How To Survive Thanksgiving Political Chat With Her Family
I have seen a great many articles this Thanksgiving season offering advice on how to deal with relatives who are your political opposites. Not one word has been written, so far as I can see, on how to handle the T-day political chat of your girlfriend’s relatives whose home you have been invited to for the holiday.
The crazy uncle, deluded aunt, nonsensical cousin, hippie sister, stuffy conservative brother, hyper masculine and slightly racist grandfather, conspiracy-mongering mother and father—these are people you have had to deal with your entire life. Truth be told, you need little advice on how to manage things so that Thanksgiving dinner does not devolve into chaos. Family dramas, especially over politics, tend to play out the same way each holiday. Everyone is perfectly familiar with and prepared for what the other is going to say. Routine and absence of strangeness (that is of an unknown presence) ensures that nothing interrupts the passing of the gravy and mashed potatoes.
But going to your girl’s house for T-dinner presents a different situation entirely. It is a tougher nut to crack (pun intended).
You may have accepted the invitation because she lives closer to where the two of you go to school; you may have accepted the invitation because things are starting to get serious between the two of you and you think it’s time to meet her parents; you may have accepted the invitation to try something new for Turkey day. Whichever the case, you must remember that the dynamics of T-day political chat in her family are probably similar to yours; only you are an unknown, a stranger, a person without the settled rights and privileges of other family members.
How do you handle this? Though this is being posted on Turkey day, it is not too late to heed the following advice, as you have a few hours until dinner and you still have to get through leftovers tomorrow.
So, here it goes:
Remember that you are there to enjoy yourself and to be introduced to her family. If you really like this girl, then you will of course want to make a good impression. Your girl may have told her parents and siblings a little bit about you, but she is unlikely to have discussed your political views. Her parents may assume that your politics are similar to your girlfriend’s. Do not give them too rude of an awakening. Try to avoid the topic for as long as you can. Her uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. probably know nothing about you, and it is bad form to make their acquaintance by blasting their deepest convictions.
Focus instead on your other interests and the circumstances that brought you and your girlfriend together. If you are still in college, there is plenty to talk about besides politics (if you are a politics or economics major you may find yourself in bind). In any case, try to present your more agreeable side before you getting into controversy.
It seems like common sense. You would never think of raising your voice to strangers in their own home. But hearing someone make statements that you know to be untrue, that are so ridiculous and absurd as to be nearly insane, may dull your sense of how loud you are speaking when your opinion is solicited. Monitor this closely. You must be especially wary of raising your voice when you find yourself in a one-on-one debate with one of her family members.
Do not get involved with arguments amongst family members
If you happen to find one or two of her family members that share your views, you will be tempted to help shore them up when they come under attack. Don’t. It will be one of the hardest things you will ever do, but, again, you don’t know these people yet and you have a lot riding on their impression of you.
Her parents and other family members whose opinion she cares about are unlikely to reject you based solely on your politics. But interjecting yourself into a dispute between two members of the tribe will be seen as an unacceptable display of insolence and rudeness.
If you are invited to speak your mind on politics, do so. Don’t hold back; don’t pretend to find common ground when there isn’t any. You may be invited into the fray by one or another of the family members who sensed from the very beginning that you’re one of them. If things unfold in this way, then you must be direct and honest. Only remember that you cannot be as free in your language and method of criticism as they are.
You need not raise your voice or make any personal attacks. But don’t fake it. Doing so will lower you in your girlfriend’s eyes and you will not even when the respect of her mother and father, who will begin to wonder how you can protect their daughter if you lack the character to stand up for yourself.
About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.