Dating Advice from 1944: How to Win Over Her Family

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 19, 2012 · 31 comments

in Dating, Relationships & Family

Editor’s note: Awhile ago, I told you all about a little book of dating advice from 1944 that I bought after seeing it advertised in the back of one of my old men’s magazines. The section I shared last time on “How to Pick Your Right Girl” was definitely the choicest part of the book, but I also really enjoyed a chapter called “How to Win Over Her Family.” It’s easy to forget that while you and your girl are individuals with your own lives, when you do end up marrying someone, you marry into their family too. Establishing a good relationship with your girlfriend’s parents can get things off on the right foot if they become your in-laws, and a smooth relationship with your in-laws helps keep the peace between you and your wife. So enjoy more of the old fashioned but solid advice from “How to Get Along With Girls.”

“How to Win Over Her Family”
From How to Get Along With Girls, 1944

In most instances an unmarried girl maintains a decent family relationship and you will not be long a-courting before you are invited home. Be prepared for a critical “going-over.” Without a doubt, you will be thoroughly discussed after your departure. There will be more than one post-mortem. Although her parents may not always prevail with her, they are bound to try. Obviously then, if you are seeking to win her, you must also make an effort to win over her family.

You will probably resent them in the beginning; no one likes being on display. But if you try to understand their motives, you will not bear a lasting grudge.

They want her to marry – have no fears on that account. Like you, they think her attractive and worthy; you would not blame them for their partiality. Wishing the best possible match for their daughter, they expect her to fetch a handsome, intelligent, loving, moneyed young man with no vices whatsoever. Undoubtedly they expect too much. You may also take for granted that they have not outgrown the idea she is still a child. They consider themselves more competent and experienced judges than her. They think they know what is best; hence their critical appraisal. You should try not to resent it since they are motivated, like you, by love!

To win their friendship and support, you must go out of your way to show interest in each one individually. You appreciate Ma’s meatballs? Say so. You are concerned about her rheumatism? Always inquire about her health and listen to her complaints without making a wry face. You think the furniture is in good taste (even if it isn’t)? Be emphatic in your approval. Is Pa working? Let him tell you about his job. Does he have a hobby? Admire his gardening, his carpentry, or whatever it is. Let him show you a few tricks. Does he play checkers or Michigan rummy? Play with him.

You must follow this procedure of catering to individual interests with every member of the family. Even the children are not to be neglected. They can make life miserable if you ignore them.

Have a word for everyone when you visit. Shyness and reserve are often mistaken for pride. Do not let them think you are a snob.

If your girl requests you to be nice to Aunt Sarah who is grumpy and deaf, be nice if it kills you. If you are asked to dance with Cousin Betty who giggles and has pimples, dance your feet off. You will receive ample dividends for your attention to problem relatives.

When you become a frequent visitor at the home, do not take their hospitality for granted. Remember that hospitality costs time, trouble, and money. Be appreciative. Never arrive empty-handed. Bring some cake, candy, or ice-cream. When Ma has gone to a lot of fuss to prepare a dinner, do not be above offering to do the dishes; it will not make you a “sissy.” Help Pa with the hose occasionally, or find some other way to be useful.

Sooner or later, you will be subjected to pointed questions on your economic status. It is best to be frank in these matters. Giving a false impression means piling up future woes for yourself.

After a few visits you will be able to judge whether or not you are accepted. If they remain cool, do not give up trying to win them over. It may be that they bear no personal ill-will but are too ambitious for their daughter. Perhaps you can make up for charm what you lack in money. In any case, always be civil and friendly. Avoid an open rupture.

If your girl is not sure of her own mind or there is a rival in the offing, her family may prove a valuable ally. They will continue to press your suit even in your absence; and when she is closely attached to them, she will listen.

But should you find yourself the “darling” of the parents, while neglected by the girl — beware! She may be “contrary.” Their rooting, then, does you more harm than good. Forget the old folks and exercise your charms on her. She is the final arbiter!

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Benjamin October 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm

“If your girl is not sure of her own mind or there is a rival in the offing, her family may prove a valuable ally.”

Exxxxxcellent, the plan is working….

2 Bill October 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm

It worked for me! We’ll be married 45 years in December. Happy hunting guys!

3 Alec N. October 20, 2012 at 4:32 am

Great post, as to this weeks contest, I choose the Mackinaw coat.

4 Lin St Clair October 20, 2012 at 4:56 am

It’s even harder when her parents are divorced and share dissimilar views than you. You try your best and learn that it’s okay to agree with her patents even if you don’t. Been working for 7 years now

5 Stephen October 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm


Yeah, I do understand what they mean by that but I’m sure there’s a less Bond-villianesque way of phrasing it.

6 Gareth October 20, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Sound advice and entertaining. Thanks.

7 Joseph October 20, 2012 at 10:42 pm

The slim straight leg Tellason jeans look like they have very authentic craftsmanship!

8 Zach October 20, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I’m kind of dating my girlfriend’s family. It can be very hard at times when dates with her turn into dates with her family. Be patient! They have stood by my side even when I’ve faulted because I put in time with them.

