgive being assaulted, strangers will not excuse it either. They can press charges. If you care about him and his wellbeing, you need to get him some help. In the meantime, we’re starting at home.” And then implement above-mentioned strategy.

          I’m sort of directing this as ideas for your husband, since obviously you have done everything someone in your shoes can do.

          • guest

            Violet, thank you so much – that’s a great script his family might finally understand.

          • Violet

            You’re welcome. I’m so sorry you’ve been subjected to this! His behavior, and the family’s response of choosing his desire to grope you over your safety, is not okay.

        • emilyg25

          Dude. Wtf. I would not be socializing with this man. Make your husband go by himself and go do something fun.

    • pajamafishadventures

      So one time bf came up behind me while I was washing dishes with earphones in and grabbed my butt. Now, he is usually allowed to grab some ass because that is the kind of relationship we have. But I didn’t notice him come in so I was startled and whipped around and slapped him in the face with the dirty spoon I was holding. That’s just my startled reflex: slap and run. I know I should probably not advocate punching grandpas but really it’s understandable when you’re startled.

      • Kayla

        Punching grandpa is really understandable when he is repeatedly sexually assaulting you. I would for sure rather assault an old man once than let him assault me dozens and dozens of times. No question.

    • emmers

      Could you do something really obvious, like “OW!” (even if it doesn’t hurt)? Or “OW, not cool” or “OW, yikes!”.. followed by a stepping away.

    • Kayla

      Have you tried shouting, “GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF ME YOU NASTY OLD CREEP” every time he does it? I’d think that would do the trick after a time or two.

      And if anyone makes you feel like you are the one making a scene, you might remind them that you’ve been sexually assaulted, and yelling is really on the mild end of the appropriate response spectrum.

      Alternately, take up boxing. Talk about it at length. Mention repeatedly how you’re excited to be able to defend yourself if anyone ever touches you inappropriately.

  • ruth

    These were great! I kept hoping, though, that there would be more on one’s relatives and family friends asking nosy, inappropriate questions about when one is going to procreate. As young women, I feel like we get this A LOT. No one ever asks my husband this, but I get cornered all the time and peppered with questions about when I’m going to have children. The thing is – we’re dealing with infertility. And it makes these nosy questions super painful. I don’t know how to end these conversations without just telling nosy second-cousin so and so the truth, “look, I’d LOVE to get pregnant but I CANT” – because then they start asking nosy questions about our infertility treatments – and I don’t want to disclose that much personal info to someone I’m frankly not close to. I’m not sure what the polite topic changer is. My husband is like, just tell them ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ – but he’s a blunt native new yorker – I was raised to be an always sweet/polite southern woman! Struggling to be nice but firm!

    • Amy March

      Since when do sweet polite women discuss their sex lives though? Does that help you reframe it? “Oh gosh who knows- have you tried the pimento cheese yet?” whilst blushing seems like the sweetest politest response possible if that’s the route you want to go.

      • raccooncity

        My favourite non-sweet answer is “we’re still just practicing”

      • Violet

        Yes! Ruth, particularly if his family are New Yorkers also, they’ll just see it as some Southern way about you, if you kind of blush/wince and say, “Oh my goodness, I cannot be having this conversation! So what are your plans for New Year’s?”

      • emmers

        I actually like this: “Since when do sweet polite women discuss their sex lives?” as a possible response. I’d probably need to have a glass of wine in me for that one.

      • TeaforTwo

        And if you want to be less sweet and polite, I finally told someone at work who just would not drop it: “You know, we’re trying, but I think maybe we’re not putting it in the right place or something.” He blushed and never asked again.

        (This was, admittedly rude. It also followed several months of polite-but-firm responses like “that is a very personal question.”)

    • Laura C

      My husband got that question from his aunt about a month after our wedding! I was so glad he shut it down by that Thanksgiving, when I saw her.

    • Stacey Cuddhy

      “It’s been a difficult journey, and it’s hard for me to talk about…Let’s talk about you!”

  • SJ

    The last time something like those questions came up I just panicked and lied through my teeth. Now, I’ve managed to spit out, “You know, I’d love to catch up…but I’m just not going to discuss those parts of my life right now. How are YOU?”

