Meet the Parents

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 15, 2009 · 44 comments

in Dating, Marriage, Relationships & Family

meetparents2

Meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time is a big step in a relationship. You’re taking it up a notch from casual dating;  you’re saying that you’re ready to start to solidifying your couplehood by placing yourself inside of her social and familial circle and allowing them to put a face to the name. You won’t be able to slink away later as an anonymous dude. You’re ready to announce your interest in a lady to the most important people in her life.

Thus, the experience can be a tad nerve racking. Parents are pretty protective of their daughters. They want to feel comfortable with the idea of you as a boyfriend, as possibly the future man in her life. A boyfriend can make a woman completely happy or totally wreck her life, and they want to know that it’s the former. And on the flip side, your girlfriend really wants her family to like you. She wants you to shine so she can get their approval. And if she’s hoping for a long-term relationship with you, she’s got her fingers crossed that you’ll get along with them.

So that’s a lot of pressure. But you’re a man and you’re cool under pressure. But to have that kind of confidence you have to prepare. Follow the tips below, and your girlfriend’s mom will be raving about you to all her friends.

Make a Great First Impression

It’s cliché, but it’s the truth; you never have a second chance to make a first impression. Your girlfriend’s parents are going to be sizing you up and making assumptions about you the minute you walk through the door.

Dress sharp. Nothing telegraphs more about your personality than your clothes. Besides your face, it’s the first thing your girlfriend’s parents are going to be taking in when they open the door. Even if you’re just having a casual dinner at their house, look presentable and put together. It’s hard to go wrong with khakis and a nice polo shirt. Don’t wear anything too outlandish. If your clothes need ironing, iron them.

Bring flowers for mom. We instantly like people who come bearing gifts. So present mom with a classy bouquet. If you purchased the flowers from the grocery store, take a moment to remove the price tag before you get out of the car.

Give a friendly greeting. As soon as you meet the parents, look them in the eye, smile and offer a firm handshake to both parents. Give a manly handshake, not a dead fish. Address them as Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Do not call them by their first names until they ask you to. Even after you have met your girlfriend’s parents several times, address them as Mr. and Mrs. Smith until they ask you to call them by their first names.

Build Rapport

Be engaged in conversations. One of the best ways to be charming is to act genuinely interested in people. People like others who seem interested in their lives, and they love to talk about themselves. So ask your girlfriend’s parents questions and listen attentively when they talk to you. When they tell you things, ask follow-up questions to get more details. And follow the basic rules of polite conversation: avoid controversial topics, don’t interrupt, don’t swear ect.

Give compliments. It’s almost always a good idea to say how nice their house is. If the place is clearly a dump, then skip it, of course. Giving praise will backfire if it’s not sincere. If they cook for you, always compliment the grub. And ask for seconds, even if you’re not hungry. Say something nice about your girlfriend too. Her parents raised her, so you’re really complimenting them at the same time. Naturally, you should never overdo it with the praise. There’s a big difference between being a kiss-up and being polite.

Don’t act nervous. Even if you are. Much of how we judge a man is related to his confidence and bearing. Even if her dad intimidates you, and is clearly sizing you up, don’t act intimidated. Look him right back in the eye. Speak clearly and articulately. You’ll never gain his manly respect by staring at your shoes and breaking out in a sweat. And if you appear shifty, the parents may assume you have something to hide.

Be a Good Houseguest

If you’re spending the night with your girlfriend’s parents, be sure to follow the rules of being a polite houseguest. In addition, remember to follow some additional guidelines:

Be prepared to sleep in separate rooms. Even if you and your girlfriend currently live together, if her parents want you to sleep in separate rooms, then do so without complaint or comment. You’re in their house and should follow their rules. If you are given a sleeping bag and asked to sleep on the sofa, do so happily.

Don’t walk around in your skivvies. Don’t come to breakfast in your BVD’s. Always bring a t-shirt and pajamas pants with you so that if you’re woken in the night or they walk in on you in the morning, mom’s not going to get an eyeful of your man junk.

Leave a Good Impression

How you leave your girlfriend’s parent’s house is just as important as how you enter. Leave them thinking happy thoughts about you.

