PSA: Thanksgiving might seem like the perfect holiday to introduce your partner to your ‘rents, but trust me — it’s a terrible idea. Visiting friends and family at home is complicated as it is, and bringing your partner into a whirlwind of chaotic family dynamics might make matters worse. If you want to save yourself (and your significant other) from Thanksgiving dinner with no escape, reschedule your SO reveal party for another day.
Two years ago, my mom and grandma thought it would be a good idea to invite my boyfriend to our Thanksgiving celebration in Iowa. At the time, I thought this was a wonderful idea, but alas, it was not. Immediately, my boyfriend walked into the dining room and was met with the pandemonium of 15 family members running around at once. My little cousins were having existential crises about hating turkey, my aunt wouldn’t stop making self-deprecating jokes, and I’m pretty sure my cousin’s best friend only attended dinner as a conversation buffer. (It’s worth noting, though, that said bestie was the only person at the dinner table to show a shred of interest in my boyfriend’s life).
At the time, my SO and I had already been dating for two years; but even so, some family members barely remembered his name or acknowledged his presence at dinner. Everything about the tragic event made me hang on to my coping mechanisms for dear life. It was a disaster, but at least I had homemade pie to soothe my sorrows. The entire time, I scanned the dining room plotting our escape route — which was nearly impossible in the middle of Iowa.
No matter how long you’ve been dating your partner, no amount of time will prepare them for the chaos that is Thanksgiving dinner. If you find yourself mentally preparing for a big family reunion every year, imagine how your partner must feel walking into a night of “20 questions” and years of unresolved family tension.
To be honest, introducing your partner to your family sets the general expectations way too high. Your partner is expected to display good table etiquette, go along with your family’s religious customs, listen to your endless childhood stories, endure political talk, sit through holiday photos, and show their undying love for you, just to get your family’s approval. Simply put, this is too much pressure and can inevitably end in a cry session for both of you — and who wants that? That said, I suggest preparing your partner with “Thanksgiving boot camp” before heading into the drama, or simply agreeing to spend the holiday apart.
According to Ashera DeRosa, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Buffalo, New York, introducing your partner to your family on a big holiday like Thanksgiving can be a big deal, and you should always consider the potential impact first. “If your family can be a handful, or you’re still establishing a relationship, it can be a bit overwhelming to throw them into the mix during a holiday celebration,” DeRosa says.
However, she also says that your decision to introduce your SO may depend on the stage and overall stability of your relationship, along with your prediction of how your family might react. “If your romantic relationship is stable and thriving, it can be a great time to bring everyone together,” DeRosa tells Her Campus. “Has [your family] welcomed other romantic partners before? And if it didn’t go well, was that a family issue or was the partner not a great fit?”
According to DeRosa, you should also consider that family is an “emotional system,” so the introduction of a potential new member can cause an emotional shift that affects the whole family — even during a singular event like Thanksgiving dinner. Depending on your situation and comfort level, that change can cause a lot of pressure for all involved.
Speaking of pressure, remember: You can’t control what your family says or does during dinner. When your dad starts going down memory lane and starts mentioning your failed relationships, you’ll want to make a swift exit for a wine refill. There’s also a strong chance your partner will have to sit through your uncle’s new revelation on the state of politics in our nation. I’m sure there are cases where “meet the parents” day doesn’t end in catastrophe, but to avoid disappointment, miserable conversations, and stressing out your new partner, it’s best to be safe than sorry and avoid a Thanksgiving meet-and-greet at all costs.
If you’re still not convinced and are dying to bring your cute new partner to Thanksgiving this year, watch literally any Thanksgiving episode from Gossip Girl and you’ll find 99 more reasons why you should bite the bullet and show up to dinner solo. Unless you’re actively trying to scare your partner away, just take my advice, and avoid inevitable drama like the plague. I promise you’ll be glad you did.
Ashera DeRosa, LMFT, Marriage & Family Therapist, wholestoriestherapy.com