Maybe you’re head over heels, 100 percent in love with this girl, or maybe the two of you decided that spending the holidays together would be a fun next step in your relationship. Either way, the inevitable is coming: It’s time to meet her parents.
Sure, it's something that all of us who choose to date have to go through at some point, but meeting the parents becomes an entirely new beast when you’re not straight. What if her parents are totally uncool with their daughter dating a girl? What if they’re awkward? How gay should you act?
Don’t worry, nervous collegiettes; we’ve got your back. With the help of etiquette expert Jodi RR Smith and relationship specialist and counselor Christina Spaccavento, we have seven tips to guide you before you head off to meet the parents!
1. Talk to your partner beforehand
No one knows your partner’s parents better than your partner. Maybe they seem hardcore conservative but are actually totally inclusive, or maybe it’s the total opposite. Instead of planning for battle or going in blind, it’s a good call to express your nervousness to your partner and to trust her to be honest with you.
This will also help you figure out just how “out” you should be. If things really are a battleground at home, it may be best to avoid being handsy at the dinner table. Setting boundaries ahead of time is a good call so that any bad situations can be prevented. Let your partner know what you’re worried about. That way, if something comes up in the moment, you can give your partner a look or send her a quick text telling her you feel uncomfortable with something her parents did or said. You deserve to feel safe and comfortable in this new situation.
Spaccavento, who has experience working with LGBTQ+ couples, says, “When interacting with less-than-supportive parents, it is essential to be a unified team. Talking about your values and boundaries as a couple and coming to a decision together about parent behaviors that you're happy to let slide and other behaviors that just aren't okay is the best way to protect the relationship and ensure both partners feel mutually supported and loved.”
2. Be respectful and polite
In the same vein, no matter what your partner’s parents’ political stances are, you still want to remain respectful of them as the parents of the person you’re in love with. You may not end up being best friends, but it’s really important to establish a mutual neutrality if nothing else. Show respect by being culturally sensitive, being polite and watching your language.
“Use the salutations that you feel are fitting to the situation, but recognize and respect whatever the parent tells you to call them,” says Nicky, a senior collegiette who met her girlfriend’s parents this past summer. “Speak how you were raised, but respect whatever is asked of you and try not to make any assumptions. Be safe rather than sorry.”
It can be difficult to avoid seeming forced in your politeness. Smith, author of The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners, says, “If you are relaxed and confident, then the politeness is not forced. Being polite means being your best self.”
Bringing a gift can also be a way to get things started on a positive note. “A gift is a token of your appreciation for their hospitality,” Smith says. “A homemade treat, box of chocolates, flowers or bottle of wine are all easy options. If there are younger siblings, it is worth extra points to bring a little toy for them as well.”
We all know how awkward it is to run into conflicts in someone else’s home, and we wouldn’t want you to run into a bad situation with your partner because you were rude to her parents.
3. Don’t be anyone you’re not
While meeting the parents may be all types of terrifying, at some point or another your true self will come out. You may as well get all of it out there at the first meeting. While it may not be the best idea to curse like a sailor or launch into a rant about your radical political views, you’re not doing yourself any favors if you decide to play the role of super-girly sweetheart if you’re more butch and prefer sarcasm over all other forms of communication.
Spaccavento says, “When meeting your girlfriend's parents for the first time, it is always fundamental to be yourself. Having said that, it is always a good idea to brush up on your general etiquette and conversational skills so that you feel prepared to handle any situation. And make sure you are showered, shampooed and shined for the occasion. Being well dressed (in whatever your style is) and good personal grooming is always a must.”
You’re important enough to your girlfriend to be brought home to the parents. Keep this in mind in case any self-doubt tries to cloud your thoughts!
Looking to get an in with the parents? Talk yourself up.
“Don’t shy away from the good things,” Nicky says. “Don’t be afraid to say what you’re good at. Let you partner’s parents know your future goals. It’s important that they hear about you from you, and not just from your partner.”
At the same time, though, it can be difficult to talk yourself up without seeming conceited. Smith recommends finding a balance.