Give them a nice goodbye. When you’re leaving, thank your girlfriend’s parents for your visit. Tell them what a pleasure it was to meet them. Shake hands again. If mom goes in for the hug, give her a good one.

Write a thank you note. If it was a brief meeting, this is not necessary. But if they made you dinner or you stayed at their house, write them a thank you note. If you were an overnight guest, you can do this while still in their home; leave the note on your bed or the kitchen counter. So you might want to bring some stationery with you.

Any other advice for meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time? Leave a comment.

Many thanks to AoM reader and mother of two daughters, Leslie Tincher for the idea for this post and much of the material for it.

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

1 john July 15, 2009 at 2:43 am

…even if you are living together… ? seems like a boyish riding of the fence. You either are married or you are not. Why would you complicate and risk your independence when you are independent and not married. “The guy that is living with your daughter”, is not a good way to make a first impression. Don’t be that guy.

2 TheManRevolution July 15, 2009 at 4:12 am

I haven’t met any of my gf’s parents yet. It feels like such a milestone. Maybe I’m just over thinking it’s importance.

3 Jason July 15, 2009 at 7:26 am

Man up! Sure it is your girlfriend/boyfriends parents, and there can be some trepidation, but you meet people all the time. It will be just two more people to meet. Don’t over think it.
Also you may learn something that will help you decide if the person is “the one” you want to marry, or dissolve the relationship and look for someone new.

4 CoffeeZombie July 15, 2009 at 9:18 am

While I think the spirit of this post is right on, I would have to note that there is such a thing as “trying too hard.” If your potential future father-in-law (because, frankly, there is no reason to date if you’re not ultimately headed toward marriage) gets a “trying too hard” vibe from you, it may be as effective as “appearing shifty”; you’ll look like you’ve got something to hide.

How can you avoid the “trying too hard” scenario? Here’s my thoughts:

1) Be natural. If something on this list is not natural for you, it’s probably best left off. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stretch yourself to make a good impression, but it should come across as sincere, not play-acting. You don’t want your future in-laws to think you’re good at acting polite; you want them to see that your *are* polite.

How can you achieve this? It shouldn’t be an act. Learn politeness. Learn manners. We should all be working on this daily, not just in preparation for meeting the parents. Practice makes permanent.

2) Get to know your audience. Your girl should understand that you’re a little nervous and want to make a good impression, and she knows her parents about as well as anyone can, so get her advice. Would getting flowers for mom be impressive, or would it come across as “trying too hard”?

Finally, a note about referring to the future in-laws as “Mr.” and “Mrs.”: I dated my wife for about 3 years before getting married, and we’ve been married for a year and a half now, and I still refer to her parents as “Mr.” and “Mrs.”. I’m pretty sure they’re fine with first names (that’s how they refer to each other’s parents), but somehow I’m just stuck on the Mr. and Mrs. :-)

5 Dr. Bergeron July 15, 2009 at 9:25 am

couple of quick things to add:

-Conversation:
Never bring up politics or religion when meeting parents for the first time, ever. (If you’re rather liberal and the parents have a book by Glenn Beck laying on the counter, probably not a good idea to bring politics into the picture since it’s going to turn into an argument rather than any interesting, worthwhile conversation)

The most important things to remember when meeting someone’s parents is that you want to get to know them, have them get to know a bit about you, and to not come off as a huge tool, seem self centered, or seem distant. Moderation on all fronts is the key to success here, always.

I also think that the flowers are a bit much. If you’re going over to meet the ‘rents, especially for dinner, a good strategy is to bring a dish to add to the meal. It shows that you want to be part of the action, and you get to showcase any cooking skills you may have. You may want to double check with your lady to make sure no one has any allergies though just so it doesn’t end in disaster.

6 Steve C. July 15, 2009 at 9:43 am

As an aside, if you know they’ve got strong feelings about religion/politics and you happen to agree with their views, then I wouldn’t forbid myself from talking about it.

My wife and I take our Catholic faith very seriously, as does her family. Sharing that bond of Catholicism and being able to talk about it freely and intelligently probably did more to impress my future father-in-law than my stunning good looks.

