Knock, Knock. Who’s There?
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How to introduce your partner to your family during the holidays
It’s that time of year again—the time when the lights go up, the radio stations play holiday songs ad nauseam, and you begin to dread another gift-giving season alone. I know, I’ve been there—year, after year, after year.
But not this year. This year will be different. Instead of being alone, I have a new man in my life, someone whom I love and who makes me very happy. My friends really like him, and my children adore him. We’re ready for the next step: meeting the family. And by “family,” I mean everyone. I live more than 1,300 miles away from most of my family, so when I go home, we are all together. My sister and her family, my dad and his girlfriend, my aunts and uncles, tons of cousins—there are a lot of us. Plus, this year there’s a family reunion to celebrate a milestone anniversary, so many more will fly in for the occasion. That’s a lot of people to take in at once. Feeling sorry for him yet?
Although he’s excited to meet everyone, I’m a bit nervous. No one’s family is perfect, and mine definitely has some unusual characters. As this day draws closer, I’ve started to imagine what could go wrong. What if they have nothing to talk about? What if it’s awkward? Or what if they don’t get along? So, I decided to seek out advice from both experts and other Solo Moms who have been in my situation.
Communicate! Speak to your family
The most important thing I learned is that communication is key.
“Let your family know how special this person is to you,” advises Amanda Carver, a licensed marriage and family therapist in midtown Atlanta. “Tell them how much you appreciate them welcoming him/her into their home. Let them know a few ways that your significant other may feel especially welcome, like certain types of food or beverage to have on hand, or ideas for points of connection.”
Carver suggests sending an e-mail to make an introduction ahead of time. A few paragraphs that explain your partner’s personality, hobbies or interests, etc., will go a long way toward avoiding that awkward, “So . . . tell me about yourself” conversation.
Suzette Kraus did just that before her boyfriend, Brad, met her family for the first time at a niece’s graduation party. Kraus prepared her mother, father, sister, and brother for the introduction, explaining that he was very different from her ex-husband. Her boyfriend, she shared, makes her laugh, is very outgoing, and much more relaxed. She also described his career and interests. The result? It went well, mostly.
“Brad spent most of the time talking to my dad—both of them are talkers,” she recalls. “It worked out well and they got along. But my mother spent the entire time in the kitchen, avoiding getting to know him. I was with my ex-husband for 24 years, and they knew him very well. She had a special connection with my ex-husband because he was always helpful to her. She really felt like she had lost a son, so when Brad came into the picture with a completely different personality than my ex, she needed time.”
When introducing your new partner, issues are bound to arise, and it won’t always go smoothly.
“It will always feel a little funny, awkward, or nerve wracking to introduce a new person,” cautions Dr. Marni Feuerman, a social worker and marriage and family therapist in Boca Raton, Florida. “Just allow for anything that comes up afterwards.”
Prepare your partner
I also learned that it is important to give your partner information about your family, providing him or her with details and strategies to help manage that crazy uncle or avoid a possible faux pas that may be remembered for years or decades. Are there unspoken rules about your family culture that your partner should know? For example, do you pray before you eat, not wear shoes in the home, or tease each other endlessly?
“If your dynamic with your family is complicated and you are having significant reservations or stress about introducing your partner, seeking the guidance of a therapist can be helpful,” Carver recommends. “But plan ahead because most therapists will need at least four to six sessions, as it takes some time to get to know you and then give you coping strategies. And there’s a bonus: you may also learn some strategies to better cope with your family.”
Carver also reminded me that I am the liaison between my new boyfriend and my family. It’s up to me to help the introduction go smoothly and to help him feel welcome with my family; I’m the only one who really understands both sides.
Make it as comfortable as possible
For Liz Right, who lives close to her family, she chose to introduce her boyfriend, Steve, to her parents separately from her siblings because their personalities are very different.
“My mom invited us to dinner with them—just the four of us,” Right remembers. “None of my siblings were invited. My mom already knew a lot about him and warmed up to him right away, but my dad told me he wanted to take his time to get to know him. My parents were separated when I was in college and then got back together, so my dad was worried that Steve would do the same. But it’s been three years now, and he’s grown to love him.”
Even her brothers met her boyfriend separately. Her oldest brother and his wife met them for a drink at a nice bar before a show—a perfect setting for them. As Right shares a birthday with her younger brother, they chose to go out to a fun restaurant together to celebrate. Everyone liked Steve immediately.
“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days”
Unlike Right, I have to travel to my family, and I have that famous Benjamin Franklin quote about guests overstaying their welcome stuck in my head. Is it true?
“The three-day rule is generally a good one, but it can vary depending on your family” says Feuerman. “You know your family well, so err on the side of caution. There are parents who may want you to stay longer or those who are distant or cold and just don’t like houseguests. You should also ask both your partner and your parents if that’s too much, encouraging them to be honest, not polite. If it’s too much, don’t do it.”
Let’s talk about sex
Yes, I saved the best for last. What about sex in your parents’ house? Is that OK?
Carver advises to be respectful of your family’s culture. “Some parents may not want you to be in the same room if you aren’t married, while some could care less,” she explains. “But you don’t want to set up your partner to get caught and cause an argument with you and your family when they first meet.”
Feuerman agrees, and she reminded me that my dad and his girlfriend are probably doing the same thing (ew!). She suggests we make sure the door is locked if we do choose to have sex. But, it’s also OK to wait. “If it’s just a couple of days, you can handle it,” she assured me. “And it builds the sexual tension. You’ll have great sex when you get home.”
I’m ready, I think
I’ve begun preparing the e-mail to my family in my head. I’m considering flash cards (kidding/not kidding) to help my boyfriend learn about my family, and I’m planning various activities for us to do with my children each day so he’s not overwhelmed. As for the sex? Well, I’ll keep that decision between us.
Any funny or nightmarish stories about introducing a new beau? We’d love to hear them in the comments, or join a Sister Tribe to share your story in a confidential setting.
Gia Miller is a Solo Mom to an eight-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy. She writes about health and wellness, medical news, parenting, divorce, and general lifestyle. Her work has been featured in online publications including Paste, Headspace, Folks, HealthDay, and more.
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