Well, you made it through last year’s Thanksgivukkah. But don’t relax yet; the big season of joy is coming up again fast.
Being with your extended family can make you squirm, either due to their direct questions or simply as a results of the difference between your life situation and that of the larger group. If something important seems to be missing from your life right now, it will be highlighted in neon lights at significant annual gatherings.
Are you still living at home when all your family peers are comparing the big screen TVs they’re considering for their apartments? Or those lucky ones are making bids on their first houses, a big topic for the family dinner table?
Are you the only un-attached one, single, divorce, widowed–with dating going quite poorly–while everyone else has someone special? And maybe they have new babies to show as well.
Or perhaps you’re a baby boomer with single adult children, while the theme of this holiday event turns out to be boomer parents complaining about wedding expenses or pregnancy problems of their if-only-they-knew-how-lucky-they-were adult kids.
Does the “baby thing” hurt because you’re alone, or maybe because you are paired up–but have been unable to conceive? Perhaps you’re simply unable to afford children so far?
Are you unemployed, having been fired–or if you’re young (or at least we hope you are in that situation), have you yet to find your first job past college–while your age mates are rapidly moving up the career ladder?
Do you–a middle-aged human struggling with a $30,000 credit card debt–have to listen to your younger cousin pontificate: “Everyone should have at least one year’s expenses in the bank in case of emergency”? Are you struggling to make it on social security while your nearest and dearest share photos of vacation homes?
Are you the only chunky one in a family of svelte salad-snarfers? Or a couch potato having to listen to marathon runners compare injuries?
Does everyone brag about their children’s successes, while your kids are sick, depressed, learning disabled, taking drugs, getting bullied, or just plain miserable?
Perhaps your children have stopped speaking to you, so you can’t begin to respond to, “And how are your kids?”
Is the group at the party engaged in a lively to-and-fro about Obamacare, while you don’t know the first thing about politics–or anything else they’re talking about?
Are you suffering from such a bad depression that the conversation swirls around you in a painful blur?
Are you the only one who’s brought a “friend” of “the wrong” religion, color, or gender–or all 3?
How about being the “out” side of the family? Your parents clearly preferred your sibling(s) all your life, perhaps because of any of the above reasons. They remind you of your failings throughout the party in not-so subtle drive-by criticisms.
Maybe you and your siblings are grown now, so the negative vibes descend upon your children as well. Stuck family rule: second-class citizens can’t give birth to first-class citizens. The grandparents play favorites, and your little ones are catching on quick.
How come you’ve the only one who didn’t know about Aunt Rosa’s heart attack? About cousin Lou’s boss going to prison? About baby Sarah’s upcoming surgery? How come your kids have to learn at the party that your sister’s children enjoy overnights at Grandma’s?
Sometimes the family hurts because you don’t fit in. It gets worse when they try to include you–the dentist probe seeking out the sore spot.
“So…Mom tells me you’re working now?” (Mom and her big mouth. It’s a very part-time job serving for a caterer when she needs extra hands.)
“What about you? Are you seeing anyone? No? I can’t understand what’s wrong with those boys/girls. You’re such a lovely person. Have you tried Match.com? One of my friends’ sons met someone there, and they’re so happy.”
Or the all-time favorite: “Maybe you’re just too picky.”
“No children yet? You, know you can’t always wait for the ‘right time.'”
“How’s school going?” (You don’t want to share that you’re failing or dropping out or that you’re miserable and hoping to transfer.)
And this classic to the overweight one: “You have such a pretty/handsome face.”
So….short of a sudden vacation emergency or calling in sick, here’s some strategies to try.
First, you don’t have to answer every question, rude or not. You can smile and change the subject, pretend you haven’t heard, or simply walk away with a purpose, such as reaching an hors d’oeuvre tray or heading toward the washroom.
You don’t have to defend yourself. Any question that starts with “Why don’t you…?” is unlikely to initiate quality dialogue. You’ll feel more confident when you don’t try to justify your choices and/or mistakes to people who don’t understand you anyway.
If the self-involved chatting of others causes you pain, try introducing something you wish to talk about–a movie, your cat, your iPhone’s short battery life. If the other guy isn’t interested, it’s still a win-win; maybe he’ll walk away.
Always arrive in your own transportation. Leave just before you begin tooth grinding.
I’ve saved my most fun advice for last. Imagine that you’re a videographer making an ironic movie about family life. Give it a title: “Life Among the Bourgeouis,” or “Why I Hate Suburbia,” or “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.” Make your script as the evening progresses.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll solve that job problem then and there.