It’s everybody’s favorite time of year when you get to integrate the worlds of sex and love with family and home. Introducing your boo to your fam is just the tops—everybody’s on their best behavior, drinks reasonable amounts, acts inclusive but not overbearing and puts other people’s needs before their own, right?
That is, of course, until someone brings up how much alimony dad owes mom, the fact that grandma still won’t speak to your estranged gay uncle, or that time you showed up to Easter with somebody named Krystal who had twelve piercings (the most socially acceptable of which was in her septum).
Let’s be honest: the holidays really bring it all up. Not only because most people who are young enough to have living parents have unresolved issues but also because of the changing shape of families today. Many of us only have one parent or split time between various families during the holidays. Bringing a new love home asks you to define yourself in fresh ways to the people who know you best (or at the very least, the longest).
The successes and failures of the romantic relationships in our family lives (mom, dad, uncle, aunt, etc.) are often the ones we’re trying to both avoid and emulate with our romantic partnerships, so putting those two things in the same roof can bring up all kinds of emotions, fears, knee-jerk responses, old habits. There’s nothing like observing the adorable banter of your 70-year-old aunt and uncle to make you question whether or not you’d like to still be there with your current flame so many decades from now. Or negotiating with your parents about who’s staying in which bedroom to make you eager to fulfill various teenage fantasies about secret sex on the basement couch.
Your family can bring out the best or the worst in you (or maybe the worst in your squeeze). So, how do you make sure that your experience is fun for your boo and you?
Some tips for hosts and travelers this Thanksgiving season:
If You’re Hosting…
Give Cliffsnotes. Alert your honey about relevant family quirks: the aunt who spikes her soup with Vodka, the uncle who doesn’t wear pants in the morning, the cousin who has given everybody potpourri for Christmas since 1993. Just giving a “heads up” to your honey goes a long way.
Never apologize for who you are and where you come from.
People have messed up families. Talking shit endlessly about yours to someone you’re sleeping with is not a good look. Nor is apologizing for every embarrassing thing your mom says. Parents get old and weird, everybody know this, and the more you demonstrate your acceptance of your family the more your boo will jump on board. After all, you can chose who to have sex with but not who you’re related to.
Avoid regressing to a teenage state.
Parents tend to have better cable packages, more food in the fridge and nicer couches. It’s easy to let yourself turn into a slovenly, fridge-raiding, Homeland-binging creature, sleeping in until noon and bickering with mom and dad every time they ask for help. This is also not cute. Demonstrate the kind of family life you think you’d like to have with your boo (assuming you’re a breeder) by treating your family like humans.
Enjoy some pillow talk.
Full disclosure: I’m a WASP and a daddy’s girl, so historically I’ve been a bit of a pushover when it comes to bedroom etiquette. I can imagine my ancestors inventing thanksgiving with a sense of taciturn duty only to become mortified at the thought of crossing the New Hampshire-Vermont border to bring home some cute farm girl they met to face their stoic parents and having them make her sleep in the cowbarn.
Yes, it’s always been disconcerting for most parents to imagine their adult, unmarried children getting busy. The tradition continued whenever I brought home new loves before the age of approximately 25. They were exiled to the attic which had poor heating and no cable, while I cozied up with my high school copy of Catcher in the Rye. Sexile is rough for hot-blooded twenty-somethings, but it can also be kind of hot. There’s nothing sexier than the forbidden. Just ask Holden Caulfield.
Don’t Hide the Evidence.
Do not attempt to hide your childhood photos. They are adorable. In fact, showing off old family photo albums is still the best way to explain your story to a new partner, even if photo albums are pretty old fashioned and feature your fifth grade self in braces with bad hair and an oversized “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” T-shirt.
If you’re visiting…
Do your research.
Don’t expect your new boo to give you all the details. Take matters into your own hands—inquire after siblings, favorite childhood spots or family traditions. If you’re bridging some religious or cultural gaps brush up on what a “seder” is on Wikipedia or try Googling “why do WASPS keep the house at 55 degrees Farenheight and wear sweaters inside?”
Better yet, have your boo explain it to you. I mean, what’s more erotic than somebody recounting her love of sweaters.
Talk to the natives.
It’s hard to know what to say to your partner’s extended family. Unfortunately for you, you can no longer use that as an excuse.
Here are some conversation starters with different family members:
Older, gun-loving uncle?
Ask: In the event of an alien invasion (let them interpret the term “alien” for themselves), describe your ideal defense arsenal.
Ask: Is this turkey local?
iPhone-glued teenage sis?
Say: I have a friend who got to meet Taylor Swift once because he dressed up like her so many times and put it on Facebook. Wanna see his twitter feed?
Overbearing mother with control issues?
Say: So, tell me about growing up in your family!
Tea Party Grandfather?
Ask: So what’s your fondest memory of the Reagan administration?
Cougar aunt who’s actually really hot?
Helping out is a good rule of thumb but it’s easy to feel like you’re just “in the way.” Some guidelines:
Stay out of the kitchen when somebody is cooking unless it’s huge or you’re a culinary student.
Even if you are a professional chef, don’t show off and show up the host.
If you want to help cook, offer your assistance in a clear and specific way. If you see potatoes or lemons on the counter, make an offer to peel or zest. A Thanksgiving cook is worried about so many things, the last thing they need is someone they barely know asking “how can I help?” over and over.
If no one’s cooking, do some dishes.
Take the trash out. Nobody likes doing it and around the holidays it needs to happen all the time.
Make cocktails. And make ‘em strong. Here’s my mom’s recipe for something she calls a “Vivian Leigh” (and then insists is called a “Scarlett Ohara” once she’s had one). I’ve made it for most of the people I love. Here’s what she says:
“Well, it’s not exactly a recipe, but: cranberry juice, bourbon, lime juice and some ice in the blender. And off you go. xxxMom”