From Thanksgiving to the New Year, budding relationships across the globe will face all kinds of turning points as they navigate how they will spend their holidays—together or apart. As relationship expert Zach Brittle aptly explains, “The holidays are a great opportunity to put your whole relationship under the microscope.” And if you choose to spend some of these days together, this can be the first time you’ll be meeting his family as one giant unit. Which means everyone and their mother will be putting your relationship under a microscope, too. Butterflies mixed with terror mixed with turkey?
While meeting his family is a big deal, it doesn’t mean you need to make any big changes. My simple advice? Focus on getting to know them—not the other way around.
I know this may sound counterintuitive, especially for my fellow extroverts. His family should be taking an interest in you, right? How else are you supposed to impress them without talking about yourself? Well, here are two good reasons why proactively taking an interest in them, and putting your own stories on the back burner, is actually the best route to take when trying to make the most impressive of impressions.
01. Taking the focus off of yourself allows you to observe and pick up on social cues.
The first time I met my (now) mother-in-law, my husband hadn’t even told her we were officially dating yet. He and I had been out for a drink and were about to walk out the door to head home when she walked into the bar. Yes, really.
I was tired and wanted to get a few things done before bed. However, she had been out celebrating with a friend and was definitely there to have a good time. I could have excused myself and insisted I needed to go home, but I didn’t. Despite my exhaustion, I was determined to push through so that her first impression of me would be a memorable one.
I decided that instead of focusing on me, I would focus on her—and follow her lead on where the night should go. Whether it meant playing pool (which I’m terrible at) or dancing (which I’m also terrible at but greatly enjoy), I watched, I listened—and as the night went on, I witnessed the special bond my then boyfriend had with his fun-loving mom—something I wouldn’t have noticed had I tried to make an impression the normal way: by trying to tell her about me.
Was that how I planned to meet my future mother-in-law? Not at all. But it ended up being a wonderful night that got her on board with me being in her son’s life.
02. Showing an interest in them is the best way to show them you fit in.
When your boyfriend’s mother meets you for the first time, it’s probably true that she wants to get to know you—but even more true is that she wants to know why her son thinks you’re special enough to bring home. Your boyfriend’s parents want to see how you fit into their family—not how their family fits into your relationship.
The best way to integrate into their family is to first take a genuine interest in them. So ask questions, and find out what really drives them. Don’t try and wow them with your wit or resume. As they talk, you’ll quickly find that it’s much easier to find someone interesting than it is to try to convince them that you are interesting. For an extrovert like me, it can be hard to pass the mic to others for extended periods of time. But as Zack Brittle explains, “Listening is an essential prerequisite for building love and trust.” While they may have made some attempt at making you feel comfortable (some families are better at this than others), trying to make them comfortable by taking the time to ask questions and listen to their answers will go a long way in building up a relationship of trust between you and the people who could one day be your in-laws.
So if you’re lucky enough to have been invited to go home with your man this holiday season, remember that the key to being interesting is being interested in others. Listen first, gain trust, and the rest should fall into place.