A Queer Girl’s Guide To Meeting Your In-Laws This Holiday Season

Don’t show up empty-handed.

For many people, holidays signify family. If you’re in a new relationship, you might have experienced that moment just before the holidays where the air in the room disappears because no one wants to answer the unsaid question: Who will we spend the holidays with? 

My partner’s family and mine live thousands of miles away from each other. Up until we met, I had never spent a holiday without my family. For the first time ever, I wanted to spend the holidays with my partner, even if that meant I couldn’t spend time with my own family. This year, my partner graciously agreed to come with me and spend the holidays with my family. 

My partner and I know first hand that meeting your in-laws for the first time can be daunting. If you are in the same boat, here are some tips that can hopefully allow you not only to survive the encounter but also to enjoy yourself and build a deeper relationship with your new family.

Manage your expectations

We all know the famous line “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It’s normal to want to stand out the first time you’re meeting your in-laws and make a good impression but it’s also important to stay grounded. Manage your expectations beforehand. Are you hoping they will meet you and instantly love you as much as your partner does? This expectation might lead to great disappointment and anxiety if it isn’t met. Relationships take time to build. This is the first meeting of many you will have to build that relationship and allow your in-laws to get to know you. Pace yourself. 

Do your research

Holidays often come with a side of turbulence when families are involved so it’s important to learn about your partner’s pain points with their family members. When certain topics are brought up or covert passive aggressive comments occur, you should know how to intervene and best support your partner. Also, try to look for common ground between you and your in-laws. Having something you’re both interested in will give you many opportunities to create or deflect conversations.

 Accept that there may be people who are not in your corner

There is a sense of sadness and loss some parents feel when they know their children are committed to someone. As children, we rely heavily on our parents for guidance, solace, support and comfort. However, this dynamic often changes after you meet your partner. You tend to rely on your partner more. Layer that on top of potential homophobia, and you have a perfect storm. This can cause a lot of strife if you’re not prepared for it. Before your encounter, make sure to set clear boundaries with your partner around what you will and won’t tolerate.  

Have an escape plan (Plan B)

While the intention behind meeting your in-laws is noble, under no circumstance should you or your partner allow yourselves to be denigrated or disrespected or have your relationship questioned. If you think this could happen, be sure to plan ahead with your partner so you are both on the same page if things become overwhelming for either of you. Usually a secret code works best. My partner and I have an inside joke. She claims she is of a feline nature while I’m more of a canine-mannered person so my nickname for her is “Tiger”. When we’re in public and she uses this word, I understand that it means she’s uncomfortable and is about to explode if I don’t get her out of there soon.  

Don’t take anything personally

There is a time and a place to stand your ground. When my mother first met my partner, she kept referring to her as my “friend.” I would correct her every time but she still kept doing it. Surprisingly, this bothered me more than it did my partner. My partner understood that my mother was struggling to label our relationship. Her kindness allowed her to not take it personally. As a mother herself, my partner was able to put herself in my mother’s shoes and comprehend the cultural and generational struggle my mother was going through to accept my relationship. From the conversations she’d had prior with my mother and the way my mother treated her, my partner knew that it wasn’t due to a lack of love that my mother didn’t accept her, but rather a struggle of identity. Your in-laws might be tactless at times, they might think or act like they’re better than you, and they might even taunt you or test you. However, this is not an invitation to compete with them. It’s important to maintain your cool and understand what they’re going through and where they’re coming from.

Listen more than you speak

Try to center the conversations around your in-laws and be sure to listen more than you speak. The ideal ratio we’re looking for is 80/20 where your in-laws do 80% of the talking. This will allow you to instantly learn more about them and create deeper, lasting bonds. Bonus points if you remember something they shared and bring it up later in conversation.

Don’t show up empty-handed

A common gesture that will earn you instant brownie points. This is where your research will come in handy. Don’t go for generic gifts. Add a personal touch. Are they football lovers? Maybe you could get them football-shaped chocolates. My fiancé got my mother a spa kit since she loves to pamper herself and she loved the detail that went into every product that was chosen for her.

Be present

This is necessary to mention in this technological era. According to new research by global tech care company Asurion, we check our phones at least 96 times per day, or once every 10 minutes. While this is just an average, this amount increases when we’re feeling nervous or bored. Our phones are a refuge for us where we can connect to our community and to what we consider familiar. However, if you’re meeting your in-laws for the first time, it’s important to avoid being on your phone. You want to take this time with them not just to tell them how much you love their child, but to also show them. In this particular instance, your actions will speak way louder than your words. How attentive are you to your partner’s needs? How affectionate are you? At the end of the day, all your in-laws really want to know is that you love their child. So be present, be in the moment and with every opportunity, show them that you do.   

Respect their culture/traditions

My fiancé and I have very different religious backgrounds which in the beginning was very difficult to navigate. For example, as a Hindu, we don’t eat beef while my partner’s family adores meat and they usually celebrate with a barbecue. When you add more people to the mix it becomes ever more complicated. While Christmas is not something I celebrate, for my fiancé, it’s a very sacred holiday. It’s important to discuss this beforehand with your partner and understand what you’re actually signing up for. 

Remember you are witnessing a glimpse of your future

You may hate to hear this, but unfortunately (or fortunately) meeting your in-laws actually gives you a glimpse into your future with your partner. Ultimately, we were brought up by our parents and a lot of that becomes the foundation of our values as human beings. Notice the relationship between your partner’s parents: the nuances, the camaraderie, the complicity. Observe the things that you like as well as the things that you don’t and in a future moment, discuss them with your partner.

However, the most important tip of all is this: If you’re not ready to meet them yet, don’t.

It may be controversial to say no, and it may cause a rift between you and your partner if your partner is the one who suggested it. However, this encounter is about so much more than just meeting the parents. An inevitable bond is formed between you and this new family. Your partner is allowing themselves to be fully exposed in their relationship with you, so if for any reason you’re feeling unsure about meeting your in-laws, if you’re not in a good place right now with your partner, or you’re having cold feet, all these factors will influence your encounter. You and your partner should be a solid team when you choose to meet because you will need to support each other throughout the process. So be very sure that you’re ready to make this next step, and be fully committed before agreeing to meet. 

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