I sure do love the holidays. But for those of you who are officially meeting the parents--and the extended family--of your new girlfriend or boyfriend for the first time, I know that the holiday anticipation can quickly turn into stress. But relax, my friends. I’ve come to the rescue with a handy guide that will have you not only surviving the holiday unscathed, but also wowing your partners 'rents. Take copious notes!
1. Get the inside scoop beforehand.
This is very important. Before you even go over there, talk to your partner about family dynamics so you can prep yourself for success. Ask your partner who they expect will be there, get their names and descriptions, and ask for some details on key people so you can be better equipped to start conversations. For instance, is cousin Eric the Guitar Hero pro? Does Aunt Maria make the best stuffing west of the Mississippi? Did Uncle Jim just recently achieve a company award or did sister Stacy just come back from a trip to France? Get some details down, and you’ll be sure to impress when you throw them into conversation. Also, ask your partner if there are any other ways in which you should prepare. For instance, will you have to answer 20 questions from Dad? Should you tread lightly on the topic of work around Eric, who recently lost his job? Should you not ask about Aunt Gina’s relationship because it’s “sensitive"? If you know these things beforehand, you can avoid potentially embarrassing and awkward situations that might leave you outside the “circle of trust.”
2. Dress up, dress classy & dress conservatively.
Okay, I know that a freshly starched button-down collared shirt or tapered dress isn’t half as comfortable as jeans and a T, or your tattered punk clothes, but SUCK IT UP and suit up! This isn’t the time for cutting corners and opting for comfort. No matter what kind of family it is--and even if you’re visiting a family that lives in a farm--as a general rule of thumb, and as my mother so lovingly ingrained in me, “It’s always better to overdress than under-dress.” Select your outfit for the big day a few days beforehand, and make sure you get the stamp of approval from your partner so you can have time to go shopping for some new threads in case it doesn’t get the thumbs up.
Your goal is to fit in with the family’s style as much as possible. For men, you can’t really go wrong with a button-down collared shirt and khakis, black slacks or nice jeans. For women, this isn’t the time to let the fam see how sexy you can look or show off your newly-tanned midriff. The look you want to achieve is classy, wholesome, and conservative yet comfortable. Showing any midriff or cleavage or sporting your stilettos and a mini is like a kiss of death to man’s mother. Show him you’re the kind of girl he can bring home to momma by toning it down and wearing a cute and classy dress with a cardigan or nice pants and a sweater if it’s cold.
3. BRING something to the occasion – the token Guest Gift.
This shows thoughtfulness, appreciation and class. You really can’t go wrong with a bottle of nice red or white wine (don’t go cheapo here, especially in case they’re wine connoisseurs – opt for a bottle in the $15-$40 range, it’s worth it). Pair it with a nice hand-written note thanking them for having you in their home, and perhaps even a small but thoughtful gift such as a plant or flowers. If you’re a woman, bring homemade cookies or dessert (or if you don’t cook, you can buy some, but homemade will give you extra ‘brownie points.”)
4. Be extra mindful of your manners.
I hate to state the obvious, but you’d be surprised how often these things slip when you’re not realizing it or when you’re so nervous about impressing the fam. As a reminder: Always say please and thank you, don’t get more than one course of food unless everyone else is (and always let family serve themselves first) and keep your space neat! This includes making your bed or the couch in the morning. Don’t sleep in – make sure you’re up at the same time or earlier as everyone else so you’re not known as “Sleepy Sam.”
5. Offer to Help.
Here’s another big one, and one that lots of mothers often test for (mine especially – this is considered a ‘red flag’ when someone’s poor date forgets to do this!). Offer to help whenever possible. So when they’re cooking the meal, go into the kitchen and ask if there’s anything you could do to help. When they start clearing dishes after the meal, get up and help them clear dishes or sincerely offer to help. Offer to help them clean up afterward or just pick up a sponge yourself and go at it.
6. Bond with the family.
Make sure you’re friendly and social and talk to every one of the family members (or at least make a genuine effort to). Twelve-year-old cousin Nicky isn’t any less important and when others see you talking to every person, you’ll score major points. Spend a little time getting to know each person and asking about their interests, connecting with them on some level, and trying to find things in common or that you could offer your knowledge about or bond about. If you keep to yourself or just with your partner, others will definitely take notice and you’ll come across cold and anti-social. I don ‘t care if you’re shy or suffer from “social anxiety,” MAKE AN EFFORT. But of all people you’ll talk to, the key people that are the most important to bond with if you’re a woman are the mother, and sisters; and if you’re a guy, her father and brothers. These are who I call the ‘Gate-keepers’! Some key pointers to get in good with the Gatekeepers:
- a. When talking to Brothers or Dad: Look them in the eye when you’re talking to them. Try to find out their interests and see if you guys have some things in common. Don’t dodge alone time with any of them, use it as an opportunity to bond. Pick up a pool stick and join them if that’s where the boys are or join them in poker or football.
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