Make Meeting The Parents As Painless As Possible

2010 December 13

Hey JMH,

I really enjoyed your post about Christmas shopping for women and I have a related question that I thought you could answer. I’m meeting my girlfriend’s parents for the first time over the holidays and I definitely want to make a good impression. S and I have been together for over a year, but because her family lives on the other side of the country, this is the first time I’ll be meeting them. Do you have any tips or advice for making things go as smoothly as possible?

Thanks,
Nervous About Meeting The Parents

Firstly, I love reader questions. LOVE THEM. And this one just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. The good news is that the fact you’re conscientious enough to be concerned with making a good impression and soliciting input on how to do so is a pretty strong signal that you don’t really have much to worry about. And assuming S isn’t an ogre herself, it’s very likely she wasn’t raised by ogre parents either (unless she’s a Marilyn Munster type), so you can probably banish visions of painful Ben Stiller-esque awkwardness from your head. The bottom line is that decent parents want to know that their offspring (regardless of sex) are involved with people who treat them with respect, make them happy and are equal partners in the relationship. If you can communicate that to S’s parents through your interactions with them, you should be a-okay. Below are a few tips to get you (and others in your boat) started.

Photo by West Point Public Affairs

Expect the Spanish Inquisition
And by this, I mean assume that you will be asked all the standard getting-to-know you questions about your job, your education, where you’re from, your family, hobbies, etc. This isn’t a test and you don’t have to bone up like you’re gonna be on Jeopardy!, but you should at least be able to rattle off what you do in your spare time without looking like a deer in the headlights (unless you do illegal things, in which case, you’re on your own) or hemming-and-hawing for an agonizing five minutes.

Do Your Homework
If you don’t already have the details, ask S for the 411 on her folks and home life. Where does/did Mom work? Is Dad into sports? Does she come from a family of finger-gunning back-slappers or monosyllabic stoics? Not only do you know what you’re walking into and how to avoid table talk faux pas (if politics are never discussed or her family has radically different views than yours, you’ll avoid launching into a 26-point critique of Sarah Palin’s Alaska), you can fill conversational lulls by inserting some questions or prompts of your own. “So, S tells me you’re really into Harleys…” etc.

All The Normal Houseguest Rules Apply

Bring a host/hostess gift (hint: a bottle of wine is a good choice, unless Mama and Papa S are teetotalers, in which case chocolates or a nice fruit basket could be subbed in). Be appreciative and complimentary (or at least diplomatic) about the food you’re served. Be neat with your belongings if you’re staying overnight. Be helpful when it comes to offering to assist with meal clean up, clear snow off the walkway. Etc., etc. Don’t descend into an etiquette panic and get freaked out about not knowing the right fork to eat with or whose name goes first when making intros, just act with common sense courtesy and respect in response to the hospitality that you’re being offered.

No Faking It Until You Make It
Be on your best behavior, but be you. If you aren’t a joke-telling, life-of-the-party guy, don’t make like you are. Don’t pretend to be sporty or outdoorsy if that isn’t how you typically roll. The temptation is to jump through hoops to make a good impression, but your focus should instead be on making the most positive honest impression that you can. This isn’t a job interview. You’ve already got the job (one half of an awesome couple). And besides, if you and S ever make things permanent, do you really want to spend the next 30 years pretending to be a Steelers-loving country music fan?

Have a question/problem/mystery/etc/ that you’d like me to take a crack at? Email away.

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