“The easiest way not to brag is to answer the question fully and completely without going on and on, thereby allowing the other person to follow up,” Smith says. “[For example, if the parent asks] ‘What activities do you do at school?’ you can follow up with, ‘I sing in the coed choir, run track and work at college newspaper.’ If the parent says, ‘Oh, what do you do at the newspaper?’ you can state, ‘I started as a reporter, and this year I am the editor.’”
All parents want their kid to be with someone who is truly good for their child, and by showing off your best qualities, you’re definitely taking a step in the right direction. Talk about the community service you engage in, what you’re studying, your hobbies and anything you feel committed to. Build yourself up as a human, not just the person dating their daughter.
Additionally, be sure to ask questions about your girlfriend’s parents and to be engaged beyond listing off a dozen things you’re great at.
5. Find your allies
During the holiday season, if you’re meeting the parents, you’re probably meeting other family members, too—potentially beyond your partner’s immediate family. This can be really helpful, because even in a more conservative family, you may be able to find an ally in the crowd. When talking to your partner beforehand, ask if there’s anyone you can count on to help you navigate any awkwardness.
“When I took my girlfriend to a family wedding, I found the most progressive people in my family and made sure that both parties were aware of the other and how they were connected to me,” Nicky says. “I offered my girlfriend conversation starters that would help her connect to these family members.”
Whether this means befriending a hardcore ally or finding a member of your partner’s family who identifies as LGBTQ+ (whether openly or more privately), feeling connected to someone beyond your partner can help you feel less alone in this new territory.
6. Kick your nervous habits
We all have those nervous habits that can be off-putting in introductory meetings. Don’t play around on your phone just because you feel awkward. Nervous habits you express as a result of being shy could be interpreted as you being rude or stuck up. The same goes for biting your nails or playing with your hair at the table.
It may be helpful to just try to pay attention to your nervous habits. Figure out what they are (or ask people close to you) so you can be aware of them and prepared to avoid them. Keep your phone off or put it in your bag. You may also find it helpful to ask your partner to give you a signal if it’s time to tone it down—nothing like an eyebrow raise to help you shut down your anxious cackle.
“It is always a good idea to be in the right mood and frame of mind before meeting your girlfriend's parents,” Spaccavento says. “So make sure that you are well rested, have had ample time to get ready and factor in enough travel time to be punctual to the meeting.”
While coming up with specific topics of conversation beforehand can seem too forced, thinking about what you do and don’t feel comfortable talking about may be a good call. Spaccavento says, “Thinking about your personal boundaries and which aspects of yourself you would be happy to share with your girlfriend's parents is also important. So, you'll probably be more than happy to answer questions about your pet schnoodle, but might want to steer clear of any probing into your past relationships. And if you know that you can get a little tongue-tied with new people, having a few interesting and engaging conversation starters is a good idea.”
7. Know that her parents are probably nervous, too
While it may seem like you’re at a total disadvantage in the situation, you’re the outsider entering someone else’s home and being given access to all types of personal information. You can bet that the parents are wondering what you’ve heard about them (is it good? Or is it bad?) and if their home stacks up to what you’re used to. You’re being given the chance to make some judgment calls on this first meeting, and that isn’t something to take lightly.
Help the parents love you (and stress out a little bit less) by following their rules. Smith says, “Whether you are straight or LGBTQ, the same guidelines of respect apply. If the parents have you sleeping in separate rooms/spaces, you should retire to those assigned spots and emerge in the morning from those assigned spots. What goes on in between is no one else’s business but yours.”
On top of being a rule-follower, break the ice by making a joke addressing the awkwardness, or, if you’re not so funny, breeze right past it. Ask the parents questions, like how they met or what their interests are. One thing to remember is that your girlfriends’ parents are just people, just like you are. Bring your sparkling personality to the table and give your partner’s parents a chance to love you for the very same reasons that your partner does.
It’s also very possible that your girlfriend’s parents are still new to the idea of her dating a girl, so this meeting can help you ease them into the idea. “This is a tough one when you are already starting on the back foot, but a great way to connect with your girlfriend's parents is to connect with them on something they like,” Spaccavento says. “This will show them that there is some common ground that you share and help them to see that you are a normal person, just like anyone else!”
We hope that these tips help you out when you’re getting ready to meet your girlfriend’s parents. What advice do you have for LGBTQ+ collegiettes heading out to meet the parents? Let us know in the comments below!