A friend of mine graduated last week, so one week after packing up and leaving Flagstaff “for good,” I drove back to attend a department picnic and to attend her graduation party. Although she’d been planning this party for some time, attendance wasn’t what she was expecting, largely because so many other people were graduating that weekend everyone was committed to something-or-other. As a result, while a few of my friends were there, her party mostly consisted of herself, her husband, her parents, and her in-laws. This was fine with me because I get along great with people who are older than me–in fact, I generally prefer them to people my own age.
However, it got me to remembering when I met the BF’s parents, and when he met my dad (my mom passed away when I was 18). In fact, it struck me that meeting the parents isn’t really any different (aside from the age difference) from meeting the other person’s friends. The question becomes, how do I impress someone who has a vested interest in, and therefore a desire to protect, the other person–and who is more than willing to do that at my expense?
The secret is good old-fashioned pick-up skills. As Holly Hoffman says in her latest blog entry, the skills required to successfully network in the business world are the same skills necessary to successful pickup. Similarly, once you’ve picked up the guy/girl, you have to “pick up” everyone in their social and family circle–their friends, business associates, family members. And the thing that all of those people have in common is that their primary allegiance is to the other person and not to you. Additionally, depending on how long they’ve been around, they have seen the person you are with now get hurt by other people. So what’s the key to impressing this crowd? Here are three simple steps (and only one of them involves actually doing anything outwardly!):
#1: Recognize There’s a Context that You’re Not a Part Of
These people have been around, often for a long time, and have seen a lot. Not only do they know what mistakes the other person has made, they have their own opinions on what happened and why. Some of those opinions your partner may be aware of, but others they might not even know about. For that reason they may not approve of how you met, whether or not you’re sleeping together, what their/your intentions for the relationship is, or even whether the person should be dating yet at all (depending on when and how their last relationship ended). There are inside jokes and stories, vague language, feuds and disagreements and personal history that affects the way the group interacts.
#2: Don’t Worry About What You Can’t Change
IMO, the best thing that you can do in this circumstance is not let it get to you. There’s a lot in this world you can’t control, and no sense worrying about any of it. As long as you’re honest with your partner about your intentions and activities, and as long as you’re reasonably certain that the other person is being honest with you, then you’ve done all you can. Be yourself and assume that the persons friends/family will see in you what the other person saw. I remember the BF confessing that he was very nervous about meeting my dad, and I was shocked. Why would my dad’s opinion matter? The only thing that I could imagine my dad saying was, “I raised a smart girl and I’m sure you can pick someone for yourself.” In fact, that’s all my dad said–with the addition that the BF seemed like “a nice young man.”
Now, because his parents live in the area we do, I’d already met them a bunch of times. “Weren’t you nervous?” He asked. When I said no and he asked why, I said, “Because I didn’t figure their liking me or not would make a difference in our relationship.” Granted, some people do make their romantic relationships contingent upon the approval of their family/friends. I think this is pretty immature behavior, but some of it is also just not having met the right person yet–the odds of you really falling for someone your friends/family would hate are slim, and once you do fall for someone, you don’t care what anyone thinks anyway. If the other person doesn’t stick up for you around their friends/family, then you have a choice: 1) ask them to do so, 2) don’t go to events where they’ll be, or 3) stop seeing them. Just make sure they know those are the options you’re considering.
#3: Get Them to Talk About Themselves
When you first meet someone, especially someone who’s in a position to critique you and your relationship, it’s very tempting to talk a lot–to list all the reasons why you’re awesome and fun, why you’re upwardly mobile in your career, why you’re a good catch for this, that, or the other reason. However, now is not the time to talk, and there are two main reasons why. The first is that if you talk about yourself too much, then you come across as conceited. This is particularly the case if you’re the subject of your own conversation–talking about some kind of content like tv, politics, or pets is a little different. The second reason is that meeting the friends/family is kind of like being read your Miranda rights–anything you say can and will be used against you. Getting the conversation going until you hit on something that makes the other person light up, and then asking them a bunch of questions about it will ironically 1) make you seem more interesting, and 2) limit the opportunities that you have to say something that will unintentionally offend.
There you have it–Honey’s Hot Tips for ingratiating yourself to strangers who actually have a reason to dislike you. Of course, there are other things you can do
- Bust out some tried-and-true stories that show social value (that DON’T have a sexual undertone),
- Share stories about your partner that compliment him/her and show what you like and are learning from the relationship (again, NO sexual undertone), and
- Keep up on television, books, politics, and world and local events so that you always have something to add to the conversation.
However, none of that will work unless you practice the first three steps as well. I got rave reviews at my friend’s party–her mom pulled her aside to tell her that she “just loved” me and then later invited me to come visit her in Connecticut anytime. Why? We bonded over her stories about her new Dauchaund. The BF’s grandmother practically fell in love with me when I visited for Christmas. Why? It turned out she loved Sex and the City as much as I did (I didn’t share how much racier it was on HBO since she watched it on TBS). Remember: accept situations for what they are, don’t worry about what you can’t change, and listen to other people.
If this post made you want to run out and meet some strangers, you might also enjoy: