Hello, awkwards. This is a safe place. This holiday, try not to succumb to your desire to slide under the table and crawl across the floor to safety. We've got you covered.
Problem: I have absolutely nothing interesting to talk about.
Make a big life decision/alteration beforehand to deflect from other conversations. Bought a house or even got a particularly attractive haircut recently? You're in luck! There is no reason to talk about anything else for the rest of the evening! You are now interesting and have provided valuable conversation topics.
Problem: I hate everything about my life and will probably be a big bummer.
Come prepared with spin. People are going to ask you how you like your job or whatever. Saying "I totally hate my job" may be honest, but is kind of a buzzkill and people who don't know you may break their faces trying to fake a smile while they figure out what to say next. So prepare to take the positive route, whether it be a project at work that keeps you hanging on, or just how excited you are to "look around for other prospects and see what's out there" (any intuitive person will know that means you hate your job anyway).
Problem: I don't know what to ask other people.
Do recon on other dinner guests to keep conversations fresh. So your daughter is bringing her weird boyfriend and all you know about him is that he wears hideous clothes and listens to music that sounds like a small animal being drowned. "So, you're in debate club?" will get you far, but "So, tell me more about that band Drowning Bunnies" will get you serious brownie points. Look at you being thoughtful.
Problem: I absolutely love politics and religious topics and can't want to share my views.
Problem: Oh, come on. We can make it work.
Problem: My family has nothing in common.
Come on, there has to be something. Even if it is stupid. Yes, you can subsist for two hours on what country song is the best or what the next plot twist on "Homeland" will be.
Problem: My favorite place for my foot is my mouth and I don't know when to shut up.
Identify land mines and steer clear. This is not optional. Don't be that sad, oblivious person who asks Aunt Susan about her husband and is the last to find out they're filing for divorce. See also: politics, jobs, living situations or dreams that have succumbed to the unforgiving ruins of time and reality.
Problem: I am at a table full of strangers and don't want to seem timid.
Really? How did that happen? Maybe you could compliment the food to get everything off to a good start. It doesn't take many trips on the merry-go-round to know the first words out of your mouth should be "Everything tastes excellent. Thank you so much." Even you, daughter's weird boyfriend.
Problem: I have said something terrible and now no one is talking OH GOD, HELP MEEE!
Dote on the pet or baby. If you are not expecting a pet or a baby to be present at dinner, may we suggest acquiring one? Even the most tense lulls in conversation can be abated by a loving coo for the adorable little creature. Heck, we know babies and dogs who have sustained entire relationships because of their cuteness.
Problem: If I am here for one more second, I may self-combust from discomfort.
Stage a distraction. We don't necessarily suggest setting your hair on fire or accidentally vomiting on the centerpiece, but we're just saying. If you're at the end of your rope, maybe just going to the bathroom or getting another cup of coffee will save you from yourself.
All in all, try your hardest to be a beacon of positivity. This is Thanksgiving, darn it, and for a few hours we are all going to smile no matter what. Who knows? We may actually have fun.