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For a supposedly joyful time of year, the holidays can be pretty unpleasant for some people.

They can be particularly brutal during family gatherings, when you’ll inevitably find yourself stuck in a conversation with THAT relative. You know the one I’m talking about (and you’re lucky if there’s only one): The aunt who seems to make a sport out of commenting on others’ appearances; the brother who loves to rib you about your job; the cousin you muted on Facebook a year ago because you couldn’t stand to read another one of her political rants. We all have someone like that.

And there’s a way to avoid the conflict: Talk about something you have in common. Even better: Complain about something that drives you both crazy. Chances are pretty good you’re both somehow affected by student loan debt. Should you unfortunately be refilling your cup of eggnog when your “favorite” relative comes to top hers off, take control of the conversation before she starts interrogating you about your love life: “If only I could pay off my student loans as fast as I can drink this stuff, I’d be out of debt right now — amirite?”

She might have a couple thousand dollars of loan payments on her hands, too. Maybe she’s trying to figure out how the heck she’s going to help her kids pay for college. Perhaps she hasn’t had to think about student loan payments before, so you can tell her just how much of an impact they have on your life.

More than 40 million Americans have student loan debt, and it’s only getting more common, so it tends to be a topic everyone can talk about. Student loan debt has become more common among all age groups, so you could even distract grandpa from his routine criticism of your cooking: about $18.2 billion of student loan debt belongs to people 65 years and older.

Here are some ways you could re-direct unwanted questions:

Q: Why aren’t you married yet?
A: Because my charming personality is attached to $60,000 in student loans.

Q: Why did you move so far away?
A: So I could get a well-paying job. Someone has to pay off my student loans.

Q: Are you still driving that piece of junk car?
A: Yes. I don’t want to buy a new one until I’ve paid off my student loans.

Q: How can you live with yourself, working for such an evil company?
A: Because they paid me enough that I got out of student loan debt in five years.

Q: How can you bear to work for such a low-paying job?
A: Because I’m getting public-service student loan forgiveness.

You get the idea. Improvise, and maybe you can pivot the conversation in a direction where everyone can bond over their student loan complaints.

Sure, this isn’t a foolproof approach. Bringing up student loan debt could prompt that cousin to politicize the conversation and talk about why your political party has it wrong when it comes to education reform. Perhaps education is a divisive issue in your family. The conversation could also backfire, with someone criticizing you for taking out student loans in the first place, or whatever it is they want to fight about. Still, it might be better than getting asked, “When are you having kids?” for the thousandth time.

More on Student Loans:

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