How to Handle Family Gatherings When You’re Just Dating

Every relationship, from the most casual dating to the ones seriously on the marriage track, can potentially be derailed by just one event: the family gathering. Meeting the other person’s family can be a make-or-break relationship event, and if you meet their family early you’re taking an even bigger risk. So how do you handle family gatherings when you’re just dating and you don’t want the whole thing to blow up?

The Invitation

Unless the person you’re dating decides to make things super weird, you’ll usually get some advanced warning that you’ll be meeting their family. If the person you’re dating invites you to a family gathering, should you accept? That all depends. If you want to advance the relationship and possibly reach a new level, then yes you should go. Meeting the family can be a big deal, and if you’re serious about this person it’s better to find right now what nuts might be lurking on the branches of their family tree.

If you’re the one extending the invitation, you’re likely going to find out pretty quickly how the person you’re dating feels about you. If they are hesitant about attending the family gathering, they may not ready to take that next step with you. Talk it over and feel it out, as it could be for other reasons as well, so don’t jump to conclusions until you’ve had time to discuss it. 

The Preparation

Before you go to any family gathering together, prepare in advance. If you’re going to meet their family, ask a bunch of questions. Find out if there are any topic discussions you need to avoid. This might include hot topics like politics and current events, or it could be something that seems like it ought to be benign (like the career rise and fall of Garth Brooks). Everyone’s got their triggers, right?

You also want to go over the immediate family members so that you have a reasonable chance of avoiding any huge mistakes with names and relationships. If you’re going to see your family, fill your date in on the major people they’re likely to meet — your siblings and your parents, for example.

Make sure you go over basic things that can be a huge deal in the eyes of family members. What about kissing each other in front of family? Holding hands? Any other public displays of affection? The person you’re dating might be open and free with their affections when it’s the two of you, but they may turn into someone totally different when their parents are around. Ask first so you don’t get blind sighted later.

Make a Good Impression

Show up to the event with a gift. No matter what type of gathering it is, it’s highly appropriate to bring a small present for the host. If it’s the other person’s family you’re going to see, get some advice before you buy anything. It’s going to be a huge blunder if you show up with a bottle of wine to a house where someone has been fighting alcoholism for 10 years, for example.

Smile. Be polite. Listen more than you talk. And with luck, you will survive the family gathering together. If you do see some red flags that might affect your relationship, talk about it with the person you’re dating. If the two of you pass the family test, your relationship will likely become stronger and better.

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