Rerunning this article from last year because a) it’s relevant again, b) many of you are new and haven’t seen it yet and c) Thanksgiving man. I’m in a food coma for the foreseeable future. See y’all with a new one on Monday.
– Dr. NerdLove
The holidays are upon us, and with that it means families and togetherness1. If you’re in a relationship of any length then the holidays also means having to decide just whose family you’ll be spending time with… and with that means running the gauntlet of parental approval.
There’s nothing quite so stomach-clenchingly intimidating for guys as having to meet your significant other’s parents. Regardless of how strong your relationship is with your sweetheart, your relationship with her family can be a deal-breaker. Every long-term relationship means that you’re inevitably going to have to deal with her family. There’s no getting around it.
If you’re going to be spending time with your girl’s family, you’d better learn how to win them over to your side… and quickly.
There’s Always Room For Bribery
You want to make sure that you start off on the right foot, and nothing says “Like me” like buying their affections. Bringing a gift – especially if you’re going to be staying at her parent’s place – is always a welcome gesture. It’s a token of your appreciation for their hospitality as well as a reminder that you’re a well-bred young man who actually understands manners… not like all those other idiots she’s been dating over the years.
Make sure to do a little reconnaissance before running out to get something; the last thing you want to do is bring flowers only to find out that her mother has crippling allergies. Fortunately for you, your girlfriend is the greatest source of intelligence you could ever want; grill her over what her parents like and don’t like and plan your purchases accordingly.
When in doubt, go with a bottle of red wine. Everybody appreciates wine.
A mid-priced Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot are your best bets; they’re among the more popular varietals and work well with most of what you’re likely to be eating during the holidays. If you want to stand out and seem a little more cultured, consider a Malbec. If you know absolutely nothing about wines, don’t hesitate to ask for help at the liquor store; they’ll help set you on the right path.
Work The Room
There’s nothing quite like being dropped into the lives of a horde of strangers and realizing that you have mere hours to win their approval and affection. Your sweetie may be there to help but if you rely on her to do all of the heavy lifting, you’re only going to look weak. The best thing you can do is not hide behind her and strike out on your own. It’s sink-or-swim time, my friend.
You need to make a concerted effort to meet everyone… without your girlfriend’s prompting. Relying on her to make the introductions may have it’s appeal – she’ll be there to break the ice, after all – but having the courage and the willingness to take the initiative will help your case. Confidence is appealing to men as much as it is with women; show that you are an aggressive go-getter rather than someone who lets life happen to them and they’ll respect you far more than if you hide in the corner with her stoner cousins.
The last thing you want to be seen as anti-social – or worse, that you don’t like them – so be prepared to be quite the social butterfly while you’re there. Treat it like a party or a networking opportunity: everyone there is someone who can offer you an opportunity in the near future and you’ll want to cultivate as many contacts as possible. Remember: meet everybody’s eyes when you introduce yourself, give a genuine smile and a firm handshake. You don’t want to try to prove you can break their hand but you also don’t want to be offering them the dead fish.
Make the rounds and spend time getting to know everybody; once you’ve met everyone keep an eye towards where the larger groups are gathered. You don’t necessarily have to be the life of the party, but you should make a point of being visibly part of the conversations.
Just as when you’re dealing with mixed groups at parties or bars, telling some stories can help win their interest and approval. You don’t want to brag, so aim more for humor… in fact, a hint of self-deprecation will go a long way in your favor.
Charm The Women, Find Common Ground With The Men
The tactics for dealing with her family isn’t all that different from handling guys and girls: you want to impress the women with your charm and make the men think that you’re a cool guy. The only difference is that you don’t want to eventually be sleeping with women in her family2.
Her mother will be sizing you up as a potential son-in-law and how you’ll fit into the family dynamic; you will want her to like you and see little of what her daughter finds attractive about you. A little flirting with the female family members can help you here, provided you’re careful to keep it entirely aboveboard and non-sexual; broad smiles, compliments, a leaning in for a conspiratorial remark, touches on the arm or shoulder are good ideas… teasing and nicknames, not as much. Remember, you want to be charming and delightful, not the guy who drunkenly hit on his girlfriend’s mom.
With her father and other male relatives, realize that you’re being seen as an intruder.
To her father, you’re not just a stranger, you’re a stranger who’s been defiling his precious little girl.and you’re going to have to justify your existence to him. You want to show that not only are you a man – rather than a boy or manchild – but that you can provide and protect his little girl. The rules of handling guys apply just as equally here: you want to befriend them and flip ’em to your side. The best way to do this is to find commonalities; I’ve turned around a father who hated me when I could talk intelligently about his collection of medieval weaponry3. When in doubt, there’s always sports. Just remember that politics, religion and money are three very volatile and potentially dangerous topics, especially if your views are diametrically opposed to those of your hosts. Be prepared to nod and smile if it comes up and change the subject.
Ask questions; interested is interesting and showing an interest in her father’s opinions and experiences will read as being respectful. And be prepared to talk about your future; you want to reassure him that you actually are going somewhere and will be able to provide for his princess, so even if your current career isn’t taking off, you should at least show that you have drive and ambition.
- and alcohol. Oh sweet booze, make these family gatherings tolerable again… [↩]
- And if you do… well, you may want to re-examine your relationship priorities [↩]
- all the more impressive when he was semi-seriously threatening me with a Lochabar axe… thank you Dungeons and Dragons! [↩]