Meeting extended family.
December 2, 2012 8:49 PM   Subscribe

Meeting the extended family over Christmas - pointers to help it go well?

I'm being invited to spend Christmas with, and meet, my boyfriend's extended family (I've met the parents.) We're both in our late 20's, and have been dating ~9 months. We don't live together, but things are pretty good.

I'm looking for strategies to politely handle a few points:

Neither of us is certain where the relationship is headed. There's a high chance one of our careers will lead to a move in the next year, which might lead to a split, for example. Right now, that's between me and him - not the extended family. Part of the reason I'm invited is also to reduce the amount of well meaning matchmaking/pressure to find someone that extended family tends towards - I'm fine with this. As well as the fact that he does actually want me around for Christmas, and I don't have other plans.

- How do I avoid giving any real answer to questions along these lines, without making any promises or telling any lies?

I've also been warned that a couple of the aunts have a habit of trying to embarrass girlfriends/boyfriends when they first meet them, along the lines of a lot of questions and maybe minor pranks. I'm pretty difficult to embarrass, generally, and I don't mind answering most questions, nor are there skeletons hiding in my closet. I'd rather avoid getting on someone's bad side with an honest answer, though.

- If they ask something that I really don't want to answer, how can I politely deflect, without it being obvious? Tips on handling this well?

I know the immediate family and from what I've been told, they like me. His family is a lot closer than mine. Nobody's religious, or from a different culture. My background is somewhat different, though, and I tend to hold different political views (for example, it's a given that everyone in my family attends university. It's unusual - my boyfriend is the only one who did - for people in their family to go to university.) My boyfriend is better at answering specific questions - general ones get an 'Uh, I don't know.'

- Nobody is out to get me. What do I need to be careful of, think about, ask my boyfriend about, and anything else, to help things go well?

Email for clarifications/private comments:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honesty is the best policy, unless there actually is something you want to hide. Otherwise, vagueness is okay, since it hardly seems fair to ask the girlfriend of 9 months whether she's planning on marrying the nephew.

Just be optimistic and vague. Once they see that they're not going to find answers to the really tough questions, they will back off (and presumably start bothering your boyfriend).
posted by anewnadir at 9:14 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't imagine that any of this is worth worrying about if you are a decent human being, which you seem to be!

Be yourself. Trying to be someone else is too much headache.

It kinda does sound like you think you'll be "on trial" a bit, despite your disclaimer.

I think your Number One Job is to change this perspective. Forget it. You are a guest. Expect to be treated as a guest!

Bring a hostess gift. Write a thank you note if you have an especially lovely time.

Change your mind about the rest. Laugh and change the subject (ask a question) to anyone who you feel is prying.

Most of all, don't worry and be yourself.

Don't drink. Accept booze if offered, toast with your glass if it comes up, but don't finish your glass. Really.
posted by jbenben at 9:17 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

If pressed on the future: "Well, there is a lot up in the air, of course, but I love [boyfriend] and we're so happy together right now. It's so nice to be able to meet his family--tell me, are you the one who [makes his favorite dessert/gave him his favorite X when he was younger/etc.]? Basically, just be vague but positive about the future, and come armed with some information about his family that you can use to match people up with (happy, positive) anecdotes.
posted by studioaudience at 9:17 PM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

1. Don't drink or smoke (assuming you do either).
2. Act like a houseguest, not a family member.
3. Laugh at their jokes (a little).
4. Spend more time with the guys if possible. They're usually much less comfortable asking relationship-ish questions.
5. Bring a gift. Always bring a gift.
posted by NYC-BB at 11:18 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

- If they ask something that I really don't want to answer, how can I politely deflect, without it being obvious? Tips on handling this well?

Something I do which seems to work well - my first answer is a joking grin, a wink, and "Oh, I'm gonna plead the 5th." Or, if the question is about the timing on something big, like "so when are you guys going to get married/move in/whatever", a straight face and a casual, "oh, this weekend or next, maybe" would work.

And if they persist, then a more serious, but polite look, an apology and an explanation that you'd rather not talk about it followed by IMMEDIATELY segueing into something else before they can speak --

"No, seriously, you can tell me, are you guys going to move in together?"

"That's kind of between me and him, sorry. So listen, did I really see a crocheted toilet paper cover in the bathroom?...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:06 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Christmas , with the extended family? This is a big fucking deal when you are unsure about the direction of your relationship.
I think you might be motivated by the desire not to be alone during Xmas time, but I would think about it.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:46 AM on December 3, 2012

If they are asking you a ton of questions in good spirits just to tease or embarrass, give them equally silly/festive answers. Example: "So when are you two having babies?" You answer: "We're only interested in adopting llamas right now, but we might look into emu in the future!" The more out there and silly, the better. Have fun with it.
posted by haplesschild at 10:11 AM on December 3, 2012

Especially if you anticipate some prying questions, you might have a conversation with your boyfriend beforehand to find out what quantities and types of information he's comfortable having leaked to his family. A smiling "Oh, [Boyfriend] has sworn me to secrecy on that subject," or "I'd get in huge trouble with [Boyfriend] spilling the beans on that-- you'll have to take it up with him" are both valid question-evading strategies if the questions concern the two of you. If they continue to badger, you can laughingly go find your boyfriend for "backup."

Other than that, best strategy I've found for getting through difficult inlaw conversations is to treat the person in question like a nice stranger at a cocktail party, not a close relative who's judging and relating on any sort of meaningful or intimate level. (Given that these people aren't actually your inlaws and may never be, I think that's particularly apropos here.) That means studiously ignoring any possible subtext: "That's an... interesting skirt" means That's an interesting skirt, not Your taste in skirts is horrible or How could my son be dating someone with such poor fashion sense?. Keep focused on the very shallowest semantic level of what's being said, and respond to questions in the same light-hearted, genial, empty vein you'd use when chatting with a random person at a party. ("Hey, thanks-- it's a hard color to match, but that cut of skirt is so comfy in this cold weather. Is it always this chilly up here?"). As jbenben says, don't worry too much about proving your worthiness for the boyfriend or giving these people an idea of Who You Really Are: at this stage in the game, being cheerfully distant is both easier and safer than getting real.
posted by Bardolph at 11:47 AM on December 3, 2012

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