Let’s be thankful for one thing: Thanksgiving is a rare nonreligious family holiday. It’s over in one day, and the food is hard to mess up. Watching television is encouraged. But because it is so wham-bam, it seems a shame not to bring a date along.

This is perilous territory. To coexist among multigenerational strangers can be difficult. But not impossible. There is a way to be a perfect gentleman and still be a good Thanksgiving Date.

Essentials to pack

1. The hostess gift. This is how you bribe the mother. So don’t insult her. A good bet is a timeless treat from your hometown. If you’re from Chicago, we’re talking Frango Mints. A nice box and a cute story about how your family always opened a box together on holidays. If you’re going to bring some kind of candy you can find at CVS, you may as well spend the night there.

2. Wool slippers. The shoes-in-the-house policies of family holidays is a minefield. Are you going to Vermont? Someplace with nice cold hardwood floorboards? If you shiver away on the couch in cotton socks, your feet avoiding the floor like a grown man playing the Lava Game,  you’ll start to look like you have a liver made of chrysanthemum. Take your shoes off in the house (especially in snowy climes) and walk proudly and softly.

As a guest you will notice every creak in the floorboards, every time someone above you can be heard trotting to wash their hands in the bathroom. You will listen with wide eyes as you hear every droplet of soap plop into the porcelain basin.

If you haven’t met the father, don’t assume he wants to choke down that peaty Scotch you scored in Duty Free on your way home from Labor Day.

3. Your least cool sweater. Great actors all say that they never understood Hamlet until they were too old to play Hamlet. This is the same for all those lame gifts from L.L. Bean you got when you wanted a Sega Genesis. Where is that Sega now? I don’t know, but the cat is about to sharpen her claws on your precious cashmere pullover, and it still won’t keep you warm when they turn the thermostat off at 7pm. For reasons of body heat, you’d better hope they don’t give you separate bedrooms.

4. Shave kit. Ditto this one, Hamlet. Her dad will take exactly one look at your Ziploc full of stolen Motel 6 bathroom samples in the downstairs half-bath before he agrees to give you a ride back to the train. Let’s not get into that eye cream, guy. Nor anything other than medicine that you fill by prescription. Seal it up. Get in there, get out. Keep your stuff tidy and don’t leave anything behind.

5. The hooch. Something nice but not too pricey. Certainly nothing that will linger in the back cabinets after you leave. Nothing that requires Googling. If you haven’t met the father yet, don’t assume he wants to stay up all night choking down that peaty Scotch you scored in Duty Free on your way home from Labor Day. Something nice that goes well with food and snacks.  Maybe a light red from your region. Or, of course, beaujolais.

A good cook can tell whether you’re a capable sort of fellow who’ll do the dishes on command for the rest of her daughter’s natural life.

6. A good book. En route you can feast away at your iPad. But if you spend time among other human beings in a household with your face in a screen, you will start to look like you’re playing an especially droll game of Candy Crush. May I recommend Justin Taylor’s new short story collection, Flings?  You can pick it up, skip around, read a few. Also, keep your social-media time private. Nothing is worse than thinking about what a nice time you’re having with someone, then seeing your date’s face in the blue screen of some asinine holiday-weekend Facebook feed.

7. Your dishpan hands. Stay out of the kitchen while food is being prepared. Then, when everyone has finished eating, but before their bodies have begun shutting down, you strike. This is all about being organized into the dish triage system:

  1. Scrape all used foodstuffs into the garbage.

  2. Get food into Tupperware and pots and pans to the side.

  3. Stack dishware by size and category (plates, saucers, mugs, silverware).

From here, you may need to await instructions about what gets washed by hand. If this takes a while, you can start on the pots and pans.

To make this as simple as possible, I’ll just say that a good cook can tell whether you’re being polite or whether you’re a capable sort of fellow who will do the dishes on command for the rest of her daughter’s natural life. So take the biggest pot (the one in need of the most soaking), scrape and fill it with hot soapy water and work out of this. Make a nice little bubble bath.

If someone catches you sputtering dish soap around like mustard on a hotdog, you will be asked, politely, to leave.

There is little home-court advantage to having sex at the family house.

8. An open mind (for sex). Let’s be adults about this. Normal dating difficulties are moot: She won’t wonder where you are, there’s no check to pick up, you know about sleeping arrangements, etc. So far, we’ve covered how to please the family. But after a day of getting ribbed by her sisters, she might want to steal away with you and do a bit of ribbing of her own.

Hey, happy wife, happy life. As we mentioned in the beginning, if you’re gonna be asked back, she’s gonna do the asking.

However, there is little home-court advantage to having sex at the family house. Creaky floors, sweetie’s creaky childhood bedsprings. Paper-thin walls. Also, I get the feeling that parents who can’t hear, “Pass the salt?” at the dinner table will have their spidey-sense tuned up in an otherwise quiet house.

I asked my friend Reid Mihalko for some notes on this. Reid is an excellent lecturer on sex. His big pitch on college campuses is the consent-positive How to Get Laid and Be a Gentleman. “If it’s in her childhood bedroom, that’s going to be either really hot for her, or it might be really weird to get laid while she’s staring at her teddy bear,” he says.

For what it’s worth, the first time I met Reid he gave a woman an orgasm in front of me by massaging her ear canals. “It’s kind of the lay of the land,” he says. “Where are the parents?  The easiest things are going to be to do it in the bathroom while there’s running water.  Like in the old-fashioned James Bond movies.”

Reid’s best suggestion is to make a game out of it.  “If either of you are really noisy, agree that you will use a pillow to muffle each other. Try to make a game out of being as quiet as possible. Standing doggy style. Sitting on a chair with her in your lap.  Yab-yum style, to borrow a term from yoga. And be a spy, clean out the trash so there’s no condoms for someone else to find later.”

All of which should make you look forward to giggling together when she sees you writing her parents a thank-you note.


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