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Friendsgiving: When to Explain and When to Maintain

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

Here you are again, right in the middle of savoring every morsel of your aunt’s famous mac and cheese, when your cousin leans across the table to ask, “So when are you getting married?” Outside of the indigestion you will feel later from nearly choking on baked elbow noodles, this question was definitely intended to trigger a reaction. Or maybe your brother greets you with a “I heard you got laid off” and a hug. Maybe your mom rubs your bloated belly after dinner and asks, “Are you pregnant?” Don’t get caught in another awkward exchange. You know, the kind in which you feel like a suspect in an interrogation room. Do not interrupt one more bite of your dinner to answer the onslaught of follow-up questions. This year, come prepared.

The first thing you must do is take a quick inventory of your current state:

  • Occupation

  • Living arrangements

  • Relationship status

These are the three main topics family members like to explore at dinner. They don’t get to see you all year, are not always privy to whether or not you saw the finale of Game of Thrones, and frankly aren’t as interested in your binge show of choice as they are in the juicier details of your life. These details, as well as the inevitable firestorm the interrogation causes, are the entertainment for the evening. Forget football and the digital slideshow from Grandma’s last trip to Alaska. Your squirming and visible rage are the main event. So take a second and fully accept where you are in life right now. Are there changes you would like to make? Great! You will create a plan and make these changes in your own time. For now, recognize your current state and really exist in it. Maybe things have been terribly hard this year, harder than distant family members are aware. Maybe it was a struggle to even come to a family dinner. Maybe you are going through a transition right now behind the scenes, setting yourself up for success in the months and years to come. Maybe you are simply in a place of still trying to figure things out. Either way, this state is not going to change by Thanksgiving. Embrace it.

Once you know who you are, the next part should be easy. I said should! You must decide what to share with family and what to keep to yourself. Remember, you are the entertainment. If you want to give them another show of nervous twitching or hysterical screaming, go for it. But you have every right to say as little as possible about any subject concerning your life. It’s your life after all. It took me a long time to think this way. I used to explain myself to strangers. Strangers! The cashier at the supermarket has tried to convince to have more children. No, she does not know my family at all! Some people have no personal boundaries. You must create and enforce your own boundaries. Protect your business and your peace of mind the way you would a beloved partner, child or friend. Control your own narrative and share it in your time.

Finally, expect blow back. There will inevitably be some annoyance. Believe it or not, you may even hurt someone’s feelings. No one likes to be told to back off, least of all family. Read the situation and try to be firm, but relaxed. It’s the holidays. You can try a few things to keep the mood light:

- Think of a quick joke to diffuse your own tension. Just make sure the joke is not at your own expense.

- Change the subject. Share a highlight from the past year in great detail.

- Ask the curious relative about something important. Shift the spotlight.

Be aware: all the prepping and confidence in the world will not shield you from the discomfort of being in the hot seat. So schedule some well-deserved solo time after the holidays are over. Let that reward push you through to dessert.

Next topic: Great Expectations for Holiday Celebrations

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