One night, as you're getting ready to snuggle on the sofa to watch a movie with your boyfriend, he turns to you and says, "I think that we should have dinner with my parents this weekend." Is "yikes!" your first reaction? Meeting the parents for the first time can be a scary proposition. What if they don't like you? What if you don't like them? The saying that you don't get a second chance to make a first impression is true, and if the first meeting goes badly, it could put a damper on your relationship. If the thought of meeting your boyfriend's parents is enough to send you into a panic, calm down. By the time you finish reading this top 10 list, you'll know exactly what to do to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible.
10: Timing is Everything
Before you start panicking about meeting your boyfriend's parents, it's important to make sure that you're both on the same page about the significance of the meeting. If you've already had "the talk" about the direction and seriousness of your relationship and exchanged the L-word, it could be a sign that your boyfriend is ready to make a serious commitment. Maybe he's even thinking about popping the question.
Or, maybe there's little to no significance at all, and he's not thinking any further than just a basic, get-to-know-you sort of gathering. If that's OK with you, then you can relax a little bit. But if your relationship isn't what you consider all that serious yet, you might not be ready to meet the parents. Then again, you might learn a lot of interesting information about him from his family.
Also, consider what kind of meeting that your boyfriend's suggesting. Is it a casual barbecue with just his parents or a formal Christmas dinner with dozens of relatives? The latter might be a bit overwhelming. Tell your boyfriend how you feel, no matter what, even if it's difficult. It'll save you potential discomfort and awkwardness later on.
9: Do Your Research
Maybe your boyfriend is the only thing that you have in common with his parents, but you should make an effort to remedy that before meeting them. Of course, you'll need to pump your boyfriend for lots of information. Ask how his parents met, where they grew up, what they do for a living, what they like to do for fun. With any luck, you can find some common ground with them. If his mom is a big history buff, you can mention that you minored in history in college. That might spark a whole discussion about favorite historical sites or books. If Dad grew up in Chicago, talk about the time your family took a vacation there.
Even if you can't immediately connect with something about them, you can do a little research on your own so that you can ask questions to get his parents talking. Most people like talking about their interests with a little prompting.
Also, ask your boyfriend if there's anything especially important that you need to know. If his mother is very particular about her white carpet and insists that all guests take their shoes off at the door before entering, you'll be prepared.
8: Watch the PDA
In case you're not familiar with the abbreviation in this context, PDA stands for public displays of affection. Love is grand, and showing it through actions like kissing, cuddling and holding hands is part of a healthy, affectionate relationship. However, your boyfriend's parents probably don't want to watch you fawn all over their son. It's awkward and uncomfortable enough for anybody to watch two people being incredibly affectionate with each other in public, but it's even worse when your child is involved. Yes, your boyfriend is an adult, but in some ways his parents will always think of him as their child. So keep your hands to yourself.
Maybe his parents are very open and won't care in the slightest if you hug or kiss in front of them, but most, especially during a first meeting, would consider it disrespectful. The focus should really be on your interactions with your boyfriend's parents, anyway.
7: Be Appreciative
A hostess gift could be just the thing to break the ice. You could choose something simple like a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine. Gourmet chocolates are also a nice touch.
Try to avoid going overboard, though -- you might look like a showoff and make your boyfriend's parents suspect that you're trying to buy their admiration. Of course, be sure to run whatever gift you choose by him. You wouldn't want to bring wine if his parents are teetotalers, or sweets if one of them is diabetic.
Afterward, remember send your boyfriend's parents a thank you card. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate, just express your gratitude for their hospitality and the opportunity to meet them. You might also mention something that you discussed to personalize the message even more.
6: Dress Appropriately
What you wear will certainly influence the impression that you make on your boyfriend's parents when you first meet them. Showing up in ragged jeans, an old T-shirt and flip-flops probably won't do the trick. Neither will wearing a supershort mini skirt or a cleavage-bearing top. Your outfit should show that you respect them. The best thing to do is to dress on the conservative side -- think about what your parents (or even grandparents) might like to see you wear. Keep your jewelry small and tasteful and your makeup and hair understated. Don't dress as if you're going on a job interview; it's important to still express your personality. Just tone it down.
Your outfit should also be appropriate for the occasion. You'd look ridiculous wearing the same outfit to a backyard pool party that you'd wear to an expensive restaurant, but you can still look your best no matter what. As you get to know your boyfriend's parents better, you can always relax a bit when it comes to wardrobe, but you might not be able to recover from a serious fashion faux pas.
5: Avoid Conversation Pitfalls
It's been said that you should avoid discussing religion and politics because it inevitably leads to arguments. If he knows that his parents are on a completely opposite end of the spectrum from you, your boyfriend should clue you in. But what if he doesn't? Or what if Dad asks who you voted for in the last presidential election, or Mom asks where you go to church? If your answer doesn't meet with their approval, it can be a tricky situation. Even if you can figure out what the "right" answer is ahead of time (that political sign in the front yard, for example), avoid the temptation to lie. If your relationship with your boyfriend is long-term, it's going to come out eventually.
Be honest about your opinions, but try to do in a way that is respectful of their beliefs. If they say something that rubs you the wrong way or even offends you, stay composed and change the subject, or say something like, "I'll guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on that," if necessary. We hope your boyfriend will help you out; you might consider having a pre-arranged word or signal to let him know that you need assistance.
