Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Your Turn: “Any Advice for Meeting the Family?”

In a feature I call “Your Turn,” in which you, the readers, get to answer the question, I’m presenting the following letter without commentary from me:

I’ve been dating my girlfriend for five months now. She met my family very early on in our relationship and she gets along with them great. (My family’s pretty wonderful and they were very friendly to her.) But I’ve never met her family. (They live on the other side of the country.) So here’s the thing: I’m going with her to her home state for a two week visit in August. During this time, I will be staying at her dad’s house for a while, visiting the town where she grew up and meeting her best friend, staying at her aunt’s house, and going to a family reunion. So in short, I’m basically meeting everyone important in her life. All at once. I’m a little terrified at the prospect. She’s pretty well warned me of all the problem areas, which is really just making me more nervous for the trip. Do you have any advice for meeting the family for the first time? And the best friend? (In case you/the readers were wondering, they all know about me.) — Meeting the Family
24 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Addie Pray May 28, 2012, 11:09 am

    Be yourself. But not really. Offer to help set the table and do the dishes, etc. Put the toilet seat lid down after you go. Don’t leave clumps of your hair in the shower. (Well, that is more appropriate for me – I shed.) Bring a gift, like wine or a nice bottle of scotch or chocolates and/or a big tin of cookies – something the whole family can enjoy all day. Don’t sleep in forever if the family is up early (imho). Don’t be so clingy to your girlfriend while you are there – get to know her family and friends and maybe, like, go off with her dad for a bit while he shows you his stamp collection (I don’t know). Don’t leave your wet towel on the floor. Wipe down the sink/counter after you use it instead of leaving toothpaste remnants / puddles of water everywhere. If you pop a zit in the mirror, wipe down the mirror afterwards …. So, basically, make yourself at home. But not really. … And try to do it in every room – you may not get the chance again for awhile.

    Well, the 9th hour of the Today Show is now on, which is my cue to hit the pool. Happy Memorial Day everyone!

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Jiggs May 28, 2012, 11:21 am

    Stay calm and be polite. I was in this same spot about 4 years ago – my husband and I flew across the country for a family wedding (his family). We’d been dating about 2 years at that point without me ever meeting them, and because it was a wedding everyone who’d ever been vaguely associated with them showed up. And I met them all!

    My advice is just relax; don’t get your expectations too high. Get your girlfriend to tell you a little about each person (not “Uncle Henry drinks”, more like “Uncle Henry really likes classic cars”). This will give you a good script to use: “Hi, Henry, nice to meet you! Girlfriend was telling me you’re really into classic cars. Do you have one of your own?” Replace names and interests as necessary. If there’s a conversation you don’t quite understand (maybe a family in-joke), feel free to ask about it. Often there’s a funny story there, and it’s a good way to break into a conversation that might not otherwise include you.

    Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and have a good time!

    Reply Link
  • katie

    katie May 28, 2012, 12:24 pm

    Just be yourself and be polite! That’s really all it is. Your girlfriend is with you because she thinks your great, so you have qualities her family/best friend would like… you have to assume that.

    Specifically, I would do what AP said above- help out with dinner, be especially clean, bring a gift, ect. If you can cook or do some special thing, like your grandmas famous muffins or something, that would earn you extra points if I was a family member.

    Reply Link
  • JK

    JK May 28, 2012, 12:47 pm

    I think everyone else has pretty much covered it… one thing I´d like to add is to respect the house rules: if Dad/Aunt says separate bedrooms, then accept that with no complaints (and no sneaking around after everyone has gone to bed).

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      GatorGirl May 29, 2012, 8:22 am

      I second this. It’s pretty lame to be 27 and living together and spending the night in seprate bedrooms when at the parents- but this is not the time to put up a fight. Especially since it’s the first time you met them.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    oldie May 28, 2012, 1:00 pm

    Avoid arguments on contentious political/social/religious topics. Treat your gf very well and without being hands all over her in public, make it clear how much you love and respect her. Her family and friends will be thinking foremost of whether or not you will make your gf happy and allow her room to grow. If they think you’re good for her, they will warm to you. If gf is always catering to you and her personality disappears around you and family, then they will assume that is how you and she are alone. The success of the visit really depends as much upon her behavior as yours.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    savannah May 28, 2012, 1:02 pm

    It would be great to know what type of family she has. Are they like mine and all up in your shit in or are they more reserved ‘lets not talk about politics or religion’ type (there are other types obviously, just mentioning some contrasting ones) . You say your family is wonderful but what does that mean to you? Keep in mind that definition will be different for different people. Also keep in mine your gf has gradually had time with your family so don’t feel bad if you don’t feel instantly connected or are turned off by one or two people. concentrate on the relationships that matter. If her dad and you don’t get along that needs to be addressed or at least thought about but if its you and racist great aunt tilly then I would not sweat it.

    Reply Link
  • Kristina

    Kristina May 28, 2012, 2:07 pm

    My family is very difficult to meet, and so that makes me nervous when meeting a boyfriend’s family, even if they are much easier to get along with than mine. And staying at someone else’s house when you’re just meeting them can be hard. Make a point of talking and getting to know everyone in the house and be polite, but don’t be too rigid that you can’t have fun.

