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How to Successfully “Meet the Parents” & Pass the Holidays with Flying colors!

Meeting the family of your new girlfriend/boyfriend for the first time? Spending a holiday with them and need tips for not only surviving it unscathed but wowing their pants off and coming out of it with a trophy for Boyfriend/Girlfriend of the Year?” Relax – I’ve come to the rescue to save your holiday. C’mon, would I leave you hanging? Read this handy little survival guide I put together for you complete with unforeseen hidden “tests” – and take copious notes!

1. Get the inside scoop beforehand. This is very important. Before you even go over there, talk to your partner about the family and event dynamics so you can prep yourself for success. Ask your partner who they expect will be there, get their names and descriptions, and ask for some details on key people so you can be better equipped to start conversations and you can namedrop details here and there. For instance, is cousin Eric the Guitar Hero pro? Does Aunt Maria make the best stuffing west of the Missisipi? Did Uncle Jim just recently achieve a company award or did sister Stacy just come back from a trip from France? Get a couple details down, and you’ll be sure to impress when you namedrop them upon meeting them. You can also ask you partner if there’s anything you should know about the dynamics of the family and event. For instance, should you be prepared to answer 20 questions from Dad? Should you walk lightly on the topic of work around Eric who recently lost his job? Should you not ask about Aunt Gina’s relationship because it’s “sensitive?” Etc. Again, if you know these things beforehand you can avoid potentially embarrassing and awkward situations that can leave you quickly outside the “circle of trust.”

2. Dress Up, dress CLASSY & dress Conservative. Okay, I know a freshly starched button-down collared shirt or tapered dress isn’t half as comfortable as jeans and a T or your tattered punk clothes, SUCK IT UP and ‘suit up!’ This isn’t a time for cutting corners and opt for comfort, or to rebel against yuppies by expressing your “individual style” with “emo” pants or nose rings a la Adam Lambert. No matter what kind of family it is, even if you’re visiting a family that lives in a farm, as a general rule of thumb, as my mother so lovingly engrained in me, “It’s always better to overdress than under-dress.” Select your outfit for the big day a few days beforehand and make sure you get the stamp of approval from your partner so you can have time to go shopping for some new threads in case it doesn’t get the thumbs up.

Your goal is to fit in with the family’s style as much as possible. You can’t really go wrong with a button-down collared shirt and khakis, black slacks or nice jeans. For women, this isn’t the time to let the fam see how sexy you can look or show off your newly-tanned midriff. The look you want to achieve is classy, wholesome, and conservative yet comfortable. Showing any midriff or cleavage or sporting your stilettos and a mini is like a kiss of death to man’s mother. Show him you’re the kind of girl he can bring home to momma by toning it down and wearing a cute and classy dress with a cardigan or nice pants and a sweater if it’s cold. Wear simple jewelry and tone down the makeup if you tend to wear a lot typically. If the holiday runs more than a day, pack a few extra outfits like a staple dress, some comfy lounge-wear, and a casual outfit. Be sure to pack a swimsuit as well(you don’t want to be the only fish out of the water if swimming’s on the menu, or worse, have to awkwardly borrow one of dad or mom’s swimsuit that’s 6 sizes too large).

3. BRING something to the occasion – the token Guest Gift. This shows thoughtfulness, appreciation and class. You really can’t go wrong with a bottle of nice red or white wine (don’t go cheapo here, especially in case they’re wine connoisseurs – opt for a bottle in the $15-$40 range, it’s worth it). Pair it with a nice hand-written note thanking them for having you in their home, and perhaps even a small but thoughtful gift such as a plant or flowers. If you’re a woman, bring homemade cookies or dessert (or if you don’t cook, you can buy some, but homemade will give you extra ‘brownie points.”)

4. Make sure you reach out and shake everyone’s hand when you meet them, make sure you shake with your right hand and that your handshake is FIRM. If you already know you have a great handshake, then use it. If you aren’t sure (this is especially true for women, or men who haven’t been in business long) test it out on a trusted friend and get their honest feedback. For a man, your handshake should be firm and strong (but not a bone-crushing grip) and you should make direct eye contact while you’re doing so (especially if you’re shaking the father, brothers or uncle’s hand!). For a woman, your shake should still be firm (do NOT just shake with the tips of your fingers like a prissy princess, which exudes entitlement) but it should also bend a little in a natural, feminine way. Eye contact is very important. And remember their names when you shake their hand!

