Make a Connection
If your parents and your fiancé's have never met, they'll probably be eager for the official introduction. And even if they have made one another's acquaintance in the past, each set will likely welcome an opportunity to get to know the other a little better before your big day. Conventional etiquette calls for the parents of the future groom to reach out to the bride's family with a handwritten letter or phone call. If your mother and father wish to contact your fiancé's parents, you can ask them to wait a short while to give his side a chance to honor this custom. Another option is for you two to take the initiative. It's increasingly common for engaged couples to organize their parents' introductions; after all, you know best what kind of get-together will be the most convenient and comfortable for everyone involved. This is especially true if there are divorced parents and stepfamilies to consider. Separate meetings may be necessary to negotiate complicated family structures (but it's up to you to keep everyone in the loop).
Set a Game Plan
Once you find a time that suits everyone's schedules, you'll want to pick an appropriate place. One set of parents may offer to entertain the group at their home, which is a gracious gesture. But Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, recommends picking a neutral space—like your apartment or a nice, midpriced restaurant—for this first get-together. That way you can better control the start and end times and determine who will be hosting in advance. Again, tradition says that the groom's parents should foot the bill, but today that rule is flexible. Perhaps the families prefer to split the check, or the couple who live closer want to treat those who traveled. Or maybe you and your fiancé will opt to cover the cost. However you work it out, make sure everyone agrees upon the arrangement up front to sidestep a potentially awkward situation. Brunch is a good dining option if one couple tends to turn in early, or if you want to keep the cost and/or alcohol consumption in check. Day or night, if you go the restaurant route, be sure to choose a quiet place with a broad menu.
Help Conversation Flow
At the initial introduction, the burden is on you and your fiancé to ease your parents' interactions. That's simple, according to Fine, if you exhibit what she calls "host behavior." It's all about preparation, she says: "You two are familiar with your own sets of parents, so figure out commonalities beforehand and weave shared interests into the discussion." This avoids a frequent conversation pitfall of each person "feeling like they're being interrogated by an FBI agent ('Where do you live? What do you do?...')," says Fine. "In essence, they are interviewing one another, but you don't want it to ever seem like that." If one of the foursome starts monopolizing the conversation (or steering it in a possibly controversial direction), solicit another parent's opinion, or ask a direct question, like "What else has been keeping you busy lately?" to change the course entirely. And finally, remember that your and your fiancé's nonverbal cues will be contagious, Fine says. If you appear relaxed and content, you'll likely look around the table and see that everyone else is, too.