Spring is here, and love is in the air. You’ve found someone special, and now it’s time to meet the extended family. An introduction to the in-laws can certainly be nerve-racking, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow these eight tips, and you’re sure to be welcomed back for all the family game nights you can handle.
First impressions are formed in a matter of seconds but can take years to undo. Your appearance is the first thing your new-found relatives will notice, so dress to impress. Begin by leaving your miniskirts or muscle shirts at home and by not going overboard with makeup or cologne. You’ll also want to consider both the occasion and the audience. If you’re meeting at a backyard BBQ on the family farm, nice jeans and a casual top should do just fine (don’t forget to wear sensible shoes!). If it’s a formal dinner, you’ll want to step it up a few notches and include extras like jewellery or a suit jacket and tie. When in doubt, aim for business casual; you’ll look professional but approachable at the same time.
Having concrete plans helps all parties arrive prepared. Instead of casually planning to “stop by sometime on Friday,” determine a specific time and place that suits everyone in the group. Once you’ve made plans, commit. Don’t blow them off to reschedule for another day, and do not be late.
Showing up knowing nothing about your future family members can make you appear uninterested or worse, particularly if there are cultural or religious differences to consider. Ask your partner to fill you in on the important details. What are some of their hobbies and interests? What about pet peeves? How do they like to be greeted? Are they huggers or hand-shakers? Formal or laissez-faire? If they come from a foreign country, conduct a little research so you can at the very least place it on the map. Find out about any special customs or social faux-pas. It’s not necessary to become an expert on each family member before you’re introduced, but learning a bit about them ahead of time indicates that you’re thoughtful.
It doesn’t need to be extravagant, but showing up to an event with a gift for the host is just Basic Etiquette 101. Remember Step 3? A little research will come in handy here as well. If you’re not sure what to bring, talk to your partner and do a little digging, especially if there are cultural differences at play. A nice bottle of wine might go far at your Italian nona’s house, but will be less appreciated if your hosts turn out to be non-drinkers.
It goes without saying that politeness is
paramount. You know the rules: say please and thank-you. Be nice to everyone (yes, even to that politically incorrect uncle). Make eye contact when speaking with someone, and be aware of your body language. Address your potential future parents by their preferred names, whether those are first names or formal titles. If you’re not sure what to call them, just ask! It will show that you are considerate of their feelings.
Throughout the night, offer to help—if they decline the offer, insist. Whether it’s setting the table, washing the dishes or keeping Grandma entertained at the cards table, your efforts will be appreciated. And don’t be glued to your smartphone all night—there will be plenty of future dinners to Instagram when you’re invited back. Lastly, don’t even think about leaving without properly thanking your hosts.
Conversation is a two-way street; it involves active listening and participation between at least two people. While your in-laws will certainly want to know what you’re all about, this isn’t the time to monologue about your complex family history and all your hopes and fears. Talking about yourself the whole time can make you appear conceited. Instead, make sure there is ample back and forth in the discussion and—whatever you do—don’t get wrapped up in controversial conversations about politics, religion or ex-relationships. If someone does say something inflammatory, bite your tongue. This isn’t the time to get into a heated debate about the feminist agenda with Aunt Ethel. If it helps, avoid drinking too much (or any) alcohol, lest your loosened tongue start getting you into trouble.
You’ve already done your research, now put it to work! Sharing common interests can help create positive bonds, so talk to your in-laws about their hobbies and goals. What activities could you share with your new brothers and sisters? What common ground do you have with their parents? Talk to them about the admiration you have for your partner’s talents, and ask questions about his or her childhood. Bonus points if you get Mom to pull out the childhood photo album! You can also compliment their living space, their cooking, their well-manicured lawn…just don’t lay it on too thickly or you might come off as a suck-up.
Authenticity is attractive. We all want to share the best version of ourselves when meeting people we are trying to impress; sometimes, it can be tempting to over-act. Don’t exaggerate accomplishments or worry too much about having different points of view. If you’re trying so hard to please them that you’re losing your sense of self, you’ll seem like a phony. So relax. Breathe. Remember that everyone is human. And, most importantly, try to have a little fun. t8n