(The Root) —
"I'm stressed about the holidays more than usual this year. I don't get along very well with my own family, so for years I've avoided going home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I usually spend Thanksgiving with friends or even alone, which I actually enjoy, to avoid the drama. This year a guy I'm dating has invited me to join his family for Thanksgiving, and I'm hesitant to meet his mother because he's told me some unkind things about her. Is it wrong to cancel the trip? I haven't avoided my family drama to deal with someone else's. If I do go, any tips to help things go smoothly?" —F.O.
If it makes you feel any better, nearly everyone is stressed about the holidays, especially women, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. There's undue pressure for everything to look as perfect as a Hallmark ad and for us to be on our best behavior, as if we're all in a 1950s sitcom.
Inevitably, this image never plays out as planned and there's a lot of disappointment. For many folks, it's not really a complete Thanksgiving unless the turkey fails to get cooked on time, if an uncle doesn't hold his liquor, if Mom isn't offending her kids, if an aunt doesn't bore the dinner table with her rambling, if Dad doesn't tell an off-color joke or if all the kids aren't on their best behavior, fussy babies included. Enduring a holiday like this with a smile and without cursing at anyone or getting cursed out is supposed to be an act of love, but for many it's a bitter obligation. If that's how you feel about Turkey Day, don't worry; you're operating well within the realm of "normal."
Kudos to you for not getting sucked into the vortex of drama. Many people don't realize that not "doing" the holidays is OK. A lot of them would enjoy the season more if they spent Thanksgiving and Christmas alone or with people they like and love (there's a huge difference).
Unfortunately, you've committed to heading "home" with your date without fully thinking it through. Given that you're inquiring about whether it's OK to cancel your plans the week before Thanksgiving, you should know that no, it's absolutely not all right to bail now — that is, if you have any intention of continuing to date this particular suitor. You're going to have to go through with this one, and maybe even suffer with a smile. But hopefully not.
Now, about your date's mother. He's given you his perspective on her, and maybe it's entirely accurate. Let's hope that she's doing her best B. Smith impression for the day and trying to present a picture-perfect Thanksgiving.
Ask your date what you should bring to dinner that his mother would appreciate. Whatever it is, pick it up and present it to Mom in an attempt to butter her up. Post-dinner, don't forget to fawn over the food. It's hard to be rude to anyone who's showering you with gifts and praise. (Even if this doesn't go over as planned with Mom, your date will appreciate the effort.)
If Mama's not at her best, you must remain on your p's and q's. And no matter what she does, don't bring up anything negative that her son has said to you about her. If she asks too many invasive questions, pass them off to your guy if he's nearby. If he's not, excuse yourself to the restroom and let things cool down. Find him when you exit and let him act as your buffer for any additional problems.
If anything goes terribly awry, even if you think you can handle it, just tell him what the problem is and have him handle his family. He knows the personalities far better than you do and can tell them to back off without making too much of a scene or doing too much damage.
Last but not least: Show up with the intention of having a good time. Sometimes we can worry so much or think so many negative thoughts that we practically will bad things to happen. Just because you've had bad holidays in the past is no reason you have to continue to have them in the future.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.