5. Be extra mindful of your manners. I hate to state the obvious, but you’d be surprised how often these things slip when you’re not realizing it or when you’re so nervous about impressing the fam. As a reminder: Always say please and thank you, don’t get more than one course of food unless everyone else is (and always let family serve themselves first) and keep your space neat! This includes making your bed or the couch in the morning. Don’t sleep in – make sure you’re up at the same time or earlier as everyone else so you’re not known as “Sleepy Sam.”

6. Offer to Help: Here’s another big one, and one that lots of mothers often test for (mine especially – this is considered a ‘red flag’ when someone’s poor date forgets to do this!). Offer to help whenever possible. So when they’re cooking the meal, go into the kitchen and ask if there’s anything you could do to help. When they start clearing dishes after the meal, get up and help them clear dishes or sincerely offer to help. Offer to help them clean up afterward or just pick up a sponge yourself and go at it.

7. Bond with the family.
Make sure you’re friendly and social and talk to every one of the family members (or at least make a genuine effort to). Twelve-year-old cousin Nicky isn’t any less important and when others see you talking to every person, you’ll score major points. Spend a little time getting to know each person and asking about their interests, connecting with them on some level, and trying to find things in common or that you could offer your knowledge about or bond about. If you keep to yourself or just with your partner, others will definitely take notice and you’ll come across cold and anti-social. I don ‘t care if you’re shy or suffer from “social anxiety,” MAKE AN EFFORT. But of all people you’ll talk to, the key people that are the most important to bond with if you’re a woman are the mother, and sisters; and if you’re a guy, her father and brothers. These are the ‘Gate-keepers’! Some key pointers:

  • a. When talking to Brothers or Dad: Look them in the eye when you’re talking to them. Try to find out their interests and see if you guys have some things in common. Don’t dodge alone time with any of them, use it as an opportunity to bond. Pick up a pool stick and join them if that’s where the boys are or join them in poker or football.
  • b. Tests that they’re looking for: Make sure that if you get asked about your career or what your goals are or financial situation is, have a clear answer! Never answer with, “I don’t know yet” or “You know, I’m not sure what I want to do yet,” or “I haven’t figured it out yet, I’m just enjoying life right now,” or “I’m having some financial issues right now.” Her family, especially her father, wants to know you have a plan, goals, and financial stability. If you really are not sure what you want to do with your life and career and are in a transitory stage, better to rely with something like, “Well right now my options are A and B and I’m taking 3 months right now to figure out and decide which option will make me the happiest and allow me to create the best future and financial stability for me and my future family.” So that doesn’t sound like you’re just drifting, you want to still illustrate that you have some kind of plan and timeline in place which will ease their worries a bit and make you sound more responsible. If they ask you what some of your future goals are, say SOMETHING. Don’t just say, “I don’t know.” Men in particular when asking these kinds of questions are testing more for traits like decisiveness, responsibility, ambition and stability and the ability to plan rather than the content of your answers themselves.
  • c. For women, bond with the other women by: Joining them in the kitchen if that’s where the majority o the women are, and offering to cook and clean. Even if you’re more like “one of the guys” and prefer to be in the midst of the poker game and you can’t cook a casserole to save your life, at least spend some time to bond with the gals and gab, gossip, or whatever it is they do to fit in.
  • d. Tests that they’re looking for: Mothers and sisters are often testing for signs that you’ll make a good wife and mother to their son/brother. That’s why you should show your domestic side by lending a helping hand in the kitchen, and play a little with the baby if there’s one around, and, especially if you’re a power career-woman type, show them your soft side and let them know you’re not all about work. They’re also looking for signs that show you are loyal and committed for the long-haul and have strong values. Don’t dress or say anything skanky, don’t be inappropriately touchy-feely with your partner, and don’t correct them when they’re telling stories, and don’t nag them or ridicule them in front of others. Don’t ever talk about them in a negative way or make complaints about them to any family members, even if they do. One of my uncles had a girlfriend that he was living with for 2 years, and although I really liked her, she would often talk to me or other family members about an argument they recently had or an issue they were having or how she was getting worried that he hadn’t proposed to her yet and would seek my opinions or advice on the matter. Not the best strategy girl! Don’t do this, even if you are really close and comfortable with the family. It puts the person you’re talking to in an awkward position and downright doesn’t look good on your part.

