Mr. Palakon, I’m meeting my girlfriend’s parents for the first time this weekend and I’m nervous. They’re having me over for dinner. What can I do to make a good impression?
—Scared Of In-Laws
Along with losing your job, moving house, and the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, meeting a significant other’s family rates very highly on the stress scale. While I currently enjoy single life and the opportunities it affords me (honestly, the blackout bowling scene in this town is outstanding), I have enjoyed several serious relationships, and was generally able to not make an ass of myself in front of their parents. You are right to plan ahead, young man; relationships may come and go, but reputations endure.
It likely goes without saying, SOIL, but the obvious first thing to do is be polite. That means the basics (make eye contact, firm handshakes, chew with a closed mouth), but you’ll also have to go a bit above and beyond. If they’re having you for dinner, at the very least you should bring a bottle of wine. For $10-12 you can get something pretty decent and Chilean. Don’t worry about matching it with the food, either. They’ll appreciate the gesture regardless, and this whole “white with fish, red with meat” thing is something snobs are still trying to lord over us mere mortals who just enjoy getting a bit tipsy during awkward family gatherings.
Which you will not do, by the way. Keep your alcohol consumption to one drink with dinner, max. You’ll need to stay sharp, and it demonstrates good self-control to your hosts. But it is important to have that one drink. People tend not to trust teetotalers. (I don’t make the rules, I just teach them.) Worse, they might think you’re in recovery, and therefore not a great fit for their delightful little angel. (Of course, if you are in recovery, stick with it, good luck, and stop worrying so much about this silliness.)
Dress casually, but neatly. No shorts, clean jeans, and I would strongly urge a collared shirt. Yes, we’re all excited Slipknot are back on the road, but there’s no need to wear your tour tee. Get your hair out of your eyes, skip the cologne, and clean your nails. In essence, this is a job interview, so dress and present yourself accordingly.
In that vein, keep conversation topics casual and none-too-morally complex. Current events are usually suggested, but I disagree — they can lead to unpleasant political exchanges. (Your potential in-laws are not going to care about your progressive views on drug legalization or ending the nation-state, Trotsky, so calm down.) Have a couple of funny, family-friendly anecdotes ready, and stick to the safe topics such as sports, books, movies, your classes, and so on.
Finally, have something to say about your future. No one cares if it’s true or not, but they’re expecting you to have some sort of a plan, so just be ready to ramble a bit about your career goals, which will preferably be something with steady income and some level of social responsibility.
In the end, just relax, enjoy the meal, and laugh at her dad’s jokes. Remember, SOIL, you’re not dating her parents. They just have to be able to stand you.