Is it rare/impossible for parents-in-law to never meet each other?
September 8, 2009 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Are any of you in a situation where your parents and your significant other's parents have never met, and the situation will probably remain this way? Is it awkward, or accepted? I am hoping for any kind of advice on the logistics of this. I feel like it's common for in-laws to know each other, but I don't know this for sure.

I'm in a committed relationship with a great person, who I'd like to stick around with for a long time. However, we are both from families that seem to experience more than their share of drama.

For reasons of avoiding serious family strife, I have found it necessary to leave out key information when filling my parents in on details of our relationship (how/when we met, how long we have lived together, etc.) However, SO's parents know all the details, and so I am afraid of what could happen if my parents and SO's parents were ever to meet.

Some factors which may be relevant are that our parents live on opposite sides of the country, and neither couple travels. They are completely different types of people, and I am not sure that they would have any genuine interest in meeting and getting to know each other. If our relationship progresses to the point of wedding bells, we will not be creating a scenario where the presence of our families is expected, we are much more the eloping/very small ceremony type. This is out of respect for the fact that much of my extended family lives internationally, and it would be too much to ask of everyone to come visit.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If the families are not inclined to travel to meet each other, doesn't that pretty much solve the problem?
posted by ian1977 at 9:39 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

And should you decide to tie the knot, elope.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 9:40 AM on September 8, 2009

Your relationship is about you and your SO. Not your parents. If it works, keep it that way (you know, the whole, "If it's not broke, don't fix it" adage). My husband's parents will probably never meet mine (due to geography and the fact that I would wish my mother on no one), and I'm fine with it.
posted by routergirl at 9:43 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

My parents & inlaws met once before our wedding, his mother came to my wedding shower, and then they were at our wedding. Other than those interactions, I can't remember a time when they've been under the same roof. (So if you elope, you can avoid all three events!) We've been together not quite 15 years, and our families live less than an hour apart (with us in the middle). There's no true drama in any of our families - they're just busy people who have their own lives to live.

A few caveats however - we don't have children, nor do we plan to. I would anticipate that if we did have kids, our parents would be more actively physically involved in our lives. Also, during the beginning of our relationship we were about 9 hours away from both families. I think it was a key time to cement our relationship, and one where we established "US" as a family unit - we have our own traditions and history and ceremony that we follow around holidays and other traditional "family" events, that make whatever our extended families do secondary. We still see them individually, and we're still close to them (my mom is probably one of my best friends), we just haven't seen the need to make it a larger blended family. It doesn't feel strange or strained - they always ask about each other - I just truly have no idea what they'd talk about if they were to meet on the street even.
posted by librarianamy at 9:49 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been with my boyfriend for 8 years, we've been living together for 7 and our parents have never met. I'm also in a similar situation where my parents see a much more reserved side of me whereas I'm much more relaxed with his family - mostly because events with his family involve large amounts of booze and karaoke, but we're not intentionally keeping them apart.

No-one has ever mentioned it. I invited his parents to a birthday dinner (my birthday) at my parents' house but they couldn't make it. The occasions hasn't really arisen since
posted by missmagenta at 10:00 AM on September 8, 2009

A lot of this depends on your respective parents' expectations. Some of them might consider this situation to be perfectly normal. Some might consider the arrangement to be borderline scandalous.
If our relationship progresses to the point of wedding bells, we will not be creating a scenario where the presence of our families is expected
Well, many parents don't have a problem with this, but I've invariably heard parents pose it in terms of, "have a small ceremony if you want, but at least invite your mother and father." In that case, both sets of parents will probably be in the same place at the same time (or at least will expect to be).
posted by deanc at 10:05 AM on September 8, 2009

My in-laws and my parents didn't meet until the rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding. In-laws live in Florida, my parents in Texas, and we are in Chicago so the chances of them spending much time together is slim. I don't find it that weird; it's probably pretty common these days.
posted by misskaz at 10:07 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

My dad and my father-in-law think the world of each other, and have met exactly twice in the 11 years my husband and I have been together--once when my in-laws were on a visit out here, and then again at our wedding. They communicate mostly via me and the husband telling them the other said "Hi", though they have exchanged a couple of greeting cards over the years. (My late mother-in-law and my dad did talk on the phone a couple of times.)

So I don't think that sparse-to-no communication between in-laws, even when the kids have good relationships with the parents and the parents get along well with each other, is unusual at all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:11 AM on September 8, 2009

My mother (my only parent) and my husband's parents met at our wedding, despite the fact that they only live about a half hour apart. Prior to that, my husband and I had lived together for almost a decade.

