Avoid the Thanksgiving Dinner From Hell

Helpful tips to survive awkward family questions

Dear Monica, I am dreading Thanksgiving dinner with the family. All my relatives do is poke and prod to find out the particulars about my social life. How can I avoid this annual torture-fest? — M.G.  Yardley

Whenever family gets together, you have to take the good with the bad. The trick is to tactfully (or if necessary not tactfully) sidestep the questions that are too personal. I wish I could tell you that every time a family member asks a probing question that it comes with only the best intentions. The truth is that some people enjoy putting others on the spot for their own amusement. Here are a few strategies that will make the dinner conversation more palatable.

One strategy is a blunt statement followed by a polite side step. Great Aunt Sally asks if she will live long enough to see you get married. If you want to shut her up ask her if she is in good health, since that’s key to answering her question. Then say, “So sweet of you to ask, Aunt Sally. I promise that you will be the first to know when he pops the question. I will even tell you before mom.” Follow this by asking, Who needs more gravy? and How about them Eagles?

Another approach is simply a blunt statement that stops the inquisitor in their tracks. Your older sister wants to know why you didn’t marry Jimmy while you had the chance. Try responding like this: I think Jimmy is a really nice guy, but between his twitch, and his major gambling problem, I felt it was better to move on. That should shut them up at least until Christmas.

You can always try to disarm them with your sweetness. If Uncle Charlie wants to introduce you to his friend’s son who is “so presentable” (code for “makes good money but is fugly”), here is a plan of action. Say: Thank you so much. I know what a catch he is. Now whisper in Uncle Charlie’s ear, “I just met someone. It is too soon to tell where it is going, but if things don’t work out I will definitely let you know.” This evasive maneuver should buy you at least one holiday season.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and try a hard one. Mom wants to know if she will ever be a grandmother. Tell her that you want to be a mom just as much as she wants to be a grandmother. Let her know that she is your example of exactly what a mom should be. Be thankful and tell your mom what she wants to hear. She deserves it for her sweet potato pie alone.

Next scenario: Your family wants to know why your new partner isn’t attending. Yes, you may be seeing someone, but why would you expose anyone to your family circus so early on? Try saying something like this: He and I both have such tight-knit families, we couldn’t possibly be without them on such a special day. If things go well, he will be here next year.

Let’s take this one step further. Your cousin heard the guy you are seeing is a “committed bachelor.” There is a collective gasp in the room. Here is your exit strategy: Let them know that this is what all men say when they are only dating someone for the sex. Then say, I can assure you that he is not just mattress-minded, but marriage-minded as well. That should end the silence. Then, ask if they can pass you the drumstick.

Don’t let their 20 questions get under your skin. Taking these approaches will hopefully give you space and help you through the dinner. Remember you can’t choose your relatives. You can only choose how you deal with them. A planned maneuver can help you navigate the waters and hopefully keep down the stuffing and cranberry!

We all have unique family stories, especially around the holidays. If you have one to tell, please comment here.

Monica Mandell, Ph.D. is the Director of the Philadelphia office of Selective Search, the premiere (off-line) upscale matchmaking firm for the most eligible singles. Please send your questions to: monica@selectivesearch-inc.com.