All of us feel like Marilyn Munster — the only normal one in a family of embarrassing misfits and miscreants — when we bring someone home to meet the family. And Thanksgiving dinner is an occasion when a lot of guys will be bringing a new girlfriend home for the first time.
It is just as likely to be the girl you met in September at college, or the sweet gal at work whose family lives in another city, so you took advantage of the opportunity to get close to her.
The point is, the relationship might have a very low or undefined commitment level, or it could be a chance for you to introduce your family to your current steady girlfriend.
Either way, a little planning goes a long way in making the experience a good one.
1. Prep your family.
One new and unfamiliar person in the house changes the whole dynamic of a gathering, but it’s much harder for her than it is for your family.
They will be eager to get to know her and curious about so many things, like the monkeys seeing the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey” for the first time.
When you confirm with Mom and Dad that she will be there, give them some general background information and lay down the ground rules.
Tell them how you met, where she’s from and what her course of study or position in the company is.
Let them know the level your relationship is at so Dad doesn’t come up with any embarrassing and premature questions about grandchildren.
And, for Pete’s sake, make sure Grandpa doesn’t ask how she likes rubbing bellies in the dorm room.
2. Prep your girl.
Take some time beforehand to familiarize her with each of the people who will be at Thanksgiving dinner.
Tell her about Dad’s work and the vintage ‘58 Buick convertible he’s restoring in the garage. Let her know that Mom collects tea cups and redecorated the bathroom by herself.
Fill her in about little sister’s winning science project, older brother’s new job, and tell her your aunt and uncle coming up from their retirement community in the Ozarks used to be cops.
Breaking the ice is a lot easier if there are known points of interest to talk about. Also, she can deflect the conversation away from herself, which can get to be very intimidating quickly, if she knows a few things about them.
“Let her know it’s cool to give
you the ‘I’m ready to go now’ look.”
3. Immerse her into the pre-dinner hubbub.
When you arrive, make sure you bring her around and introduce her to everybody. Get her comfortable with a beverage and show her where the appetizers are. Then bring her into the kitchen, where there are sure to be some family members hard at work.
It will give her a chance to meet them in their natural habitat and to tell them how great everything smells and how appreciative she is to be there. It is also a great opportunity for her to become part of the event by lending a hand, if the family will allow it.
She can take care of some of those little details, like getting the olives and pickles onto the relish tray or setting the table, and she can be spared from the football chaos in the family room — unless that’s where she wants to be.
4. Have a getaway plan.
Family get-togethers can fall into a few different categories: drunken screamfests, football mania, mind-numbing boredom, trivia-charades-Pictionary games or watching the toddlers rub pumpkin pie on the dog, for instance.
With the exception of the first, the post-dinner festivities can offer a chance for her to bond with the family, but it can also get to be a bit overbearing for a girl who, as of yet, is not fully integrated into the family persona and group psyche. The hours that fly by for the others may drag on endlessly for her.
Let the family know ahead of time that you will be meeting your friends for a holiday drink or gathering sometime after dinner.
You can leave the time indefinite and stay with your family as long as everyone is having a good time, but for her sake, you might want to be the first ones to leave.
You can get a text (real or fake) at an opportune moment when they want to begin yet another round of charades and head out to meet your friends, get some time alone with your girl or maybe escape the noise at her place.
Meeting families should be like trying sushi for the first time: Start out with one bite. Then, as you process and become accustomed to the taste, you can work your way up to more substantial samplings in the future until you finally try to tackle a whole plateful.
You don’t want to eat and run but let her know that, after a reasonable amount of interaction with the family after dinner, it’s cool to give you the “I’m ready to go now” look.