Every sometimes-single girl knows that having a boyfriend during the holidays can be a gift in itself, however not everything about new coupledom is easy over the holidays. Your mission as the new girlfriend is to delicately work out a plan for sleeping arrangements, dining together, observing family traditions (and knowing when to back out). And while a cozy weekend en famille can definitely nudge you and your significant other significantly closer, it is imperative that you proceed with caution. Herewith, a cautionary tale:
"Right before I visited my boyfriend's folks for the first time, I saw Meet the Parents," Lexi, a 24-year-old office manager, recalls with a shudder. "Watching Ben Stiller self-destruct in front of his prospective in-laws made me extra nervous. I was savvy enough to bring a gift and had determined beforehand not to stay in the same room as my boyfriend. (My dad calls this 'the breakfast etiquette': No parent wants to sit down to breakfast and wonder what went on the night before.) I learned the hard way that the gift wasn't enough. I should have sent a thank-you note after the visit. Craig's mom called him and wondered why I'd committed such a bad etiquette lapse."
Who's Sleeping with Whom?There are a host of etiquette lapses you want to avoid when your hosts are the parents of someone you are beginning to love. Rule number one is to be respectful of their wishes, even if those wishes seem silly. "My parents decided they'd rather let my boyfriend and I sleep in the same room than be awakened by a lot of silly sneaking around in the middle of the night," Kelly, a 25-year-old public relations executive recalls. "Dan's parents didn't feel as comfortable, so we slept separately at their place. I plan to be seeing these people for a long time to come, so I never felt it was worth making an issue out of something that would go away in time. And it is going away: This Christmas they're finally putting us in the same room. It's happening without there ever having been a fight."
When in Rome ...
Rule two: It's equally important to make yourself at home, but not too much at home. "Get a sense of what the household is like and what sort of behavior your partner's parents expect of their guests," suggests Dana May Casperon, author of Power Etiquette: What You Don't Know Can Kill Your Career. "You can start figuring this out via a pre-visit call to his mom to introduce yourself and ask if there is anything special she wants you to bring. Obviously, even if she says no, you will bring a gift such as holiday candles or a basket of local goodies. And make sure you know what kind of clothes to pack." Casperon adds, "Once on the premises do a quick read of their lifestyle. Some people don't walk around barefoot or want their guests to casually open the refrigerator and help themselves to the contents. And don't call his parents by their first names unless they invite you to do so."
Pay Attention to Subtle Suggestions
Adrienne, a 25-year-old human resources manager, has so mastered the art of pleasing her boyfriend David's parents that they invite her over -- sometimes without David! She explains, "The first time I visited, I was careful to listen first and see what types of things the family liked to talk about, instead of injecting myself into the conversation. Then I asked questions about things I knew interested them. And I was very careful not to be a slob. I mean, it would be terrible to leave soaking towels on the bathroom floor. And it's super important to offer to help cook and clean up. If they refuse your help the first time, ask again. If they stop you a second time from carrying plates back into the kitchen after dinner, let it go." Adrienne's thoughtfulness was rewarded with an invitation to visit sans David to join his mother for a pedicure/manicure afternoon. Even better, when Adrienne visits with David, it's now expected the two will share a room.
Always Leave 'Em Wanting More
At the end of a visit, according to Casperon, you should give thanks for a wonderful time physically as well as verbally. The etiquette expert, from Mannersplace.com, says, "Touching is very important. If the mother isn't a very affectionate sort, don't kiss her but do give a hug." And what of Lexi, who committed the cardinal sin of not sending a post-visit thank-you note? She recalls, "I was really, really nervous the second time I went to Craig's parents house. But things went well and you can bet when I got back home I sent a thank-you card!"
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