Meeting the parents is an important milestone in any intimate relationship for all involved. As they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and first impressions matter.
Not convinced? First impressions matter so much that scientists study them. As shared by Forbes, Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov and student researcher Janine Willis asked a wide cross-section of subjects to look at a microsecond of a video of a political candidate. With only that microsecond to go on, research subjects obtained a 70% accuracy rating in predicting who would win the election. What can we all take away from this study? People can make accurate snap judgments in a tenth of a second.
Are you worried about how to navigate those potentially rocky waters of meeting your partner’s parents for the first time? Keep these 8 tips in mind and your relationship will be off to a smooth start.
1. Remember that it’s about all of you.
Most men and women worry about the parent’s impression, the partner’s impression, the cat’s impression, and everything under the sun when they meet the parents for the first time. Remember that this occasion is also about you. This meeting is a valuable opportunity to learn more about your partner. Pay attention to their parent’s mannerisms, home, and how they treat each other. No matter what the current state of your partner’s relationship with them is, the parent’s influence was a powerful one in shaping future expectations of intimate relationships.
What can you learn about your partner from this new perspective into their family life? Do you like what you see? What troubles you? Did you enjoy their time? How you do you feel at the end of the evening? Be honest with yourself – like anyone you know, there will be things you consider positive and those that deter you. The more clarity with which you view them, the better you can evaluate your bond with your partner and stay on the same page as you move toward the future.
2. Maintain perspective.
How big a deal is “meeting the parents?” It depends. If families are far-flung and meeting them requires travel, a holiday, or another momentous occasion, then yes, it’s definitely a big deal. If everyone lives in the same neighborhood and your partner first introduces you when you run into each other in the supermarket, then things are more casual. Ask your partner how important this occasion is to them, and be clear about where this meeting falls on the “serious, committed relationship” scale to you.
Some people highly value their parents’ opinions, or have unique care taking or other logistical arrangements with their parents, and prefer partners to meet them early on; some don’t give two shakes what their parents think and will see them in the pew when you two are at the altar. Bottom line – don’t stress, and don’t assume that meeting the parents necessarily means more than it does.
3. Realize how much you don’t know.
Whether you meet the parents in their home or in a public space, you are guaranteed to learn something about your partner during the meeting. Remember that these folks have decades of history together, complete with insides jokes, embarrassing stories, and detailed knowledge of each other. Work hard not to react to anything you hear – there is likely context that your partner will explain to you later, and there’s a good chance that jokes and stories that sound like they happened yesterday actually took place years ago.
If you are past the age of 18, there is also an extremely good chance that you are not the first one your partner has ever brought home (really, would you want to be?), and that “meeting the parents” likely hasn’t gone swimmingly well in the past every time. The first meeting is all about composure – maintain yours.
4. Be there for your partner.
Most folks resort to humor to cut nervous tension, and families pretty much exist to share embarrassing stories. Some families also include nosy or maliciously minded individuals who will pry and push for information. Remember that this first meeting is just that – a first meeting. You wouldn’t have teased your partner incessantly on your first date, embarrassed them, or revealed exceedingly personal information, would you? Of course not. So don’t do it now.
Sure, down the road you can tease your partner with their family, but save that for later. Giggling is alright; ganging up on your partner in a quest to be accepted by the parents is not. Respect your partner’s privacy and the sanctity of your relationship at all times, and deflect all attempts to learn private information about your relationship with your partner.
5. Cut the parents some slack.
Think you’re nervous, excited, stressed, eager, or every other emotion under the sun? So are they. You’ll probably say something you wish you could take back, blurt out a joke that isn’t that funny, drop your napkin, or some other detail you agonize over on the car ride home. So will they.
Take a deep breath, relax, and don’t judge any more than you wish to be judged. Remember, these people are important to your partner. It may have taken a few meetings to realize that you partner is amazing, your best friend is great to hang out with, that dog you eventually adopted is the right pet for you – give the parents some time, too.
6. Have a gift in hand and kind words on your lips.
No matter what you’re doing, where, when, what time of day, in what season – never arrive empty handed. But what gift to bring? Go for something the mother will like, and present the gift directly to her. Not only do classic rules of etiquette dictate presenting the hostess with a gift, but there are valuable “family goodwill” points to be gained by courting the mother’s favor. Not sure about her tastes, food allergies, or other considerations? Pick up a bouquet of flowers. On a super tight budget? Bake something – whether they like it or not, the effort will be noticed and appreciated.
Be appropriately generous with compliments throughout the evening, whether on a style of dress or the parents’ home, and send a handwritten “thank you” after the event.
Did the parents pick up the tab for the evening, or welcome you to their home? Reciprocate by hosting them the next time, or treating them to a meal or experience. Establishing you and your partner as mature adults who care about the parents will go a long way in the good will department and lay the foundation for the mutual respect that is a part of every ideal relationship. Added bonus: you’ll likely be able to relax and enjoy the second meeting a little more, especially on your home turf or a bit more on your terms.
8. Relax, and enjoy.
The point of meeting the parents is that because you care about your partner, you could see them in your life for a while to come…. maybe even forever. That time is a lot happier, more peaceful, productive, and supportive if you all get along. They don’t have to be your favorite people, but you all do have something in common – love for your partner, who happens to be their child. So take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy your time with new folks. They did something right if your partner turned out the way they did, so no matter how this meeting goes, it should be an occasion to celebrate.
Mastered the parent thing? Check out these other 10 Keys To A Successful Romantic Relationship.