Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Meet The Parents

There are few things in a relationship more stressful than meeting your significant other's parents. You've been dating for some time, things are going well, you've met each other's friends...and then the parents come to town. Or it's Thanksgiving and your girl/boyfriend wants you to meet the family. Despite all the prepping you've done (don't mention this, this or this, emphasize this and that), you still have no idea whether they'll like you, and there's always the fear that if they hate you, the relationship is over.


But it doesn't have to be that way! Here are a few guidlines for making the big event as painless and successful as possible:

If you can, try to make the first meeting with the parents or siblings alone. It's the divide and conquer principle: it's easiest to get them to like you if you can focus your attention on one or two people at a time. Also, you're going to want to show different sides of your personality to different people. With parents, grandparents or older family members, you're going to want to be exceedingly polite, wear something conservative and respectable and show off how wholesome you are. If you're meeting siblings closer to your own age, you'll want to seem relaxed and cool.

Do your research. Find out as much about the likes and dislikes of each person you're meeting beforehand. This will give you good material for conversation. Even if you already know the answers to the questions, ask them anyway. People love to talk about themselves. For example: Uncle Bob works for General Motors. You ask, "Mr. Smith, Michael tells me that you work in the auto industry. What do you do?"

Use formal titles unless people insist otherwise. It's always better to err on the formal side as it shows respect. If the parent/grandparent/other relative really wants you to call them by their first name, they'll usually make it clear pretty quickly.

Keep your expectations reasonably low. Don't expect to win the hearts and minds of every family member after one dinner, the goal should be that they think you're acceptable. You'll have later opportunities to show how amazing you are, but because you don't know these people yet, play it safe and just try not to offend anyone.

Stay away from any sort of PDA. It's gross to see your parents kissing, so I think you can assume that they don't want to see you kissing either. Hand holding or arm around the shoulder is probably acceptable though.

Understand your place. Ignore anything that strikes you as offensive, as it won't do you any good to argue. If someone is making racist comments or tries to convert you, just nod and smile (or just do nothing, if it's so bad you can't even do that). If they ask you questions directly that are offensive, try to change the subject or politely explain that you don't feel comfortable talking about the subject.

Pile on the compliments. Don't come off as insincere, but make sure you compliment each person at least a few times. It can be as simple as "Mrs. Jones, I love your scarf, where did you get it?" or "This cake looks fantastic." If you hate someone and can't think of anything to compliment them on, just respond to one of their stories or comments with "that's so interesting, I didn't know that about you." By the same token, don't do this if you are or are going to seem insincere. There are few things more annoying (and less effective) than an inauthentic suckup.

Feign ignorance when people bring up family secrets. Even if they aren't really secrets, you want to pretend you haven't heard any bad things about anyone. If someone says "I'm sure Katie told you about what Uncle Mark did last year", respond with "no, she didn't" even if it was all over the local news for weeks.

Don't forget the thank you note. If someone has cooked for you, paid for your meal or given you a present, you should send them a paper thank you note within 24 hours of your meeting. Thank you notes are extremely underrated, and are almost always an excellent way of expressing how much you enjoyed meeting your SO's parents. Thank them specifically for what they did and don't forget to mention how much you enjoyed meeting everyone. If you had a terrible time, suck it up and lie.

Meeting the parents shouldn't be a traumatic experience, or even material for slapstick gags in a mildly funny movie franchise. Do your best to follow these basic points, and you're very likely to make a good impression. And who knows, you might even have a good time.

1 comment:

Carved Garnet said...

Thank you so much for that. I'm meeting my boyfriends over the summer this December(In Australia) and I'm so nervous. This really helped! :)