Dear Wayne and Wanda,
This Christmas, I am traveling to a small town on the Kenai Peninsula to spend the holiday with my boyfriend’s family. My own family lives out of state, so I’m excited to spend the holiday with his. But I’m a little nervous because this will be my first time meeting them, and we’re staying for a few days. I’m in my mid-30s, so I’ve met several sets of boyfriends’ parents in the past, but that was usually a dinner or a coffee meetup. The idea that I’m meeting these people for the first time, and staying in their house, during a holiday, for several days — I’m just mildly freaking out about it.
My boyfriend says I’m overthinking it and that they are really low key, and I should just relax and enjoy the break away from town. In addition to his parents, he will have siblings, nieces and nephews, and one grandparent around the house during some or all of the three days we are there. I think he’s a bit too casual about the whole thing. I’m thinking I should bring a gift, or maybe volunteer to cook one night? I really want them to like me — I think this guy could be the one, and making a great first impression and then continuing to impress them while I’m there is really important to me.
I’m also a little anxious about all the time we will be spending together as a group. He says the house is fairly small. I’m a pretty big introvert, and really need down time and quiet time to recharge. I also am prone to wicked headaches when I feel overwhelmed. I mentioned that I might need to step away at times to just take a moment and decompress, and my boyfriend said I could but his parents might not get it. Ugh, does that mean I shouldn’t?
Any advice on how to handle all of this would be great.
Well, nothing like a little pressure, close quarters and tons of strangers to ramp up the holiday stress! Wow. You have quite the adventure ahead of you — and I’m guessing, when it shakes out, it’s going to be really fun and memorable. Of course, feeling anxious heading into a situation when you have such high expectations and so many unknowns is completely normal. And telling you to just relax and roll with it is probably fairly unrealistic advice, so let’s focus on some tangible things you can do to not just survive but thrive in your first meeting with your guy’s family.
First off, do bring a gift. This is just good manners, a nice gesture, and more than appropriate when you’re going to be their guest over a significant holiday for multiple days. A nice bottle of wine or Champagne is a good gift for the season, so long as it’s not an alcohol-free home (your boyfriend obviously would know). Recognizing that food will play a major centerpiece in this seasonal gathering, consider something fancy for the table, like a nice bottle of infused olive oil or a pretty holiday candle. You get the idea.
And while you’re there, always offer to help — whether it’s walking the dog, setting the table, or doing dishes, the host and hostess are always overwhelmed with to-dos, and being a helpful guest goes a long way.
Finally, have a solid talk with your man before you arrive. Ask about family dynamics, request a preview of the personalities that will be in play during the festivities, and get a briefing on whether there are any taboo or sensitive topics.
You should plan and prepare to provide all of the hospitable holiday help that the wonderful Wanda recommends … and then you should start searching for an Airbnb cabin nearby.
Little house, lots of people, most of them strangers. Anxiety-fueled headaches, loud noises, insensitive boyfriend. This is a ticking time-bomb. You’re already stressed out about it and unfortunately your boyfriend isn’t defusing things by blowing off your feelings.
To me, a person who tells a partner, “Don’t worry, everyone is mellow and really nice” before they drag them into a house packed with strangers in the middle of nowhere for a long weekend is just like the person who runs with an unleashed dog and yells, “Don’t worry, he’s nice” when they’re charging at me and my legally leashed dog. That usually means the person has absolutely no control over their dog and I get ready to protect my pup. Just because your boyfriend grew up with these people and can survive a marathon weekend locked up with them doesn’t mean he has any control over how the weekend will play out or how you’ll feel. I’d be anxious and self-protective, too.
Most loose dogs and partner parents are harmless, if not nice. And meeting important strangers — parents, family members, co-workers, college friends and even former boyfriends/girlfriends — is part of adult dating life. Sometimes it’s pleasantly surprising and fun, sometimes it’s a total disaster. Often times, it’s somewhere in between and you all just smile and make the most of it.
But I don’t think it’s rude, unfair or insensitive to ask tell your boyfriend that you’d feel most comfortable with your own place nearby. You can stay as long as you want and go anytime you feel you need a break. You can sleep in without screaming kids or loud talking seniors. Heck, you guys can even squeeze in some holiday quality time without mom, dad, auntie, brother, cousin, grandma, and nephew crashing the party.
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