When you’re falling in love, the world often feels no bigger than just the two of you. But the truth is, one of the most important, and sometimes nerve-wracking, next steps in your relationship is to introduce each other to your families.
Here are a few tips to help the first meeting go more smoothly:
Dress for success
Dressing sexy may be why you initially caught your guy’s eye, but when you’re meeting his family, think: classy & covered! The same goes for your legs, so opt for pants or knee-length dresses or skirts that let the focus stay on you and your personality rather than your physical attributes. Try to strike a balance between dressing up and comfort; it’s no fun tugging at uncomfortable clothes! Let the occasion inform your choices, such as a conservative sheath cocktail dress for a formal dinner or a long and loose sundress for a backyard barbecue.
But skip the jeans, no matter how informal the function – wear slacks instead to signal that you’re making an effort to impress (in darker hues that won’t show stains if your “first-time” nerves make you clumsy). Try to keep any potentially “loud” accessories – such as a big hat or large necklaces – to a minimum. But, do add an ice-breaker accessory to your outfit – such as that bracelet your partner gave you, or a locket featuring photos of your own family – so those initial compliments on your appearance can lead into a casual conversation.
Give thoughtful gifts
“It’s the thought that counts,” may sound sweet, but it’s the last thing you want his family to say about any “nice-to-meet-you” gift you give them – because they’d really be saying: “nice try, but you missed the mark.” So skip those catchall options like expensive wine and imported chocolates unless you’re positive they are connoisseurs or chocoholics. Instead, pump your partner for information on the perfect, out-of-the-box present to fit his family’s personality. Wrap up a board game for a family into a friendly competition, or a gourmet snacks basket for foodies.
Stick to one big gift if you’re meeting the whole family, but if it’s just his parents, opt for personalized presents for both mom and dad that celebrate their favorite pastimes. Just be conscious of how much you’re spending, because a cheap gift is worse than nothing at all, and a too-expensive present says you’re attempting to buy their approval.
Take an interest
The most awkward moments of the first-time meeting are those unavoidable conversation lulls that feel never-ending when you’re in them. Instead of stewing in those uncomfortable silences, overcome them by asking questions that delve into his family’s favorite subjects or hobbies. Be sure to ask open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered by “yes” or “no”) and follow up those questions with other questions to show your interest. You can prep yourself to ask pertinent questions by reading up on those topics (even just a little bit!) prior to the introduction.
This will also familiarize you with any obscure terminology so you can show off your informed, attentive listener skills. For example, ask his gardening mother the best time to plant herbs or his travel-loving father about a specific site from his last trip. Just don't feign a shared passion if the feeling isn’t mutual – as the insincerity will be obvious. Instead, reciprocate with tidbits about your own interests when the attention turns to you (especially if you can draw a connection between their interests and your own).
Go with the flow
So maybe you're no football fan, but if you're invited to tailgate at Sunday's big game, slip on a foam finger and cheer your heart out – because what you’re really doing is celebrating his family. Implement this strategy for any activity that's not your cup of tea, whether it’s a classical music concert or an all-day fishing trip. His family will appreciate your efforts to try something new, while you’ll be showing off your ability to relax and join in. And don’t stress if you get things wrong: they’ll love you even more if you’re able to laugh at yourself! This approach works for uncomfortable conversations, too.
Let’s say you and his family are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to touchy subjects like religion and politics. Rather than bristling up (or worse, getting into a debate), simply implement the “go with the flow” mentality by acknowledging and respecting their opinions without agreeing with them. A simple “I see your point” or an “I can respect that” goes a long way to avoid potential conflicts and can work as a transition into safer subjects.
Once you've survived that “meet the family” moment, it’s time to reinforce that positive first impression you made. Strengthen your fledgling foundation within the family by following up the meet-and-greet with a thank you card that includes a "let's do this again" message. Even if the event didn’t go off without a hitch, making contact to show your appreciation can go a long way to smooth any ruffled feathers.
Send the thank you within a week, using the form of communication most comfortable for your hosts. For instance, a simple email or a digital thank you card may be just fine for some families, while others might be offended by anything less than a snail mailed paper thank you card. Then, go the extra mile and turn that suggestion of a second get-together into a sure thing by getting it on the calendar within the next month or two.
- Elle: How to Dress to Meet the Parents
- Cosmopolitan: 10 Things to Do When You Meet the Parents
- Psychology Today: When It’s Time to “Meet the Parents”
About the Author
Former high school counselor and educator Christine Bartsch has written home, style, relationship, travel, education and entertainment content for publications including Prestwick Press, USAToday and "The Tyra Banks Show." Bartsch earned her BFA in psychology and interpersonal communication from Wisconsin Lutheran College and a creative writing MFA from Spalding University. She's also written scripts for film/television productions and worked as the senior writer at a video game company.