How To Even…Deal with People at Thanksgiving

By Michael Gushue & CL Bledsoe

Why is there a watermelon on this table? A watermelon? At Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a time to get together with people you’ve successfully avoided the rest of the year, so you can share in awkwardness and probably argue. It’s a beautiful thing. It can also be challenging because, though we know you’re not afraid to go back to prison, that doesn’t mean you’re ready to any time soon. So, let’s break down the types of people you’re likely to have to deal with and talk about some strategies for dealing with them.

People Who Make You Wish You Were Dead

There are many types of people who fall into this category. You may work for one, be in a relationship with one, or even be one (sorry). But let’s focus on the ones who show up at Thanksgiving and deal with the other ones in therapy (or your revenge fantasy fan fiction).

Social Climber: This type shows up dressed to impress. They’re on their phone the whole time, casually name-dropping and referencing pop culture. And if you try to engage, they will act like you farted in the Vatican. “Oh, you’ve been watching BingeSluts? I watched that last week…” The thing about the social climber is that they somehow make you want to impress them, but you never can. See, to be impressed, you have to be able to feel something — joy, envy, something, anything. The Social Climber is completely dead inside and feels nothing (except jealousy). You could cough up gold nuggets, and they’d ask for platinum. The best way of dealing with an SC we’ve found is either to nod and smile and avoid them, or out-climb them, which is much more satisfying. When they say they met so-and-so, mention that you had sex with them on ‘shrooms. When they say they have such-and-such brand of thing, say that you have one made from diamonds, which you had sex with on ‘shrooms. Just keep topping them until they eventually explode in jealousy. Messy, but very satisfying. And isn’t that the true spirit of Thanksgiving?

Happy Family Types: These types may appear harried because of dealing with their kids or spouse, but don’t let that fool you. They’ve achieved a level of happiness you’ll never even glimpse. The secret to dealing with these people is to realize that they’re just too busy to be sad inside. At some point, they’ll have a quiet moment to themselves and all of the pent up ennui and existential angst will crash down on them, pinning them to the ground, and getting a ten count on that pesky happiness, leaving them broken because they’re so unused to dealing with it that they no longer have those skills. Then, they’ll be just as miserable as you, until they’re swept back up in their hectic lives. Maybe mention that you got to sleep in or go out drinking or have fun in some way that demonstrates a complete lack of responsibility. It’s okay if all of that is made up, and you just spend all your free time trying to teach your microwave how to speak Klingon (It’s almost there!).

Financial Successes:

The last time you saw this person, they were married or gainfully employed. You later heard they had a drinking or drug problem. But now, they show up, and they’re wearing an impressive suit, fielding phone calls, generally stinking of cash. On the surface, they seem one step away from a total breakdown — sure, he’s balding, but he came in a Porsche (which is being stolen as we speak). Don’t feel bad that they’re doing so well. They won’t be able to hold onto it. In a year or three, they’ll be right back to crying in public toilets, just like grade school. The best thing to really do with them is humor them. Their collapse could come at any moment. You don’t want to be in the fallout zone.

Let’s talk about Grandmas.

Grandmas can best be defined by their smell — which is like home — and their questions — which are like torture. When are you having kids? Why aren’t you like your sibling/a friend’s kid/someone they saw at Piggly Wiggly? On the surface, they mean well. And, let’s face it, you’re kind of a loser in need of guidance. But that doesn’t mean you want to hear about it after you just snuck out to smoke a J with your cousin. The problem with Grandmas is you can’t really do anything about them without everyone else turning on you. You’ve just got to grin and bear it, and maybe slip some edibles onto their dessert plate.

Types of Grandmas:

Fat-Shaming Grandma: Fat-Shaming Grandma uses Thanksgiving to remind you what a beached whale you are, and to reinforce any negative body image you might have. Before meals, she asks if you intend on making a hog of yourself. Then she’ll simply harangue you as each forkful of stuffing makes its way to your mouth. If Fat-Shaming Grandma has bad eyesight, she can sometimes be duped by holding out a turkey bone for her to feel and telling her it’s your midriff.

Fat-Shaming Grandma Terms of Endearment: Lardass, Blimparella, Son of Blubber, My Poor Daughter’s/Son’s Greatest Failure.

Why? Why does she fat-shame? Maybe because she used to be fat and doesn’t want you to go through what she went through. Maybe because she’s spent her life denying herself any joy, and seeing you fatting it up all over the place, enjoying yourself, is pissing her off.

Fat-Positive Grandma: Fat-Positive Grandma is the opposite of Fat-Shaming Grandma. Fat-Positive Grandma wants you to have seconds, and tenths. Binging and purging will only prolong the agony. Even worse, Fat-Positive Grandma is often a spectacularly good cook. And she’s made your favorite pie! She’s made ten of them! You’re doomed.

Fat-Positive Grandma Terms of Endearment: Li’l Dumpling, Sweetcheeks, Li’l Walrus, So Much Better Than Your Cousin Don’t Get Me Started.