4: Manners are Important
Manners have fallen by the wayside these days in a lot of cases, but it's time to break out your best ones when you're meeting your boyfriend's parents. Believe it or not, something as simple as remembering to say "please" and "thank you" can make a big difference in the impression that you make.
Make sure you're on time. A little early is OK, but way too early is awkward, especially if they're making dinner. Being late makes it look like you couldn't be bothered to get it together. If your boyfriend is taking you and tends to be a slowpoke, press him to get ready a little earlier.
When you're introduced, address his parents as "Mr. and Mrs." If they insist you call them by their first names, that's fine, but don't make assumptions. Be prepared for everything from a handshake to a hug. If you're at dinner, it's time to remember your table manners. Sit up straight in your chair, use your napkin, hold your fork correctly and ask for food to be passed instead of reaching for it. On the off chance that your meal is formal enough to require to use of many pieces of silverware, make sure you know when to use each piece ahead of time.
3: Make Yourself Useful
This one mostly applies if you're invited over for dinner at your boyfriend's parents' house. When you arrive, don't just park yourself on a sofa and hang out, waiting to be called to the table. After the initial pleasantries, ask if there's anything that you can do to help. Even if you're not a cook, you could wash or chop vegetables, fill glasses, set the table or help carry the food to the table. They will probably say no initially, but try to let them know that you'd really enjoy helping out.
If you're offered a cooking task that you're unsure about, ask for direction or admit that it's beyond your skill but you'd be glad to do something else. You don't want to be the one to burn the entree. Helping out in the kitchen also gives you a good opportunity to make small talk. It's easier to do if you're engaged in a task rather than just sitting and fidgeting. After dinner, offer to clear the table, load the dishwasher and wash or dry the dishes.
2: Watch Those Vices
Do you have a reputation for having the mouth of a sailor? Nothing wrong with that, but there's a time and a place for it -- and a first meeting with your boyfriend's parents isn't one of them. So watch your language. Wait until you get to know them better to find out what's acceptable. Some people have different levels of which words are OK and which aren't.
The same goes for smoking. Your boyfriend should let you know about his parents' stance. They might ban smoking indoors, but they're OK with you smoking out on their patio. If not, you can hold off getting your nicotine fix for a few hours. Remember that some people find smoking extremely distasteful, and it's best to adhere to their wishes when you're in their home.
If alcohol is served in your boyfriend's parents' home, limit yourself. When you're in a restaurant, don't order alcohol unless they do or you get some indication (from your boyfriend or otherwise) that it's cool. Avoid the temptation to drink in order to relax yourself, and this includes drinking before you meet them. Also, make sure you aren't hungover from the night before, because that's not a good look for anybody, either.
1: Be Complimentary
Everyone enjoys being complimented, and your boyfriend's parents are no exception. If you like the style of their house or the paintings on the wall, feel free to say so. It's also a good way to start a conversation, because you can ask where they found a particular item. If your boyfriend's mom cooked, compliment the meal. If his dad chose the restaurant where you're eating, compliment that. It doesn't have to be any big deal, just a casual "I'm glad you picked this place; it's great!" will do.
Your compliments need to be sincere, however. If you lie about loving Mom's earrings or collection of penguin knickknacks, you might find yourself the recipient of something similar -- forcing you to continue the lie. Also avoid gushing about everything, which you might be tempted to do out of nervousness. You'll come off as fake and your boyfriend's parents will question your sincerity about everything.
Meeting your boyfriend's parents for the first time doesn't have to be scary. Just be the nicest, politest, friendliest version of yourself and you'll be fine. You can't make them like you, but you can leave them with a good impression.
Lots More Information
- Boucher, Nicole. "What to Wear to Meet the Parents." Glamour on MSN. 2010. (Sept. 26, 2010)http://www.glamour.com/fashion/2008/10/what-to-wear-to-meet-the-parents?mbid=msn#slide=1
- Field, Genevieve. "5 Rules for Meeting His Parents." Glamour. October 2008. (Sept. 26, 2010)http://www.glamour.com/sex-love-life/2008/10/5-rules-for-meeting-his-parents#slide=1
- Houran, James. "Meeting the Parents." Online Dating Magazine. 2010 (Sept. 24, 2010)http://www.onlinedatingmagazine.com/datingoffice08/meetingtheparents.html
- Janes, Erica Rassmusen. "Meeting the Parents? How to Cope." MSN Dating. 2010 (Sept. 26, 2010)http://lifestyle.msn.com/relationships/article.aspx?cp-documentid=19238885&page=1
- Martin, Judith. "Meet the Parents." The Washington Post. March 16, 2005. Page C11. (Sept. 23, 2010)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38575-2005Mar15.html
- McGuire, Judy. "How NOT to handle meeting his parents." CNN Living. Nov. 20, 2008. (Sept. 24, 2010)http://articles.cnn.com/2008-11-20/living/tf.holiday.meet.the.parents_1_la-familia-parents-winters?_s=PM:LIVING
- Suratt, Julie. "What if His Parents Don't Like You?" Cosmopolitan. 2010 (Sept. 23, 2010)http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/relationship-advice/What-If-His-Parents-Dont-Like-You