  • RoseTyler

    Any suggestions for the day-to-day “are you pregnant” questions coming from your family that should know better. We’re religious, wait-till-you’re married folks who aren’t married … clearly i’m not pregnant, Mother! I wish this was a concern I had to deal with only from the extended family on the holidays and not on a bi-weekly basis while hanging Christmas lights or transferring care of grand-dogs for the week. Also currently frustrating, being asked every couple of weeks “are you married” by my mother … “um, you don’t think I would mention it if I married my boyfriend?”

    • K Robertson

      Oh my gosh, yeah, we are also religious “waited til marriage” people (which pretty much everyone close in our family and church knew) and we got the baby questions a lot when we were dating/engaged! I don’t even know where that comes from. I always kind of wanted to answer “Um, you’d be really disapproving and weird about it if I was pregnant…”

      • RoseTyler

        Last weekend i got a weird double question – “Are you pregnant, cause i’d be really excited to have grand-babies, but only if you’re married first … are you guys married”

        Um, WHAT!

        • Vanessa

          That is so crazy it’s a little comical.

          • RoseTyler

            And it was strangely said with hope, not with accusation. As if she hopes I ran off and finally married instead of just being a happy, functional, 30 something. (when in reality if i did so she’d be horrified).

          • Vanessa

            YES I’ve gotten the weird “did you do this thing I would hate?” This summer my mom told me that since I was turning 30 I should “stop trying to get married and start trying to get pregnant” (wtf does trying to get married even mean?). My parents got pregnant with me before they were married, so I know that if I got pregnant before getting married, or before at least getting engaged, they’d completely freak out.

          • RoseTyler

            I suspect she thinks that at least if i did it “out of order” I’d GET MARRIED in the end. Which, as we all know is the whole point of life, right?

          • Alexa

            Yeah, when my now mother-in-law started saying similar things when we moved in together I think her idea was that IF I got pregnant then at least she’d “know” we would go ahead and get married, instead of our long-term dating and living together choice that was so incomprehensible to her. But seriously strange and awkward, and it would have 100% driven me nuts if I had to deal with it as often as it sounds like you do. :/

    • Jessica

      If your family has alcohol at gatherings, grab a glass! If not, be direct and say it hurts you when your mom assumes you would break your promise to wait until marriage, or that she would think you would get married without telling her. The words “that really hurts me” have a lot of power (at least they do in my house).

      • RoseTyler

        Yep, we don’t do alcohol either :)

    • emilyg25

      This is a whole different question. Clearly say to your mother, “I’m not discussing this anymore.” Next time she brings it up, “Mom, I told you I’m not discussing this anymore. Have you seen the latest episode of Walking Dead?” Next time, “I’m not discussing this,” and end the conversation. You might need to leave or hang up the phone.

    • Do what I do and tell your family to stay out of your uterus. Works wonders.

    • Eenie

      You should ask her if she’s married every day until she realizes how stupid of a question it is.

      • RoseTyler

        On occasion I just hold up my left hand (ringless) and raise my eyebrows.

    • emmers

      I often respond with “we’re really happy with our dogs right now,” or some variation.

      • Eenie

        My parents refuse to acknowledge the fact that I was the first to give them grandcats.

      • A.

        We adopted a 5 month old puppy [about six months after we married] and everyone has said, “Oh wow, big statement about how you’re not going to be having kids anytime soon! Message received!” But, like, we just wanted a puppy, man!

        On the other hand, though, we definitely won’t be getting baby questions this year, if maybe some huffy glances at our sweet little boy for not being a sweet little human boy. So…unintended victory?

        • another lady

          we adopted a dog, then found out we were prego 3 weeks later — oops… guess that one didn’t work for us! People kept telling us that dogs are a good prep for kids — what no one knew was that we were already prego!

        • Saxyrunner

          That’s funny! When I mention wanting a dog, people say that dogs are the warm up round for babies.

    • Alyssa

      I always reply, “Are you saying I’ve gained weight?!” And that shuts them up really fast. Plus I get to watch them squirm and back-peddle, and then I change the subject.

