15 Things Most People Screw Up When Meeting the Parents

The dread. Everyone at some point must meet their partner's parents. How can you avoid looking like Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents? Learn from these 15 things most people screw up. (See also: 11 Ways to Have Fun at Your In-Laws)

1. The Pre-Meet Discussion

Always, always discuss the parents with your significant other before meeting them. Learn the sore spots. What do they like? What do they detest? Are there familial relationships not to ask about (divorces, sibling issues)? Going in blind will be just the first of a whole evening of screw-ups.

2. The Arrival

Arriving late to anything involving his or her parents is a great way to show them that you do not value their time. Avoid appearing like an inconsiderate narcissist or someone who doesn't have their life together and get there five minutes early.

3. The Smartphone

Unless the parents are Facebook-obsessed phone hogs themselves, stay off your phone in front of them and do not bring your phone to the dinner table. It appears immature and disrespectful of those who want to engage with you in person.

4. The Conversation

Don't wait for your partner to strike up conversation! If you did your homework before the meeting, you'll know what to bring up. Ask questions about movies, books, TV shows, and sports teams they may like so you appear as interested in them as they are you.

5. The Anxiety Management

Let's face it: when you're anxious, you radiate it and it affects those around you. Remember that meeting your partner's parents is a good milestone in the relationship. Just be yourself and go with the flow. Don't let fear take over.

6. The Wardrobe

This one sounds easy, but it requires some thought. Where are you going: dinner party, boating, seeing a play? If it's a long trip, make sure you have the right outfit for each occasion. Always err on the conservative side: button down shirts, work dresses, sweaters, and sharp jackets. Shoes say a lot about a person, so make sure you have attractive but functional shoes.

7. The TMI

On a first meeting, there is no reason to bring up personal topics such as childhood trauma, religious beliefs, medical history, political views, relationship history, or anything else only close friends should know. You can slowly divulge personal details as you get to know your partner's parents over time, when it feels right.

8. The Listening

Your memory's got to be a steel trap when talking to the parents. Don't gloss over details when speaking over dinner, because you never know when that information will be handy. Never, ever cut off a parent when they are talking, either.

9. The Speaking

Sometimes, it's just not your turn to talk. Say your partner gets into a fight with their parents in front of you. Do not take over the argument in an attempt to defend your partner, nor should you do the same for the parents. Be light and try to change the subject, but if you can't, just let it pass. Your partner has to be able to negotiate his or her own adult relationship with the parents.

10. The PDA Boundary

A kiss on the cheek is fine. A full open-mouthed bonanza in the same room as the parents? That will only make them uncomfortable. Your partner will likely feel awkward afterward, too. Who wants that?

11. The Check

It's sweet to bring a gift, offer coffee, or pay for movie tickets, but when parents host, they tend to be the ones to pay. Make sure you are not overstepping your bounds in offering to pay for too much.

12. The House Rules

Every house has rules, and if you are staying with your girlfriend or boyfriend's parents, there are likely to be a few. Do your homework. Make sure you put the towels where they go. If they have a stringent "no-sex in the house" rule, do yourself a favor and follow it. They will know if you don't, and it will be awful.

13. The Interrogation

There will be an interrogation, always. Trust that your partner will interject with good words for you. If your partner's parents say something hurtful, like unintentionally belittling your career, keep a smile on your face and answer questions truthfully and without defensive tactics.

14. The Humility

Hopefully your partner has told his or her parents everything about you and how great you are, so you don't have to feel like you're proving yourself to a panel of judges. Try your best to be honest and not to exaggerate your accomplishments. Definitely do not brag about your salary or other material factoids — it will make you appear superficial.

15. The Relationship That Matters

This one's key. If you and your partner are having a disagreement or communication issues, try to sort them out before visiting the parents. Small moments of tension can leave a lasting impression. Definitely schedule in some alone time so you can speak honestly without the parents present.

Did you make any of these — or other — missteps when you met the parents? Please share in comments!

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