By Kate Richlin-Zack
The holiday season is upon us, so for those of us currently in a relationship it’s time for you to meet the family, assmuing you haven’t already. I always thought of meeting the parents as a job interview. You want to look your best and be on your best behaviour because these could be your future in-laws. You want to like them and you want them to like you. Unfortunately, you can been horribly unprepared for it and as a result blow your shot at a good first impression. Having been through my fair share of disatrous meet-the-parents scenarios — you’re shocked, I know — allow me to provide you with some tips on how to win them over.
One of my exes showed up in cutoff jean shorts, construction boots, and a t-shirt with the sleeves torn off. I’m still not sure under what circumstances this outfit would be appropriate. Maybe for doing yard work or laying roof tile? Honestly, I don’t know but I can assure you it did not make a good impression when he showed up at my parents’ house. My sister actually asked him what happened to his sleeves. Priceless.
Gentlemen, don’t show up dressed like a handyman. Ladies, don’t show up dressed like a hooker. Short skirts, plunging necklines, lucite stilettos, and anything that suggests you just got off the pole should be left at home and if you have to ask yourself the question, “is this appropriate?” the answer is always no. Do yourself a massive favor and err on the side of caution with your outfit. The same is true with make up. Tone. It. Down. You want to look fresh, polished, and put together; not like you just applied a coat of spackle. Your overall look should communicate ”classy, future daughter-in-law” not “I’m a phase your son is going through.”
Prepare to be grilled
Every guy I’ve ever dated has been subjected to some intense interrogation. While my father has never actually utilized a lie detector test, he may as well have. It probably would have been less invasive. He could always see right through the bullshit so some of these spindoctors didn’t stand a chance.
Anytime you meet the family, you need to be prepared to answer questions. Lots of questions. There were times when my ex-boyfriend left me unattended with their family. Saying it was like being in front of a firing squad is putting it mildly.
No matter what, always be honest. Chances are you’ll be hit with some tough questions but you can always present your answer in a positive light. If you’re in between jobs, talk about why you left your last position and what you’re currently doing to achieve your career goals. You don’t need to mention that you were fired for sexually harassing your coworker. If you never finished college, talk about why starting your own business was a better option for you. You don’t need to mention that your GPA was 0.0 and your current income is about the same. You may want to practice ahead of time. And no it’s not lying; you’re simply presenting yourself in the best possible light while still being honest. And when in doubt, provide a one word answer and immediately change the subject.
Make small talk but avoid hot button issues
This is your opportunity to get to know his family. So get to know them. Ask them questions. If there are young kids involved, make sure they like you. Even the redheaded stepchild. Kids are the key to winning over the rest of the family, I also strongly suggest you ask for a debrief prior to meeting everyone. Having a little bit of background info will help you make conversation. If you know his father builds model airplanes, ask him to show you what he’s been working on. If his sister is president of her book club, ask her for suggestions to add to that stack of books on your nightstand that you’re never going to read. A debrief can also help you avoid sensitive subjects. If his parents are staunch Republicans, withhold your bleeding heart liberal political views for another time. If his dad is a member of the NRA, try to avoid discussing your opinions on gun control.
Watch your mouth
It should go without saying that even if your boyfriend loves the fact that you have mouth like a truck driver, his parents definitely won’t. I don’t care how open minded and progressive they seem. Curse words, racial slurs, and sexual innuendos should NEVER, under any circumstances come out of your mouth when you meet his family. Well, some of the aforementioned should never come out of your mouth period. The King of Inappropriate Comments was famous for this kind of stuff and it just made everyone uncomfortable. And he was ignorant trash which explains a lot.
Keep PDA to a minimum
If you and your boyfriend are one of those couples who does self portraits every five minutes and sit on the same side of the booth so you can make out in between courses: (1) stop, as that’s really annoying and (2) definitely put it on ice in front of his family. Being moderately affectionate towards each other like a kiss on the cheek or an arm around his waist momentarily is perfectly acceptable. But there should never be tongue. At all. Oh, and if you’re sleeping over, insist on sleeping in separate rooms. Older generations are much more conservative and even if you’re shacking up, you should be respectful. This is their home, not a hotel room.
Two Drink Maximum
Your hollow leg is not something his family needs to know about. Two drinks max. Anything more than that and you won’t realize when you start slurring your words or getting all surly with Grandpa. Hopefully you don’t throw up on his little sister or need to be carried out. By an ambulance. It’s been known to happen.
Be gracious, AKA don’t be a dick
Bring a gift. It doesn’t matter if it’s a box of chocolate, a bottle of wine, or a bouquet of flowers, it shows you’re thoughtful and appreciative. Even if you’re not thoughtful and respectful, act like it in this instance. Compliment his mother’s cooking. Offer to help clear the table. And when creepy Uncle Johnny (and every family has a creepy Uncle Johnny) starts hitting on you, laugh it off and quickly exit stage left. And as you’re saying good bye, make sure you also say, “Thank you, I had a lovely time,” even if it means you have to lie.
Remember, it might totally suck
Sure, you’re the one in the hot seat when it comes to meeting the parents. But let’s face it. He may come from a totally dysfunctional family, in which case you might want to re-evaluate your commitment to this relationship. I’m really close with my family so guys that don’t get along with their parents or have Mommy Dearest issues never lasted very long. A big part of why I married my husband is because I also fell in love with his family. But not everyone feels that way and that’s perfectly ok. You need to decide for yourself what’s important to you. Decide before you go in there what your expectations are. Then lower them. You won’t be disappointed and it might take some of the pressure off of you if you’re anticipating a gaggle of illiterate bridge trolls.
Kate’s Dates runs every other Wednesday on Kate-book.com. It is written by the lovely Kate Richlin-Zack, who fully admits to majoring in engineering to meet guys. Her articles have been featured on xoJane, YourTango, and Romance Never Dies and she’s been quoted in Fox News Magazine. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.