Let’s do this. Let’s survive Thanksgiving together.
- Wear Something Comfortable
While you might think “I gotta wear something sharp! Something that makes me look respectable and responsible and just a little bit drop-dead-gorgeous because I want to IMPRESS” the honest truth is, the most important thing you can do is dress in a way that makes you feel like you. It can still be a new or nice outfit, but make sure it’s as comfortable as a baked potato in a down blanket (cozy as fuck). I’ve been going to Jared’s family’s house for years for Thanksgiving, but even this year I still went shopping for a dress that basically felt like pajamas (mission accomplished). Because, after all, your significant other’s family wants to get to know you-you not the version of you that is trying to ignore the Spanx cutting into her hip. If you’re feeling nervous or anxious or shy, dressing comfortably is one of the best ways to help yourself.
- Set “Disappear Plans” Beforehand
The first time I went to Jared’s house for Thanksgiving I probably sweat out the equivalent weight of five butterball turkeys before we even walked up the front steps. He knew I was pretty nervous, so before we even got to his parents house I told him I might need to “disappear” every once in a while. As in, I was probably going to run to his bedroom at least two times during the day, close the door, and sit on his bed staring at the wall in a bit of shock. In addition, you can also set up an ideal time to leave since the unknown waiting and wondering of when are we leaving, wait are they going to ask me to sleep on the couch, but I didn’t bring my retainers!! will be eliminated entirely.
- Demand to Help the Host
You might not feel comfortable with small talk, but when you offer to help with the cooking or table setting or cranberry-can-opening it helps keep your hands busy and sparks natural conversation. One of the worst feelings is standing around while everyone else is busy, your hands clasped awkwardly in front of you and you start debating if your hands look natural or if you should put them on your hips instead and then you start wondering if your underwear lines are showing (refer back to tip #1) etc etc. Holidays are usually a pretty busy time so there’s always something to do. Offer to help. If they wave you off and tell you to relax tell them you’d love to be part of the day and help. Be a little persistent if you have to.
- Find the Nature
Any time I enter a new house, I immediately zone in on whatever animals they have. If there are no animals I look for plants or views they have outside a window. I mean, obviously the pets are my number 1 priority, all humans I’m supposed to interact with fall to a hard second place, but plants and views can work too. The reason I look towards plants and views (if there aren’t any pets around) is I genuinely love nature and love asking “what kind of plant is this?” If nothing else, just point to the damn window above the sink and say “I bet you get a lot of birds in that little tree out there.” If there’s no tree, replace “tree” with “telephone pole” or “rooftop.” Really….the more you can bring the focus outside yourself will help remind you that there are other things to look at besides your pit stains.
- Hold a Beverage
I hate not having something in my hands. This is why I often look like a technology-addicted-asshole since I tend to clutch my cell phone in social situations like I’m charging it with my own anxious-energy. When mingling with a new group of people, get a damn beverage in your hand and hold on for dear life. It’s way better than a cell phone and also provides a great silence filling option when you can’t think of anything else to say (*takes another sip*). You can pick at labels, touch a drop of liquid rolling down the side. Let me tell you, I’ve inspected the label on a beer bottle more closely than most people have read the directions on their prescription medications.
- Point to a Picture
A lot of homes have photographs hanging on walls, hanging on refrigerators, or propped up on mantles. Point to this shit. Use it. Lean in towards a framed photo, squint your eyes, and ask “when was this?” It works. It will get people talking. It will help you learn more about the family. DO IT.
- Show Gratitude Like You’re Oliver Fucking Twist
It’s Thanksgiving. Do it. Give some damn thanks. One of the best ways to feel warmer towards a situation (whether a person or uncomfortable moment) is by reminding yourself to be grateful. If you’re better with putting your thoughts into writing, give the host a small card. Or bring them a bouquet of flowers, or a plant, or some chocolates or wine. Several times throughout the day repeat how thankful you are for all the work they are putting into the meal. Thank them for welcoming you into their home. And then, in your mind, list all the reasons you’re thankful to be with your significant other.
Despite spending Thanksgiving with Jared and his family for years now, I still get a bit of anxiety before heading over. There’s a lot of weight added on to a holiday and I often worry I will fall short in some way. I worry I am not good enough, that his siblings will someday decide they dislike me, that I’ll say the wrong thing, that I’ll metaphorically tear back my mask revealing the weird and confused creature I am inside.
But honestly? Every time I’ve walked away feeling more grateful for Jared and his family than beforehand. This is why we endure the nerves and fear before holidays. Because of the potential.
You may not like or feel comfortable around your significant other’s family and that’s okay. I mean, it can suck, but it’s okay to feel conflicted. While you can’t necessarily control their behavior, you can control your reaction. Remain gracious, protect yourself in the ways you emotionally need to, and stand firm in your internal determination for gratitude.