Truthfully, the catalyst for our parents meeting was our son being born, not our wedding per se (our son was 6 months old when we had our wedding).
posted by anastasiav at 10:12 AM on September 8, 2009

I've been married for 5 years, and my and my wife's parents have never met. We eloped, and the families are on different coasts. They might meet one day, and it won't be a big deal, but I wouldn't be surprised if it never happened, either.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:14 AM on September 8, 2009

I get along really well with both my parents and my inlaws (as does my husband). In the over a decade we have been together both sets of parents have been in the same room less than half a dozen times (including the birth of there mutual grandchildren) even though they live just over an hour from each other. There aren't big dramas between them, just people are busy nowadays.

This is the norm amongst my committed friends; the only couple I know where the parents have more contact is because the MIL is overbearingly involved in her daughter's life and injects herself into all of her daughter's relationships. Can you give your in-laws a heads-up to stay away from touchy subjects for your sake? When my parents first met my inlaws I hadn't mentioned personal stuff about my inlaws because I didn't want to gossip. My inlaws were surprised I hadn't told my parents but there were no hurt feelings.
posted by saucysault at 10:16 AM on September 8, 2009

My parents and in-laws didn't meet until our rehearsal dinner. I don't know if/when they'll meet again. It's not weird. It's not that they don't like each other. They just have very different lives and personalities, live on opposite sides of the country, and don't feel compelled to stay in touch.

If your parents and your SO's parents meet briefly at, say, a rehearsal dinner (or some other structured event--as opposed to, say, a whole weekend/holiday spent together), I doubt very much that the circumstances of your meeting or living together will come up unless your SO's parents a) know that your parents don't know certain details AND b) want to hurt you or create drama. Depending on the personalities involved, you could tell your SO's parents that you've left details out of stories out of consideration for your parents' sensitivities, and ask that they just avoid those topics in conversation. (Obviously, that won't work if your SO's parents like to stir up drama.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:16 AM on September 8, 2009

My parents and my partner's parents met after we were married and have seen each other once or twice since when we've invited them all over (totally out of guilt) for a holiday. We're not particularly close with our families and we're not having kids, so full-family get-togethers are not really an issue.

So long as neither of you is behaving out of character, I don't think anyone would find it strange that the parentals don't meet.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 10:18 AM on September 8, 2009

Unless you have an event that both sets of parents are likely to attend (big wedding, baby, etc) it seems pretty unlikely they will meet. I have been married for nearly 16 years and none of our parents have met, my MIL and mom spoke on the phone once a few years back. It hasn't created much/any tension.

Prob is, of course, all humans are different, so my experience need not be your experience.

This next part is wholly unasked for so please take it in the spirit it is offered (not judgmental or mean spirited):

You are an adult, you need to not be afraid of what your parents think at this point, it is your life. I may be over reading but sounds like there could be some big differences in religion (?) and what they think you are doing and what you are really doing in your life. Could be a lot more you are not telling your folks? That is entirely your prerogative, but if you have a close relation to them and they think of you in a specific way you may be setting yourself up for a major confrontation in the future depending on how divergent their perceptions and your reality is.

good luck
posted by edgeways at 10:26 AM on September 8, 2009

My boyfriend and I have been together not quite a year and a half, and I doubt our parents will ever meet outside of a wedding. They live far away from each other and we live far away from both of them. They're completely different and probably won't have much in common, and I don't see any reason for them to all hang out together.

For what it's worth, my grandparents don't know each other well. They also live across the country from each other, seem distantly fond (each grandmother always tells me to tell the other set she said hi) but there was no reason or opportunity for them to hang out or really get to know one another well. It hasn't affected my life at all.

What I sense, though, is not so much stress about the parents potentially meeting and how they'll get along, but the fact that your, ahem, miscommunication with your own parents will come to light. That's a big possibility, especially if they meet at a wedding, when people making toasts frequently joke about how a couple met or what their relationship timeline was like. Given that, I think maybe it would be better to come clean with your parents yourself. I understand the stress and strain of revealing such information, particularly if their drama comes from religious convictions. I bit the bullet and told my parents when my boyfriend and I moved in together because I didn't want to face the situation you're facing. Unless you can guarantee that your parents will never, ever find out the truth (and I don't think you can), they should hear it from you and not from someone else by mistake.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:47 AM on September 8, 2009

My mother-in-law has never met my parents. This is fortunate for her, as I wouldn't wish my parents on anyone, let alone people I actually like. Since your parents and in-laws live across the continent from each other, you have a built-in reason for them to have nothing to do with one another.
posted by crankylex at 10:49 AM on September 8, 2009

For reasons of avoiding serious family strife, I have found it necessary to leave out key information when filling my parents in on details of our relationship (how/when we met, how long we have lived together, etc.) However, SO's parents know all the details, and so I am afraid of what could happen if my parents and SO's parents were ever to meet.

