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!