Okay, fine. While meeting your boyfriend’s parents is definitely an exciting and necessary step in a relationship that looks like it’s headed for marriage, it’s also an utterly daunting and terrifying prospect. What if they don’t like you? What if you don’t like them?
What if you break their million-dollar antique tea set, or use your dessert fork instead of your salad one? What if you spill jam on the dog, or accidentally trip while out for a walk and fall in the mud and have to wear his sister’s too-small Rolling Stones sweatshirt and a pair of weird pajama bottoms, all of which gives his parents the wrong impression even though the clothes don’t even belong to you? And what if all this makes your boyfriend rethink your entire relationship because what kind of person doesn’t know about forks?
Weird nightmare scenarios aside, it’s scary to think about meeting your boyfriend’s parents because, presumably, he cares deeply about their opinion. Being married to someone whose parents hate you is a frightening prospect. So you’re eager to make a good impression. But how? How can you ensure that the first meeting between you and your potential in-laws goes off without a hitch? Here are a few tips:
1. Be Yourself
That sounds corny, I know, but it’s good advice. You might feel the temptation, when meeting your boyfriend’s parents, to act the way you think they want you to act. Maybe they’re very wealthy, but you grew up less well off, so you think you need to act more “genteel.” Maybe they love dogs so you think you should pretend to love them too, even though you’re kind of terrified of them and much prefer cats. Whether or not pretending to be more like your future in-laws will help them to like you better, it’s never a good idea to be fake or insincere, especially in this situation.
If you do end up marrying your boyfriend, his parents are going to be a part of your lives in one way or another. You can’t keep up an act forever. If you’ve been pretending to be quiet and demure when really you’re intellectually passionate and eager for a friendly debate, visits with his parents are going to become increasingly difficult to handle. Plus, there may be times — particularly after you have children — when you need to (politely) put your foot down and assert yourself. This will be much more jarring for everyone if it seems like your true feelings are coming totally out of left field.
It’s never a good idea to be fake or insincere.
Also — and most importantly — your boyfriend fell in love with you because you’re you! So that’s exactly who you should be when he brings you home. This is not to say that you should loudly proclaim all the ways you’re different from his parents or run down things that they love. But you can find ways to gently show them who it is their son has fallen for.
Instead of pretending you love dogs, for example, tell them you’re a little frightened, but you’re willing to get to know their dog for their sake. Then tell them about your adorable cat and express the unifying notion that pets are wonderful. Tell them what a beautiful table setting they have and confess that you’re not sure which fork is which. Tell them about the kinds of foods your own mother cooks and how much you appreciate her hard work. Be open and interested in who your future in-laws are and what they love, but don’t pretend you’re just like them if you’re not.
2. Be Respectful and Polite
This might seem like a no-brainer too, but it’s worth mentioning. While you certainly shouldn’t pretend to be someone you’re not, or act in ways that don’t come naturally to you, you also shouldn’t write off his parents or run them down for being different than you are. These are the people who raised the man you love, and for that — regardless of how you end up feeling about them as people — you owe them your respect.
These are the people who raised the man you love, and for that you owe them your respect.
When you first meet them (even if you’re feeling terrified) be sure to make eye contact, shake their hands (unless, of course, they’re huggers), and smile. It’s always a good idea to bring a gift — something for the home is always nice, like a basket of jams, or some pretty dish towels — and present it to them after you’ve said hello. Compliment them on their home, tell them how much you love their son, and thank them for having you over.
Be sure to offer to help whenever possible. If his mother is making a meal, offer to lend a hand. If you know nothing about cooking or setting the table, or whatever it is she asks you to do, confess this to her and allow her to teach you. When everyone is done, clear the table (or the teacups or whatever’s out) without being asked, and be sure to compliment the chef. All these things will signal that you’re serious about their son and respectful of their role in his life.
3. Remember That You and His Parents Don’t Have To Love Each Other
In an ideal world, you and your boyfriend’s parents will become the best of friends. They’ll be like second parents to you, and they’ll regard you as the daughter they never had (or whatever). But, in reality, that isn’t always the case. In-laws can be difficult. And the relationship between a mother and the new important woman in her son’s life is often strained. Remember that for your marriage to be successful, you don’t have to love your in-laws (nor they you). You just have to find a way to tolerate each other.
Remember that for your marriage to be successful, you don’t have to love your in-laws (nor they you).
The most important relationship in this scenario is the one between you and your future husband. He’s no longer a child, and if he’s choosing to marry you, it’s the relationship that the two of you share that needs to take precedence now. (In fact, if he’s having a hard time understanding this, you may want to think carefully about whether he’s ready for marriage.) The two of you don’t have to cut all ties with his parents if they end up disliking you for some reason. As long as your future husband stands up for you, instead of them, you can make things work.
If you find yourself instantly disliking his parents — or you think they’ve taken an instant dislike to you — try not to panic. Keep being respectful and polite and trying not to compromise your true self. Get through the first meeting and then check in with your boyfriend to see what his impression was. Be honest with him about how you felt it went (without running down his parents or making him feel like you hate them) and strategize with him about what to do next. It may take time, but you and your partner can work together to find a way for everyone to coexist.
Meeting your boyfriend’s parents is an exciting step, but it’s also frightening. Giving his parents the respect they deserve and giving them the opportunity to get to know the real you will stand you in good stead. If you don’t hit it off right away, don’t worry. Relationships with in-laws are often rocky. If the love you share with your future husband is strong, and he puts your relationship first, you’ll find your way forward.