Here's How NOT To Let The Election Ruin Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Let's be real here: Even in the best of times, heading home for the holidays can be anxiety-inducing. All those relatives you see once or twice a year, suddenly converging around a single table to hash out family updates and "what's new with you"? I'm already tuckered out thinking about it, and that's not the tryptophan talking.

But in 2016, there's another layer of stress that might be looming over your Thanksgiving plans. As we're all more than aware, our nation just elected a new president. If you're anything like me, you're still devastated about the outcome and don't anticipate the gloom letting up anytime soon.

Or maybe you're nothing like me: The guy who got your vote won, so you're feeling hopeful about what the next four years could bring — but you're also worried about what your diehard liberal cousin will do when you ask her to pass the mashed potatoes.

My dad used to say that there's a reason politics aren't invited to the dinner table. I'm not entirely sure I agree. But I do know that this year, invited or not, they'll probably show up anyway. Add some spiced, spiked cider to that mix and you've got a recipe for a potential holiday meltdown.

The thing is, your relatives will still be your relatives long after someone else takes over the Oval Office, and preserving those relationships might, in the end, be more important than politics. But what do you do when you know your family is split along bipartisan lines, and you're just not equipped to deal? We've got some ideas: for neutralizing certain lines of conversation, for politely standing your ground, and for how to decide when to bow out instead of blowing up.

So let's take a deep breath and talk about the options at your disposal for surviving this holiday season. We're going to get through this one — together.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Prep yourself — and your parents — for exactly how much time you plan to spend.

Unless you're spending the holidays with a bunch of people you've never met before, you likely already have an idea of what you'll be walking into this year. For example: I know that there is at least one uncle I might not be able to resist talking politics with, and suffice it to say, we were not on the same side in this election.

If that sounds familiar, here's the plan: Minimize the time you're going to spend at your family affair, and make sure whoever is organizing knows that beforehand.

"Anybody can endure anything if they know how long it’s going to last," says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist who specializes in interpersonal relationship issues. She compares Thanksgiving to a marathon: There should be mile markers in place to help you get through the day. "Pace yourself," she adds.

If Thanksgiving dinner starts at 3 p.m., get there with enough time to say your hellos and offer some help in the kitchen — but definitely don't plan to be there the whole day and night. More combative discussions are likely to come later on, after everyone runs out of pleasantries and the usual "what have you been up to?" conversation topics. Give yourself enough time to make the rounds and engage with relatives, and don't bail before dessert or offering to help with dishes. But once you feel like you've said all you need to say and kissed all the cheeks you meant to kiss, make a clean exit.

It's also not a bad idea to let the gang know when you're planning to head out, and why (high school friends meeting up at a bar? need to make a stop at your significant other's family celebrations?), so that everybody has the same expectations.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Commit to a game plan for how you're going to spend time with your nearest and dearest.

One other thing of note: If you do wind up leaving a little earlier than your family would have liked, know how you're going to offset the disappointment.

Managing expectations will help keep time spent with your family running smoothy, confirms Dr. Durvasula: "Some people are more sensitive than others. They feel slighted when they don't get what they want. People feel fulfilled if they see everyone. Our tendency is that, if we don't want to spend time with someone, we don't, so left to our own devices at a family event like that, it's very likely that we almost unconsciously forget to spend time together. But if you can build the scheduled time in, then you can avoid overlooking people."

Set some time to stop and see your grandma, one-on-one, while you're home, or make sure to write the aunt who hosted a sweet email the day after the fact. Tell your cousins you want to have a group coffee the next time you're all in town, and then do what it takes to make that happen. Say you're going to start calling your great-aunt every other Sunday night — and then actually do it. Some dedicated time and kind words can go a long way toward smoothing things over for the future, and making next Thanksgiving seem a lot less stressful.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
If all else fails: Escape to the kitchen for dish duty.

If table topics are heating up and you really don't want to participate, take the opportunity to be a good guest and go help out in the kitchen.

While this might seem like an avoidance tactic, it's actually an engagement tactic, explains Dr. Durvasula. Signing yourself up as the host's helper will give you something to do, and also something to talk about other than hot-button topics: the pies, the sides, the cornucopia table-scape.