    Also, at 5 months in a relationship, I would be pretty nervous to go meet everyone, especially a family reunion. I met my boyfriend’s grandparents 2 months into the relationship in the city where he grew up (I already knew his parents before we dated) and it didn’t go over very well because my boyfriend didn’t tell me how extremely religious his grandmother was. And I have 2 visible tattoos on my wrists, and I didn’t even think about covering them up. So if her family is really conservative, make sure you are presentable for that, or if they’re really open and like to talk about anything at dinner, be prepared. And if things don’t go over perfectly, that’s okay too. You have more opportunities to meet them.

    Reply Link
  • caitie_didnt

    caitie_didnt May 28, 2012, 4:31 pm

    I think it’s really cute (and awesome) that the LW is so concerned about making a good impression! I would say, LW, that if you’re this concerned, you’re probably on the right track to have an awesome visit. Just be polite, respectful, helpful, and yourself!

    Also: it would be good if you had an idea at least an idea of what her family is like, like Savannah mentioned, to get an idea of how you should dress and present yourself. Even things like- will you be going to church while you’re there? Do they all dress up for Sunday dinner? Also, every family has their drama and while you don’t need the whole story, it might be helpful for your GF to give you a rundown of 1). topics to stay away from 2). who is not speaking to who or 3). if there are any really offensive, inappropriate, or confrontational relatives so you can prepare accordingly.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    convexed May 28, 2012, 4:48 pm

    1. I second the ‘obey the house rules’ motion. Regardless of how old-fashioned, restrictive, or bizarre those rules seem, going along with them as if they’re obvious and easy to follow goes such a long way in establishing trust with her family. And don’t complain about them to your girlfriend, even if she would agree that they’re no fun. I had a boyfriend who constantly put me in that situation–he would go along with the rules, then tell me how unreasonable they were. I felt sleeping in separate rooms was silly, but at my parent’s house, and me as an adult, it’s about respect, and it really made me second-guess my relationship when my boyfriend criticized my family to me. Same goes for any other awkwardness, etc. If your girlfriend complains about her own family, listen, but don’t join in. In your words and actions demonstrate graciousness and open-mindedness and respect.

    2. When your girlfriend preps you on the types of awkward situations or differences of opinion that might come up, brainstorm how you might negotiate those moments. If a religious family member asks you if you’re religious and you aren’t, better to have a diplomatic evasion ready than to derail into an argument or sit there stammering and feel cornered.
    –“I have so much respect for people who live by their beliefs—I’m still exploring my own feelings about what I believe.”
    –“Oh, no worries. I slept on a couch my whole last year at college, so I’ll feel right at home.”
    –“Many of my friends are Democrats, but my favorite professor in college was a libertarian, and he gave me a lot to think about”.
    Etc. It seems very robotic and weird, but polite, slightly non-communicative phrases like these can diffuse potentially tense situations and show the family that you are committed to getting along and finding common ground. This first meeting is not the time for them to learn the depths and complexities of your soul, or to accept you despite your unconventional philosophies, etc. It’s the ice-breaker, the time to demonstrate that you are a decent, gracious, appreciative person, someone they would like a chance to continue the conversation with at another time.

    *before bringing food or alcohol gifts, double check with girlfriend about any allergies/diet restrictions/dry household precautions you should take.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      EricaSwagger May 29, 2012, 6:27 pm

      “This first meeting is not the time for them to learn the depths and complexities of your soul, or to accept you despite your unconventional philosophies, etc.”

      So true. You have to first be accepted before people start to care about who you “really” are. Work on getting accepted first, then worry about being yourself.

      It’s sad, but people judge, especially the person their daughter/granddaughter/etc is bringing home. Hopefully you’ll be walking into an accepting group of people, but it’s always possible you won’t be, so make sure you’re prepared.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    convexed May 28, 2012, 4:58 pm

    To clarify, I’m not advocating lying or not being yourself. If someone says something truly, deeply, horrifyingly offensive, of course you can tactfully stand up for yourself or others. You don’t have to pretend you support the re-institution of Jim Crow laws, for instance, just to make a nice impression.

    Be yourself, but be a smoothed over version that prioritizes the overall harmony of the visit over asserting your own personality.

    Even as a feminist non-believing social progressive, I’ve known preachers I wholeheartedly admire, have bought the books of the great white male writers, etc. It’s like 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. No matter what bizarre thing someone believes, you can find a way to redirect the moment in a positive way.

    Great Aunt: “I am scared of anyone who isn’t white!”
    You: “I see. Well, race is still such a complicated issue in America. I’m just going to see if they need help in the kitchen. Would you like me to grab you some more prune juice while I’m in there?”

    Dad: “I collect guns. I collect all the guns I can. The government is gonna kick down our doors and take our money. I need guns, for when that happens.”
    You: “Wow. I have to say, I’ve never even fired a gun, maybe because I grew up in the suburbs. I really wish I’d had a great big yard like this one though. Where did you grow up?”