The honest answer is that keeping your parents apart from his because you are "afraid" of how they would feel about the realities of your situation is not the hallmark of a great relationship in the making.

Anecdotal evidence in this thread aside, it's difficult for a couple to have a long-term serious relationship in which their families are kept apart. You are seeing some great examples of mature people here who are doing this, but in most cases it is because of geographical constraints, not a desire to hide their true selves from their families.

As an adult, you are free to make your own choices, but you should also be responsible enough to face the consequences of your actions when you do something that your parents might not like.

Look, if your family was abusive to you in any way, that's one thing. But if you just disagree with them, respect them and yourself enough to just tell the truth about your relationship with your boyfriend. You may have one huge, stressful altercation, but that's a lot better than them finding out somewhere down the road that you have lied to them about many, many things in your life.
posted by misha at 11:09 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

A lot has to do with what your parents and the significant other's parents want to happen. My parents were frankly more focused on meeting my then boyfriend - as they didn't live in the same state I lived in, this just didn't happen easily without a plane trip for all of us to meet up. Otherwise everyone saw photos and such online, so only knew a little about each other. They did finally meet at our wedding - and hit it off so well that they've worked on seeing each other more in real life. (Neither husband or I saw that coming, and we were amused.) Which is (I suppose) a good thing.

My rather traditional parents were not at all thrilled with the fact that I was living with someone I wasn't married to, but I was...persuasive. (I played the "I'm old enough to know what I'm doing; I'm not rushing into anything" card - I was over 30 at the time, which helped.) I was rather frugal with the details of our dating because frankly I wanted time to decide what I felt before I let my parents quiz me about things.

If you're really worried about what your SO's parents may blurt out - take the time to brief your parents on things before they meet up. And then you can always fall back on what I say - "honestly, I forgot I hadn't told you about that." Of course it helps that I've been forgetful ever since childhood, so I am saying that honestly.
posted by batgrlHG at 11:57 AM on September 8, 2009

Look, if your family was abusive to you in any way, that's one thing. But if you just disagree with them, respect them and yourself enough to just tell the truth about your relationship with your boyfriend. You may have one huge, stressful altercation, but that's a lot better than them finding out somewhere down the road that you have lied to them about many, many things in your life.

Yeah, them meeting shouldn't be something you live in fear will feel a lot better if you tell them the truth, I think.

But if I'm wrong and you don't want them to meet anyway, who cares.

It's your life, live it, enjoy it, it's none of their business or our business or anyone's business if it's normal or rare.

For what it's worth, my parents have never met my in-laws. They are really nice but I have uber-dramatic family crap that I don't want to drag them into. They want to meet them out of curiosity and general politeness but it's not gonna happen in the foreseeable future and they're cool with that.
posted by kathrineg at 12:21 PM on September 8, 2009

My brother and sister-in-law were a couple for 8 years before they got married. My parents never met her parents until right before the wedding. There was no conscious choice about it, it just sort of happened that way. No one thought it was weird that that's the way it shook down.

I have a feeling that if you do get married, even if you do elope you may want to just at least make gestures towards suggesting it -- in case anyone has any "we should at least be offered the option" feelings -- but I have a hunch that even if you do offer, you'd get a general, polite, "yeah, that'd be nice sometime..." response and then nothing would come of it. On the other hand, though, you could end up the way our parents and SIL's parents got on -- after their first meeting with "the kids" present, SIL's parents called my parents and invited them out to dinner just the four of them, "because, well heck, our kids are getting married so we should probably get to know each other a little better." And then Dad invited SIL's dad to golf, and SIL's mom invited my Mom to lunch, the time the wedding came along 2 years later, all four of them had this running in-joke about exactly which family was supposed to pledge a flock of goats to the other one, and SIL's dad invited Mom to dance at the reception and they had one of those "everyone else clears the floor for them and watches" moments and --

yeah, in short, your parents could surprise you by hitting it off awesomely.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:27 PM on September 8, 2009

My husband and I have been married for nearly 3 years, and his parents have never met my father or brother (my mom died when I was a teenager). As long as I'm calling the shots, this will never change - I haven't seen any of my family members myself for six or seven years.

