Help! My Family Is Embarrassing

Ask Demetria: Five ways to reduce stress when you bring a mate home for the holidays.


My boyfriend and I are heading to my parents' house for Thanksgiving. He's not the first guy I've brought home, but he's the first in a long while. My family is known for being nosy and inappropriate, and frankly, they're embarrassing. I am not looking forward to this trip. Any advice? --A.K.

You are not alone. Here's a dirty little secret about the holiday season that no one's supposed to admit: Folks don't really enjoy it the way all the commercials and Hallmark cards would have you believe. Everyone likes the good food, the bountiful drink and the days off from work, but studies show that most people have high levels of stress over family holiday get-togethers.

If you can't take the heat from your family, seriously consider avoiding the headache by not going home. A few years ago, I stayed put for Thanksgiving with my then-boyfriend. I baked a veggie lasagna and bought good wine; he made baked chicken and picked up a cheesecake from Junior's in Brooklyn, N.Y. (At least one tradition was kept.)

We spent Thanksgiving morning decorating the Christmas tree and watching the Macy's parade, then we ate dinner on my tiny couch while we watched The Wire. Admittedly, the food wasn't as good as my mother's, but I'd created a new tradition with my partner, and honestly? Not even home-cooked food tastes as good as sanity feels.

But maybe not going isn't worth upsetting your people (and they will likely be upset). If you're determined to grin and bear it, consider the following:

1. Stay at a hotel.

There's only one queen or king per castle; at your parents' house, they rule. You're already on edge wondering what could go wrong. Reduce your opportunities for embarrassment or complete disaster by splurging for a night where you and your date can actually unwind without being interrupted (and can sleep in the same bed).

2. Make sure your family knows your date's name (and that they know he or she isn't the person who showed up last year).

My grandmother had Alzheimer's, a condition that resulted in many embarrassing moments, like the time a relative arrived at a family dinner with his new companion, the woman he'd begun dating after he and his wife divorced. My grandmother saw them together, pointed to the woman in horror and loudly accused, "That is not your wife!" My mother and I calmed her down and corrected her, and just when things were settled, Grandma yelled it again.

That's the worst-case scenario, of course. But a relative who greets your date with, "Hey, Marvin, good to have you back," when your date's name is Chris and this is his first visit, will have the same effect on him.