Thanksgiving is upon us, in case you hadn’t noticed and were wondering why that lady elbowed you in the ribs when you reached for the last can of pumpkin puree at the store. Holidays can be stressful at any stage of life, but they can be extra difficult if it’s your first one as a divorcee.
Being in a room full of people who know something so personal about you can be rough. When you’re related to those people it is extra rough because the politeness that comes from acquaintances and friends goes right out the window when you share a bloodline. Will cousin Nancy ask you incredibly invasive questions after her fourth glass of wine? You betcha. To cope, I’ve rounded up some tips to get you through the day.
Before you set out for your relative’s house, or open the door to your guests, get your story straight and mentally prepare. My handy guides can help get you started. Have some sound bites at the ready so you can answer the same four questions over and over again with each hug hello. There will be a lot of, “So how are you really doing [insert sympathetic head tilt]?” questions from family. And you might suspect some of them are secretly reveling in your pain. Your brother Brad has always been competitive with you and today is no different. Genuine or not just take a deep breath before answering. Remind yourself this is only a few hours out of your very long life, and you will get through it. Also, feel free to point out Brad’s thinning hairline.
Deflect and spin.
You know how on holiday weekends internet dating services flood the airwaves with tons of commercials for free trials? They do it because they know you’re hanging out with your family and they’re all asking you questions like, so when are you going to start dating again? When these questions come, you are rubber and they are glue. Answer everything with “Oh, you know…” (deflect) and change the subject (spin). There is nothing people like more than talking about themselves. Ask about their job, upcoming vacations, hobbies, house renovations, weird looking kid. Anything. Just ask and ask and ask. Be the Charlie Rose of your holiday table. Also, feel free to use one of these nine short ‘n sweet responses before throwing them your Qs.
Are there woods behind your parents’ house where you used to get high as a teenager? Super, use those woods now. Or hang out by the garage. Or take a walk around the block. Is there a family dog? Great, volunteer to take him out. Do whatever you can to take a breather when you need one and get outside for some fresh air and a little quiet.
Did Aunt Janice ask you an uncomfortable question about your ex-spouse cheating on you? It’s pretty rich Aunt Janice is so interested in your current failures seeing as she’s tethered to reality by a bit of dental floss. Shove a roll in your mouth and mumble, then get up and offer to open another bottle of wine. Wait for the conversation to change, then head back. Or don’t. The Adult Table is overrated anyway and your tablemates at the Kids Table don’t care about your divorce.
Got the kids this holiday?
Consider instituting a new tradition along with the old one. Maybe go out to the movies after dinner or do a holiday craft together (maybe make the center piece?). Whatever you decide, remember to be respectful of the other parent. Speak kindly about them and have empathy for them, as it’s has to be tough for them without the kids this year.
Don’t have the kids?
This could be touchy for both you and them. Consider doing something special before the holiday. Having a special day together can soften the blow of things being so different on Thanksgiving itself. Plus, it gives you all something to look forward to. On the day, maybe try to call or FaceTime before the festivities kick off, or afterwards so they can fill you in on the good day they had. While you’re away from your kids, treat yourself to the break. Revel in the you-ness that normally gets hidden under all the parenting responsibilities. Enjoy talking to grown-ups without worrying one kid is up to no good while the other is giving himself a sweet potato face mask. Swear all you like and get into political fights with your — let’s be honest, borderline fascist — grandpa after too much wine.
Listen, I get it, I’ve been there. A lot of this is going to totally blow, but wallowing in self pity isn’t going to help. Try to see the good in life. Be thankful for what you have and where you are in life. Try to make this an opportunity to get out of your funk, surround yourself with good vibes and good food. Your family may be nuts and difficult, but they’re your difficult nuts.
If it all seems too much and you’re really dreading the whole thing. Get out of town. You’re a grown up! You can do whatever you want! Book yourself an all-inclusive getaway on some island whose economy is built on tiny paper umbrellas. When you get there, turn off your phone and sing “Kokomo” in its entirety to the concierge. Just be sure to tip him and say, “Thanks!”
James J. Sexton