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      Addie Pray May 28, 2012, 6:56 pm

      Good advice. I fall in your line of politics/religion/whatever you call it, and I handle old bigots/racists relatives of friends (and hell my own) just like that. Or I just never see them. Whichever is more appropriate.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    DMR May 28, 2012, 6:47 pm

    1. Always compliment the cooking. Always say thank you, for everything, no matter how small.
    2. do little chores, spontaneously. help with the cleaning up after meals (no, not a half-hearted “need any help?” from the sofa)
    3. avoid all arguments
    4. NEVER criticize her (even in humor). Treat her like a princess, because they think she’s one too.
    5. Always defend her. Always take her side.
    6. …. unless it’s her parents, in which case sometimes it can really work in your favor to (gently) take their side over her.
    7. be nice to everyone. Be, at minimum, cordial to people who she doesn’t get along with; you haven’t earned the right to be an ass to anyone. This is a common rookie mistake.
    8. Always compliment the cooking; (yes, I know I already said this one)
    9. With any luck, these people are your new best friends and your new family. Treat them accordingly.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      Addie Pray May 28, 2012, 6:54 pm

      10. Do it in every room. (Sorry, I really felt like you needed a No. 10, and this piece of advice is critical because clearly the next time they’re at her house could be in, like, forever.)

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        PFG-SCR May 28, 2012, 7:58 pm

        But, don’t get caught doing it in every room!!

        Don’t set their house on fire…personal experience. People tend to remember that.

        Link
      • avatar

        Addie Pray May 28, 2012, 11:11 pm

        Oooh, tell us about that.

        Link
      • avatar

        applescruff May 29, 2012, 10:49 am

        Yes, tell us about that!

        Link
  • avatar

    GTR May 28, 2012, 11:08 pm

    Value everyone you meet for themselves. Try, as best you can, you take a genuine interest in the people who are important to your girlfriend.

    Giving the impression that you are just being nice to them because of your girlfriend is the KISS OF DEATH. If you manage to give the impression that you’d be just as interested in them if your girlfriend wasn’t around, they’ll lap it up.

    Reply Link
  • Leroy

    Leroy May 29, 2012, 1:54 am

    Ignore them and say nothing.

    If you must speak, memorize a few lines from the movie 300 and recite them with INTENSITY.

    mom: would you like some more cabbage roll?
    you : I WILL TAKE FROM YOU EVERYTHING AND GIVE YOU NOTHING!!

    This will establish the appropriate distance in your relationship with her family, now and in the future.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    GatorGirl May 29, 2012, 8:25 am

    Since you’re going to be there for so long, carve out a day or an afternoon for just the two of you to do something. You’re going to need a few minutes to get away from all of the family time and decrompress.

    And as all the posts above said- clean up after yourself, offer to help out, sleep at similar times as everyone else, mind your manors, and avoid sensitive subjects. And breathe.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    evanscr05 May 29, 2012, 8:42 am

    Meeting an SO’s family is really no different than meeting anyone else. Just be yourself, but the kindest, most polite, version of yourself. Ask her questions about possible common interests you might share with people, or if there is something someone is really into that you can read up on, so you have some talking points to keep the conversations flowing. Don’t overshare too much about your life (i.e., negative things like family dynamics should be discussed minimally, or not at all) when they ask inevitable questions, but share enough that they feel like they have an opportunity to get to know this person she has chosen to be with. Find out if there are any particular family members that is is really important to impress. When I met my husband’s family, he warned me that his grandmother was the matriarch of the family and it was of the utmost importance that she like me. She had HATED his ex, which made family gatherings uncomfortable somewhat, so I was super nervous about whether she would like me. When I met her, I made sure I asked her lots of questions about herself, her travels, things she was interested in. Piece of cake, and really no different than meeting anyone. She loved me, which I was grateful for, not only because I wanted her to like me so badly, but because in asking about her, I learned a lot her and became incredibly fond of her from the very beginning. Don’t be fake, but certainly put your best foot forward. Perhaps bring a small token of appreciation for allowing you into their homes for a couple of weeks. Nerves are completely normal, but I’m sure you’ll be jut fine.

    Reply Link
  • rilooyah

    rilooyah May 29, 2012, 8:44 am

    I agree w all the great advice above. And the more informed you are the better. Pump your gf for info- idiosynracies, likes/dislikes, all of it.

    The last guy I dated took me to his parents’ house for a Thanksgiving ‘brunch’ thing that I thought would be me, him, and the parents. It was all of us + 5 cousins, a niece, pregnant cousin’s gf, and 2 uncles. When I asked him in the car on the way to my parents’ for dinner he was all, “oh, didn’t I tell you? And you never asked.”

    Yeah, we broke up by New Years.

    Be informed.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    applescruff May 29, 2012, 10:51 am

    My dad still talks about this guy I dated in college who helped my stepmother carry in the groceries when she got home from the store at the same time he came over. Always help, LW, always help. Carry things, clear the table, do the dishes. It always works on my dad.

    Reply Link

Leave a Comment