Friday, November 20, 2009

Turkey Dinner with a Side of Awkward

Dear Shannon,

I am having Thanksgiving dinner at my boyfriend's (we'll call him Steve) house this year. He and I have been dating for over two years. About six months ago, his ex (Lila Fowler) with whom I am not friends, sent me an email alleging that she had slept with him sometime around our first anniversary. As she is not particularly credible, that blew over relatively quickly.

As it happens, I have met his parents before and got along with them fairly well. I have not met his sister (Jessica) before - with whom he does not get along and who is still good friends with Lila (which leads me to think Jessica believes that her brother did, in fact, cheat).

So... what do I do here? Other than bring a hip flask of Patron for myself and a nice bottle of white for everyone else, I mean. I'd just like to be prepared for any eventuality, including snide remarks from the sisterly peanut gallery.


Billie Winkler

Dear Billie,

I think if someone invented the Truly Perfect Comeback that worked on every snide remark, advice columnists around the world would instantly go out of business.

Also, never mock the trusty hip flask. It has seen many a guest through many a disastrous event (proof: Foggy Dew brought one to my wedding). Finally, there is no way to be prepared for “any eventuality” – life just doesn’t work that way. All you can really do is carry yourself with dignity and hope for the best. This situation is about 60 percent under Jessica's control. Here’s the breakdown of where the rest of the control lies:

20 percent: Your boyfriend. Does he normally back you up when there’s a dispute with his family? This is important for two reasons: 1. if you’re considering marriage, this is HUGE, and, 2. if his family sees him as someone who sticks up for you, and won’t be a pushover, then his sister will feel less tempted to make snide remarks because she knows he won't put up with it.

15 percent: You. You’re going to have to hold your head high, be friendly and interested in what she has to say, and give this woman a chance. If you’re shy by nature, this is going to be a challenge. But it’s totally necessary: if you show up for dinner all defensive and ready for a fight, you’ve already lost. You’ve gift-wrapped an excuse for her to go nuclear on her brother’s bitch queen stuck-up girlfriend.

5 percent: Random chance. Maybe something will happen before dinner that puts Jessica in a good mood, making things easier, or bad news could turn her into the haranguing devil sister from hell. Or maybe she'll catch the swine flu and miss dinner. Who knows?

In the end, all you can do is show up as your best self, and hold your head high. She may make a snide remark, in which case you have two choices: the etiquette-approved subject change, or, for the truly daring, playing dumb. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you please explain what you meant by that?” can make even the most toxic person fumble. But in the end, this is about how well you and your boyfriend team up to deal with outside a spat with the sister may be a good thing after all, as it can help you figure out whether your guy is a keeper.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

PS – I do hope, whether the cheating allegations turn out to be true or not, that you got yourself thoroughly checked for STDs. Never take chances with your health.
Have a sticky etiquette question? Send it to!


Ibid said...

Tactic option #1) Attack the credibility of the ex-girlfriend. Something like "Yes, that's what she told me, too. I need a more credible witness if I'm going to believe it. Kind of like how I don't rely on Phillip-Morris for advice about respiratory health."

Tactic option #2) Run with it. "Oh yeah, so did I. I can see why they broke up. She's lousy in the sack. I'd heard about 'dead fish' in the past, but never really understood what they meant until now. Speaking of threesomes, what are you doing this weekend?"

Tactic option #3) Defame the ex's character. "Well, that's how she remembers it. I remember it more like 'she shows up at 3 in the morning sobbing and drunk at the front door. She throws herself at him, pukes in the bathtub, and passes out. She woke up in his bed, where she slept it off, and came up with that story.'"

Brando said...

Don't forget 3%--unexplained ninja attacks. Saving the fambly from ninjas can get in their good graces!

Also, if someone makes a rude remark, the all purpose comeback is "what ever happened to crack-whores having a heart of gold?"

Shannon said...

Ibid - I'm a fan of number 1, but it wouldn't accomplish Billie's goal of getting through the dinner with a minimum of drama. The only way it would work is if it was a group that hated Jessica and would laugh at the joke - and it's doubtful her immediate family hates her.

Brando - Great. Perfect comeback invented. Now I have to close up shop!

Ibid said...

No, but if the situation comes up where she'd need to use the line then any hope of a drama-free gathering is pretty much shot anyway.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to point out that Billie named her boyfriend and his family members after the "Sweet Valley High" book series. I would recommend not emulating the books when attempting to avoid drama here.