One fact which can become abundantly clear after a few weeks or months of dating is that everyone has a family somewhere. Sooner or later, you are going to have to meet hers, and that meeting may feel complete with magnifying glasses, polygraph testing, background checks and extensive interrogations. It could also mean a few beers, a grilled steak and a slap on the back. You never can tell, so it's best to be prepared for all eventualities. Meeting her family is often a positive sign for your relationship, since she is keenly aware of her family's standards where men are concerned and you clearly made the cut. The first family meeting is a good way to introduce yourself to the other people in her life, so remember that it is her day as much as it is yours. Here are some other tips for handling that first family meeting.
- Remember that it's awkward for everyone. You might feel especially nervous or self-conscious about what to expect from her family, but remember that they're feeling the same anxiety. The first few minutes are going to be a bit awkward or formal or stiff, so don't worry about it. Once you get past all the formalities, you should be able to relax and allow conversations to start naturally. You may want to assume a more passive role at first and let her family members ask the questions. You don't have to be especially articulate or verbal at first, but you should demonstrate some real interest in your work and other interests. Her father might ask "So, Lisa tells me you're an engineer. What's it like working for the government?". Your response could be short but sincere: "Sir, I really enjoy getting handed a project on Monday and watching it leave my desk on Friday. That's what I like about engineering the most, a sense of accomplishment." It doesn't have to be a complex answer, just something that shows you have some sense of who you are. Overtalking because of nerves is rarely effective. Wait until everyone is more relaxed before getting into more complex conversations.
- Ask your girlfriend about her family's normal dynamics before the first meeting. You'll want to know what subjects to avoid or which relatives don't relate well with others. There's almost always going to be a crazy uncle or a snobbish cousin or an angry sibling in the mix, so it helps to know what to expect ahead of time. Her family dynamic is most likely no different than your own, and you know how your family behaves during get-togethers. Having some background information on the different relatives and how they relate to your girlfriend when no one's looking can be very useful.
- Learn and observe cultural or religious practices. If your girlfriend's family is from a different culture, you may want to learn some of their customs before meeting them for the first time. Some cultures encourage visitors to remove their shoes before entering the home, for example. Others may have certain dress codes or methods of greeting visitors. You'll want to watch your language in general, but be especially aware of irreverent references to God or religion. There may also be traditions observed at meal time, so only eat or drink when you are sure it is appropriate. You may also want to ask your girlfriend about her family's views on alcoholic beverages before you bring over an expensive bottle of wine as a gift.
- Don't sweat the small stuff. You may feel as if some of her family members are asking inappropriate or insensitive questions at times, and they may very well be. The trick is not to let a few unwarranted remarks ruin the overall point of the exercise. A sibling may simply be acting out of jealousy, or a cousin may be having a private dig at your girlfriend by embarrassing you. Your girlfriend's father may feel it is his duty to grill any potential son-in-law, so try to understand that these people may just be playing out the roles expected of them. Other in-laws may have had similar experiences when they first met the family as well. If your relationship becomes a long-term commitment, you'll have years to work out your relationship with these people, so try not to let an awkward first meeting bring down your enthusiasm over the relationship.
- Don't be afraid to network. One thing that helps break the ice is personal networking. Many people identify themselves by their occupations, so feel free to talk a little shop. If you are a computer programmer by trade, you might discover your girlfriend's cousin sells computers. If you have an interest in sports, an uncle may be a retired coach. By starting off on common ground, you can put your girlfriend's family at ease and spend your time talking about similar professional interests or hobbies. You might generate some good contacts for upcoming projects, and her family will spend their time talking you up amongst themselves.
The first meeting with your girlfriend's family may appear disastrous or less-than-inviting at first, but first meetings in general rarely go well. The second and third meetings with her family should go more smoothly, and you should make an effort to meet with some of her family members one-on-one in order to really develop a stronger personal relationship. Other family members may want to maintain some distance, so respect their boundaries from the very first meeting and you should survive the experience.