There are roughly 55 million single women in the U.S. Many of them are with-it, smokin' and smart -- and many with their finger on the pulse of life. But when that certain finger is ringless, even the most self-assured single can dread the shame and rebuke of facing disappointed family during the holidays -- especially when the really hostile ones who found the unlocked liquor cabinet constantly undermine you, demanding to know why you can't scare up a date. It can be downright soul-crushing when you come home empty-handed --– literally! -- no ring on that finger, watching family members' faces crumble in disappointment that you're back another year without any engagement bling.

Family gatherings during the holidays are always a crapshoot: They can either lift the dark cloud hanging over you because you're sans date, or they can remind you of the reason that you come home only once a year: you don't need your family pointing out how alone you are.

Traditionally, holiday time is the most ego-eroding of seasons for singles – but it doesn't have to be. If you're armed with a few simple coping strategies when heading home (to the hostile) for the holidays, major blowups can be avoided. (Like when loving parents can suddenly morph into unrelenting interrogators.) These people are presumably the people who gave you life -- now they're the ones essentially draining you of it. Some holiday survival tips for singles:

In Defense of Placating

The cheap, fake engagement ring to placate "panicked parents" - just in time for your Christmas visit. So many single women say that they dreaded this past Thanksgiving so much, they've dubbed the visit-cum-interrogation the "Thanksgiving Third Degree" – the ridicule, judgment and shame that they face because they're still single, and a mere bad date away from being relegated to the kids' table again. Sad but true, I've met women who have resorted to buying fake, cheap "engagement rings" just to shut up their parents -- and other overly-critical family members -- and ensure a pleasant visit without the "Thanksgiving Third Degree."

Sure, this might be a slippery slope towards avoidance issues and other psychological issues -- but if it muzzles them long enough without you getting grilled about why your boyfriend of three years hasn't proposed yet, it's well worth the $30 investment! They say Moissanite's a girl's second best friend -- and no truer words were ever said when this "heaven-sent hoax" guarantees a fight-free weekend of family bonding (sans the bitterness.)The key here is a subtle stone, nothing over-the-top, so as to spare you having to create a long-winded engagement story.

There's still one thing worse in this world than being temporarily unhitched, and that's unhinged – and Jackie* was well on her way to being both, thanks to her mom's persistent pestering about getting married. She feared that her mom's pestering could destroy not just her own sanity, but could threaten her long-time relationship with her boyfriend, Justin*, whom endured constant interrogations about his marriage intentions from his would-be mother-in-law. "I couldn't take my mom's nagging anymore. I had been dating Justin for two years and it was driving my mother crazy that I was already 30 and we weren't engaged yet," she said.

Before Jackie's visit home for the holidays, she knew showing up without a ring would taint the mood of the entire weekend, so she became very resourceful. "When I was planning my trip home, I knew that if I wasn't engaged by the time I saw her, it would be a weekend of more nagging hell. So I got a fake ring for 20 bucks just to shut her up. It actually worked and it turned into a really great visit!" But what about Justin? Three months later, by the next visit home for the family reunion rolled around, Jackie had a real ring to show off. He proposed on Valentine's Day and her mother never knew! Buying herself some extra time so her mom wouldn't have a meltdown was the best thing she could have done for herself – and her relationship.

Sometimes we need to get our parents off our back -- by any means necessary -- for our own sanity and peace of mind. In the end, what they don't know won't hurt them, so exercise your right to keep the play-by-play of your relationship as private as possible.

Take the Heat Off Yourself
When Aunt Roz overzealously tries to foist her single tennis instructor onto you, try to extricate yourself from this sticky situation by taking the heat off yourself. Suggest that Roz set him up with her own daughter, who's recently divorced. Tell them firmly to table their crusade to get you hitched until a more appropriate time. Don't let overzealous -- and, yes, well-meaning -- family members crush your otherwise cheery holiday mood or project that pressure onto you to find someone.

Finally Confront Your Family, Once and for All
Confront the familial offenders head on and explain that their projected pressure onto you is compounding your insecurities and crushing your self-esteem -- all the while putting undue stress on your relationship with them. Reinforce that although you appreciate their concern, you don't need them to belabor the fact that you're single -- and that their outbursts are backfiring and undercutting you with each insensitive jab.