The holidays provide a prime opportunity for you to meet your boyfriend's family, and after the this-is-serious excitement passes, you may start to feel nervous. It can be intimidating to meet so many people at once, especially since every family has different traditions and particulars. By communicating with your boyfriend in advance and avoiding difficult conversation topics, you can get to know your boyfriend's family comfortably over dinner. Beyond the basics of being yourself, here's what you can do to prepare yourself for the encounter.
I'm horrible with names and was to meet my husband's extended family for the first time just a few days before our wedding. Worried that I'd forget names or offend someone, I asked my future husband about the basics: names, occupations and specific topics to cover or avoid.
If you function best in bookworm mode, conduct a short interview with your significant other. Study and take notes before the holiday gathering!
When I met my future mother-in-law, she said, "Please, call me Linda." I knew she was comfortable with me using her first name from then on and I felt immediately comfortable addressing her. However, you might get: "Honey, this is my mom," and then you're left wondering what to call her. Avoid this by asking your partner what to call his parent(s) before you even get to the gathering.
Most people won't expect you to remember names and it's socially acceptable to ask a second time for a name. However, studying a "cheat sheet" might make you feel more relaxed. It's natural to feel scrutinized during such an occasion.
Additionally, you can prepare some key conversation pieces about yourself. Talk about things that make you feel comfortable and reveal some information about yourself: hobbies, pets and career are usually safe topics.
When I first met my future mother-in-law, my husband was already at the house. This made the introduction very smooth, but it might have been a bit awkward if I had showed up before him.
You can avoid this awkwardness by arriving at the holiday party location with your significant other or asking him to text you once he gets there -- that way you know he's already present and ready to make the introductions.
Mind your manners-and bring something!
Always mind your manners, and don't forget that some families value particular manners over others. My family never cared much about "elbows on the table," but it's a big deal in other households.
You can also start a friendly conversation by bringing something to the occasion, such as a bottle of wine or a dessert.
Before you hit the liquor store or start baking, check with your boyfriend to ensure that such a gift is appropriate. (Don't make peanut butter brownies if someone in the household is allergic; don't bring wine if a family member has an alcohol problem.)
Similarly, it's considered polite to mention your own dietary restrictions or preferences. If you're a vegetarian, make sure your boyfriend passes along that information so your host doesn't feel awkward when she serves you a plate of meatloaf.
I was fortunate enough to marry into a family without rigid standards when it comes to manners, but I am glad I made a confident and polite first impression.
Avoid conversation killers
Meeting your boyfriend's family is like a first date or a job interview. While it might be OK to hint at some things like wanting a family, discussing religion and politics is out of the question. You can take extra precautions by having tactful responses prepared.
I'm not very good at coming up with these since I'm pretty passionate about politics, so I usually consult a friend or family member before attending an event with attendees who possess opposing viewpoints.
Show genuine interest
Showing genuine interest in guests' lives is a wonderful way to encourage conversation and avoid those dreadful topics.
When I first met my mother-in-law, I quickly learned that she was a dog lover and a Pennsylvania native -- things we have in common. This made conversation easy and without controversy.
This is a particularly helpful tactic if there are kids at the table. You can ask questions like "What grade are you in?" or "What activities do you do after school?"
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