7 MadMolecule July 15, 2009 at 10:09 am

Another good idea: If it’s a longer visit, like if they live in another city, and they put you up in a guest room, be sure to leave the room cleaner than it was when you got there.

8 Will July 15, 2009 at 11:03 am

I like these comments, especially the one about not trying too hard.

I get along with my in-laws, and although we’re probably more polite than warm, that’s a lot better than impolite!

One unusual thing: I’m a Southerner and absolutely cannot call them by their first names; it feels like I’m insulting them. They’re from the North and find “Mr. and Mrs. X” offensive. I thought about it, and . . . developed pet names for them. Mrs. didn’t like hers, so she’s Grandma now. Mr. thinks his is funny, so we go with that. Compromise.

9 Michael July 15, 2009 at 11:47 am

Spot on!

I called (and was expected to call) my in-laws Mr. and Mrs. until we were engaged. Once the engagement was a done deal, it was ok to call them Mom and Dad. I’ve never called them by their first names, oddly enough.

Not enough guys make the effort, in my opinion. If you respect your girlfriend, and respect her parents, then put in the effort to make a great impression.

10 Tyler July 15, 2009 at 12:37 pm

My current girlfriends parents had me over for dinner the first time that I met them and her younger brother. I was very nervous. I had purchased a bottle of Duvel (expensive Belgian beer) for her father and flowers for her mother. Her mother made a huge, wonderful meal. Pork chops, home made saurkraut, mashed potatoes….it was great. Things were going very well. The conversation was flowing, I had them laughing, and we were all getting along. The nervousness I had felt moved into confidence and comfort and I was in my element.

It was then that my girlfriends brother (and now one of my good buddies) decided to try and eat half of a pork chop in one bite, as it would seem. He began to choke. At the time, I was working as an EMT and had seen all manner of horrible gore and such. A choking person was not a big deal. I stood up calmly, walked over to the other side of the table, gave him the heimlich maneuver, out came the chop, and just as calmly, I went back to my chair to continue eating and carry on the conversation. Needless to say, everyone at the table was silent, save for the coughing brother. Quiet, shocked thanks were given and desert was served.

It’s 4 years later and her parents still treat me like a second son. So for all the guys out there, all you have to do to get in her parents good book is bring her father expensive beer and her mother a nice bouquet, be yourself, and save her kid brothers life at the dinner table.

11 Brett July 15, 2009 at 3:10 pm

@CoffeeZombie-Good comments. I guess it’s hard for me to imagine that being polite wouldn’t come naturally to a man, but some gents probably do need practice so it comes off smoothly.

@Michael-Did calling your in-laws “mom” and “dad” come naturally? My mother-in-law told me I could call her mom, but it seems strange to me. What do all of you out there call your in-laws: first names? Mr. and Mrs?

@Tyler-Awesome, awesome story. 1500 man points right there.

12 CoffeeZombie July 15, 2009 at 3:24 pm

@Brett If it’s hard for you to imagine politeness not coming naturally to a man, you must not know very many men. Or you keep very good company.

Then again, I’m a Southerner in transplant country (i.e., I live in an area of the South where a large portion of the population is made up of Yanks and others who have invaded moved in from elsewhere), so perhaps I see more rudeness where everyone else might see politeness.

13 Brett July 15, 2009 at 3:32 pm

@CoffeeZombie-

I guess what I meant is that it’s hard for me to imagine that doing stuff like shaking hands well, looking people in the eye, and saying “You have a nice house!” could come off as artificial and weird. I think those kinds of things are somewhat easy to turn on when you need to. But I’m obviously taking a very narrow view as a guy raised to be polite. And people who have never done it might well come off badly if they suddenly tried.

14 Lauren July 15, 2009 at 5:06 pm

I do not think men realize how important it is to meet a girlfriend’s parents! First impressions are so key because it is so difficult to date a guy who’s parents do not like him.

15 Tyler July 15, 2009 at 5:37 pm

@Brett – Thank you, sir. I believe any good man would have done the same.

