Small talk with distant relatives can be painful. And of course, it’s even more painful when they aren’t even your relatives. So if you see him struggling to carry on a conversation with a third cousin or great uncle about any one of these topics, pull him out immediately. Take him by the arm, say you need his help with something, spill milk all over him, whatever it takes.
This is the only holiday gift he needs.
1. Awkward small talk about his “intentions.” Is he still a “new” boyfriend but it’s serious enough that you brought him around for the holidays? He’s in for a gauntlet. If he’s lucky, he’s in for some gentle ribbing about marrying you. If he isn’t, your parents are going to grill him hard on just where he sees your relationship in five years.
2. Politics. There’s no such thing as making small talk over politics in 2016. Hopefully your relatives know better. There are no right answers anymore. You could be on the same side as the person you’re talking to and still get in an argument. So the second you start to hear what you think might be “Who did you vote for?” pull him out. Leave wherever you are entirely and don’t stop driving.
3. Explaining his boring job nine separate times. If he has one of those jobs no one understands, but people still politely ask him to explain it, try and arrange it so he only has to do it once. That way, all of your relatives can smile politely and nod in unison. No one will have any idea what he does either way. Why make him do it multiple times?
4. Telling everyone how you met. If your “meet cute” is the kind of story you can’t share with families, make sure he has a good alternate story to offer up first. Getting blindsided by an uncle and having to stammer through how it was at a beer-soaked frat party on foam night and involves you cleaning up his vomit…. That won’t go over well.
5. Listening to “embarrassing” childhood stories. These are never as funny or as interesting as your relatives think. He can only fake laughter so many times before his face starts to hurt.
6. Having to hear an in-depth story about your grandpa’s coin collection. Unless your grandfather has a velvety-smooth voice that makes anything he talks about sound interesting, this is going to put him to sleep. And since your grandpa probably isn’t Morgan Freeman, try to keep him away from anyone who is going to corner him and tell them all about their “exciting” hobby.
7. Fielding questions about what he plans to do with the rest of his life. This is one of those questions that’s generally considered small-talk, but is really anything but. It’s really, “Hey, can I watch you have a miniature existential crisis real quick?”
8. Any jokes about having kids. These are never funny. They’re not funny when you just started dating. They’re not funny when you’ve been dating for years. There’s really no period of time in which they’re funny, either. And the less-comfortable he is with the relative making said jokes, the more painful this is.
9. The weather. This is essentially a death knell. If the small talk has switched to the cold snap or expectant snow, he needs to wrap things up. There’s only one thing possibly worse than this, and that’s…
10. Awkward silence. Standing awkwardly with a relative while neither one talks is awful. It’s just a series of fidgets and staring into his (probably empty) drink cup. If you care about him, you’ll head over there and rescue him with an anecdote