Avoiding awkward run-ins on the biggest party night of the year

From the November 15, 2012 edition

Going home for the holidays can be rife with social landmines, none perhaps more awkward than the night before Thanksgiving, otherwise known as the Biggest Party Night of the Year. But have no fear, Alive readers. We’re here to steer you through these potential disasters with time-tested, mother-approved tips.

Scenario: You run into a former authority figure (teacher, coach, principal, friends’ parents, Boy Scouts or 4-H club leader). They seem to love the bar’s special vodka deal as much as lunch ladies love Salisbury steak day.

Survival tactic: Buy them more vodka; the more tanked they are the less embarrassing for you if you say something stupid, plus you owe them something now that you’ve grown into a successful young adult they once nurtured and/or gave detentions to. Always direct the topic of discussion to what’s been going on in their lives. Even if you don’t get anything juicy out of them, you at least don’t have to talk about yourself like you’re on a job interview.

Scenario: “Jason! My man. How’ve you been, bro? It’s a been a while. Hope life’s treatin’ you well.” You, to self: I have no godly idea who this guy is.

Survival tactic: You could preemptively pull out the ol’ yearbooks and memorize faces and names, but there’s no accounting for the changes brought on by Father Time. We suggest, instead, keeping a wingman (or woman) with you at all times. Thusly this occurs: You: “Yea, it’s been a minute. Hey, have you met my girlfriend, Stephanie?” “Stephanie, Brent. It’s nice meeting you.” You, to self: Brent! Great googly moogly! I never would’ve guessed. So that’s what he looks like without braces and all that acne.

Scenario: An old acquaintance is acting like an old friend.

Survival tactic: Just roll with it until you can find your out. Pointing out that you weren’t close back in the day will only make you both feel like jerks. Rack your brain for recollections that could push along the conversation — a class you took together, gossip about mutual friends. Don’t discount broad experiences (“Remember when we got dismissed early because of a bomb threat?”). Nod politely through bragging or sulking, and laugh at even the most desperate jokes. If all else fails, fall back on sports and/or Kim Kardashian.

Scenario: Running into an old fling or person you had a crush on from high school.

Survival tactic: If you run into an old fling and you’re both on good terms it’s a fairly simple conversation. You briefly catch-up, make small talk and tell the person, “You look good.” If it ended not-so-well, and, let’s face it, that’s how it usually goes, attempt the same casual small talk. Also use the “You look good” line and move on as quickly as possible. If the old fling continues to stalk and/or hit on you, find a friend of the opposite sex to run interference by pretending to be your boyfriend/girlfriend. If it all goes bad and the person wants to cause a scene, make up a story about seeing a psychiatrist for intimacy issues.

If you run into your former crush, do not, repeat do not, fawn all over them — see “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” for how not to act. It’s embarrassing for both of you. Don’t attempt to talk yourself up either, anyone can see right through that. Just be yourself. If said crush has gotten fat, bald, slutty, etc. don’t be mean (to their face). If you’re feeling a little nasty, play aloof and hit on their friend and/or rival. If this causes a bar fight, leave quickly and quietly.