• The Good: How to Put the "Give" into Thanksgiving
• The Bad: Divorce Yourself from the Thanksgiving Blues
• The Ugly: How to Navigate Nosy Divorce Questions on Thanksgiving
Do you dread Turkey Day? Are you feeling crankful instead of thankful? Maybe you have an obligation to go to your in-laws, when you and your husband are fighting, and not sure you will make it to Christmas. Or perhaps you are suddenly single again, and don’t want to go alone to your parents’ or grandparents’ table, but don’t want to be alone either. What if people are coming to your house, and you just don’t have that Thanksgiving spirit: the economy, your work, your life — none of it seems good dinner table material.
And all that work putting together the meal. You’ve never felt so alone.
Luckily, there are strategies to get you through anything. What about that long drive with a husband that seems soon to be your ex. You have difficulty talking to each other, and now you are going to be in a car for a couple of hours. What do you do?
• First tactic: invite someone else along. It can be under the guise of “poor Emily, we don’t want her to spend Thanksgiving alone!” But at least there will now be another person in the car. You can’t be too uncivil to each other. And at least you’ll have someone to talk to.
• Second tactic: honesty. Make a pact with your husband … you will both put on a good face, and not bring everyone else down with sniping and griping. You will respect each other, and you will get your stories straight, whatever those stories are.
• Third tactic: complete avoidance. One or the other of you can make an excuse… the price of gasoline (not so effective now that it’s down), or work obligations, or this year you are helping at a soup kitchen, or you got the flu, and no, you just can’t come, but you’ll be fine, you’re having a quiet Thanksgiving at home. And drink lots of liquids.
And what if you are a divorcee, facing being that dreaded “extra person” at someone’s table. It could be your nosy family. It could be some friends who take pity on you. What do you do now?
• Your expression, the face you “put on,” will improve your mood. A recent study at the University of Chicago and the University of Georgia shows that looking at smiling people, looking at yourself smiling in a mirror, being the smiling person who greets others, will all improve your own mood. And that “a positive mood allows people to psychologically distance themselves from the situation." And boy, do you want to distance yourself from this situation.
• Don’t let anyone guilt you into something. You don’t have to do anything.
• Lower your expectations. This is not going to be the best Thanksgiving you’ve ever had. But you know what? Take a look at a couple of movies like “Home for the Holidays,” or “Pieces of April,” and count your blessings. This is just one day. In fact, it’s just one meal. What are you whining about?
• Remember the old adage that you know what is going to happen if you stay home, you never know what is going to happen when you go out. Who knows what great piece of information you might hear, or what neat people you may meet? You may even find yourself rethinking your feelings about a brother, sister, aunt, uncle or parent.
• Remember, if you have changed in the last year, it’s possible someone else at the Thanksgiving table has changed too. Get outside yourself. Find out who that person is, and bond with him or her. It will make both of your feel better.
And now... it’s up to you to cook the whole thing, and all your friends and family are going to descend on you. Forget cleaning the house. Don’t exhaust yourself with useless work. Just lower the lights, make the beds, and lock a few doors. As for cooking, for some people it is a great source of pride, of solace, and of giving. If you are one of those people, just relish what you are doing.
If you hate to cook, order in everything you can think of, or ask all the guests to bring things with them. It’s pot luck this year. Put out the pretty plates. Set a nice table. Don’t drink too much. Ask someone to stay behind to “help you clean,” but really just to hang around after the hubbub ends, and talk.
Nancy Ratey, a Strategic Life Coach in Massachusetts, and the author of “The Disorganized Mind,” says, “Be thankful that you have a whole new life and world in front of you. That old patterns and behavior will not be around this Thanksgiving.”
Her suggestion is to count your blessings. In this case, count the people you could call who would really listen to you if you said you needed to talk. She is sure it will be much longer than you think.
“When I did it I was shocked,” she says. “It had 34 names on it! I was so isolated for years, I thought I only had two or three friends. I wallowed in self pity and didn’t realize how many people cared.”
The best advice of all, however, is that you get out of the house, go socialize, be with other people. That can mean helping out at a soup kitchen or community pantry. It can mean visiting a nursing home. It can even mean going to be with family.
Park a few blocks (or a few miles if necessary) away. Get in a nice long walk. It will clear your head and put you in a better mood. And it will give you time to recover afterward.
If you can’t bear to hang around after the dinner, and don’t want to stay overnight and subject yourself to more questions than you can bear, tell the hosts when you arrive that you have to leave at a certain time. “Work,” you can say.
Don’t tell them there’s a TV show you want to curl up and watch. Alone.
Or treat yourself to a night at a nice hotel on the way back home. No one has to know what you’re doing. That’s one great thing about being divorced.
You don’t have to please anyone but yourself.