The Dos & Don’ts Of Meeting Your Partner’s Extended Family

Meeting the parents can be stressful. But meeting your partner’s extended family — especially during the craziness of the holidays — can be especially intimidating. Here are a few guidelines for surviving that first meeting.

(Hint: Bring wine. Don’t drink all of it.)

Do: Ask for a family-tree rundown. If possible, with pictures.

Make introductions less chaotic by doing some homework before you get there. Ask your date to map out a family tree on paper so you can learn names and relationships. Photo albums — and/or Facebook photos — can help you put faces to names.

Don’t: Dress for the wrong party.

Torn between heels and sneakers? Stressed about looking out of place? Ask your partner how his family typically dresses for the occasion. Some families have formal Christmas Eve dinners, while others wear slippers and novelty pajamas. (Most families fall somewhere in between.) When in doubt, coordinate outfits with your date. It’s not always a bad thing to look like you’re a catalogue couple.

Do: Bring gifts.

Don’t arrive empty-handed. Learn a little about the person who’s hosting the event and try to bring a small gift they’ll appreciate: wine, flowers, baked goods, a beautiful candle, etc.

Don’t: Be late.

First impressions matter. Arrive on time. (Make your entrance easier by arriving with your significant other. Or at least text him when you’re about to arrive so he can be the first to greet you at the door.)

Do: Offer to help.

If you’re meeting the family at an event that involves food — and most of them do — offer to lend a hand in the kitchen, or during the meal’s setup or cleanup. Be sincere about your offer, but also respect a “no” if your help isn’t needed this time.

Don’t: Cling.

In a room full of strangers, it’s easy to stick with the one person you know. Be intentional about starting conversations with other family members. Listen intently and engage. Make a real effort to get to know people, and show your partner that you’re okay hanging out in the kitchen with his aunts without him.

Do: Fully participate.

Don’t let your nervousness or shyness make you appear uptight or disinterested. Before you arrive, commit to embracing the day’s plans and traditions. If members of the family are playing games, don’t sit out; let them see your (good-natured) competitive side. Laugh at their jokes. Not into raisins? Still try Grandma’s Christmas pudding. Be a good sport.

Don’t: Break the rules.

Be yourself — but don’t disrespect others in doing so. If it’s a dry house, don’t sneak in booze. If his mom wants you to sleep in separate bedrooms, respect her wishes. Don’t mock dietary restrictions, use language that would offend, or dress inappropriately. Show that you care and want to make a good impression.

Do: Relax.

Don’t go in with something to prove. This isn’t the only opportunity you’re going to have to make them like you; try to just be (a well-mannered version of) yourself, get to know some people, and have a great time. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. Your partner really likes you. His family will, too, once they see how great the two of you are together.

Don’t: Drink too much.

“Liquid courage” isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Keep your wits (and manners) about you and watch your alcohol intake. Relaxing is one thing; letting loose is another.