      • Laura C

        That reminds me I have a friend who used that line when her mother trotted out the old “why would he buy the cow if he’s getting the milk for free” line about her living with her then-boyfriend.

  • MrClean

    Can we have another version of this post that offers comebacks to nosy relatives who want to know when you’re getting married? Because you know you’ve been dating each other for years and you’re not getting any younger. Extra points if you can figure out a way to creatively avoid giving the answer of “Maybe never! Who knows! Least of all me!”

    • Rosie

      I find cliches work quite well in these situations as no-one really knows what to say to them. So if you can bring yourself to say ‘you can’t hurry love!’ or ‘all in good time’ that might shut them up for a bit. Hopefully!

      • Grace

        Bonus points if you have “You Can’t Hurry Love” lined up and ready to play on your phone.

    • Rebekah Jane


      I’m already dreading this conversation with my grandparents. The first time they met my partner, it went terribly (which was 1000% on them, not him – honestly, I’ve never seen such poorly behaved adults in my life) and they thoroughly disapprove that he and I are living together, to the point of where my father initially asked us not to tell them. This will be the first time we will be seeing them since cohabitation began and I’m definitely not looking forward to the pointed questions and clear disappointment in our crazy and wild lifestyle (filled with shared living quarters and financial responsibility).

      That being said, I think I’m going to lean towards the vague and unhelpful answers like “eventually” or “when we get around to it.”

    • emmers

      This may not always work, but If you can ask it back, or if there’s something equally ridiculous/awkward you can ask, that sometimes helps. I have a friend who asked another friend when she and her boyfriend were getting married. So I asked him, “When are YOU getting married? Oh, you’re not dating anyone? Don’t ask people that question, it’s rude.”

      As a married person, I remember how hideous that question was. So married peeps, definitely step in to help your non-married peeps too! I have a feeling we’ll be getting some when-are-kids-coming questions, and I may also ask my siblings to help. Cuz how amazing would it be to have my husband’s sister ask his 50+ year old mom when she’s having more?? :-)

      • Vanessa

        “How’s menopause?”

        • Emily

          A true laugh out loud just happened.

    • Vanessa

      When my dad asked recently why we aren’t engaged I told him that I don’t have to justify or explain my relationship to him because he is not in my relationship. That’s the best I’ve done so far, but honestly it was easy to be direct because he was so direct. The much harder situation is my mom making all sorts of subtle digs at me for not being married, that I don’t know how to address (for example giving my married brothers couples Christmas ornaments and then turning to me and saying “you don’t get one”…)

      • emmers

        Gross to the ornaments thing! So gross.

        • Vanessa

          Yep. Gosh if I knew that it came with ornaments I would have hounded my partner into marriage ages ago!

          • Violet

            Oh, I’m totally in it for the ornaments. *eyeroll*

          • Grace

            I vote you use that as your new reply.

      • RoseTyler

        Ugh, the subtle digs are the worst! And seriously … marriage is required for Christmas ornaments?!

        • emmers

          I think it would depend on how big of a deal I wanted to make it/how obvious mom was being as to if I responded or not. If I was feeling grumpy, I might reply, “wow, it really makes me want to get married so I can get Christmas ornaments. Thanks for the tip!” Or “Wow, mom, really??”. If I was less grumpy, I’d probably just ignore/find some wine.

          • Vanessa

            It was pretty obvious. I think my sisters-in-law were nearly as uncomfortable as I was. Gold star went to my brother who wordlessly got up and refilled my wine.

          • Sarah E

            I’d be tempted to go buy myself some dazzling ornament I really wanted then make a big deal of the purchase to her, bringing it over to show and gushing over how great it is and proud you are of yourself for managing your finances so well.

            But I’d probably just drink the wine.

        • NTB

          Full disclosure: My mom got us a “married couple’s first Christmas” ornament for our first Xmas being married. It was hand painted and actually pretty expensive, I think. A week after my mom gave it to me, it fell off the tree while I was cleaning and I accidentally stepped on it and the pieces of glass/acrylic shattered everywhere INTO MY FOOT SKIN and it hurt and I spent four hours at urgent care getting tiny shards of sharp plastic removed from my foot.

          These couple’s ornaments are so overrated.