16 t.h.williams July 15, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Great post. I would also recommend doing some research on your girlfriend’s parents by asking your girlfriend appropriate questions that will give you an idea of what you’re getting into. I’ve walked into good homes and crazy homes and it always helps to have even a vague idea of the people you are meeting. As an alternate to flowers, a small gift may be appropriate for a weekend stay. If so, wrap the gift. And make an effort to get some one on one time with her father, regardless of whether you are considering marriage at this point or not.

17 Dancelot July 16, 2009 at 1:56 am

This is only half of the purpose of meeting the parents. Of course you want to leave a good impression, BUT just as important as that, you want to find out what kind of folks her parents are. They too must leave a good impression on you, if they are to be in your life in the future (as in-laws). Most significantly, how they behave, how they treat each other, how they manage their marriage etc. are great indicators of how your girlfriend will be like as a wife. Don’t get too caught up in trying to impress them and forget to take notes. If there’s any pressure on you to be at the top of your game, there is just as much pressure on them.

18 Julie July 16, 2009 at 7:36 pm

@John: I can at least one situation where a couple would be living together before meeting the woman’s parents. They might be in another city (or even another continent) and fairly far along in their relationship, but for whatever reason haven’t been able to go back to her hometown.

As a general rule, I strongly believe in living together before marriage. There’s simply no other way of knowing whether your living habits are compatible. Why find that out AFTER you get married and it’s so much harder to separate if you realize things aren’t working out because you like staying up until 4 am while she wants to wake up at 7 am? Or because one of you is a neat freak and the other’s a slob?

This autumn, I will be moving in with my boyfriend of two years, with both my parents’ blessing. They are both firmly in the “live together before marriage” camp. Just food for thought.

19 john July 17, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Julie,
Good for ya, but manliness correlates to responsibility. I hope that no one gets pregnant before you find out that your morning routines are incompatible. For my daughter, I will be firmly in the “why would you be living with my daughter and not committed to her camp”. But you can rationalize your desires in any way that suits you. My comment was directed to men that may see the convenience of shacking up without having the adult realization that playing house has consequences. Modern feminism has done a wonderful job of convincing a woman that giving a man exactly what a teenage boy has always dreamed of would empower her.

20 Carlos Duran July 22, 2009 at 3:50 am

I really enjoyed the section on building rapport. I think your view works anywhere but especially if the girl’s parents are from a different country, have a different background or come from a very different culture than you.

What you said about being engaged in conversations, really does go along way to presenting you in the best light and building a relationship with your in-laws or in-laws-to-be.

This really is a must read for any man setting out to meet his girlfriend or wife’s parents for the first time.

21 M. Steve July 24, 2009 at 9:32 am

@john

Not everyone, especially those who are not particularly religious, equated commitment with marriage. My girlfriend and I live together, and are fully committed to each other. We are responsible when “playing house” (what a vulgar euphemism for two people expressing their love) and use birth control (in fact, she was my “first). We plan on marrying before we have children. I agree that no couple should live together without committing to each other, but, if they do not view marriage as a religious obligation, why should the state be require to approve of their commitment?

P.S. Manliness also correlates with respect, especially for women. Your rude and dismissive reply to Julie does you no favors if improving your manliness is your goal.

22 Phillip October 21, 2009 at 5:17 pm

You should avoid meeting a woman’s parents at all costs. Eventually the relationship will probably end and no matter how hard you try, they probably won’t like you after that. Why waste the energy on something that likely won’t end well?

23 Chris H October 23, 2009 at 1:46 pm

@M. Steve

Well said, in regards to Manliness correlating with respect.

@john
I didn’t quite get the relationship between “living together” and “lack of responsibility”, as determining that level of compatibility before marriage seems QUITE responsible.

I am divorced and am currently in a very strong relationship and will be meeting the parents next weekend. It has been a LONG time since I had to do anything of the sort and this article was a good refresher on what i think are the basic tenets (or should be) of any social interaction: Be nice, Be sincere. Be confident. Don’t be a jackass.
As i said though, I am divorced, my girlfriend has never been married. Any suggestions on how to handle it if the matter of my old marriage is brought up without appearing defensive or insulted?

