During a long drive with nothing on the radio, I began reviewing the times I’d met families of friends or dates before. More specifically, I remembered everything I did wrong. I thought it might be helpful if other CatholicMatch members benefit from my faux pas.
A very long time ago, for instance, I asked a friend’s family what they were doing for Christmas. Turns out they were Jewish.
Then there was the time I started re-telling dates we had that the parents knew nothing about…because their son had lied about where he lived, what he did for a living, and who his friends were. Glaring red flags!
To avoid such situations, do your homework about the family. Find out the basics about each family member: their personalities, hobbies, professions, likes and dislikes. It would also be great to have some topics for conversation starters. This helps to gain familiarity more quickly.
You can also get prepared in another way. It might seem obvious, but never show up empty-handed. No matter how much your date protests, bring something with you. If you’re meeting at a restaurant or a party, an unobtrusive gift might be best. Perhaps bring a souvenir from a day trip you two took. Describing the trip is a great ice-breaker too. It’s always nice to share fun events (especially if they’re not based on lies!).
If you’re meeting at home, food or drinks are appropriate. Be sure to clear it with your date if you’re going to an alcohol-free home, though. Also find out if anyone has any dietary restrictions and buy accordingly. I’ve made those mistakes before too! Otherwise, there’s the old standard: What mom doesn’t love fresh flowers?
If you’re meeting at a casual event — a recreational or sporting event, say — get something that ties in with the activity of the day. Find out which team the family roots for and get some of that team’s paraphernalia. Picnics are easy; food is once again the best bet!
Another idea is to give something that reflects who you are. If you build scale models or craft handmade candles or soap, bring the family some of your handiwork. It gives them a good first impression, as well as a lasting impression of who you really are.
Once the ice is broken, there is still a bit of work to be done. One thing I’ve learned: Don’t refuse food that someone in the family made. Some cultural traditions make this a tricky move, however. In one home I was invited to, it appeared crass to accept food at the first offering. I knew I had to refuse the first two times and then accept (because I did my homework!).
In other homes, a first-time refusal is an insult to the cook.
If you have a medical issue or dietary restrictions, of course, it’s a different matter altogether. In any case, it wouldn’t appear discourteous for you to let the family know ahead of time; in fact, they would probably be grateful for the information.
During my teenage years, I was a vegetarian. My then-boyfriend’s grandmother cooked a serious bacon-beef-lamb pastitsio for dinner. She persisted, asking, “Can’t you just cheat?” I tried explaining my dietary choice, but she couldn’t get her head around it. Growing up, food was scarce; meat was a luxury. Who would willfully refuse food? I have to admit, she had a point. I came across as arrogant and over-privileged.
Another thing that seems obvious is to avoid the standard forbidden topics: politics and religion. Of course, if you’ve met on CatholicMatch then the commonality is clear regarding religion, and this is just one of the many situations that will be made easier by that shared faith. But even if you’re sure everyone is in agreement, try to avoid taking sides or being emphatic about your view. It might not be in your nature to be neutral — and your passion and outspokenness might be one of the things your date loves about you — but in the delicate territory of family dynamics, it’s best not to reveal that too soon.
The issue of taking sides is one to take into serious consideration. I’ve been asked my opinion on something my date was in disagreement with his parents about. It’s a bad position to be in, and aside from showing the parents as less-than tactful, it can’t lead anywhere good. If, God forbid, something like this happens to you, try to stay out of it as politely as possible. I’ve had success with, “I can see both sides, and I think ultimately it’s best if those directly involved resolve this.”
And one last thing: Asking to see childhood pictures? It’s not always cute and funny. If a family member brings it up, check with your date first. When you see the photos, be complimentary, even if everyone else is making fun of those awkward class pictures. You want to come across as positive and supportive. The jokes can come later.
True to the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” I hope CM members will learn from my past gaffes. Have fun!