10 Tips for Meeting Your Future In-Laws When You're Engaged

Nervous about meeting your future in-laws? Know this: First impressions last. Here are 10 tips to score big with the 'rents.
Newlywed couple holding hands
Photo by Stephanie Yonce Photography

Worried that your first experience with your future in-laws will turn into a scene straight out of Meet the Parents? Sure, some parents are looking for faults, but most just want to make sure that their baby is in love with a sane, sweet person. The best way to boost their confidence -- and avoid the dreaded lie detector test and other forms of big-screen parental torture -- is to ace the first "interview". The trick? Be natural and be on your best behavior: First impressions are formed fast and are a bear to budge. Beef up with these 10 tips to woo the in-laws.

Dress to Impress (And Wash Up, Too)

Guys, this means no torn jeans, concert T-shirts, or leather jackets. Ladies, no revealing snakeskin miniskirts, sloppy sweat pants, or killer spike heels. This is not the time to wow them with your cutting-edge fashion sense. Clean your hair, your ears, and under your fingernails; clip those cuticles; and brush your teeth. In short, go conservative this time: Looks count.

Do Your Homework

Don't even think about tackling this meeting before you get the 411 on your in-laws. Does Dad hate smoking and wimpy handshakes? (Leave the cigs in the car and start strengthening your grip on a squooshy stress ball.) Is Mom a Broadway musical fan? (Brush up on your Andrew Lloyd Weber.) Ask questions about their pet peeves, passions, and complaints about exes.

Kowtow to Culture

Engaged to someone from a different culture? At this first meeting, it's imperative that you do everything you can to show respect for your honey's heritage. Learn as much as you can about that culture, especially greetings (should you shake their hands, bow, or kiss them on the cheek?), and ask your partner to teach you how to say niceties -- "pleasure to meet you" and "how are you" -- in your future in-laws' native language. Commit the pronunciation of key words and dishes to memory.

Be Polite

This means using "yes" (not "yeah" or "yup"), "please," and "thank you." Lots of them. Suppress burps (and other bodily releases) and don't block the driveway with your car. Men, put the seat down. See if there's anything you can do to assist in the kitchen; help clear and clean the dishes and you're golden. Remember that little acts of consideration will loom large in their memories.

Address the Name Issue

Don't make the mistake of addressing in-laws too informally or by a name that they haven't OK'd. This is especially true in other cultures, where calling parents by their first name can be a sign of disrespect. The best solution is to simply ask how they would like to be addressed -- Mom, Dad, Bob, Carol, Mr. or Mrs. Blank. Address this issue right away -- there are few things that can cause a tighter grimace than a mispronounced or unwelcome name.

Come Bearing Gifts

Bringing a hostess gift is common courtesy in most circles; when you're going to dinner at your future in-laws' house, it's a non-negotiable. This is where your research comes in handy: A bottle of good wine is a great gift -- unless the father is a recovering alcoholic. Be creative or crafty and remember that anything homemade scores points.

Project Interest

Act alert, attentive, and interested. How? Body language. Look your future in-law in the eye, lean forward, and nod at the appropriate times. Don't look around the room when someone is speaking to you, tap your foot, look at your watch, or sit with your legs hanging open.

Avoid Sticky Subjects

This is a no-brainer, but we are morally obliged to say it: Don't start or be goaded into conversations about controversial topics such as politics, religion, or sports (if you root for opposing teams). They may be testing you -- don't commit if you don't know where they stand on issues close to the heart. Dirty jokes, your own family laundry, and personal 10-step programs are also off-limits.

Be Nice

To the yippy family dog, bratty little brothers, neighbors, maids, waiters, valets, and whomever else you encounter during your time together. It's important to remember that how you act towards other people -- even pets, who are often like family members to their owners -- is one of the clues to what you're really like "off camera."

Don't Fake It

In addition to -- and despite -- the previously mentioned pleasantries, be yourself; don't try to be who you think they want you to be (parents can smell a brownnoser a mile away). Assert your personality in small doses -- at safe junctures -- and sit up straight; some parents will want to test that you actually have a backbone.

Last but not least? Breathe. Try to relax, and remember that everyone there is going through a transition -- each of you is gaining new family members; they're also "losing" a child -- and proceed with care.