They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and there’s even scientific evidence demonstrating that a first impression largely influences a person’s perception of another from that point forward. And, while acquaintances come and go, the family of your significant other could potentially be in your life forever. Thus, first impressions are of the utmost importance. So, when it comes to meeting your partner’s parents, most especially, it’s crucial to be at the top of your game and make a positive impact. After all, you know how awesome you are. Why not show them everything you have going on?
Even if you’re nervous, stressed, or don’t know what to expect, there are helpful tips to keep in mind when you're aiming for a stellar first impression.
Ahead, find all the things you want to know before meeting your SO's family, and exactly how to ensure you're putting your best foot forward.
Prepare Ahead of Time
When meeting your partner’s parents for the first time, it’s important to enter the situation with as much information as possible. What are their names? What do they do? Are your partner's parents divorced? Is one parent deceased? Are they close with your partner?
When you head into the situation fully informed about the nuances and unique dynamic of your partner's family, you’ll be better equipped to make a more dynamic first impression. Relationship expert April Masini cautions, "Find out from your partner what sets their parents off. For instance, if they’re staunch political advocates or if they tend to be very religious—get a head’s up so you can steer clear of talking politics or making comments about religion." She adds, "Basically, get briefed on what they’re like and ask specifically, what you should not talk about and why. Forewarned is forearmed."
Find Out the Details
Along the same lines, if you’re going to meet your partner’s parents for the first time, it’s also worth finding out the general plan for the day. Are you having dinner at a restaurant? Eating Sunday brunch at their stepmother’s house? Staying at their dad’s place for the weekend?
Do your best to lessen any anxiety and stress that you’re feeling and go into the situation with a basic picture of what to expect. In an article on CNN, Toni Coleman, a licensed social worker and founder of Consum-mate Relationship Coaching in McLean, VA suggests talking ahead of time about all possible specifics to avoid any awkwardness. "Talk about family mealtime habits with your partner. For instance, some folks are expected to pitch in during clean-up, while others prefer that guests stay out of the kitchen. If you'll be dining out, discuss how the check will be handled to avoid any embarrassment." Additionally, Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D. wrote for Psychology Today that "People who smile are often seen as trustworthy, approachable, and willing to engage in friendly conversation."
Parents are usually happy to discuss wardrobe coordination in advance, so guests can plan accordingly,
Once you have a general idea of where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing, it’s important to dress in a way that’s respectful to yourself as well as the people you’re meeting. While you may be most comfortable in leggings, sneakers, and a torn tank top, this may not be the best clothing choice when it comes to meeting your partner’s parents for the first time.
While you shouldn’t dress in a way that’s the complete opposite of the type of person you are, you can choose suitable and appropriate attire that compliments, highlights, and accentuates your awesome personality and is fitting of the situation in every respect.
Depending on what the event is, it's not a bad idea to reach out to your SO's parents directly (or ask your partner to do so). "Parents are usually happy to discuss wardrobe coordination in advance, she said, so guests can plan accordingly," says Jodi R.R. Smith, the founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Boston to The New York Times.
Mind Your Manners
When meeting your partner’s family, it’s important to keep in mind some of the fundamental etiquette techniques that are crucial toward making a good first impression. It may seem simple, but saying “please” and “thank you” can speak volumes when meeting your partner's parents for the first time. Masini likens manners to currency, stating, "When your partner’s parents see you have good manners, you’re broadcasting the fact that you know how to behave in social situations." She adds, "Your partner’s parents are going to be much more eager to introduce you to their friends and family members when they see your good manners because they’ll feel you fit in, and they’ll feel proud to be associated with you."
You should also try to refrain from staring at your phone, burping, swearing, and screaming, to name a few. Since you’re spending time with your partner's parents and not your BFFs from college, being well-mannered, courteous, and polite can go a long way.
Bring a Gift
The general rule of thumb is never arrive empty-handed.
In terms of proper manners, it’s also a good idea to bring a small gift to your partner’s parents when you meet them for the first time instead of arriving with nothing. "The general rule of thumb is never arrive empty-handed," cautions Myka Meier, a founder of the Plaza Hotel Finishing Program. While this can include flowers, chocolates, or a bottle of wine, you can also take it a step further by asking your partner for any specifics regarding their parents’ interests and taste.
Perhaps your partner's dad loves peanut brittle from a specific store in town. Or maybe their mom spoils her dog, and a present for the pooch is the perfect offering. By personalizing your gift to your partner’s parents, you’re truly presenting yourself well.
Offer to Help
If you’re looking to make a great first impression, it’s also important to show your gracious side. That means offering to set or clear the table, freshen others' drinks, or just generally inquiring if there’s anything you can do to help.
This simple gesture is always much-appreciated and well-received by others. And, being cordial, considerate, and kind are qualities that any parent would want to see in their child’s partner. In a word, offering to help them can actually end up helping you.
Any expert on body language can tell you that smiling is crucial to making a favorable first impression. When you exude happiness, joy, and contentment, others are more likely to feed off of your positive energy and mirror it right back to you.
Even if you’re nervous, intimidated, or bored out of your mind, it’s important to remember that you should stay smiling. "Keep your humor intact," says an article in CNN. "Laughter is a great tension reliever.
Keep It Light
You may have very strong opinions about certain hot-button issues, whether it’s politics, religion, or any other polarizing topic. While it’s great to have strong beliefs and convictions, they aren’t necessarily the best topics of conversation when you’re meeting your partner’s parents for the first time.
You shouldn’t be afraid to voice your thoughts and opinions, but that doesn’t mean turning your time together into a debate fit for primetime TV. Instead of getting argumentative and defensive around your partner’s parents, keep the small talk light.
A great way to spearhead possible conservation topics when meeting your partner’s parents is by asking them questions about themselves. Most people enjoy sharing personal facts, stories, and anecdotes, and they’ll appreciate your showing interest in their past and pastimes.
Don’t be afraid to inquire about how your partner's parents met, their work, favorite leisure activities, and more. By showing that you care, your partner's parents are more likely to care for you.
When it comes down to it, the best way to make a great first impression is to be your best self. You should be confident and assured in yourself about what you have to offer. After all, your partner recognizes how truly amazing you are, which is why they want to introduce you to their parents in the first place. Don’t forget that!
Gilron R, Gutchess AH. Remembering First Impressions: Effects of Intentionality and Diagnosticity on Subsequent Memory. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2012;12(1):85-98. doi:10.3758/s13415-011-0074-6