9 DP October 21, 2012 at 1:53 am

a girls family can be interesting. even more so when they and their daughter are nothing alike.

i am talking they are devout evolution is the devils lie Christians, and she is an atheist writing a book on religious extremism.

so glad the apple fell far away from the tree.

10 Napoleon Nalcot October 21, 2012 at 8:38 am

Nice post. Thank you for sharing. A sound advice indeed!

11 Randy October 21, 2012 at 8:24 pm

The last paragraph rang so true from my young dating days “back in the day,” that being the late 1960′s and through the 1970′s. Most girls back then were contrarians and being the approved darling of the parents was the kiss of death. Girls of that era dumped guys like hot potatoes for being approved by their parents and it happened quickly, before the hapless guys knew anything was wrong.

12 Alex October 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Parents are over-rated. It’s nice to have them on your side but it shouldn’t make or break a relationship.

13 Brad October 22, 2012 at 5:27 am

Unfortunately I have not been able to keep the coolest head around her parents. Consequently I find myself in the doghouse with her family. We have been living together for a year and a half now and are engaged, but her parents can’t stand me (and I can’t say I’m much a fan of them either). Her father likes to be in control of every aspect of every situation and until I came along dictated everything that she did. Now that she has started to think for herself he tries to twist the situation around and has her whole family convinced that I am controlling and manipulating her into doing what I want her to do. Even so, I still take the time and money to bring her up to see her parents on holidays and such, and try to make peace. Still tempers seem to flare (admittedly my pride gets in the way when I’m being told what to do and when to do it). I just don’t know what to do to make peace with them. I want for her sake to have at least a civil relationship with her parents seeing as how we’ll be married soon. What can I do? I get so angry when he accuses me of being manipulative and unworthy when he has cheated on his wife and fathered another child with the other woman, lived off of my fiances sisters income, forged his nieces name on her tuition check and cashed it, took the money his nephew earned from working at summer camps, etc. I have never used these things against him in a argument, I simply ask that he not shout and tell him that if he is not willing to have a discussion I will not sit there while he shouts his opinions at me with no chance to voice my own. I realize I’m young (just turned 21), but I’m a hard worker, earn a good living (started out at $10/hr 9 months ago and now am up to 21/hr), I’m still going to college while working, payed for my fiances books and part of her tuition, got her a car when she needed it, I take good care of her, I love her unconditionally, and treat her very well. If anyone has any advice as to what I can do to make this situation better it would be much appreciated. I just can’t figure this out on my own and would like to have a peaceful drama free wedding day. It should be a day about my fiances happiness, not her father and I’s differences.

14 Brad October 22, 2012 at 5:29 am

Also, we are an interracial couple. I am white and she is black. Race may play a role here. Her older sister is also dating a white guy and her parents do not like him either. Though he is unemployed and that may play a role as well. If race is the issue I doubt there is much I can do about that.

15 Jake Mendez October 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm

I agree with this article, granted times have changed but I think it still applies.
The first time I met my girlfriend’s parents was actually while they were moving into a new house. I knew that was the case and offered my assistance to them.
I knew I was going to be examined thoroughly and the pressure was on; nevertheless, I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet the family and also show them I was a hard worker and worthy for their daughter. So I made a personal note to make sure I carried every possible box, desk, sofa, and piece of furniture I could get my hands on. It paid off, my girlfriend said that her parents couldn’t believe how hard of a worker I was and even the moving company that was handling the move noticed and actually offered me a job which I declined without hesitation as I felt the stiffness in my back creeping in faster than I could say “Can I get that for you?” It the end the long weekend of back pain was well worth the satisfaction of showing her parents what kind of man I was. To this day her parents still talk about how they would’ve never been able to move in so quickly without my help.

16 Rana October 22, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Gentleman- you go trying to “win” over someone and you come off as try-hard. No real man (You or her father) loves a kiss-ass.

17 Ryan October 23, 2012 at 7:07 am

Shyness and reserve are often mistaken for pride. Pride is not a bad thing to me & If someone assumes I am a snob so be it, It is 2012 I’m not trying to marry their daughter that quickly sorry.

18 Deltaboy October 23, 2012 at 10:25 am

Great advice, My late inlaws loved me to the point they both called me Son and my mother law told people I was the other son God had sent to replace the 2 she had lost. If you follow the rules in this article you will be loved by your mate and her parents and that is one of the greatest gifts you can get in life.

19 Andrew October 23, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Speaking from experience, if the family likes you then great, if they don’t, then whatever — move farther away. Set the boundaries and keep them miles away from your love life.

20 Andy October 23, 2012 at 4:32 pm

My future mother-in-law is the creature from the Black Lagoon. My fiancee and I are the adults, and she’s the (80s) teenager. Never given me a chance either. There reaches a point when you just have to say, “kiss my grits,” and people will either accept you or they won’t.