          • No Thank You

            My mom got us the tackiest heart-shaped first married Christmas ornament that we keep in the box every year, but one day she will visit and we’ll have to put that giant eyesore on the tree.

      • Eenie

        Are those subtle digs? They seem fairly hostile.

        • Vanessa

          True, they have gotten worse over the years.

  • snf100

    When at a baby shower for my husbands cousin we were asked when the kids are coming since we are next in line age and marital status wise, and while we are planning on trying soon we didn’t really want to disclose this in case it takes a while, plus you know its not really anyones business, we answered with sometime in the next 20 years I’m sure it will happen. I then added, I think it would probably be a good idea for me to have kids before I turn 50. It worked for the situation.
    This worst/funniest was my grandma who asked my husband the second time she met him, so we were dating like 6 months to a year, when he was going to knock me up. We just laughed because really who does that

    • Jessica

      I’ve only had men make comments about babies in my family. Brother-in-law saying shit like “well, your niece wants a cousin!” To which I reply “the delightful thing about not having kids is that a 4 year old doesn’t control any aspect of my life.” My uncle makes comments about how it’s the next thing on the “Life” checklist for my husband and I. A couple weeks ago I made a comment about how I wanted a chest freezer since the recipes I make are for 4 people, and he said the easiest way to solve that is to have kids (clearly a dude who believes in a “traditional Christian marriage”)

      All the women so far are just like “you do you, no pressure” which I really appreciate.

      • Eenie

        “the delightful thing about not having kids is that a 4 year old doesn’t control any aspect of my life.” <–Truth.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    I like the football. I’m going to keep one handy so I can just toss it across the room at someone whenever extra nosy relatives get started.

    • Lizzie

      Nerf guns could come in handy for this too.

  • Lizzie

    I love the “Jane Austen,” but I gotta be honest, the “Millennial” tactic just seems rude. (Also, considering my mother-in-law is on her phone constantly during family dinners, the concept isn’t unique to actual Millennial people.)

    • But it’s just as rude to ask someone something so personal like when are they going to get married or have a baby. I think you can respond to rudeness with rudeness, you don’t always have to be the bigger person.

      • emmers

        It’s def a balance. There are some people I give a slight pass for rudeness. But at the end of the day, Jubilance is right! If they’re being rude, they’re the ones starting it out that way.

      • Lizzie

        Well, in the example for “The Millennial” was being asked about one’s most recent breakup, which could be a rude question or could be a concerned one, depending on the asker. Even though I hate being asked nosy questions, I like to think I wouldn’t just ignore them and start texting. That sounds like the behavior of a surly teenager.

        • Jess

          I mean… it’s good for a laugh, which was kind of the point, right?

    • BDubs

      Yeah… don’t just ignore human interaction for your phone. That is rude.

  • My response for the “when are you having kids?” question: “Not anytime soon! We’re banging for fun, not for function.”

    But honestly, how is it appropriate to ask about your sex life and/or reproductive choices?

    • Heather

      We’re banging for fun not function. That is an awesome response lol. I literally am debating whether to share with my husband because I KNOW he will start using the phrase immediately. lol thanks for that!!

  • KimBee

    Last weekend, my MIL informed us that she was “putting in her order” after having spent time around his cousin’s cute baby. I mean…really? Is my uterus a fast food restaurant?

    • ew, NOPE. That’s a really unfortunate way to phrase wanting grand kids.

      • Jess

        I’ve come to realize that there are no good ways to phrase wanting grand kids. 100% of them are terribly uncomfortable.

        • Eenie

          “We want to be grandparents, but it’s out of our hands. We hope you’ll let us know if we’re going to be grandparents or if the possibility is off the table.” Said no one ever.

          • Lawyerette510

            But so many people should say.

        • Lizzie

          So true. Ordering at a fast food restaurant would be just as uncomfortable if the cashier had to gestate your food for 40 weeks and then painfully give birth to it. And then instead of taking said food and eating it, the customer hands it back to the cashier and says, “Great, now take care of this burger and fries for the rest of its life.”

          I may have extended that metaphor too far.

          • Jess


    • Sarah E

      To which you can respond “Omg, I’m so sorry! The kitchen closed ten minutes ago. But the bar is still serving drinks, what can I get you?”