One thing about Thanksgiving is that there are always pots to scrub, dishes to bus, coffee mugs to refresh. Theoretically, you might be able to busy yourself with back-of-house activities all day, if you really wanted to. Plus, you'll get bonus points for being the best guest ever.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Steer clear of controversy, in general, if it's something you want to avoid.

Okay, so: What if you're cooped up with the family all day (maybe all weekend), and can't do a darned thing about it? Well, if you're the kind of person who wants to keep the peace at all costs (no shame in that, folks), then your best bet is to steer clear of minefields altogether.

Seated next to your brother who also happens to the the president of his college's Young Republicans Club? Switch up the seating so you can catch up with your aunt who used to work for the ACLU. Find yourself suddenly ensconced in a debate about the electoral college? This is when you go to the bathroom, or bite your tongue, or maybe decide it's time to take your little cousins for a post-turkey walk around the neighborhood.

Another mantra to keep in mind, according to Dr. Durvasula: Pick your battles. And remember that this isn't just your Thanksgiving — it's other people's, too. "You don't have to sit there and put up with other people's vitriol," she adds, "but you can also defuse the bomb without getting into it. Make your stance. But don't get stuck in the mud. Be mindful." That might mean telling your grandma that you love her, and that you two will just need to agree or disagree, or gracefully bowing out of a conversation. You've got options. Don't hesitate to put them to use.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
But don't be afraid to state your opinion and stand up for what you believe in.

Personally, the holiday moment I'm most anxiously anticipating this season is the one when someone inevitably says something about Hillary Clinton — or the people who voted for her — that I just can't ignore. At this point, I have processed the reality: Donald Trump will be our president come January.

But we still fought a hard fight. Personally, I fought it because I really believe Hillary Clinton deserved to win, and represented the interests of minorities, people of color, and women in a way that her opponent did not. For that reason, it still hurts — and I'm still defending her positions now that the cement has set.

So if someone — say, the aforementioned uncle, who is likely to stir the pot just for fun — decides to impeach what the Clinton campaign stood for, or suggests that Trump "didn't mean" his most divisive comments, I will not be resisting the urge to fact-check and speak out. I will calmly add whipped cream to my pumpkin pie and keep my chill to the best of my ability, all while explaining what I feel, why I feel that way, and how my feelings have been informed by facts.

The thing is, most people have their own version of my uncle. He's the guy who pushed you on the swings when you were small and taught you how to change a tire; he's also the guy you have known your whole life but have less and less in common with, with each passing year. Let's assume that he's not mean-spirited, or racist, or otherwise unkind: He just looks at the world through a very different lens.

We have an opportunity to connect with one another right now — to help other people see our perspective, whatever it may be. It doesn't have to be barbed, or charged, or explosive. It could be an opportunity to really talk about why people hold the beliefs and values that they do, and better understand how they came to them.

Bottom line, says Dr. Durvasula: "Don't be afraid to state your opinion and stand up for what you believe in." Maybe you don't change any minds or political leanings on Thanksgiving. But maybe this is the moment that you open the dialog and help to put a more personal face on a specific issue. Rather than pushing us farther apart, maybe these conversations could bring us closer together.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Give yourself permission to skip out this year, if you truly would prefer to steer clear.

Confession: I'm not headed back to my family's home in the midwest this year. My partner and I are sticking close to the East Coast, his family, and their de facto Democratic Party turf — which has less to do with the election outcome and more with a policy of avoiding busy airports whenever possible. I'll be missing my folks, but I'm also glad that pro-Trump talk won't be part of my Thanksgiving.

Another confession: Even though I'm looking forward to turkey time, there's another part of me wishing we could just order in Chinese and spend some quality time Netflix-and-chilling on the couch. It's been a long month, and frankly, I'm tired. I need a break, and to really think about what I'm grateful for. There is plenty of good in my world — plenty that's great about America. Giving yourself the space to contemplate that isn't a bad way to observe the holiday, and maybe even kick off a new tradition.

But it's also good to keep the bigger picture in mind when you're making the decision to forego a family holiday. Is it your sister's first year as a mom? Is there any reason to think that this could be your last holiday season with someone you love? "Ideology is really important," says Dr. Durvasula, "but there's also life."

So if you decide that this is the year that you're going to hang with friends, or your partner, or even solo on the couch, and it's not going to irreparably break your family's collective heart: Consider this permission to do just that. Recharge. The next round of holidays will be here before you know it.
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