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Jane Austen’s Guide to Answering Awkward Questions at Holiday Parties

Ah, the holidays! A time for family, food, and awkward questions about your personal life that will send the conversation careening into deeply uncomfortable territory. (And if you thought you might be spared this year, think again. During our Thanksgiving Zoom get-together, my great-aunt got a good look at my apartment and said, “You live like this?”)

If you are like me, you’re anticipating these questions and will plan accordingly. However, if you haven’t planned for this at all, don’t worry! We’ve got your back—or at least, Jane Austen does. Here are some careful, poised responses to the questions your nosy relatives are most likely to ask this holiday season.

The question: “How’s the job search going?”
The answer: “I am half agony, half hope.” — Persuasion (1818)

The question: “When are you going to bring a boyfriend around?”
The answer: “Do not you know that, of all things upon earth, that is the least likely to happen?” — Mansfield Park (1814)

The question: “Is that your fourth helping of mashed potatoes?”
The answer: “It is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible.” — Northanger Abbey (1817)

The question: “Are you dating anyone?”
The answer: “The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love.” — Sense and Sensibility (1811)

The question: “Did you know your jeans have holes in them?”
The answer: “How very odd!” — Emma (1815)

The question: “Why aren’t you dating anyone?”
The answer: “I have not nerves for the sort of thing.” — Persuasion(1818)

The question, posed by your cousin Trisha, who brought her new boyfriend Kevin: “What do you guys think of Kevin?”
The answer: “We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man; but this would be nothing if you really liked him.” — Pride and Prejudice(1813)

The question: “So, what do you want to do with your life?”
The answer: “Time will explain.” — Persuasion (1818)

The question: “No, but really. What are your plans?”
The answer: “I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your ladyship. You may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer.” — Pride and Prejudice (1813)

The question: “How’s school going?”
The answer: “You are much mistaken if you expect to influence me by such a paltry attack as this.” — Pride and Prejudice (1813)

The question: “Whatever happened to [name of your ex]? Do you guys still talk?”
The answer: “I do suspect that he is not really necessary to my happiness.” — Emma (1815)

The question: “What are you planning on doing after graduation?”
The answer: “Ah! there is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” — Emma (1815)

The question: “Maybe if you weren’t always doing your homework the night before it’s due, you wouldn’t be so stressed out all the time. Have you considered that?”
The answer: “None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” — Persuasion (1818)

The question: “Could you stop tweeting during dinner?”
The answer: “Those who do not complain are never pitied.” — Pride and Prejudice (1813)

The question: “Wait, you actually enjoyed The Princess Switch? That movie was objectively terrible.”
The answer: “Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion.” — Pride and Prejudice (1813)

The question: “Why do you think you’re still single?”
The answer: “I am determined that only the deepest love will induce me into matrimony.” — Pride and Prejudice (2005)

The question: “Do you think you’ll EVER find a boyfriend?”
The answer: “Do not give way to useless alarm; though it is right to be prepared for the worst, there is no occasion to look on it as certain.” — Pride and Prejudice (1813)

The question: “Who did you vote for?”
The answer: “Now I must give one smirk and then we may be rational again.” — Northanger Abbey (1817)