Long ago—when tights were vital undergarments and weren’t just worn as pants—Thanksgiving’s purpose was to celebrate the harvest. These days, it exists so you can eat the same quantity as a bear, fight with your grown-ass siblings over the TV remote, and dodge your aunt who always asks about your romantic life. Times have changed. That’s not to say that the meaning of the holiday has eroded just because we gather around a football game and liquid cheese dip instead of a hand-woven cornucopia. It’s just that the festivities have turned into a sort of marathon of physical and emotional trials that are equal parts fun and totally awkward. Luckily, whether you’re looking forward to this year’s gathering, or you secretly hope you’ll be detained by airport security for all 4 days because of the slightly sharp pencil in your bag, you’re not alone. Millions will be eating their feelings in an effort to survive, so let’s go over the obstacles we’re about to face and prepare ourselves:
1. Being home in your old bedroom and being reminded that you once loved N’Sync enough to buy a human-sized cut-out of Joey Fatone
Yes, Joey. In your naïve, experience-lacking adolescent mind, you didn’t even have the foresight to recognize that *Justin* was the one with enduring star quality. (To your credit though, his hair almost exactly resembled a loofah, so how were you to know?). Your room is a museum exhibit of your poor teenage taste, but you’re happy your parents didn’t turn it into a home gym. On the other hand, you now how have to sleep in a 4-walled manifestation of Tiger Beat magazine and acknowledge that you bear significant responsibility for Hot Topic’s success as a company. Bright side? Those studded bracelets and black nail polish will definitely come in handy for future Halloween costumes.
2. Family members telling mortifying stories about your childhood to your significant other (99.9% of which involve bodily functions)
Dealing with the procession of whacky family members at Thanksgiving is a lot like slogging through the levels of a video game—and if you think your crazy uncle Larry’s annual conspiracy rant about the government is the boss level, you’re probably wrong. Family members are biologically calibrated to make you feel shame in front of potential mates—which seems counterproductive to the perpetuation of the human race, but hey, even science gets it wrong sometimes. With one measly gesture, a relative can make you feel more embarrassment than if you had just come to dinner naked. Even worse, their stories are often corroborated with visual documentation because they are some of the last living souls on Earth who still own a VHS player and satin-covered photo albums. Can a relationship recover after your significant other has just seen a video of your 3-year-old self getting a diaper change at Disney World? It’ll take time, but yes.
3. Observing your parents create a feast from scratch and being reminded of the fact that you burnt a microwave meal the other day
There is a discrepancy between the education your parents received and the one you received–and the gap has nothing to do with constitutional amendment knowledge and everything to do with the fact that you can’t cook a damn thing for yourself. Chances are, if it’s not microwavable or laden with enough preservatives to last 99 years on a shelf, you aren’t eating it. Your parents, on the other hand, seem to be able whip up a 5-course meal that would make King Henry VIII so impressed, he’d gift them with a golden harp…or fertile cow..or whatever people in the 15th century offered as a gesture of praise. Not to mention, your parents can expertly pair a tablecloth with a centerpiece like some sort of Martha Stewart-programmed hospitality android. Did your school offer a course in this, but you just happened to have mono that semester? Was it federal law that everyone born before 1970 had to learn how to cook meatloaf or risk being branded a communist? Whatever. You’ve got seven Taco Bells in a 5-mile radius and if you really want to cook something, you’ll YouTube how to do it. Suck it, home-ec!
4. Running into old high school classmates and pretending you still have something in common with them
You’re tasked with going to the store to get eggs. A simple mission, there and back, no distractions, except for maybe the tabloids in the check-out line. “I hope Jennifer Aniston really is happy these days,” you think to yourself with carefree abandon as you eye the chocolate bars. It’s a routine errand—until you hear the high-pitched squeals of what can only be a distressed hamster and turn around to find former student body president Jenni Newmeyer behind you, pretending to be SOOO excited to see you. You were never friends in high school–in fact, she once told you she loved your Von Dutch trucker hat (the 2000s were a confusing time), only to mock you behind your back. You are now have two choices: fight or flight. Either you calmly confront the frenemy with a quick “so good to see you!” or you pull the old “I have an incredibly important incoming phone call that blinds me to the physical objects directly in front of me” and bail. Either way, you can rest easy knowing the only contact you’ll have with this person in the future is eye-rolling her Instagram posts.
5. Being stuck at the kids’ table as analogy for where you’re at in life
What does it take to earn a coveted seat at the grown-ups’ table? Why, at age 27, are you still being seated with the age bracket of individuals who put rocks in their noses and can’t put on their own pants? Is it because you can’t be trusted with the nice china (or the wine)? Probably not. It’s more likely that the older folks just wanted free childcare for the littlest ones. Regardless, when you’re grouped with the children, it’s easy to think of your assigned dining location as a dig at your maturity level. Never fear—just because you can’t for the life of you understand the stock market doesn’t mean you’ve failed at being an adult. Here’s the (mature) solution to this predicament: hoard the stuffing at your table and make your youngin’ dining companions do your dirty work (clearing off the table, getting you more bread rolls, etc). Take it in stride, because soon, you’ll be stuck with the adults, hearing them spill secrets about their hippie days on a nudist commune–and that is a LOT of responsibility to bear.