By Andrew Richdale
Illustrations by Liza Corsillo
Congratulations! You’ve cleared one of the most difficult hurdles of any relationship. You’ve somehow made the journey from promising left swipe who had clever-enough responses and emoji skills to guy worthy of meeting the most important people in their life, the ones who may not wield veto powers but can certainly influence the future of your relationship with a certain facial expression. You’re meeting the parents — on Thanksgiving, no less. It’s perhaps the most exclusive invitation a family has to offer.
While it can be awkward enough to stir your stomach, remember first that this invite is also a huge vote of confidence that you’re ready for such a gauntlet. You’ve been deemed worthy of subjection to the weird brother, a ritual paternal grilling, and sneaky mom questions. Coming out on top just requires some room reading and common sense.
First things first: the king and queen of the house want to know they’re pride and joy is dating someone who is heading down a good path. Their potential endorsement of you is a bet on their kid’s future — time to make a good impression. Come with a gift. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Unless they’re a sober crowd, pick up an easy-drinking wine — like a beaujolais or sauvignon blanc, save the weird stuff for your Brooklyny dinner party — that is at least $20. Or, for something slightly unexpected and thoughtful, pick up a quality bottle of olive oil, the kind of thing they may not splurge for on their own.
With a gift in hand, your next step to winning them over is looking like a man with a plan — a very good one. Get a solid sense from the significant other just how fancy an affair the dinner will be. A shawl-collar cardigan layered over a button-down with dark jeans is a nice safe bet to deliver chill-but-sophisticated vibes in almost any setting. (It may also make your shoulders look a little broader and more capable of caring for another human). If mom is breaking out the nice crystal, at least pull on a Jetsetter wool blazer that says you really have your life together. Keep it simple with a solid color like gray or navy. You basically just don’t want to go overkill with a suit and tie if a quarter of the family will be in Green Bay jerseys.
Speaking of football, do you have to play in the family match? In most cases, it’s probably in your best interest. Make no mistake. This is a primal assessment of your strength, agility, coordination, and, by extension, prehistoric as such measurements are, your testosterone levels. A polite “no thanks” is probably not going to be sufficient enough to appease a pushy, loud-mouth uncle. But if you secretly throw like Buster Bluth, come with the receipts (or a really good poker face) to back up a disc herniation claim.
And, whatever you do, strategize as a couple before the actual dinner. It’s like an interview. You can anticipate lines of questioning beforehand and just need to have your stories together. It’s likely they’ll ask how you two met. If your mutual friend Stacy, who just had a feeling, was the architect of your romance, you know what to do. If you met at 3 a.m., some time after a round of shots? Your mutual friend Stacy, who just had a feeling, may also be to thank. Just get on the same page about whatever the narrative is so it reflexively rolls off both of your tongues.
As for sleeping arrangements, if they’re hosting you overnight, a detail as important as that has already been sorted out. Did the ‘rents namedrop their love languages and bless the meal with a lengthy, off-script prayer? You may performatively assume you’re on the couch until told otherwise. Do Mom and Dad both have long hair and degrees from Bard? Then they’re probably chill enough to acknowledge that adults who invite other adults to meet their families are doing more than share a bed. You’re on their turf, so, as with every step of the night, just go with the flow.
We’re wishing you all the luck we’ve got.