21 Ebram October 25, 2012 at 8:59 pm

That book sound useful, thank for sharing that part :)

22 Miss Cellania October 26, 2012 at 7:27 am

Good advice, and it applies to women, too. I tell my daughters to NEVER make an enemy out of a potential mother-in-law. Not only will you both be miserable, but it puts your spouse in the middle, and that’s the last thing you want to do to someone you love. Unfortunately, we know a lot of bad examples to learn from.

23 SF October 30, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Oh if it were only a perfect world!

I think it may be harder for a woman to get on with her future in laws – especially his mother – even more so when that woman is trying to keep him as a ‘mummy’s boy’. I looked so forward to my new ‘family’ but what can you do when they are idiots? I’ve done nothing to earn this hostility, in fact quite the opposite. But I’ve learnt in my advancing years that you cannot change people, and if they’re intent on disliking you because of their own secret agendas there’s nothing you can do.

When we’re properly living together I won’t be a part of his family’s life. I’m too old and tired out for anymore mind games! (He does not want much to do with them either).

Brad, you sound like a really nice young man, your girl is lucky to have you. Yes, they do come across as somewhat racist (I’ve also been there, done that. and racism does exist also from non-whites believe it or not!) Her father sounds like a nightmare, a real selfish person. I wouldn’t bend over backwards to try and get on with him / them if they are being continually hostile. Take it from an old gal, you’ve been more than fair in trying to get on with them and if you continue to ‘bang your head against a brick wall’ you will start to resent your relationship – and maybe your relationship will suffer because of it. As long as your mate really loves you, you will work it out together. Respect to you.

24 Alex November 1, 2012 at 8:03 am

What about meeting his parents?

25 dave November 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm

What the hell is Michigan rummy?

26 Conner November 2, 2012 at 11:37 am

@dave I’m betting Michigan rummy is another term for euchre. When I lived up there, it was the go-to card game in every situation. Also, Mark Twain reports that it was a regular part of his cruise in “The Innocents Abroad.” How’s that for manly?

27 Conner November 2, 2012 at 11:39 am

Scratch that. Just googled Michigan rummy, and it looks like a long evening with the in-laws-to-be.

28 JD November 10, 2012 at 3:41 pm

What about if they’ve shown a disdain for you before having even met you? What if you’ve tried over and over to reach out to them, but they slap you away every time for no reason whatsoever, while telling their daughter they like you? What if her entire decision rests in theirs?
Things have gotten so complicated . . .

29 Jamie Bardwell December 13, 2012 at 9:47 am

Awesome post!

Getting close to her family is something that’s unlikely to be high on your agenda motivating you relationship.
But the positive consequences that can stem from this can be phenomenal.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to social proof. What other people do, and how other people behave, even other’s thoughts and feelings are highly influential to our own behaviour (despite us not being consciously aware of it) . Therefore if you can get her family to sing your praises, it will only make your relationship with your girlfriend stronger in the long run.
The same goes for making an effort with her friends. When you get into a relationship, it’s not just with that person, you should be taking on their social circle.
I guess Baby Spice from Spice Girls said it best … “if you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends!”
Truly great post!

30 Mrs Robinson July 15, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Coming in late to this one, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that Brad’s prospective father-in-law is jealous, and putting up resistance because he realizes he’s about to lose his head-of-household status to a young upstart who’s far more worthy of the job.

I’ve seen this in my own family. I’m the third of five. My elder brother is very arrogant and egotistical. He’s high-achieving at work, but snobbish and very self-centered. Like Brad’s FIL, he’s also done some horrible things in the past that few people, even inside the family, know much about. And when I brought Mr. R into the family, he fought back hard.

See, Mr. R is a Real Man. He’s at achieved at least as much as my brother, minus the ego and plus a whole lot of great people skills. He’s a natural leader — big, strong, self-assured, smart — with a way of getting people to respect and follow him voluntarily, and happily. And worse: he’s a decade younger than my brother, which made him an upstart.

Mr. R rapidly became the whole family’s go-to guy if you wanted real, serious help with real, serious problems — and hence the de facto head of the family for our generation. My brother, who thought he had this position nailed due to birth order, saw this happening, and really resented it. Twenty years on, you can still sometimes see the seething seep through at family gatherings where everybody from the elders to the kids are looking to Mr. R for leadership on this or that.

Mr. R deals with the resentment by being hospitable and gracious at all times. The competition for clan chieftain is in this generation is long since over, and we all know who won it, and it doesn’t need to be proven any further. If my brother gets really prickly, the two of them will go outside and talk it through.

But what really galls my brother, I think, is that someone came onto his turf and set a higher standard of morality, commitment, and honor that he knows he can’t meet. Brad, it sounds like you’ve done this same thing in your girlfriend’s family. It’s not an easy path, but in some ways, it’s a real (if backhanded) compliment to what you’ve made of yourself.

My advice is: Don’t fight it. Take on the role that her family wants and needs you to take. The old man will probably always give you grief; but the rest of them will be thrilled to have a better example of a man to look to — and even he may mend some of his ways as he rises to the challenge.

31 JA September 24, 2013 at 9:07 am

I met my in-laws on our wedding day.

It’s worked out great for 14 years and counting!

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