Why? Fat-Positive Grandma probably had some abuse or neglect in her life, and now, she expresses her love by feeding people, namely you. If you don’t eat absolutely everything she cooked, then you’re clearly rejecting her love, just like everyone else in her life. You’re breaking her heart, you small-stomached bastard.

Inappropriate Grandma: As people get older they tend to lose some of their inhibitions. The result can be Inappropriate Grandma. Inappropriate Grandma says out loud — very out loud — whatever she’s thinking. Mostly, she’s thinking of inappropriate, weird or cringy sex acts; digestive problems and products; and how everyone at the table would look naked and covered in turkey gravy.

Inappropriate Grandma Terms of Endearment: Mister Ten-Incher, Sweet Tang, Poopypants, Handsome Like Your Dead Grandfather Was When He Used To Do Me In The Back Of The School Bus (If You Know What I Mean).

Why? It’s important to understand that Inappropriate Grandma has probably lived in a repressive, backwards culture most of her life, and now, she derives great pleasure from making squares like your dad squirm. Or, maybe she just likes fucking with folks.

Too-Nice Grandma. Too-Nice Grandma is a little bit like Fat-Positive Grandma, but without the desire for you to have a myocardial infarction at the table. No matter what kind of shambles your life is in, Too-Nice Grandma thinks you’re the smartest, most successful, best-looking human being on the planet. This is, of course, excruciating to have to endure. Just remember that no one will ever love you like this again. You have to suck it up and accept it, though, because trying to avoid Too-Nice Grandma is only going to make you feel guilty as well as a fraud. It’s better to endure the cheek-pinching horror that is Too-Nice Grandma, along with the inevitable smirks of anyone who actually knows you.

Why? Well, advanced dementia is one reason. It’s also possible that Too-Nice Grandma treated your mom or dad like a sadistic prisoner guard in a women-behind-bars movie (you might suspect this if your parent’s nickname for her is “Ilsa, she-wolf of greater Newark). Now, T-N Grandma is trying to balance out the scales of karma by treating you like you’re Buddha with the looks of Jason Momoa. Lucky you.


Grandpas can be the same types as grandmas, but they there are a few kinds of Grandpa that are unique.

Grumpy Grandpa. Grumpy Grandpa is irritating but basically harmless. The thing is, he’s utterly indiscriminate in his grumpiness. This makes it impossible to take him seriously. But it also renders him kind of endearing. Grumpy Grandpa is usually too busy grumping up one side and down the other to notice everyone thinks he’s funny. GG can safely be ignored/laughed at while he complains about

-The food

-His wife

-His kids

-Your wife and kids

-His favorite sports/most hated sports team


The secret no one realizes about Grumpy Grandpa is that — one hundred thousand years ago — a shaman cursed him with immortality after an argument over a saber-toothed gerbil (Moral: never argue with a shaman). Now everyone and everything he’s ever known and loved have long since died and crumbled into dust, leaving Grumpy Grandpa to face this unknown, hostile, incomprehensible world alone. No matter how hard he tries, Grumpy Grandpa cannot die. It’s his fate, he’s condemned to live forever. Surrounded by strangers and even stranger things. It’s tragic, really. Or maybe really funny. Or maybe he just needs a nap.

Sleeping Grandpa: Sleeping Grandpa will arrive at the Thanksgiving house, find the most comfortable chair in front of the TV, and promptly fall asleep in it. The upside to Sleeping Grandpa is that he requires little to no maintenance. You might not even have to feed him. The downside to Sleeping Grandpa is that he may have passed away sometime during the Thanksgiving holiday and no one has noticed. But at least he died peacefully.

Incompetent Handyman Grandpa: Grandpas like to tell you the 35 reasons your house is structurally unsound and should be condemned. Some of these grandpas are Incompetent Handyman Grandpas (IHGs). IHGs will want to replace your heating system with a surplus coal-fired steamboat furnace he acquired at a flea market “for a fishcake” for example, or install a dishwasher in your bathroom. Say good-bye to heat for the rest of the winter! Or a functioning toilet/shower/washbasin!

The thing about IHG is that he appears competent. He might make all kinds of plans — even draw diagrams — about whatever he’s muscled himself in to do, but he’ll over-complicate it. He will also underestimate the effort needed. Say he decides to add an extra floor to your house by raising the roof. His plan will involve 20 day laborers, an overhead crane and a helicopter. But he’ll decide he can also do it with a book of matches, a mallet, and some Jenga pieces. He’ll do all of this regardless of you trying to explain that you’re a renter. At a certain point, he’ll realize he can’t finish this project, make an excuse, and walk away, promising to come back. You both know he never will. So now, you’re left with half a skylight in your first floor apartment.


