If you’re like me, then you’ve been in a relationship for four years and you’re not married and you don’t have plans for it. This is when you’re in a middle zone with the boyfriend/girlfriend’s parents and family overall. Hopefully they’re really into you; at this point they should be. These are the rules to follow for going to their home for a visit and reinforcing your awesomeness, without being a smothering, Jewish Martha Stewart-type.
- Ask questions. Even if you’re not getting the full “Hi, how are you? We missed you so much” action, you’re gonna need to provide that feeling for everyone. Be warm and ask about everything and listen and then ask even more questions. This ONLY works if you are actually willing to make a conversation of it. So pay attention to what they say and retain it for earning points later in the trip or really any time.
- Bring a little gift or something cool. It doesn’t have to be a Faberge egg, but try to bring a little something if you can. It’s sweet and smart and very becoming. Could be baked goods, flowers or a bottle of wine or something like that. You can sway your gift towards the mom (’cause in the end it’s the mama that counts) but definitely try to make it personal. If you cannot figure out their vibe at all, go neutral and pleasing whenever possible.
- Clean up. Be so so serious about cleaning up your belongings and getting up first and getting dishes off the table and other things like that. This says, “Wowza, this person is cleanly and responsible and gives a damn”. The whole thing is about surprising them with how much you care and how you appreciate their hospitality. This is important no matter how hospitable or inhospitable they are. No one wants a tit for tat stand off. Your feelings about their efforts are kind of off the table. Take the initiative and get your towels off the floor (even CONSIDER cleaning up a little more that you would for your own bf/gf). You’re just a winner if you can get this done.
- Drink whatever they’re drinking. When in Rome. My boyfriend’s parents like to drink a white wine or a red wine or whatev at dinner. I’ll go head to head with them. Don’t let yourself get into a fall-down drunk situation, follow their lead. If everyone is a little loose and a little cool, keep up and things get kind of fun. Don’t be afraid to get into it but watch yourself. Watch it. You know what can happen. Keep it loose but don’t go crazy cat.
- Sporrrts or reality shows or anything that just bores the shit out of you will have to do. The truth about me is that I have always dated guys who come from all boy families, where they’ve worked the mom into the equation of watching and worrying about and scrutinizing sports big time. Me? Yeah, I feel like watching anything other than basketball (only NBA and only when it’s late in the season) is like watching paint dry. But here’s the rub. It’s how they bond. It’s part of their M.O. Let them indulge in it and go all out. You don’t have to go nuts when they’re watching double-headers or whatnot. You can read, write, email or draw or do whatever you do on your own as they watch. Just don’t feel sad and lonely. It’s not about you. It’s just not.
- Don’t get overwhelmed. Long trips with your bf/gf and their families can often seem overwhelming and like you’re at an uncomfortable slumber party where everyone is sleeping and you’re wide awake. Newsflash. This is when you’re gonna need to come up for air. Take a minute to be you and do your thing. Might want to take a walk, take a ride, make an ET phone home type call or something like that. You can get right in the chill zone and take time for yourself. Don’t get out of your mind if your bf/gf still wants to hang with their rents while you do this. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, it just means they’re wanting to get the most out of their time with their folks and if you’re over it maybe they can turn that time into family bonding moments. So, hooray, you both win.
- Don’t let comments on you or your character or your tattoos bother you. Unless it’s way the fuck out of line keep your cool. It’s ok to express a divergent point of view but don’t get bent out of shape if their parents don’t agree with you politically, professionally or otherwise. It’s all good in your hood. I get a lot of this because I’m a creative type who has their shit only half together and I’m in a loud sounding band so it’s like a real doozy for my bf’s family (who are all lawyers). Over the years, I’ve learned to relax about what I think they think or what they say they think. It just gets better and better the more you can remain collected and awesome.
- Let them eat cake. Or not. Here’s the thing that’s really tough about parents in general. My parents feed us way too much. My boyfriend’s parents don’t feed us enough. Here’s what I do when there’s nothing in the house and there’s no plans to get anything to eat. I’ll just accept that I have to put something in me so I can get through whatever activity has been planned. When there’s a lull or we’re switching gears I’ll lightly broach the topic of my hunger and see if a stop can be made at a Whole Foods or really anywhere I can grab something quick. If your only choices are raisin toast or a spoonful of peanut butter in the morning, take both. Don’t let yourself starve and get irritated. It will come back to haunt you.
- Divorce yourself from bragging. Parents of all kinds tend to brag and it can be tough. If your bf/gf’s parents are bragging about them, let them enjoy it even if it’s totally overwrought version of things that happened more than 10 years ago. This goes for reminiscing too. Yes, oh yes, there is always the long-winded “remember when” story. Even if you’ve heard it, even if you know about it, let them go forth and enjoy the effect of these tales, however ridiculous they may seem.
- Music is a dancer. You are you. Let your not-so-much-in-laws listen to their show tunes. Let them enjoy their hard-core disco tracks. It’s their car or house or dinner party. You have Spotify and you can listen to all the new Beach House you want after dinner or whatever. Sometimes, if you listen closely, you might even learn something.
Abbe Ertel Magid is a delicate mouse of a soul who hails from Los Angeles by way of Chicago and is a glutton for comfort in this all too uncomfortable world. You can see more of her work at ertelofthenight.com.