Dreading post-election Thanksgiving? 4 tips for survival
November isn’t done with us yet.
The election is over, yes. Finally. But soon, many Americans will be forced to revisit it all over again when they travel home for Thanksgiving.
At the very best, Thanksgiving can be thorny. Exhaustion and stress from traveling, plus intrusive questions from relatives, plus free-flowing wine can be a dangerous combination.
This Thanksgiving, in particular, will be a tough one for many of us. This was a contentious election, and people on all sides feel very strongly. So how do you get through dinner without it devolving into a shouting match?
We turned to the experts to find out: Cheryl Strayed, an advice columnist and the author of “Wild” and “Tiny Beautiful Things”; Jennifer Peepas, the blogger who runs the advice site Captain Awkward; and Daniel Post Senning, an author and spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute and Emily Post’s great-great-grandson.
Here’s their advice.
1) Set aside political talk at the table.
At the beginning of dinner, speak up. Acknowledge as a group that you won’t discuss politics while the turkey is still being carved. By doing that, Strayed says, it becomes a decision you’ve all made together for the common good.
Some people, unbelievably enough, are looking forward to talking politics with their relatives. Whether you’re on the same side or diametrically opposed, a spirited debate can be fun. For some.
Post Senning says if that’s the case, don’t subject a captive audience to it. When dinner is over, the politically minded can retreat to the den to debate, and everyone else can eat pie and watch football in another room.
And when you do finally talk election results, remember: Don’t be a sore loser, and don’t be a gloating winner. Both are bad manners.
2) Have an escape plan.
Thanksgiving is not obligatory. If you know there’s absolutely no way to get around being bullied by your relatives over your political views, give yourself permission to take this holiday off.
And if you do go despite serious apprehension, have an escape plan. Peepas advises arriving a little late so no one’s blocking your car in -- “it’s really hard to storm out of an argument if you have to get your uncle who’s yelling at you to move their car.”
Part of having an escape plan, she said, is psychological: Even if you don’t use it, knowing you have a way to leave can give you peace of mind.
Try not to confuse the importance of the topic you’re discussing with the importance of the conversation you’re having.
— Daniel Post Senning
3) Be ready to create a conversational diversion.
The best way to keep people from talking about politics is to get them talking about something else. What’s the best thing they’ve watched on TV or book they’ve read this year? What are they feeling particularly thankful for? Browse the news before dinner and come prepared with some interesting apolitical headlines to discuss.
If the conversation starts to turn, be ready with what you’ll say next. Post Senning advises a polite, “You know, I’m not comfortable talking about that yet.” Strayed suggests, “We know we don’t agree on politics, so let’s not discuss it.”
Peepas said her grandmother’s go-to shutdown for contentious conversations was, “We have a secret ballot in this country for a reason. You can keep your secret for one day.”
We have a secret ballot in this country for a reason. You can keep your secret for one day.
— Advice from Jennifer Peepas on how to divert political talk
4) Remember that you technically love these people.
When you’re talking with someone at Thanksgiving, “try not to confuse the importance of the topic you’re discussing with the importance of the conversation you’re having,” Post Senning advises.
In other words: Yes, you believe very strongly in securing our borders or protecting a woman’s right to choose, and you care because those things are important. But deep down, you know a holiday conversation is unlikely to result in your relative being suddenly, completely converted to your side.
“So many of us believe that surely we can convince others to see it our way because our way is the reasonable position, but usually we can’t and usually any attempt at this will end in sorrow and fury,” Strayed said in an email. (Then she followed up: “Says the woman whose grandmother once repeatedly shouted at her: ‘FEMINISTS HAVE RUINED THE WORLD!’ ”)
When they talk, pay attention, even if steam is pouring out of your ears. “The greatest gift we can give each other is human attention,” Post Senning said. Really, truly listen to them and try to respect where they’re coming from. The goal should be to have a civil conversation, not to win a contentious one. (If this is truly not possible, refer to the diversion tactics in No. 3.)
Finally, Strayed points out: “No matter how sad, mad or disappointed we are about anything in our lives — be it politics or not — there is also joy in the world and it is always available to us.”
Try to keep that in mind, and find some joy in being with your loved ones this holiday season -- even if they do all vote the wrong way.