Get togethers with extended family members around the holidays usually involves a balancing act, as these gatherings are notoriously challenging given all of the personalities and dynamics in play. Relatives love to poke and prod, especially if there is a newcomer in town. On one end of the table you can count on the sibling who peppers your date with 30 rapid fire questions.
Even if this barrage is cleanly navigated, they will surely have to encounter the grandparent or aunt who needs to review the list of every individual's relationship status over the years whether they are present or not. Is anyone ever truly ready to face the familial bliss that comes with this invite package? Knowing that Thanksgiving is only the beginning of the holiday season, how does one know when the time is right to bring a date along?
• Define your relationship: Just because you bring someone to the Thanksgiving meal doesn't necessarily mean that they are your significant other, or does it? Make sure the two of you discuss your status ahead of time. The last thing you want is to give off mixed signals when asked about your being a couple. Surely you can count on this question coming up.
• Know your audience: Does the person that you are bringing have certain preconceptions of what a holiday dinner should be? Are they expecting a Norman Rockwell-like scene complete with hand holding and words of praise and thanks? What if your family is more inclined towards the casual approach of a buffet style meal while screaming at the Dallas Cowboys on TV? At the very least your date needs to be debriefed as to what to expect.
• Judging character: Inserting a newbie into the mix is certainly a good way to see whether they sink or swim when put in the spotlight. Naturally all eyes will be on them. Will they be able to navigate and charm the room, or will the end result be your honey spending their evening huddled in a corner gnawing on an oversized drumstick? Relationships are not necessarily just the chemistry between the two of you. Ultimately how your mate interacts with your family at large is important, as they are an extension of who you are.
• Looking into the window: If you are the invited guest, welcome to the front row seat allowing you to see how your significant other gets along with their family. Is it a harmonious setting or a sea of dysfunction? Could this dinner be a bellwether sign as to the future couple that you will become? The family's ways of communicating and problem solving may inevitably spill over into the dynamics of your relationship. Remember you can't choose your relatives, you can only choose how you deal with them.
• Timing: The length of your relationship should not be the determining factor in bringing your mate to meet the family on Thanksgiving. Whether your courtship is a few weeks or a few months old, the answer lies in the quality of your connection. As long as you are comfortable with the foundation that the two of you have, including them should feel like a natural progression.
It is showtime! You can do the dance, say the three magical words and meet each other's friends, but this is small potatoes compared with the meeting of all meetings...... mom, dad and the kinfolk. Unless otherwise stated that the two of you are platonic, inviting a date to Thanksgiving will inevitably be interpreted as a meaningful gesture. Be proactive and prep your family by sharing in advance any sensitive topics to avoid so as to smooth the road.
Ultimately in bringing someone special to the Thanksgiving dinner you are peeling back the layers and exposing a side of yourself to your significant other and taking some risk. If things go south, lesson learned. If all goes well, you've got yourself a keeper (or at least a date for New Year's Eve).