They will probably spend the evening arguing, drinking too much, and generally bumming everyone out by showing them how not to do life. But maybe that’s just us. They come in several flavors, including:

Totalitarian Aunt: This aunt can be identified by her nostalgia for the Franco regime of Spain, or similar oppressive tyranny. Totalitarian Aunt would gladly turn her own grown children over to the state police if they did something illegal, like express an opinion. Totalitarian Aunt will insist that things have gone to hell since we allowed non-landowners to vote, that what this country needs is a strong leader, like Pol Pot, and that wide swathes of people were happier when they:

  • Were indentured servants
  • Had only cabbage water for food
  • Had to crawl on their knees to their place of worship while being flogged by members of the clergy
  • Could be thrown in prison for not combing their hair

Totalitarian Aunt is terrifying, but also increasing rare. Unfortunately, she’s been largely replaced by Fascist Survivalist Cousin from the “real America.”

He-Man Uncle: He-Man Uncle challenges you to an arm wrestling contest as you walk in the door. He “organizes” (i.e., coerces) a game of touch football for everyone. He carries a shovel for his “touch.” He-Man Uncle is the uncle who threw you into the deep end of the pool to teach you how to swim. You were 6 months old. He’s technically not supposed to come within a hundred feet of at least two of the cousins. He-Man Uncle’s one weakness is his inability to understand or even recognize irony. This won’t keep you from being severely bruised or ruptured, but you’ll be able to limp away with some degree of smug superiority.


Cousins can be tops and also the worst. We’ve already mentioned the distinct possibility that you’ll be sneaking out at some point to get high with one of them. This is a time-honored Turkey Day tradition. Odds are, you’ve been off doing whatever you’ve been doing (failing) and they’ve been off doing whatever they’ve been doing (also failing) and you haven’t seen each other in a while. This is a good time to catch up, compare failures, and slowly remember why you don’t hang out anymore.

On the flippity-flop, your other cousin, fresh out of prison, may show up. Be sure to ask about their teardrop tattoos, but try not to make any sudden movements. If you’re really bored, invite them to teach you how to make pruno in Nana’s master bathroom toilet.

Other Types of Cousins

Cousin Who Has Just Joined A Cult: This cousin shows up looking blissed out but slightly tranquilized. He or she insists you call him Rainbowbunny, or X254-SG7. He’ll/she’ll spend the entire holiday trying to strong arm or guilt you into attending an introductory FREEminar. You’ll spend the entire holiday avoiding her/him.

Cousin Who Has Just Left A Cult: Looks like death warmed over. This cousin will disappear for long periods only to be found huddling in a corner of one of the closets, mumbling about how “they” can never find him.

Older Cousin You Looked Up To When You Were A Kid: Called you “Slick” when you were 12, and gave you your first cigarette/alcoholic drink/controlled substance. Now Older Cousin is on his fourth wife, fifth rehab, second felony conviction. The good news is Older Cousin will definitely invite you out to the back yard for a toke. The bad news is he’ll probably hit you up for money. The best strategy here is to introduce Older Cousin to Cousin Who Has Just Joined A Cult, and then sneak away.

Other Assorted Guests

Guests You’ve Never Met Before:

First off, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not going to bang them. We know Hallmark has put forth this idea that, whenever you meet someone for the first time at a Thanksgiving get together, you’ll end up madly in love, but it only happens like 40% of the time. The rest of the time, you just fall madly in like. Or they’re your cousin, which doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t smash. You just won’t tell anyone. Unless you’re drunk.

But that’s not the only type of guest you might encounter. There are:

Silent Guest No One Remembers Inviting: Might be a ghost. Or a serial killer. The way to tell the difference is to see whether they kill everyone present or just shake the furniture a bunch. If they’re wearing a sheet, they might be an old sofa. If they keep talking about someone who killed them, again, that could just be Grandma acting silly. This whole process can be inconclusive. It’s more of an art than a science.

Fish-Out-Of-Water Guest: If your get together is a downhome grits ’n’ greens paper plate and plastic fork kind of Thanksgiving, Fish-Out-Of-Water Guest will be a patrician WASP with a Boston Brahmin accent and a horror of every possible emotion. If your Thanksgiving is a staid affair with white linen, silverware, and candelabras, Fish-Out-Of-Water Guest will be a constantly shouting, life-of-the-Las-Vegas-rock-group-party type.

Regardless of the contrast your Fish-Out-Of-Water Guest brings to the table, she or he will also be a lactose- and GMO-intolerant, gluten-free, macrobiotic vegan with a wonky digestive tract.


There’s a pretty good chance that, regardless of your family dynamics, if you have people over or go to someone’s house for Thanksgiving, you’re probably going to encounter some of these folks. Hopefully, you’re not one of these folks (except for Inappropriate Grandma. She’s tops.). Our best advice for dealing with all of these people is to find a pet or a young child (preferably baby) and spend most of your time with them. If no baby or pet or baby pet is available, maybe check the trashcans out back. There might be a raccoon or ‘possum there to befriend. That would certainly be something to be thankful about.

The only blog you’ll ever need. By Michael Gushue & CL Bledsoe Archives:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store