      • scw

        I am laughing at a lot of these (they hit far too close to home!) but this one might be my favorite.

    • Eh

      My MIL requested a grandson (my BIL has three daughters) and got her a fourth granddaughter. lol she had two sons and really wanted a daughter so I would have figured that she knew she couldn’t ‘order’ a male child.

  • Alexa

    On the “when are you having kids” question (mostly from my mother-in-law, starting well before we were engaged), our first stalling tactic was “Ask us when we’re thirty.” Since the we’ve shifted to “Keep asking/pushing and it’ll be never.”

    • Vanessa

      “keep asking/pushing and it’ll be never” just gave me adolescence flashbacks. I would never be able to say that to my parents without cackling (so naturally it’s going to the front of my comeback arsenal).

    • Eh

      My MIL asked us to give her a grandson on a regular basis before we were married (she already had three granddaughters and we just gave her another granddaughter because she can’t magically wish a grandson). My husband’s grandmother (my MIL’s mother) made a comment one day about us not being married and that she should back off (she even told my MIL to back off at the brunch the day after our wedding). But after we were married and bought a house my husband’s grandmother jumped on the procreating bandwagon. The pressure was so bad from my husband’s side my husband agreed I could ask them how crappy they would feel if we said that we had been trying to get pregnant since we got married and we still weren’t over a year later (we were actually pregnant at the time – and had not tried for a year). Not to make light of couples who have problems getting pregnant but it was to make the point that it was none of there business and their comments could be hurtful.

  • I think I’m in love with this post. It’s hilarious! Well done APW!

  • Emily

    My cousins and I have a code word we use when at family functions, if you hear anyone say the code word it’s your solemn duty to create an out for that person. This works at family functions, the bar, via text message, and in facebook chats.

    • ItsyBit


  • scw

    I’m surprised by how much trouble I’m having dealing with the other side of this, which is to say our friends that keep bringing up at random times that they are not ready for us to have a baby. I mean, I’m not ready for us to have a baby yet either, but hearing it three times out of the blue in the same week from one friend is getting to be a little much. anyone have any tips for this? some people are joking, but one of my closest friends definitely isn’t and it’s putting a big, big strain on our relationship.

    • Beth

      As the first person in our friend group to have a long term relationship and actually get married, I totally feel this. At least in my case, because my friends are just now thinking of getting into relationships with an aim toward marriage (rather than focusing on career or academics or solo adventures, etc) they can understand the Marriage milestone as something not too foreign, but see Parenthood as one leapfrogged life stages too many. And since we’re probably having kids (fate willing) before we turn 30, it FREAKS them out.

      I tend to take the self-deprecating route and say that kids won’t change much in us going out since our collective alcohol tolerances have all but disappeared (I.e., We’ve all changed and matured naturally, a kid won’t make a difference…which is false of course but gets a point across that growth is already happening, for everyone regardless of traditional milestone) But really it’s a tough one that is hopefully time dependent and not something that will be too long-lasting? Otherwise, solidarity!

      (Wrote this on my phone so apologies if all over the place and/or riddled with typos et al)

    • BDubs

      Holy moly! That’s kind of insulting. Once again, if you’re not a participant in the relationship, keep your trap closed!

  • NTB

    We are lucky. No one in either of our families has asked us about kids. But they’re super nosy about other stuff, like how much we pay for things. Once, my mother in law asked how much we were paying for our tiny apartment, and when we were planning to buy a house. I didn’t want to be a dick, so I told her what our rent was, hoping that it would end there. When she was shocked that we were “throwing so much money away” on our little place, and inquired about when we planned to buy, I kind of slipped and said, “Last time I checked, we pay our own bills, so we’ll decide when it’s a good time for us to purchase a home.”

    I felt bad, but it ended the nosy and otherwise judgmental comments.

  • cb88bear

    I get “when’s the wedding?” and “when are you having babies?”.

    My answers are usually “When we have enough money. Care to donate?” and “When someone else pays the adoption fees because I’ve been having tons of sex, but my uterus doesn’t care to work.” (I have adenomyosis, a form of endometriosis, sooooo it’s less likely to happen for me)