8. “Do as the Romans Do.In other words, FIT IN. If the family is playing football, go out to the field. If it’s their tradition to play Jenga or Scrabble after dinner, happily join in. Don’t try to get a jail out of free card because “you’re in heels” or you “just straightened your hair” or you’re “not a jock.” If you sit out on the sidelines, you stand out and you become the topic of conversation later as to why you refused to join in the family games and tradition. Again its one of those things that you just have to suck up and do if you want to get their approval.

9. Be Easy & Easygoing. Don’t be too picky or difficult with food or make strange demands or have people do extra things for you. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, don’t request that they make you a separate vegetarian dish, unless they volunteer to. If the whole fam is drinking water don’t request a soda or request red wine if the rest of them are drinking white. Just go with the flow and roll with the punches. Now is not the time to have them cater to your ultra-picky demands or idiosyncrasies. Stay with your mission to fit in, and it’ll all be over before you know it.

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10. Conversation – strike a balance. Don’t be too quiet or know one will get to know you. But you also don’t want to dominate conversations or try too hard to be funny or outgoing, or it’ll turn others off. Talk less then your partner on the whole, and don ‘t go overboard with storytelling or jokes. Subtly is the key, you don’t need to be a one-man stand-up comedy show or the Life of the Party for them to like you. Show you have a sense of humor and that you’re sociable, but remember that this is their family and their holiday, and ultimately you are the outsider. So let them talk more and share stories and news, and know that you don’t need to add your two cents about everything or talk too much about yourself. Avoid boasting and one-upping people. Also, if your partner has any news or recent accomplishments to share with the family, let your partner be the one to share it first; don’t do it for them. Don’t overstep your boundaries by acting like you’re already a part of the family when you’re still on the outside.

Final Tips to Seal the Deal:

  • Thank them! Lastly, make sure you thank them again on your way out, give them a hug and let them know it was great meeting and spending time with them. Then seal the deal by sending a personal thank you card in the mail a few days later. Compliment them on their home when you walk in. say, “Wow, I love your home, it’s beautiful!” no matter if it’s a mansion or a shack. If you notice other details like their choices of art on the walls or the mother’s collection of lladros or drapes, notice and compliment them on those things as well and you’ll warm their heart and get on their good side. Avoid gushing and bearing over-the-top with compliments though or you’ll come across phony.
  • Follow their “House Rules.” If the mother insists on you and your partner sleeping in separate rooms in the house even at age 42, just DO it, period, and don’t try to sneak around in the middle of the night (or get a hotel). There may be cameras set up. If it’s their tradition to wake up at 8 and do chores, don’t rebel against it by sleeping in, join them.
  • Don’t get drunk. I know you’re nervous, but now’s not the time to pound shots and suck back tequila to loosen the nerves. Have a few drinks if that’s what the family’s doing, but keep your wits about you and avoid getting sloppy. Even if the 260 pound Marine Corp uncle is challenging you to see who could slam back more shots of Cuervo, know your limits and if you feel you’re getting close then politely refuse and take a water break. I remember a boyfriend I brought to Thanksgiving one year who ended up making an idiot of himself after 9 or 10 shots, swearing and slurring, “I just F’king love your daughter, she’s so F’king great, F’k!” Didn’t go over too well the next day. And then a poor girlfriend my brother brought one year who spent the second half of the evening curled up on the bathroom floor hugging the toilet seat. Don’t be that girl (or guy)!

Follow these guideline and you’ll be sure to breeze through the holiday with flying colors and get raving reviews immediately following!

-Copywrite 2011 DeAnna Lorraine San Diego Dating Coach