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I’m all about the “out with the old, in with the new” mentality when it comes to expectations surrounding modern relationships. As the holiday season approaches (and Mariah Carey resumes her position as number one on the music charts), however, a particularly antiquated mentality comes to mind — one that is summed up by the expression “No ring, no bring.”
As much as I think we should resist lugging any ol’ Hinge date over to Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s, I also feel that bringing an unbetrothed partner over for the holidays is perfectly acceptable. (And, apparently, so do 26% of Americans). In fact, an introduction like this can be a unique opportunity to test the waters of your relationship, make a good first impression, and see how well you blend into your partner’s family unit. All you need are the right tools in your Meet The Parents Toolbox! Let’s dive right in and see what they are.
We all have that one friend that never shows up to a gathering — no matter how big or small — without their hands full of something. Hosting a movie night? They come with popcorn. Going through a breakup? They bring a pint of ice cream to your front door. Celebrating a new job promotion? They’ve got a bottle of Rosé with your name on it. Whatever the occasion, they make it brighter (or tastier) with a gift picked out just for you.
This is the kind of friend everybody likes. And the reason is pretty simple: Everybody enjoys getting gifts — unless you’re the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge, of course! Even if they’re not big, shiny, or expensive, it shows the receiver of the gift that you were thinking about them.
And the same goes for your SO’s family! Whether it’s a tasty winter treat, a bottle of wine, flowers, or the like, they’re going to appreciate the gesture. A little bit of thoughtfulness goes a long way!
Winter break or not, it’s time to study up. Take a few minutes to sit down with your partner and have them walk you through all the family members and loved ones you’ll be meeting at the holiday event. Ask them to pull up pictures so you can begin making connections between names and faces. You could even go so far as to make a fun little quiz out of it. Did I just put “fun” and “quiz” in the same sentence? You bet!
Say that it’s “extra” all you want, but everyone appreciates having their name remembered. It’s a reflection of some of the best qualities a parent could ask for in their child’s partner: care and consideration.
As a hugger myself, I must admit this is a tough one. I come from a very lovey-dovey family, so I have a tendency to assume that everyone I meet is the same. The reality, however, is that we’re not! We all have different levels of comfortability when it comes physical touch, and this is something we should keep in mind during introductions — especially big ones like the (*dun dun dun*) meeting of the parents.
The key is to look for body language. Plan on offering your hand for a handshake, but check to see how they respond to your approach. If they also extend their hand, follow through with the shake and rest assured that you stuck with a safe option. If their body language gives off major “This is a hugging family” vibe, however, then feel free to go in for the close. Either way, make sure you’ve showered and groomed yourself appropriately. Nicknames like Guy With The Onion Breath tend to stick.
Most of us (thankfully) didn’t peak in high school. This means that your significant other’s childhood probably makes for great content at the dinner table. “What was ______ like as a teenager?”, “What’s your funniest memory of ______ growing up?”, “Do you have any pictures of ____ I can look at?” are all go-to icebreakers to make you and the rest of the family loosen up a bit.
Some of us have a tendency to be so set on making a lasting first impression that we turn an important introduction into a one-man show. This is me — and the rest of the team here at DatingAdvice.com — officially encouraging you not to do that. Active listening makes a better first impression than talking too much.
As with any relationship in life, balance is key. It’s kinda like that $15 shared between you and your best friend: You give a little, they give a little, and the behavior repeats on and on in a never-ending cycle of back-and-forth Venmo requests.
The conversations with your SO’s family members should follow suit. Don’t dominate the discussion, but don’t stay silent the entire time either. Find that sweet spot with a nice 50:50 split.
Look, we get it. The funny way your partner twitches in their sleep, their Zoom meeting concentration face, and their strange but endearing obsession with pickle juice can make for some great common ground between you and your SO’s family.
But maybe not quite yet. At the start, you’re there to do one thing and one thing only: Impress the family with how good of a partner you are to your boo. This means staying kind, staying positive, and staying away from any jokes made at your partner’s expense — even if you’re not the one making them.
A couple Thanksgivings ago, my sister brought home a boyfriend to meet the family. He was seemingly everything you would hope for in a partner to your little sis: Sweet, loving, charming, funny, and respectful. But my mom did not approve. Why? Because he didn’t offer to help with dinner. Not a single time during the preparation process, the eating of the meal, or the cleanup did he extend a helping hand. I’ll let you take a guess as to whether or not the relationship lasted.
If this story tells you anything, let it be this: Always offer to help. My guess is that 60% of the time (please don’t fact-check me on this), your SO’s parents will decline your offer with a swift “We’re all set, no worries!” – but you never want to risk offending by not making the offer. And even if they do decline, you should ask again at least one or two more times throughout the evening, just to make it clear that your offer is genuine. As I mentioned, a little thoughtfulness goes a long way.
Maybe you think you can find that fine line between “pleasantly buzzed” and “I’m about to give a stranger my social security number,” but the home of your significant other’s parents is not the place to figure it out.
Leave the experimentation for another time and stick to what you know is a safe limit for you. If that means not drinking at all, then so be it. Sober Sally can be fun too. When it comes to impressing the family of your boo, you can never be too cautious.
Note: This probably shouldn’t need to be said, but I’m going to say it anyway. We strongly recommend that you don’t show up to any holiday event high either. A little bit of weed can be great for calming the nerves, but it’s important that you’re alert for these kinds of interrogations — I mean introductions.
I don’t care who you are, how old you are, or what you’ve accomplished in life — no one is too good for table games. So, if you’re hanging out, sipping hot chocolate around a fireplace, and your SO’s mom suggests a game of Fish Bowl, you play it. And you give it your all. Maybe you win, maybe you don’t — but at least you put in the effort.
Plus, at the end of the day, games are the ultimate icebreakers! People get excited. People get competitive. And sometimes people break things, but that’s an issue for another time. Let yourself get into it and create some great family content. If you’re lucky, you’ll be back again next year to reminisce.
Stepping into your SO’s holiday event with these tips in your back pocket doesn’t guarantee the family will welcome you with open arms (families are tricky things, after all), but it certainly sets you up with a foundation of courtesy, care, and consideration that even the most tight-knit families should appreciate.
But what if they don’t? Make a mental note and give it some time. This family might have some warming up to do. Or, on a more “protecting my peace” note, maybe you’ll find that the vibes just aren’t vibing and you aren’t really looking to be part of this family dynamic ‘til death do you part. That’s perfectly fine, too.