24 Darryl November 1, 2009 at 9:40 am

I believe the reference to living together and lacking in responsibility referred to people who are living together mostly for the sex rather than commitment. Certainly this doesn’t apply to everyone. I, personally, believe that people should live together first. That’s not irresponsible if done for the right reason.

25 Rich November 12, 2009 at 12:36 pm

I knew my girlfriends parents before her. I thought seeing them for the first time after we started dating would be odd. I followed the rules in the article anyways and I am glad I did because they appreciated the formal politeness.

People would live together for a number of reasons before getting married. If you are committed to each other and do not want to get married yet (want to finish grad school, want to wait until after another friends wedding, a family member is ill), it still might make more sense to live together rather then paying for two appartments or to be able to spend more time together if you are both very busy.

26 James December 12, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Hi all,
I was wondering if I could get some help getting a present for my girlfriend’s parents this Christmas. I have been dating her for over a year now and we’re quite serious about each other. This Christmas, I’ll be flying over to Portland to stay with her and her parents for two weeks during the winter break (I’m from abroad, so going home is quite expensive). As a first year grad student, having just come out of college (she’s a senior in college), I want to get something that impresses her parents but is also not out of my range (I don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard). I was originally thinking of getting them a nice bottle of wine, but unfortunately her parents don’t drink and her younger brother (senior in high school) is too young to drink.

Thanks!

James

27 Eamon January 8, 2010 at 3:48 pm

@John, there are quite a few things that I could discuss about your post, but as for the rather tasteless pregnancy comment, haven’t you ever heard of birth control? And people can be committed to each other and be living together without being married, both for reasons given by others who commented here, and for a host of others.

28 Ami January 9, 2010 at 6:49 am

@James:
How about something like dessert? You can get stuff ranging from cheap supermarket all the way to incredibly expensive luxury items, so something that falls in the middle, in your budget, could be good.
Or maybe if you have a local favourite, you could bring that along, to show them a little about where you come from.
Dessert always makes people happy, so it’ll be hard to go wrong. (Check for allergies just in case though.)

29 Jay January 24, 2010 at 11:17 pm

My girlfriend and I have been dating around three months now and I think it’s getting to be that time to Meet The Parents. Is three months too soon? We like each other a lot. This article has great tips on what to do when the time comes, but no advice on how soon that sort of stage is reached in a relationship!

30 Benjamin February 26, 2010 at 11:23 am

@ Jay – Assuming that you’re serious about the girl, I say it’s up to her. When my girl is ready for me to meet her parents, I will. If it’s been a year, I haven’t met them, and they live on the same continent, I might start to worry.

Next weekend, I’m meeting my girlfriend’s parents for the first time. We’ve only been seeing each other for a month and it’ll be a weekend trip to their home. It’ll be an experience! Especially since I’m an aforementioned Yank in the great South.

31 Jake October 6, 2012 at 9:39 pm

My girl’s dad and I were good friends even before meeting his daughter so all that pressure was relived early, my suggestion is to try to make friends with the father so he respects you and trusts you with his “baby-girl” so to speak.

32 Peter Kirsop December 14, 2012 at 4:01 am

Good advice when you are the father of the groom about to meet your prospective daughter in law’s parents for the first time. Thank you kindly for the suggestions which are noted

33 Spencer December 30, 2012 at 10:33 pm

I always clear the table and help with the dishes after meals. I also always make my bed/leave the room in which I’m staying in the same condition that it was when I arrived. Little politenesses go a long way.

34 Another Dude January 2, 2013 at 1:53 am

Before meeting the parents, check to see how she feels about them. If she loves her mother, she’ll emulate her. If she loves her dad, she’ll expect YOU to emulate him, as he is her standard for manliness.

Look closely at her mom. She’s a living breathing fast forward look at what you’re attaching yourself to.

If she doesn’t love and respect her dad, RUN.

35 Gabe January 8, 2013 at 8:31 am

@Another Dude
Great comment. So true. Also, how does she talk to and relate to her dad? It’ll be a good picture of how she’ll relate to you. Right now, her father is the authority and standard of manliness in her life. When you get married, you will be the authority and primary standard of manliness. How she reacts to that authority figure will not change overnight, if at all.

