Is Your Relationship Ready For Thanksgiving?

Photographed by Karen Sofia Colon.
Thanksgiving is a classic "meeting the parents" holiday. On its face, it's easy to say why: You can introduce a new partner to everyone at once, without being quite as intimate as something like Christmas. Plus, there are plenty of distractions — checking on the turkey, watching the parade — which cuts down on the need for awkward small talk.
In previous years, we might have offered up a simple checklist to help you determine whether your relationship was ready for a Thanksgiving meet-and-greet. But it's 2020, and nothing is simple. Family gatherings look different this year — if they happen at all. And there are additional considerations you'll need to make before RSVP-ing with a plus one to Turkey Day dinner. We posed the dilemma to a handful of relationship experts, who gave us this updated, slightly more complicated checklist to use before bringing your boo home this year.
1. Are you okay with your partner seeing your family at their worst?
No matter how much you adore your fam, the holidays can bring out some drama. "You tend to see the good, the bad, and the ugly with families on holidays," says Marla Renee Stewart, MA, sex expert for Lovers, an adult wellness brand and retailer. The idea of letting your partner see you bicker with your mother or hear about your uncle's latest forays into the dark side of Youtube may never be pleasant, but if it really strikes terror into your heart, it may be too soon. The last thing you want is to feel like you have to control your family's behavior over the holiday — it's a losing battle, and you'll end up being distracted and on edge the entire dinner, which is not a mindset that's conducive to helping your partner have an enjoyable meal.
If you decide to bring your SO home, make sure they know what they're walking into. "Be insightful enough to give them a little heads up," Moraya Seeger DeGeare, licensed marriage and family therapist and the co-owner of BFF Therapy in Beacon, NY, tells Refinery29. Does your mom like when someone insists on helping out in the kitchen, or does she mean it when she asks you to stay seated? Is your younger sibling reluctant to talk about anything but video games? Is your dad's shyness sometimes misinterpreted as dislike? These small tidbits of information can only help your new partner win over your family and go into the situation with a bit of confidence.
2. Is it going to be stressful for your partner?
Most experts agree that easing your new partner into the chaos of your family is the best bet. "I feel like for the first time, meeting family on a holiday puts on so much added pressure," DeGeare says. Especially if you have a large or overwhelming family, your partner could feel a little freaked out by all the new faces and the boisterous energy.
You can still bring your boo home, but again, set them up for success. DeGeare recommends having your partner meet a few key players before going to the Thanksgiving celebration. "You could do a nice casual dinner with your folks or siblings," she says. "It's a lot less pressure and feels more natural." Then, when they walk into Thanksgiving, they'll already have some talking points to lean on. But DeGeare knows that Thanksgiving might be the only opportunity some people have to bring their partner home. If that's the case, consider having your partner meet some family members the night before the holiday gathering, or bring them to your parents' place (or wherever you're celebrating) an hour or two earlier, for some quieter "getting to know you" time.
But if you know your family holidays tend to be very high-key and your partner is going to be stressed and miserable, consider waiting for another time.
3. Have you had "the talk"?
Be clear about what this invite means, DeGeare suggests. If you ask your situationship home for Thanksgiving, you might see it as a nice gesture, while they might see it as a step toward a capital R relationship — or vice versa. "You can send a lot of mixed signals and people could get confused by that," she notes. Never assume you're on the same page with someone. And give your family a hint too. You don't want your parents treating someone you consider a quarantine buddy you sometimes sleep with like a potential life partner.
4. Will everyone play it safe?
We saved the most important piece for 2020 for last: the pandemic factor. Is your partner willing to quarantine, get tested, and quarantine again in order to visit your folks? Are they willing to take on the risk involved in being around your family, and do they know how much of a risk it is? (Will your anti-masker uncle be there, for instance?) It's a little late to be having this convo, but it's still worth checking in: "Hey, I'm going to get a rapid test tomorrow before I see my parents. Want to come with?" If they scoff, it's okay to withdraw the invite.
"It says a lot that someone's willing — if you're doing it right — to potentially quarantine and get COVID tested and go through all the stress of that to meet your family," DeGeare says. But even if it doesn't work out this year for whatever reason, she notes, if it's the right person, you'll be bringing them home eventually.

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