It is awkward sometimes, although not for the reasons you'd expect. We didn't have a wedding, so there was no event from which to exclude anyone, and we have no children, so no one's getting cut out of a grandchild's life thus far. Things do become awkward when his more distant family members (whom we only see every few years) try to make small talk about my family, and we have to explain that they're not in the picture. Also, I sometimes feel overwhelmed at having to deal with his family without "backup," as it were - I feel like I don't have any familial safety net of my own, should my in-laws decide to turn on me. (This is probably irrational.) I do worry about explaining to my future child why she only has one set of grandparents, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Logistically it's a non-issue, mostly because my family isn't in the picture at all, but if they were, I would actively try to keep the sides separate, just to maintain my own sanity.
posted by timetoevolve at 12:28 PM on September 8, 2009

Depending on where you live, I don't think it's necessarily unusual. My parents and my husband's father have never met, and we've been married for five years. We live in Connecticut, my husband's father lives in Pennsylvania and my parents live in St. Louis. My parents were the ONLY guests at our wedding, and that was only because they were visiting me during the week that we decided to get married (our ceremony was about a week and a half after our "engagement"). Not telling his father until afterwards wasn't really a conscious choice; that was just the way it worked out. We don't, and won't have any kids together, although my mother considers his kids her grandkids. I think the only thing that might bring the families together at this point is something momentous in the children's lives (graduation or wedding), and even that's sketchy.
posted by dlugoczaj at 4:44 PM on September 8, 2009

My husband and I have been together for nine years and our families have never met. It wasn't really planned that way, it's just the way it has worked out. There has never really been a good opportunity to get them together as one set lives in Georgia, one set lives in Ohio, and we don't have the room to entertain guests (so no joint holidays or anything like that.) We got married at the courthouse so that was never an issue either.

The Mr. and I aren't bothered about it, and neither set of parents has ever mentioned anything about it either.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:44 PM on September 8, 2009

In my two long-term relationships, the parents have never met. Including the current one where we're coming up on 10 years together. We sincerely hope to make it the rest of our lives together and never, as long as we live, have our parents meet. They live on opposite coasts and would not get along in any way, shape or form.

We do like to play the hypothetical game of "If we put all our parents in a room together, who would be the last one standing?" We're agreed that my mom would eat his alive, but theories vary from day to day on which of the fathers would survive the cage match, depending on whether we include biological fathers or restrict it to the stepfathers.
posted by Stacey at 5:03 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll have been with my husband for seven years in about a month, and our parents have never really met. My father died before meeting either of my husband's parents, and at that point I'd been with my husband for five years. My husband's parents are separated, but all of parents lived in the same city, even.

My mom has very briefly met both of his parents, on separate occasions. She met his dad once eleven years ago when my husband and I were in high school and only knew each other, so that doesn't really count. She met his mother once three or four years ago when we were visiting that city from college and my mom picked me up from his mom's place. My mom doesn't care much whether she ever meets them; not in a mean way, she just... yeah, doesn't care, haha.

My husband's mother really wants to meet and be friends with my mom, but my mom doesn't really have the time even if she wanted to; my husband's mother is and has been unemployed for a couple decades now, whereas my mom has been the sole provider for herself for a long time, and my dad when he was alive. My mom is a crafty type so she will prepare a gift basket for my husband to give his mother on Mother's Day, and I'm the mule for whatever Christmas gifts the two exchange, but they don't actually meet or talk. This has more to do with my mom liking to give gifts than anything.

My husband and I avoided the whole hassle of a wedding by getting married at the courthouse with no ceremony. Big money saver, don't have to deal with family co-mingling and possibly having nothing in common, etc. (Our families are pretty different; my husband's is a lot of old money and academia on both sides, whereas my family is very Southern Baptist on one side and sort of working-class Catholic on the other.) I think his mom was a little disappointed we didn't have a real wedding but we didn't catch much heat about it. His dad and my mom are both neutral toward weddings so it was no big deal.

Based on my experiences versus your last paragraph, your families aren't gonna meet anytime soon, or perhaps ever. At this point, I'd be surprised if my mom ever sat down with my husband's parents.
posted by Nattie at 8:23 PM on September 8, 2009

I've been married for 16 years, neither set of parents has met the others, there's no hard feelings, no plans to meet, and everybody's fine with the situation. So there's a data point for you in the "not so rare" column.
posted by Quietgal at 8:46 PM on September 8, 2009

A twist......My older sister and my wifes older brother got together ( and married) before us. Our parents met once....and that was the only time. The two mothers got along very well and probably could have become good friends. The two fathers.......ah not so much. Can everybody say WW111? It's too bad really, but thats life. The parents have all passed away now. They all lived in the same city. Your "problem" is not really that uncommon.
posted by Taurid at 10:04 PM on September 8, 2009

How far are you willing to go to keep these people apart? Would you bar them from a funeral? Personally I would prefer the token meeting at marriage than be dealing with the drama of keeping them apart and potentially overseeing their first meeting over some catastrophic event like my spouse's death. As Meg_Murry points out above they probably won't compare notes at a single meeting.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:53 PM on September 8, 2009

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