Joining the Family
If any of these feel overboard, remember: It’s better to be neurotic than rude.
By Lindsay Biondy, University of Pittsburgh
One of the most nerve-wracking aspects of starting a new relationship is meeting the parents.
If you’ve ever had to try to impress your significant other’s (SO’s) parents, you know what I’m talking about. And if you’ve never gotten to that stage, count your blessings. In my experience, meeting a new boyfriend’s parents has always been a cordial event. They ask me generic getting-to-know-you-without-being-too-intrusive questions, and I respond politely, trying to ignore the brief awkward silence after I tell them I’m going to be an English major.
Maybe it’s irrational, but I always freak out about meeting the parents. I stress out before I meet them, and I’m hyperaware of everything I do and everything they do while I’m meeting them. I even harass my boyfriend afterward to see what they thought of me. And, after all that worrying, guess what their reaction usually is?
“She seems nice.”
The truth is, even though meeting your SO’s parents can be a big deal, it’s not hard to leave a good impression. Well, it’s not hard to at least not leave a bad impression.
A lot of it is common sense, and therefore, my advice may seem obvious. But, if you’re anxious like me, check out the five commandments of meeting the parents just to confirm what you already know you should do.
1. Thou Shall Not Engage in Physical Contact
Except for a hug hello and a hug goodbye, and maybe a friendly high five in between, don’t touch your SO. Yeah, you probably like to hold hands, touch knees or put your arm around them, but restrain yourself in front of their parents. Act like you’re just friends.
You may think this is unnecessary, but try to remember that parents will always think of their kids as babies. It’s hard for them to let go, and it’ll probably make them uncomfortable to see some stranger hanging all over their child. This also applies to nicknames. Don’t call your SO baby in front of their parents, because your baby is actually their baby!
I had a long-term boyfriend in high school, and even after we had been dating for over a year, his dad introduced me to his extended family as “Kyle’s friend.” In a state of irritation, I went around without him noticing telling people, “I’m actually Kyle’s girlfriend.” I highly recommend you don’t do that, but regardless, save your affection for after the meet-and-greet.
2. Thou Shall Not Lose Thy Voice
You may be so nervous that you think the best thing to do is to sit silently by and only speak when spoken to. Or, you may not know what to say. I’ve been in both positions, and I can tell you that leaving no impression is only marginally better than leaving a bad impression.
Jump into the conversation whenever you can. Are they talking about the time they went to the zoo? Talk about how you once saw a giraffe pee for five straight minutes. Are they talking about a past family vacation that you can’t possibly have any insight on? Jump in with exclamations, like “Seriously?” “I can’t believe that!” “How?” “Why?” and “What?” If you show interest in what they’re saying, they’ll only like you more.
Worse comes to worst, ask them general questions about themselves, like, “What do you do?” If your SO is their youngest or only child, ask if it’s weird not having them around anymore. Again, take an interest in them, and they’ll take an interest in you.
3. Thou Shall Come Bearing Gifts
You know how it’s an accepted social convention to bring gifts to a birthday, wedding or housewarming? Same idea here. The best part is they probably won’t be expecting you to bring something, so you’re automatically closer to making a great first impression.
Generally, this applies to when you’re going to their house for the first time. I like to bake cookies, brownies or some other dessert, because it shows that you went out of your way to give them something, rather than running to the store last minute, and it’s almost a guarantee they’ll like it.
If you know you’re bad at baking, though, either get someone to help you or find something else. One time, I tried to bake a pie, and it exploded because I used baking soda instead of baking powder (or was it the other way around?), so I asked my best friend to help me.
If you don’t want to bake, and everyone involved is over twenty-one, feel free to get them a reasonably priced bottle of wine. Don’t get the cheapest kind, but don’t get the most expensive either. They know you’re a college student. They understand you’re on a budget. Just get something that tastes good. (No, not a box of Franzia.)
4. Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Partner’s Parents’ Wallet
This is a personal rule I go by, and while it’s not applicable to all situations, I think it’s an important idea to keep in mind.
If your first meeting with your SO’s parents is at a restaurant, it’s basically guaranteed that they’re going to pay for you. Therefore, do not get the most expensive meal on the menu. Or the second most expensive. Or the third.
Of course, you’re grateful to be out with them and to receive a free meal, but don’t take advantage of them. It’ll come off tacky and, honestly, pretty weird. I like to ask my boyfriend what he’s getting, and match my dish to his, pricewise.
For example, just last week, I was out to dinner with my boyfriend and his mom. They both got a half rack of ribs and a beer, and I got wings and fries. The wings and fries were more expensive than the ribs, but if you add in their beer, then our meals were all about the same price.
Is this neurotic? I don’t know, but I’d rather be neurotic than rude.
5. Thou Shall Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain
Don’t curse. End article.
But, for real, be polite. Say please and thank you, cover your mouth when you sneeze, keep your elbows off the table, etc. Basically, do everything your mom has nagged you about for the past decade.
Give them compliments. “Wow, you have a really nice house.” “This dinner was so delicious, thank you so much.” “It was really nice meeting you!”
Be polite, but be genuine. And remember, they’ve been in your shoes. And in most cases, they don’t really care about you, unless you’re in their kid’s life for a while (My dad can’t remember any of my ex-boyfriends’ names. He can barely remember the current one).