You met someone — you’ve been going out for a few weeks, the vibe feels good. The more you learn about each other, the closer you two become. You have successfully checked off key “waypoints” on the relationship map. You’ve spent full weekends together, you’ve met each other’s friends — you’re even mutually comfortable with your respective pets. One big step, however, does fill you with dread and despondency — meeting the parents.
You see, it’s not just a matter of meeting the parents and moving on. You are well aware that you must meet them AND make a good first impression. Not only that but if things really go well, you will have to interact with those people continuously for a significant portion of your lifetime. For better or for worse, they will be a key influence in your life as a couple.
Before you reach for a drink, allow us to interject that your significant other’s parents and siblings do not necessarily have to be evil monsters that must be assuaged with ritualistic sacrifices of your self-worth and dignity. The majority of the time they will turn out to be wonderful people. With that said, you should focus on the first hurdle — that being, making a good first impression. Here are some tips to help you in that regard.
1. Do Some Research
We’re not suggesting creating a J. Edgar Hoover style dossier on your partner’s parents. You should, however, take some time before meeting them to inquire as to what they are like. It is helpful to know their likes and dislikes. For example, if the father likes telling silly jokes or if the mother enjoys a particular type of cuisine. Little tidbits of personal data can be taken and put together to form a piece of actionable intelligence that you can use to avoid rubbing them the wrong way when you first meet. Your partner should be the prime resource for this.
2. Be Clear on How You Met
It is inevitable that you will both have to tell the story about how you met. It doesn’t hurt to rehearse the story with your partner beforehand. Make sure it flows smoothly, isn’t too long and that above all — the both of you can recount the same version. You want to craft it as a charming anecdote — one that they would eagerly retell to their friends.
3. Prepare a Succinct Description of What You Do
Put yourself in the parents’ place. You are interloping into their baby’s life. Who are you? What do you do? What are your future goals? All of these are questions that will be front and center in their minds even if they don’t articulate them. One of the best ways to put them at ease is by describing what you do for a living in a succinct phrase that can easily be digested.
Gushing out paragraph after paragraph of technical gobbledy-goop that only your closest colleagues would understand does not help. Neither does spewing some ambiguous narrative about your life’s goals. To make a solid first impression you must be able to describe your job or goals in one sentence.
4. Dress Appropriately
This seems so simple — it’s really common sense, isn’t it? When meeting the parents, dress in accordance to the situation. If you are meeting at their home, your partner’s apartment or a restaurant —dressy casual would do the trick. Avoid anything that is too casual and completely forgo the “comfy” look. Also, please — for the guys, avoid anything that will make you look like a pompous douchebag or a care-free bum; and for the ladies, avoid anything that will make you look like a call girl, or worse, a street walker.
5. Be on Time
Even if all who know you find your lack of punctuality charming and part of your personality — when it comes to meeting the parents, be on time! Remember, you’re trying to make a good first impression. Making people wait for you will always get you started with a few points against you.
6. Avoid Alcohol
While a glass or two of wine with dinner would be acceptable, anything beyond that should be avoided. Even if the parents were to appear jovial and free-spirited, letting loose the first time you meet the parents is never a wise idea.
7. Be Flattering, but Don’t Brown Nose
When you meet the parents it is important to use flattery, but don’t overdo it. Commenting on how lovely the mother is dressed or the father’s rugged handsomeness is one thing. Carrying that over into every other word in the conversation is brown nosing. Parents are very good at detecting that.
A good rule of thumb is to offer some flattery when you first meet. A little more when the parents are showing off a particular achievement or piece of property — such as artwork or furniture. Wrapping things up with some minor flattery as you are saying your goodbyes.
In the event that you genuinely are at a loss as to what to flatter them about, use their offspring as the target for your flattery. What parent doesn’t like to hear good things about their son or daughter?
8. Steer Clear of Politics and Religion
Have some topics for conversation ready. These should include benign subjects, such as the weather, the town where you live, food, etc. Always avoid politics and religion at all costs. Even if they bring it up, be prepared to steer the conversation away from such hot-button issues. Trust us, there will be plenty of time for that once you become more integrated into the family.
You will be amazed how much a smiling face will help in making a good first impression. Smiling is contagious and it is an elixir for laughter. Use that to your advantage.
10. Take It Easy with the Displays of Affection
Public displays of affection with your partner are a wonderful thing, but when you are with the parents try to keep them within acceptable parameters. Holding hands, hugging, even a gentle kiss is fine. Making out and being more “handsy” than a couple of drunken teenagers on prom night should be a no-no.
11. Be Helpful
This could be as simple as opening a door, helping someone out of the car, or helping to clean up. Don’t just offer to help, actually do it.
12. Send an Old School Thank You Note
If you ever wondered why they still make good stationery, this is one of the reasons. The day after you meet the parents, send them a handwritten thank you note. This will certainly make a very positive impression. It’s an excellent way to demonstrate that you are well mannered and worthy of their son or daughter.
— It Doesn’t Have to Be a Nightmare —
Unless meeting the parents involves using a telephone handset and speaking through three-inch thick security glass at a state correctional facility, it should not be a nightmare situation. Just go into it prepared — follow the tips listed above and you will be fine. You’ll be happy, your partner will be happy and the parents will be happy. If it gives you any added solace, just remember that your partner will have to go through the same “ordeal” when it’s their turn to meet YOUR parents.