If a guy as famous and successful as Ben Stiller struggles to meet his girlfriend’s parents, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Meeting your partner’s parents can be one of the least enjoyable relationship milestones, ranking somewhere below holding her hair back while she regurgitates a weekend’s worth of margaritas and realising she could win a gold medal in the Dutch Oven Olympics.
But no man wants to be the subject of disapproving looks from across the dinner table, or the main character in a horror story about ex-boyfriends she’ll tell her future husband (not you) – so sack up, stay cool under pressure, and launch a charm offensive even the most dubious dad can’t deny.
To survive this all-important first impression (and the second, third, fourth, fifth…) adhere to these do’s and don’ts of prospective in-law interaction.
Get Your Stories Straight
Parents love to hear their children’s meet cute stories, so make sure your version aligns with your partner’s. You may have different takes on how your first meeting went down, or your partner may have embellished bits in previous tellings to their family, or their parents may be conservative and unlikely to appreciate the romance in your 3am Tinder hookup. You don’t have to weave a tale worthy of Nicholas Sparks, but you should know which answer to “So how did you two meet?” is least likely to end in an awkward silence.
Do Your Homework
You wouldn’t approach an important job interview without doing research first, and this meeting should be no different. Ask your partner for My Parents 101. Learn something about what they do, what their personalities are like, the family history, and any idiosyncrasies it would be helpful to know ahead of time (preferred names, unusual habits, political and religious leanings, etc). Early recon can help conversations flow more easily and soothe some of that first-meeting anxiety. Plus, asking your partner questions about their family scores you points because they know you’re making an effort.
Dress The Part
This should be a no-brainer for any man, and no sweat for a sartorial-minded guy such as yourself. Meeting your partner’s parents is not the time to rock socks with sandals, slum it in sweats, or take your brand new RompHim for a spin. Present yourself well in clothes that flatter you without making you look overdressed. When in doubt, follow the three Cs: clean, conservative, classic. And don’t forget to keep your hair, nails, and face fresh and well groomed.
Be Loving But Not Lovesick
Should you be affectionate in front of your partner’s parents? If so, how much is too much? The line between sweet and sordid can be finer than the Queen’s china, but looking like a frigid, disconnected dickhead isn’t the way to ace a first impression either. A hand around the shoulders or a hug signals the #1 thing any parent cares about: that their child is loved and cared for. A hand on the ass signals the #1 thing no parent wants to think about: that you’re horny AF for their little baby. Aim for something in-between. Think doting, not groping.
Take initiative in conversations. Show interest in getting to know the family by asking questions. Be generous (but genuine) with your praise. Plan some conversation starters if you’re worried nerves will get the better of you. Don’t act like you know your partner better than the people who raised them, even if you do. Don’t stay attached to your partner’s hip if it’s a larger social gathering; mingle and aim for some one-on-one quality time with the ‘rents to prove you’re confidant and comfortable. Don’t be loud, obnoxious, rude, or vulgar. Say something nice – but not try-hard – about your partner. And if you really want to earn bonus parental points, find an opportunity to ask Ma and Pa for their opinions or advice on something.
Don’t Speak Out
All that being said, there are times when it pays to keep your trap shut. Do not go anywhere near potentially controversial subjects the first time you meet your partner’s parents. You may find out later that you share similar views, but until then, don’t bring up anything that could be contentious. Even so-called “healthy debates” are best avoided. This obviously includes subjects like money, religion, and politics, but also goes for how you speak about your partner. Don’t criticise them in front of their family, even if it’s in jest, and for the love of God don’t start an argument.
If You’re A Guest, Be A Good One
Don’t come empty handed; bring a host/hostess gift that’s thoughtful but not over the top. Offer to pitch in with tasks around the house. Don’t walk around in your skivvies. Don’t protest if the parents request separate beds. Don’t hookup – at least don’t do it loudly – if Mum and Dad are within earshot. Stay present and keep your face out of your phone. Be nice to siblings and other relatives you meet. Win over any pets or small children. Embrace all their family traditions, even and especially the dumb ones. Remember your manners and mind your Ps & Qs like you’ve never minded them before.
Parents can smell fakery from a mile away, so cut the act. Yes, you should compliment Mummy’s cooking and admire Dad’s DIY handiwork, but it should come from a genuine place. Don’t force it. You want them to see what their precious angel sees – a good guy, with an actual personality, who has good things going for him and, if you’ll excuse us for using the dreaded M-word, has the makings of marriage material. The more you make them feel like they’re meeting a real person who sees them as real people – and not just another ass-kissing boyfriend trying to win them over – the more you’ll actually win them over.
But Be Your Best Self
There are limits, of course, to the above advice. Your partner clearly thinks you’re someone they can bring home to meet the fam, so don’t disappoint them. Be yourself but bring your A-game. The parental introduction is not the time to be the bro’d-out brute you are around your buddies. Don’t drink too much. Don’t pop a palmful of Xannies to get through the stress. Be present and positive. Be helpful and polite. Put down your smartphone. Show gratitude often. Give a firm handshake. Make eye contact. Smile.
Have An Exit Strategy
That air of mystery you cultivated when you first wooed your partner works wonders on their parents, too. Don’t overstay your welcome or be a stage-five family clinger. When things start winding down, say you’d love to stay but have to leave because of [insert plausible excuse here]. Exit on a high note to leave them loving you and wanting more.