The One Thing You Need To Do Before You Meet Your Partner's Parents
Last summer, one of my brothers brought a girl home after only a few months of dating. We, his six siblings, were like, “Dude, really?” They hadn’t committed to each other yet and there they were, seven hours away from the city they lived in, spending a weekend at my family’s lake house. In case “six siblings” didn’t give you a clue about my family, we’re not exactly a low-key bunch. Any significant other who comes into our territory better be ready to get tested by all of us, in a range of ways. She did a pretty good job of handling the situation, but that doesn’t mean it was the right time for my brother to bring her home. But when is the best time to introduce your partner to your parents?
“I don't think there's a timeline that fits for everyone,” Anita A. Chlipala, LMFT, and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love tells Bustle. “Some people will want to wait until they're exclusive before they introduce their partner to their parents. Others may want to meet the parents to see how their significant other is around them — how they interact, whether they are respectful toward their parents, how they handle conflict or something unexpected, or even the kind of stories the parents share about him or her. Meeting the parents can provide a wealth of information about the person that you’re dating that may have taken you additional weeks or even months to learn.”
That last one was definitely something my brother learned the hard way, as my siblings, parents, friends, and I regaled his new love with every embarrassing story we could think of. I’ve never seen his face turn so red as it did as soon as one of us started another sentence with “Did we tell you…” or “Do you remember when…” I mean, there’s nothing funner than embarrassing a sibling, is there?
When Is It Too Late?
On the flip side, I’ve been with my partner for four and a half years — and I still haven’t met any members of his family. Granted, they live in three different countries, none of which are the country we live in, and we’ve been traveling all over the world (still not to those countries) for most of the time we’ve been together, but I can tell you that people definitely give me side eye when they find out I haven’t been introduced to Mom and Dad yet. But I’ve accepted that he and I have different perspectives about the significance of meeting the parents — and they’re making noise about coming to visit next month.
“I do think there is a ‘too late,’” Chlipala says. “If you're in a committed relationship for months and you haven't met the parents, chances are pretty good that you're dating someone who isn't comfortable with intimacy and/or commitment. Obviously if the parents don’t live in the area or it’s difficult to take time off or money to travel are issues, those variables need to be taken into consideration.”
Have A Discussion About What Meeting The Parents Really Means To You
And meeting the parents means something different for different people, too. The reason my siblings and I gave our brother so much grief about bringing his lady home so soon was because we knew she had different expectations about what the trip meant for their relationship. So, the experts say, make sure you’re both on the same page about what it means to meet the ‘rents.
"I recommend having a conversation about what meeting the parents means to each of you just to have clear expectations."
“What's important is to be mindful of the meaning that you and your partner make of the meeting, especially if one puts more significance around it than the other,” Chlipala says. “If one person is thinking, ‘This means we’re ready for the next step’ while the other is thinking, ‘I get to see them in action with their family!’ it might create some conflict and hurt feelings. I recommend having a conversation about what meeting the parents means to each of you just to have clear expectations.”
Dr. Grant H. Brenner, MD, author of Irrelationship: How We Use Dysfunctional Relationships to Hide from Intimacy, agrees that you have to talk about it first.
“The best time is a time (and situation) agreed upon by both partners, after discussion of relevant issues,” Dr. Brenner tells Bustle. “It’s important to recognize the significance of meeting parents, family members, close friends and other key people (e.g. mentors) for each, and both together, without making over-complicating the decision.”
But whether you take my brother or my boyfriend’s approach, try not to put too much weight on the event of meeting your partner's parents. “A common mistake is loading meeting the parents up with too much baggage, rather than discussing the baggage directly,” Dr. Brenner says. “If meeting your significant other's parents feels potentially problematic, it probably means there is something else below the surface. Sometimes, people try to force the relationship to advance; this usually doesn't work out very well. It's a bit like going to a wedding too soon.”
So there you have it: There’s no “perfect” time to meet your significant other's parents, but it is something that’s going to come up in any relationship. With that in mind, the best advice is exactly what you’d expect: Talk about it. Communicate. And try not to freak out too much.