36 Trust me, I'm trustworthy May 19, 2013 at 7:05 pm

@Another Dude

Seriously? First, people don’t always look like their parents as they age. Lifestyle plays an important role in aging and it’s unfair to assume that your girlfriend will look like her mother as she ages. It’s also rather shallow and I’d be curious to learn where you learned this tidbit of armchair geneticist insight.

Second, your prediction about how a woman will act and expect you to act based on how she loves her parents seems rather naive. Indeed, it sounds like you’re projecting and attempting to make universal your family dynamic. Maybe you have your own Oedipus complex to work through.

@Gabe

Authority and standard of manliness? Is this 1950? Good question: how does your girlfriend talk to and relate to you already? That is a good picture of how she’ll relate to you. What you all are doing is the equivalent of casting horoscopes; you can project your expectations and look for external confirmation of what you want to happen, or you can be a grown-up and make your own opinions based on relevant and rational information.

If you like your girlfriend, stop looking for signs that something is amiss in her familial genetics or dynamics. Stop pretending you can predict things about how a person will act with you and look in old age based on third parties. Stop trying so hard to be manly and just be a person.

37 Thornewalker July 15, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Actually TM,ImTW… the way her parents interrelate will have a big impact on how she views ‘normal’ in a relationship.

Long before she devoted any thought to the matter she was watching the way her parents interrelated as a model for her own relationship behaviors…

38 David July 16, 2013 at 6:49 am

What about a man presenting his girlfriend to his parents? Any rules on that?

39 Tigger July 16, 2013 at 9:18 am

@John

I’m 18 and have a girlfriend, and I feel the same way. Marriage is the ultimate commitment two people can make each other, and I believe that a girl and guy should not experience the greatness of a relationship till that commitment has been made. Fact is, a relationship is not about sex (if it is, there’s gonna be trouble). People get old, and it’s about the friendship two can have and how long it’ll last. I think marriage is a gift from God, but even if someone isn’t religious, marriage takes a ton of work to break apart. Lawyers, time, and lots of cash can be put into a divorce. If two people are just living together, there’s no incentive to stay put.

Anyway, I think you’re right on.

40 GuardianStrong August 18, 2013 at 3:47 pm

First off, I think this is the greatest website ever invented. My girlfriend lives in PA, I’m down in NC. I have known her for 4 years and dated her in freshman year of high school. That was 4 years ago. We recently got back together in June and I just met her parents over the web cam. Not the way I wanted to meet them, but it’s better than waiting months til I see them in person. It went well, I studied this classy advice and it held true. I had confidence and spoke boldly yet respectfully. Thank you Art of Manliness!

41 Proverbs 31 October 5, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Tigger – well said. Sexual intimacy before marriage clouds your judgment. Sexual intimacy before marriage is one of the main reasons people end up divorced.

42 Paul November 26, 2013 at 6:59 pm

I’m surprised no one has mentioned the need to be helpful – in a casual, natural way: Clear the dishes, do the dishes, help dry the dishes, whatever… Keep an eye out for small ways that you can be an easy, pleasant guest.

43 Paul January 9, 2014 at 11:33 pm

If your girlfriends parents hate you and won’t let you see there daughter what can you do to change there thoughts on you as I’m in a situation where my girlfriends parents told her she isn’t allowed to see me we are over the age of 20 so I know we don’t need permission but I would love for
Her parents to get on with me or like me not just for me but for
My girlfriend aswell as it’s not fair on her an I can see it’s killing her and isn’t fair thank you x

44 Charlie January 28, 2014 at 10:02 pm

As far as the whole names thing goes, my girl’s parents asked for me to call them by their first names within 5 minutes of our meeting, so it really depends on what you’re comfortable with and what they’re okay with. I find that bringing up religion/politics in any sense is a bad plan until her parents do. Just generally take your clues from them and always try to be polite, helpful, and someone who they’ll deem as someone they’d want their daughter to be dating and you’ll be fine.

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