If you’re meeting your partner’s family for the first time this holiday season, bear in mind that first impressions matter. Research suggests that we are unlikely to change our view of others from “bad” to “good” — even when their behaviour improves.
I was 20 years old when I met my partner, Brandon. I definitely didn’t make a good first impression on his family and though you’d probably learn something from hearing my shameful story, I’m not quite ready to share it (maybe I’ll do so on an upcoming podcast), so instead, I share a few strategies rooted in research below.
(Yes. This is a case of do as I say, not as I do.)
To make a good impression on your partner’s family:
1. Do a bit of research. Ask your partner for a bit of background with regard to their interests and passions. You don’t have to pretend to be interested in rare plants to be more likable, but showing some interest and asking questions (and genuinely listening to what they have to say) will make you more relatable.
If you’re not familiar with cultural customs, ask your partner to help you out. For example, in some cultures and families, it’s rude to finish all the food on your plate at a meal (it suggests that they didn’t feed you enough) and in others, it’s rude to leave food behind. Ask your partner for a heads up if there are specific behaviours that their parents emphasized or reprimanded when they were growing up consider adjusting your behaviour accordingly – especially if they’re hosting you in their home. You don’t have to embrace all of their family customs or expectations, but giving them some consideration shows respect and appreciation.
2. If you’re meeting in a public place, show up a few minutes early. Research shows that you’re more likable if you show up first. Speed daters are more successful when they’re the ones sitting and being approached as opposed to walking up to a waiting partner — the theory is that we’re more attracted to things that we move toward.
3. Err on the formal side. It’s better to be more formal in dress, manners, communication, and custom than to feel underdressed or underprepared. Consider taking a look at family photos from recent events to gauge what’s considered appropriate/formal at family gatherings.
4. Bring something if you’re visiting their home. It’s good manners in almost every culture. Don’t overspend, but arrive with sweets or a plant in-hand and don’t expect them to open your gift upon arrival. In some cultures, they may simply put the gift aside and thank you for it later.
5. Don’t expect your partner’s family to follow your rules. If you’re spending the weekend at the house, they make the rules. Even if you already live with your partner, if they assign you to separate bedrooms, be sure to respect their household customs. Their house – their rules.
6. Do pay attention to children — nieces, nephews, and grandkids. Many parents judge others based on how they treat their children so bear this in mind at family gatherings. (In my case, I always take note of how visitors treat my dog and my elderly dad.)
7. If you make a mistake or put your foot in your mouth, don’t make excuses. Apologize and move forward. You’re human and so are they — it’s better to accept responsibility than to try to deflect blame or pretend it didn’t happen.
All that being said, be yourself. Adjust your behaviour as you see fit without compromising your own values.
You rock. If you like yourself, chances are they’ll like you too.