Meet the parents: How to introduce yourself to your significant other's family
December 6, 2012
The holidays are a time for family — a time for love, community, tradition and memories. So, if you’re a significant other being brought into the clan for the first time, it’s easy to feel out of place. But never fear: I’ve got some tried and true advice on how to make a smash impression when meeting your partner’s family over holiday break. Whether you’re a new fling meeting the parents for the first time or a long-term love getting promoted to the next level of chatty aunts and crazy uncles, you’ll want to hold on to these staple rules during the inevitable onslaught of introductions.Tell the truth. But not the whole truth. And maybe occasionally something other than the truth.
If you’re meeting family — especially parents — for the first time, it’s important to give them a genuine sense of who you are and how you plan to treat their cherished offspring. Creating the nauseating golden-boy facade that you think they’ll like will only lead to disappointment and confusion down the line. Unless, of course, you really do make pottery and read novels to old people in your spare time. In which case, more power to you. But for the rest of you mediocre boyfriends and girlfriends, introductions are a time to lay down your best cards, not pull a bluff.
1. Avoid sharing too much.
You’re reading The Daily, so you’re obviously a smart gingersnap. When dad asks about career prospects, you’ll no doubt have your double major in biochemistry and African studies to fall back on. But when it comes to hobbies, you may be on thin ice. There are a few past-times that, while seemingly normal to you, set off a red light for parents. For example: motorcycles, tattoo art, socialism, planking, Dungeons and Dragons and watching "Gangnam Style" repeatedly on YouTube. Reveal these intricacies at a later date, once you’ve convinced the interrogator that you’re not a weirdo. Until then, stick with something generic — like movies.
The same goes for politics. Until you’ve gauged the political affiliation of your hosts, don’t say anything too extreme. The nation is currently more polarized than ever, and one touchy remark could ignite an unwanted explosion. I’m not saying you have to indulge the conservative-verging-on-racist grandpas out there, but it’s never good to provoke an argument on someone else’s turf. Don’t bring politics up, and if they arise on their own, just state your beliefs as calmly and accurately as you can without insulting those who disagree.
2. Lay off the eggnog.
This one is kind of common sense, but don’t be the guy who gets a little too drunk and throws the Wii remote into the television. It’s never a pretty sight. Holiday parties can seem like the Candy Land of alcohol, but that doesn’t mean you should take advantage. First impressions require good breath and a clear head, so leave the spirits to the elders and stick to the apple cider and cocoa.
3. Have an open mind and an open mouth.
When joining a new family, there will no doubt be food, traditions and stories that you won’t understand. This is particularly true if you’re doing a holiday with someone of another faith. Whatever the case, try your best to be enlightened, not put-off. Nothing offends a family more than when you won’t eat their food. Take small portions of everything at first, so that if you don’t like it, you can discretely finish your share without leaving a large, untouched lump on your plate. If you really can’t handle it, blame it on a stomach weakness or sensitivity to spice — anything but the dish itself or the chef behind it. Be complimentary about food, and do not refuse anything.
Follow the same rule in regard to family activities. You may be asked to join anything from a candle lighting ceremony to a polka, so be prepared to join in. Sulking in the corner while everyone else is singing Christmas songs to Uncle Johnny’s harmonica is going to be more embarrassing for you than actually doing it. If you really like your significant other you’re going to have to get into their crazy traditions at some point, so it’s better to man up and do it the first time. Besides, you’ll be surprised by how much you can gain from a little cultural expansion.
4. Keep snuggling to a minimum.
You and your significant other are obviously close if you’re introducing one another to loved ones. But the introductions are not the time to show it. No adult likes to see their child canoodling with some stranger in the middle of a holiday party. A little hand holding or a protective arm around the back might be okay depending on the household, but try to keep public displays of affection to a minimum. There are ways to show parents that you care about their son or daughter without touching them all the time. Physical restraint is a sign of maturity and independence, so save the passion for when you’re alone.
5. Bring a trinket of gratitude.
It’s always a smart move to bring a little something to a gathering, be it a tray of cookies or a scented candle. It’s a nice way to thank your hosts for the meal, and it shows that you’ve put time and effort into making them happy.
All in all, the rules for introduction are pretty simple. Be polite. Be engaged. Be yourself. And if you’re lucky, you’ll survive the winter and win yourself an invite to the warmer, easier and far more relaxed Fourth of July barbecue.