So, you’re in a new relationship, everything is just what you’d hoped for, and you’re happy as can be. Yay, you! If it’s going this well, the likelihood is you’ve had some kind of discussion about each other’s parents, and it’s only a matter of time before your find yourself face to face with ‘meeting the in-laws’. Are you freaking out yet? Because same. It’s no secret that it can be a totally nerve-wracking situation, I mean even Hollywood has produced countless movies inspired by this one social interaction - some painting it in a worse light than others! A personal favourite of mine is Monster-in-Law, which features J-Lo, comical genius Wanda Sykes, and the brilliance that is Jane Fonda. The important thing to remember is that these dramatizations are are all exaggerated examples of those first impressions, but just in case you’re still worried your experience will turn into the fourth instalment of Meet the Parents, we’ve put together some failsafe tips to help you nail it.
1. Be the first to make an effort
You’re more afraid of them than they are of you. Yep, you read that right. Right from out the outset, you’re the outsider, so you need to show that positive initiative to get yourself in there. It might sound scary, but this can be very simple gestures like initiating the handshake, or introducing yourself instead of waiting for your partner to do so. Being in control of your own introduction shows strong character and a good sense of self. It’s also a great way to ensure that your first step of your first impression is a success!
2. Read the room
Some parents are huggers, some aren’t, and unfortunately there’s no psychic power we can lend you to prepare you for what greeting you’re going to get. If there does happen to be some awkwardness and you end up dancing between a huge and a handshake, just laugh it off and smile your way through. The one thing I will say, is that if you’re meeting them with drink in hand (yours or theirs), I would not recommend going in for the hug – this is for experts only. I’ve heard too many stories of drinks ending up on people, and you definitely don’t want to start off with that!
3. Ask your partner for some background knowledge
Do your homework! Just like you, they have their own lives and things they’re up to, and plenty they’ll want to tell you about. My suggestion would be to have one or two questions or pieces of information per parent, and this can also be applied to siblings or other family members. These could be anything from asking about a house move, or a new job, or as simple as how their favourite sport team is doing. This is a great way to keep the conversation going if your partner isn’t around, and it also gives you the chance to show how attentive and interested you are.
4. Be independent
This is more relevant when meeting the parents in a larger setting. Obviously, you’re there to meet and to get to know them, but avoid sticking to your partner like glue. Spend a decent amount of time with the parents, but make sure you branch out and dip into conversations with other guests as well. Again, this will show your autonomous and confident character. If it’s only you two and their parents, this advice can still apply – pop in a few conversation starters that are completely your own, and show that you’re capable of engaging and interesting discussions. Don’t ask me why, but parents seem to love this, and it’s always served me well!
5. Offer to help
Again, this is more applicable in a setting where they’re hosting you, or you’re at a party, but the importance of courtesy remains. If they are hosting, offer to help pass out drinks, or decant vegetables into serving dishes, or wash up, literally anything you can do to be helpful. This is a particularly good way to spend extended time with one parent at a time, as the chances are that whoever is on bartending duty will not be on cooking duty. If you’re at a party, offer to fetch the next round of refills, or if you’re having a cute and simple dinner, offer to pour the water for the table. Remember, manners matter!
6. Finish with a strong goodbye
You definitely want to leave a lasting impression, and one of the best ways to do that is to come full circle and end on something you discussed earlier in the night. If you touched on recipes of any kind, remind them to send one over to you. If you recommended a book or movie, ask them to let you know what they thought once they’d read or watched it. If you discussed sports, say that you’ll make sure to catch the next game of their favourite team. Little comments like this are the perfect way to reinforce your attentiveness, but they also suggest an element of the future, almost like you’re saying “see you again” without actually saying it.
And there you have it! Some tips to get you started off and to fall back off if you need, but most importantly, be yourself. Your partner loves you for you, and their parents will be able to see that when you’re together. It’s your job to make sure they see that real version of you, too. Good luck!