On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me… some totally awkward family holiday encounters.
Holidays: a time of yummy food, festive parties, and your crazy Aunt Suzy judging everyone’s outfits (c’mon Aunt Suzy, be cool). But family holiday time can be especially crazy if you’re a couple. Whether you’re in a new relationship or have been together for years, you know you’ll have to face whatever your family (or your SO’s family) dishes out during the holidays. And sometimes, it can get awkward.
Are you ready for the “so when are you guys getting married” question? Uhg! No one is. What’s your game plan for when your boyfriend’s mom cuts you off some turkey but you don’t eat meat? What on earth are you going to bring as a gift? Here are some tips on how to gracefully get through the holiday season with your honey.
1. What to do with the “when are you getting married” questions.
These are the worst. Questions about your relationship can be so intrusive, and, if you and your SO haven’t talked about things like marriage yet, it can be extra weird. The bad news is that these queries never stop.
You might be thinking: “hey, won’t people stop asking once we get married?” No, no they won’t. It’ll just turn into the when-are-you-having-kids question and then the when-are-you-having-another-kid question until it’s the when-are-your-kids-having-kids question, until, I assume, you die.
By now, I’ve tried every answer in the book. From the jokey: “I’m still holding out for Chris Pine” to the polite brush off: “we’re not really sure right now” and had mixed results. But eventually, I found a line that works almost all the time.
The next time someone asks your when you guys are getting hitched, try this: “It’s so nice that you care about our relationship. The two of us haven’t come to a decision about that yet, but when we do have news you’ll surely be one of the first to know.” It’s polite but doesn’t encourage further discussion. It suggests that you’ve talked about it before, but respects your privacy. It’s vague and I love it.
2. Here’s how you can handle dietary restrictions at holiday dinners.
I’m a vegetarian and my fiance is allergic to dairy. I know: we’re the worst to have over for dinner. We’ve both run into the awkward “sorry, I can’t eat that” at each others’ family’s house and it’s tough.
I hate it when my fiancé’s parents spend all day making a turkey or ham and I have to tell them I can’t eat it. I hate sounding ungrateful and I’m always afraid that his family will think I’m making an excuse to not eat their food. And for my fiancé, it’s a different (but perhaps worse) situation where he might really want to eat those cheesy mashed potatoes but he can’t without having an allergic reaction. Bummer.
If you have a dietary restriction, there are a few things that you can do to prepare:
If it’s your family’s house you two are visiting, make sure there will be things your SO can eat. He/she will really appreciate it and it’s a great way to show you care.
If you’re going to their family house, bring a dish you can eat. It’s nice to bring a little something when you go to someone’s house, plus, you know you’ll have at least one thing to eat. In addition, see if your SO can mention your dietary restriction to their family. It’s nice to be upfront, and if your beau can casually mention your peanut allergy before the visit, that’s all the better.
When it comes to the day of: be honest about what you can have, eat what you can, and if needed, grab some drive-through later.
3. Here’s what you can do with presents for your significant other’s family.
A lot of families exchange gifts during the holidays. A present exchange might be a ton of fun in your family, but when you’re going to someone else’s house it can cause stress.
You might not know if you should show up with gifts, and if so, what kind. You might not know everyone in the family (and what they like), and, if your date has a big crew you might not be able to afford to get a gift for every single person.
One great idea is to bring a wine and snack gift basket. It’s communal, tasty, and won’t break the bank. Bringing a snack gift can even become a tradition. I have an aunt who, in lieu of gifts, makes cookies every year and brings cute Christmas tins full of cookies for everyone… and it’s amazing. I look forward to those cookies every year and the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without them.
4. Be cautious with those holiday cocktails.
Alcohol is often free-flowing during holiday events and it’s easy loose track of how many times you’ve topped off your merlot. You don’t want to get into a situation where you (or your beau) has too much to drink or it could mean major embarrassment.
You want to be on your best behavior when visiting someone else’s family and sometimes that means switching to the virgin eggnog early. Talk to your partner about how much you both plan to drink beforehand and encourage each other to stick to just one or two cocktails with family, you’ll be glad you did.
5. Talking politics at your significant other’s holiday meal might actually be cool.
While most people think discussing politics at family gatherings is taboo, it might not be totally off the table. Some families like talking about current events, and if your family is one of those, they might find it rude if your boyfriend or girlfriend keeps trying to change the subject.
As long as everyone is polite and thoughtful, some deeper conversation might be a relief from typical small talk. Plus, if your SO and your family have the same views, it might be a great way to bond.
Talk to your sweetie about the climate of your family gatherings and what’s typical. If you’re both well-informed you’ll be able to steer the conversation in the right direction.
6. Here’s what you can do if you’re dealing with a challenging family.
Whether it be a backhanded compliment or full-on mean remark, family is famous for being rude to dates. You might end up apologizing for your dad’s remark about your new girlfriend’s job or you might find yourself taken aback by an unwelcome critique of your haircut. No matter what, rude family is tough.
If you wind up on the receiving end, brush it off with humor. If his mom says something about your clothes, try your best to make a joke about it and change the subject.
If your family’s the one causing trouble, shut it down early. Don’t be afraid to take your sister to the side and tell her to stop picking on your date. If a warning doesn’t work, know when to start heading home. It might seem harsh to leave early on a holiday, but if someone’s really causing problems, make sure they know it won’t be tolerated.
7. When things get to be a little too much with the family — there’s always the bathroom.
I love the bathroom. I really do. It’s where I go when I need to smell my pits to make sure I’M not that weird thing Aunt Carrie was smelling. It’s where I go to check if there’s spinach in my teeth, and it’s the place I go to wait out the storm at the table.
Perfectly planned bathroom breaks are the best when your boyfriend’s parents start to bicker again. It’s also super handy when your girlfriend’s uncle wants to show everyone the weird mole on his back. It’s shaped like Michigan? That’ so interesting, Frank. Excuse me, I need to use the restroom. Done.
8. The most important thing to know at a holiday dinner is when to leave.
Leaving: the most important part of your evening. While you might be having a blast hanging out with your family, know that your SO might be getting bored. Hanging out with new people (or people they don’t know very well) might not seem like such a blast for them.
Before you arrive, talk about how long you want to stay at your holiday gathering and set a time range for when you’d like to head out. You might also want to make a sign (or get a code word) to use if you’re ready to go home early. Communicating beforehand will put you two on the same page and will help you end the night gracefully.
Spending time with your SO’s family during the holidays can be challenging and awkward, but it can also be a ton of fun. It’s a great opportunity to get to know more about the important people in your boyfriend/girlfriend’s life, make some memories, and have a good time. Just remember these eight tips, and your holiday gathering is sure to be a success.
For more wedding day advice, check out “Picking And Choosing Wedding Advice That Works For You” or “7 Things I Learned From Marriage That I Couldn’t Learn Anywhere Else.”