I’m 20 and living in a city a long way away from my parents. Since I moved I’ve met a wonderful guy, who we shall call Oliver, and we’ve been dating happily for well over a year now. Because of the distance my parents haven’t met him yet (whenever they come to visit he’s been working, and they can never stay for more than a day), but they are aware of his general existence. He’s my first boyfriend, so I’ve never had to introduce anyone to my parents, but I really want it to go well; he and my family all mean a lot to me and I really want them to like each other.
My parents are coming to town later this month, and I proposed it to Oliver as possibly a good time for him to meet them and he agreed. Since then though, I’ve found out that it’s not only my parents coming but also my older brother and my grandparents too, and that my sister and her fiancée are planning on coming on a different day. On the one hand I’m excited to see them all, but on the other hand I’m worried that my entire family descending, most of them all on one day, will be too much for Oliver.
Normally I’d say that meeting the family is a slightly intimidating prospect and my nerves are normal (my dad can be a bit terrifying for any prospective SO, being a six-foot-four Norwegian-jumper-wearing Geordie vicar, but he’s a lovely guy). But Oliver has a non-existent relationship with his own father and stepmother who were emotionally and physically abusive, his biological mother died when he was very young, and he only keeps in touch with one of his two sisters (I’ve met her and she’s lovely, but he has said that he will never introduce me to his parents).
Our family, on the other hand, are all pretty close and enjoy seeing each other as often as we can. Last Christmas I asked Oliver if he wanted to come home with me (it was pretty soon in our relationship, but he was spending Christmas alone otherwise and I couldn’t bear it) and he confided in me that he finds Christmas especially difficult because of the family element, and he would find being around a ‘happy family’ uncomfortable, especially if it was the first time he met them. I’m scared that this will be too much for him.
I haven’t brought this up because I’m worried he’ll react badly and not want to meet them anymore, although I do realize that I have to tell him and let him decide what he wants. It’s entirely possible that the whole thing will be fine and they’ll all be happy to meet each other, in which case I’m scared it’ll come off to him like I’m being immature and making a huge deal out of it which it really shouldn’t be. But if he is nervous then I’m also scared that my accidentally sounding like it’s the Biggest Thing Ever will scare him even more.
I’m worried, Auntie, but I’m also worried that I’m really overthinking this. Is it normal to feel this nervous about introducing an SO to your parents? Am I being completely irrational, which anxiety issues mean I have a habit of doing? How do I raise the subject with him without being a total idiot about it? And how do I make sure this meeting of the people who mean the most to me goes well?
Well, for starters, definitely not like this! Which is to say, if there’s one guaranteed recipe for making your meet-the-parents moment a total unmitigated disaster, it’s to bog it down with a whole load of expectations and fears and anxieties and crazy control-freaky attempts to pre-extinguish the fires of every imagined worst-case scenario. Are you overthinking this? You betcha, sweet pea—and you must stop, right now. The more you fret about all of this, the worse it’s gonna go.
And with that out of the way, I want you to take a deep breath and repeat after me: These are the people you love. Presumably, they are people you trust to behave with normal human decency even in a slightly trying social situation. And perhaps most importantly, they are people who love you, and who are going to want to like each other for precisely that reason.
Which means that the absolute worst-case outcome of this scenario — I mean literally, the worst of the worst of the worst! — is that they just don’t really hit it off, and things are a little bit awkward, and at the end of the night you have to turn to your boyfriend and say, “I’m glad you got to meet my family, and hopefully the next time will be a little less weird.”
Of course, that all comes after the fact. So before they meet, here’s what you do: alert your guy to the fact that a few more family members are crashing this party, the same way you would alert anyone to this sort of change of plans. E.g.: “Hey, I just found out that my brother and grands are coming to dinner, too. Are you cool with that?”
And for the record, what you don’t do is deliver this message in a way that suggests you think your boyfriend can’t handle it. Because for one thing, Sparkler, he can handle it! I promise! He’s a big boy, and he’s the best judge of what he is and isn’t up for in terms of first-time family meeting—and if it’s too much, he’ll tell you, the same way he told you at Christmastime. But for another, treating this guy like he’s going to fall to pieces and soil his underoos at the first hint of a family get-together is as insulting to him as it is unproductive for you. I mean, if this is such a touchy subject for him that he can’t actually keep it together even long enough to say, “Let’s talk about why I’m uncomfortable with this,” you might as well find out now — and in that event, you might also want to ask yourself whether a guy who freaks out at the prospect of being around family is the best match for someone as close to your fam as you are. (The fact that you’re already anticipating a bad reaction from him is not exactly encouraging, either—but I’m hoping it’s a function of your general anxiousness rather than an indictment of his character.)
Finally, none of this is to say you can’t be nervous about this. Nervous is a normal thing to be when you’re facilitating a first-time meeting between people who you really love, and who you want to love each other, but whose feelings you also have absolutely no control over at all. What you need to realize is that even if you don’t get your best-case scenario, your worst-case one just isn’t that bad. And more than that, it can always get better! This isn’t a pivotal make-or-break moment that will determine the entire arc of your relationship; it’s just the first of many chances that your boyfriend and your family will have to get to know each other. Trust that process — and for that matter, trust the people in it, all of whom have a powerful incentive to be as fond of each other as possible. The result may not be perfect, but I can virtually guarantee you that it will be okay.
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