The holiday season brings us all so much: Instagrammable plates of food, a day of sitting in front of your TV watching football, and that smell that only seems to permeate your house once a year.
As we get older, we begin to bring others into our lives on a quest for happiness. And this time of year, that means you might be asked to meet your partner’s folks. Don’t think of it as a challenge—think of it as an opportunity to show your significant other that they made the right choice in choosing you. Here are five tips for maneuvering through the pressure and making a great impression.
1. Listen, Then Speak, Then Be Yourself
This is number one because it applies not only to meeting the folks for the first time, but for everyday life. When it comes to connecting with the family unit, pay attention to what your partner says about them. Is her father a big time Eagles fan? Don’t be afraid to throw out some stats on their winning record this year. Did he casually mention that his mother went to Spelman? Bring out those HBCU references. This is especially helpful when the conversation lags, or you find yourself getting some one on one time.
This is also a good opportunity to find out if there’s a creepy cousin or a wild auntie to look out for.
2. Handshakes vs. Hugs
A first impression is everything, but even more importantly, you have to take into account the first impression of the first impression. The moment you meet the parents for the first time can either spot you a seven-point lead or put you down early in the first quarter, so it’s imperative that you nail the initial introduction. A key point of that? Handshake versus hug. Go in for a handshake when it should have been a hug, and you look stiff and standoffish. Go full into the hug when a handshake would’ve been better, and you cross someone’s personal space and immediately get too familiar.
Ask your S/O what type of crowd you’re dealing with. Maybe her pops is cool, but you should always respect the space there and go in with the solid, firm handshake. He may bring you in for the dap/hug combo, but let him do that. Does it take his mother a while to warm up? Follow the similar format, go in for the handshake and allow her to initiate the hug.
Special note: When it comes to grandmothers, go in for the soft, inviting hug. And make sure you put on the smell-goods and soft sweater. You win Grandma, you win the family.
3. Prepare Your Profession
When you meet your S/O’s family, that will be the first time they can put a face to a name. Sure, you’ve been talked about before to them (hopefully), but this is their first chance to lay eyes on you and really feel you out—and ask about your profession, your job, your 9-to-5. If all things play out how they should, your partner should be the one to do the initial intro of what you do, leaving you to finish the lob for the half-court alley-oop slam.
Now if you have a job that’s pretty self-explanatory (like a doctor, teacher, mechanic, lawyer), feel free to skip ahead slightly and prep to elaborate on frequently asked questions about what you do, i.e. “So how is it teaching children?” or “Oh you’re a lawyer, are you like one of them on Law & Order: SVU?” If your profession is a little more creative or harder to explain, go into it with a full-fledged breakdown of what you do. If you’re a visual artist, be prepared for them to ask if your work is featured somewhere. If you’re a business owner, watch out for the one player-hating relative who will want to poke holes in your story just because his t-shirt line flopped in ’04.
Special note for those who work in IT: someone is going to ask you to fix something. They may say it was a joke, but they were 100 percent serious.
4. Strategize the Siblings
Siblings can be a huge wildcard when meeting the family. They can be an easy ally or the biggest detractor, depending on their temperament. The siblings are always going to wonder what your true intentions are in dealing with their brother or sister. All you can do is stay focused on the goal and never let yourself appear rattled under pressure. And if the jokes start to fly in your direction, don’t be afraid to send a couple back—just don’t overdo it.
5. The Dinner
When it comes to the meal, go back to tip number one and listen first. Ask your S/O if their parents like a certain type of wine, so you can contribute something to the meal. Even if your cooking skills are A-1, it takes a lot to insert one of your creations into their Thanksgiving menu, so maybe you can save that for the second or third time you spend the holidays with them. And when you’re eating, be relaxed. Follow the natural flow of conversation that the family sets, and don’t be afraid to give your opinion. Ask if your partner needs anything from time to time, and give honest compliments on the food.
Don’t allow whatever pressure you feel to ruin the meal. Your significant other is with you for a reason, and that will shine through when you meet the folks. Just be yourself.