If you’ve been dating someone new for a few weeks, a couple of months or over a year, there’s a chance you’ll be meeting your significant other’s family for the first time this holiday season. Whether it’s a casual dinner or a hometown visit, being introduced to your partner’s inner circle can be stressful (cue disaster scenarios straight out of Meet The Parents). But even though it’s intimidating, there a few things you can do to ensure your first impression goes smoothly—and makes you daughter-in-law material. Keep reading for pro tips.
Dress for the occasion
It may seem obvious, but be practical when you’re picking out your wardrobe. If you’re meeting his or her family or friends for coffee, opt for a more casual look like jeans and a sweater rather than a dress and heels. Whereas if it’s a nice dinner or holiday party, the dress code may dictate differently. “Classic and clean lines are best,” advises stylist Hope Misterek. “Then try to channel your personality with layers, pattern mixing, and textures. It’s is a great way to convey more about yourself.” Just avoid overly sexy or revealing clothing. “There’s nothing worse than being uncomfortable or making the family uncomfortable looking at you,” Misterek adds.
Follow their lead
Even if your significant other always refers to their parents on a first name basis, err on the side of caution and use formal titles when you’re introduced. “Allow them to give you permission to use their first name,” says Elaine Swann, etiquette expert and founder of the Swann School of Protocol. The same goes with conversation topics: Let them take the lead and listen to what they are saying. According to Swann, this gives you the opportunity to see who they are as individuals. Show restraint by sticking to the topics they bring up and limit yourself to a two-drink maximum to avoid any loose lips.
“Who you say you are in the beginning is who you need to be all the way through,” says Swann, so don’t try to be someone you’re not. This is especially the case when you meet your mate’s friends and siblings. Your significant other is more likely to share your relationship dynamic with their peers, so it will be easy to spot if you’re overdoing it or trying too hard to live up to expectations.
Show some PDA (seriously!)
Don’t be afraid to show a little PDA. “It’s important to show [this side of your relationship], because families are looking to see how well you get along and if there’s affection,” explains Swann. An entire night out with your partner’s family and friends without a signal touch could signal a lack of chemistry. Just remember that modesty is key.
Ace an overnight visit
One of the most anxiety-inducing situations is when you are staying with you SO’s parents after being introduced to them for the first time. Before a hometown visit, talk to him or her about what to expect or if they abide by a particular set of values. Then, try to line up with their moral compass over the course of your stay. “If they don’t like you sharing a room together, even if you and your partner live together, you need to respect that,” says Swann. “You’ll get back in the same bed eventually.” The same principle applies for family-activities you’re just not that into. Remember: It’s only for a short while, and you’ll be going back to normal life soon enough.
Pack strategically for sleepovers
Another thing to keep in mind is what to pack. You’ll be spending a few days in an unfamiliar home, so bring a variety of basics. “Casual activewear is a good option for more laid-back family time like watching movies at home,” adds Misterek. Leave any skimpy or ratty loungewear behind since you never know if you’ll have to walk through a hallway to access the bathroom. It’s important to have an option, like a nice pajama set or robe, that you’d be comfortable having parents, grandparents, or children see you in.
Show your appreciation
The final item to remember: a thank you gift. While there’s no “right” present, choose something that is tailored to their interests. This may involve doing a little research by asking your partner about their parents’ likes and hobbies, though there is no need to overdo it. Anything over the top will set the bar too high going forward or could offend them if they’re of more modest means.
Hold off any judgements
If you’re not feeling warm vibes from your SO’s family members, the best thing to do is to hold your tongue until afterwards. “Wait until it’s over, there’s already enough pressure,” says Swann. “That also gives you time to think it through. Once you give it a few days, certain things—say, a snarky comment or a look—will roll off your back and won’t mean as much as it did when you first encountered it.” Time and space will let you assess everything better. After all, the first meeting is more or less a reconnaissance mission to gage what kind family you could eventually be a part of.