Tour of Duty : Spending time with your significant other’s parents can be a real stressfest.
I’m heading out to the Midwest in a couple weeks to visit my girlfriend’s family. It’s the first time I’ve ever stayed with them. I’m nervous about it, so I turned to my older brother Jack for advice.
Jack is getting married in August, and he’s made the dreaded visit to his girlfriend’s family. I asked him how I can impress the family-in-law.
From: [email protected]
Subject: Advice on meeting prospective in-laws
1. Don’t eat other people’s food, even if they’re full.
2. Don’t hold hands with male relatives of your girlfriend in any manner which might be construed as “different” or “special.”
3. Don’t eat your own food with just a knife and a stabbing motion. Try to use the full range of utensils.
Apparently he was just suggesting I avoid the mistakes he made.
Knowing Jack’s inability to distinguish between being full and being sick in a Homeresque fashion, (Ooo .. my stomach doesn’t feel so good. Still some ribs left. Must keep eating) the first and third commandments of good etiquette did not surprise me. The second one required some explanation.
#1. “Do not start any funny story you’re telling her family with the words: ‘I was so wasted,’ ‘I was so drunk,’ or ‘I woke up in this Dumpster.’
#2. Do not show them your ability to hotwire a Buick with your eyes closed.
#3. Do not make jokes about that funny mole on your girlfriend’s butt.
#4. Use the words “Sir” and “Ma’am” as often as possible.
#5. Clear the table at least once.”
#6. Talk about how you survived meeting the ‘rents.
My brother is a strange kid, but I’d never thought of him as different in that way. It turns out that during a church service, Jack confused whose hand he was holding on his left and whose hand was on the right. Natasha thought he was being oddly formal, while her six foot, two-inch tall cousin Hank was caught off-guard by Jack’s sudden friendliness. And in church, of all places.
I don’t know what my visit will be like. I’m visiting when my girlfriend’s younger sister is graduating from high school. Her father’s friend is visiting, too. I won’t be the sole focus of the entire family’s attention — this is a good thing.
I’m most concerned about the conversation and questions that will invariably arise. Somehow, it seems harder for a boyfriend to meet his girlfriend’s parents than the other way around. Still trapped by preconceived notions of gender roles, parents often ask prospective son-in-laws questions about careers, with the hidden agenda of assessing the son-in-law’s earning potential. Try to answer with a feminist approach to reversing such gender roles by insisting that you’ll stay at home while your wife works, and your mother-in-law-to-be will be the first to beat you back into paternalism.
It’s not the first time I’ve met Christina’s parents. During graduation, I behaved myself at the restaurant and resisted the urge to hold her father’s hand. Christina tells me her parents like me. She also tells me her father has a gun and a motorcycle.
So how am I supposed to tell her parents we plan to live together in Boston — in sin — next year?
A small gift or bribe might help — perhaps some cookies and chocolates. If everyone is eating, we can’t discuss those tenets of Catholicism that prohibit romantic cohabitation.
My plan is to dress neatly, comb my hair, smile often and remember to keep the toilet seat down. That seems to keep my relationship going, and if that makes Christina happy, aren’t her parents genetically disposed to favoring that behavior as well? After all, I’ve got a good job, a bundle of leftover cookies and an Xbox 360 to comfort me if things go really badly.
If anyone has advice or a bulletproof vest, please share. One (or both) might save the relationship — or my life.
Matt hopes to return from Illinois alive and with a girlfriend.