The end of the semester is here and whether you’re excited or dreading it, it’s time to meet your boyfriend’s parents. Nervous might not begin to explain what you’re feeling, but don’t sweat. We’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts that you must follow when coming face-to-face with your boyfriend’s parents for the first time.
DO dress appropriately
First impressions are important and part of that is how you dress.
“A night out with the girls and meeting the parents are two different occasions,” warns Mariah Moses, a collegiette at Virginia State University.
Ask your boyfriend how conservative his parents are. You don’t want to offend anyone by showing too much skin or wearing attire with images or language that might be seen as rude. You might want to avoid clothing that promotes violence or is overtly sexual. To be safe, lean on the conservative side until you get to know them better.
If you’re meeting at a fancy restaurant, wear an appropriate dress. Don’t wear stilettos if you’re expected to do a lot of walking. This is important, as Emma*, a student at Skidmore College, discovered.
“My ex-boyfriend lives on a horse farm, but when I went to meet his parents for the first time I forgot to bring any shoes that were good for trekking through the dirt. I had to borrow my ex’s little sister’s shoes. I definitely gave the first impression that I was high-maintenance and it took a while to convince his parents that I really wasn’t!”
DON’T arrive late to meet them
As previously mentioned, first impressions are everything and being late is not a good one. Running in looking flushed from the sprint you just did to arrive on time might not make a good impression either. Give yourself enough time to get ready. Coming early is better than coming late. Arriving late, sweaty and out of breath can also increase any self-consciousness or nerves you may have. Giving yourself a good fifteen minute cushion can be enough to calm those pre-meeting nerves.
DO some research beforehand
He’s probably told them a little about you, so it’s good to be familiar with some general facts about them. Don’t be afraid to ask your boyfriend for some information on his parents; he obviously wants you to make a good impression, too. Ask him about their quirks or pet peeves so you can avoid doing anything to annoy them.
“Before I met my ex-boyfriend’s parents, he told me that his dad had OCD and liked to keep things in a specific order,” says Cassidy* from Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Not only should you ask about their expectations, you should also know little things about them that you could bring up, should there be a lull in conversation. Use these little facts to your advantage: “So, Jenson tells me you recently got a promotion. Congrats!” or “I heard you love Downton Abbey. What did you think of the finale?”
This shows that you are interested in their lives and gives the impression that you are looking for a connection.
DON’T be culturally insensitive
If your significant other’s family is of a different culture, make sure to learn about what is culturally acceptable and what is considered disrespectful.
“In some cultures it is rude to do certain things. For example, in many Asian cultures it’s rude to tell a host or hostess that you don’t like the food or do any kind of complaining. If they ask you if you’d like more, generally you take it,” says Elise*, a collegiette from Mount Holyoke College.
It’s important to show that you’re at least making an effort to understand the culture. Even if your boyfriend’s parents are not of a different ethnic background, the same advice could apply for religion. Get to know what their spiritual beliefs are (if they have any). Even if you know they follow a certain religion (like Christianity or Islam), religions can have different denominations where traditions and beliefs can vary.
DO bring a gift (if you’re visiting their home)
If you are invited over for dinner, you can never go wrong with a little gift, just as long as it is just that—little.
“If you’re going for dinner it’s polite to take something like a box of chocolates or flowers or a bottle of wine,” says Elise.
Alicia Thomas from Pennsylvania State University admits to being nervous about meeting her boyfriend’s parents for the first time.
“I really liked him and wanted to make a good impression, so I came prepared,” she says. “I arrived at their house with a bottle of red wine and a juicy bone for the family dog (with a big red bow on it since it was his birthday!), which his parents loved.”
She also left a thank-you card that went down well with his parents. “I think little stuff like this can leave a great impression, and they’ve told me numerous times since that I’m welcome in their home anytime!” she says.
DO be polite, but DON’T be dishonest
Simple manners never got anyone in trouble. “Please” and “thank you” never go out of style, but Elise warns not to be too polite, to the point where you compromise your own comfort. “If anything makes you feel uncomfortable then say so! Hiding it will make it worse. For example, if you have allergies and his parents have seven dogs, then you should probably say something.”
You should also be wary of complimenting for the purpose of flattering. Never say anything you don’t mean. Yes, compliment the cooking, the decor of the house or his mom’s dress—but only if it comes from an honest place. Flattery may win some people over, but some can see straight through false praise. The last thing you want to do is come off as fake.
DO be yourself, but DON’T overshare
Sometimes nerves can get in the way of showing your true personality.
“It’s scary and intimidating because you want to be liked,” admits Claudia Martinez, a student at British Columbia Institute of Technology.
If you pretend to be someone you’re not, you’re doing yourself a disservice. They will be missing out on getting to know the real you. After all, they want to meet the girl that their son has fallen for, not a false version of her.
If you tend to be a naturally open person, although that may be part of your personality, you might want to tone it down for the first meeting.
A first meeting with the parents is just like a first date with a guy—don’t overshare! Don’t talk about your exes, your sex life or any past criminal history. Keep the conversation light, and don’t share any stories about the last time you had bowel problems, especially around the dinner table.
DO show your admiration for their son but DON’T pile on the PDA
Yes, laugh at his jokes and say nice things about him. Let his parents know how much you adore their son… just don’t take it too far.
A little cuddling or hand-holding might be cute, but don’t get carried away. You don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. That means no making out or touching in inappropriate places!
“My ex-guy’s parents are religious, so I knew that we should respect their beliefs towards sex before marriage,” says Cassidy. “The most he did around them was put his arm around my shoulder. We maybe hugged, but that’s it.”
DO offer to help out
The last impression you want to give is a lazy one. Offer to help set the table or wash the dishes if you’re at their home. Even if they refuse your help, at least you asked.
“When I stayed with my boyfriend’s parents, I was too shy to offer to help wash the dishes. Eventually, his father called me out on it… jokingly, but still. I should have just done it,” says Cassidy.
Not only would offering to help prep or clean up show that you are respectful of the time and effort they put into meeting you, but it could be considered rude if you don’t offer to help out in some way. Not all people will find it rude if a guest doesn’t offer to help out, but the safest thing to do would be to at least make your intention of helping out known. It shows that you appreciate and acknowledge the work that goes into preparing for the meeting.
DON’T get involved in any family drama
It happens. Sometimes little arguments will erupt and awkwardness can ensue. Whatever you do, don’t take sides. Respectfully keep out, even if you want to take your boyfriend’s side. The best thing you can do is stay neutral. You don’t want to get involved in other people’s business. The last place you want to be is in the middle of a fight with people you just met!
*Names have been changed