- When introducing romantic partners to family, many people prefer holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Relationship experts say that works, but to also consider more casual holidays like the Fourth of July or Labor Day.
- Experts also say arriving early, having questions to ask family members, and offering to help can give you a leg up when meeting the family.
Dating can be stressful, especially once you find that special match and it comes time to introduce them to family.
Will they mesh? Will things get weird? Will it go sideways?
Experts say there are dos and don’ts when introducing your romantic partner to loved ones, especially during the holidays, including doing your research ahead of time, bringing a gift, and avoiding certain conversation topics.
And while it’s common to introduce family and romantic partners during gatherings like Christmas and Hanukkah, a first meeting might be best suited at a more casual time, like Labor Day or the Fourth of July, said Bree Jenkins, a marriage and family therapist from Los Angeles.
But it doesn’t end there. There are a few more tips to avoid having a real-life “Meet the Fockers” debacle. Check them out below.
‘What are we?’ Are we dating or just friends with benefits? Do I need to label my relationship?
Situationships: What is a situationship? And how to avoid being in one.
Prepare them for the awkward family member
Jenkins said successfully meeting the family is a team effort.
“You want to set them up to win,” she said. “Set them up so they’re not blindsided. Let’s say you’re LGBTQ and you’ve got an uncle who comes around for Thanksgiving and he’s a little awkward … tell your partner so they can emotionally prepare themselves and won’t be blindsided by any uncomfortable dynamics.”
It’s the same if you’ve never brought a same-sex partner home, she said. It’s nice to give people a head’s up to make a “comfortable transition.”
Dave Schramm, family life professor and faculty member in the department of human development and family studies at Utah State University, suggests talking to your partner beforehand about names, what family members are into, whether they have kids, family traditions, careers, sports, and the like, he said.
“This part really all comes down to asking your partner what they think … what you should know,” he said. “Everything from knowing the dress code. Are you a hugging family or a handshake family?”
Arrive early, ‘get some quiet time’
Jenkins suggests arriving a few days ahead of time. That way, the immediate family can meet your partner without getting pulled away by the demands of hosting for the holidays, and your partner doesn’t have to meet “three times as many people at once,” Jenkins said.
“You can get some quiet alone time with mom or dad or siblings .. smaller family, and then you can add on the rest of the people,” she said.
Schramm suggests showing up with a gift in hand. It’s both thoughtful and a nice gesture, and your partner can let you know what family members like. Just don’t go overboard or spend a ton of money.
It’s truly the thought that counts, Schramm said.
And it’s always nice to offer to help, even if your partner’s family says “No thanks,” Schramm said. Push back just a little, he said.
And if you’re not sure how to help, Jenkins said cooking or cleaning is always on the table.
This is getting awkward. What now?
Yikes! It’s Thanksgiving and the food’s not quite ready yet. You’re all sitting around the television. There’s an aunt to your left. There’s an uncle to your right and things are pretty quiet and awkward.
Jenkins says secret signs between partners are the perfect remedy.
“Maybe make a little little sign (to say) ‘I am panicking here. Save me,'” she said.
And finding commonalities can also help with small talk, Schramm said.
Other questions include:
- Where’s the best place that you’ve visited?
- Do you like the outdoors?
- What do you do in your free time?
- What sports team are you rooting for?
No phone zones and things to avoid
Your phone?Just shut it off or just don’t check it, Schramm said.
Scrolling and being on your phone really turns families off, he said.
In conversation with the family, don’t only talk about yourself, even if they keep asking you questions. Have a few queries to throw their way, he said.
Other topics he said to avoid: politics, religion and controversial issues.
And it’s never a bad idea to “monitor any of your little quirks,” he said, like a loud laugh or anything that could come off as obnoxious.
Thao Ha, an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, said these introductions depend largely on how we’ve been raised and what our relationships are like with our families.
If your family is supportive, these meetings will likely go over much better, she said.
“It’s also just one event and it still develops from there,” Ha said. “I think putting less pressure on that meeting is probably good for all parties.”
Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY’s NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas, and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.