You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. But as any man who’s ever been on a job interview, a first date or a chat room for lesbians can tell you, “be yourself” is not a real option for a first impression. Especially when that first impression involves meeting the parents of a girlfriend. When you’re an adult, you date autonomously, so these rules only apply to those who are meeting parents because the relationship is serious.
We’ve all seen Meet the Parents, starring Ben Stiller as Greg Focker, a man taking the titular action of the film. Greg makes a horrible first impression with the parents of his betrothed, and it happens because he doesn’t adhere to the simple rules of this play, now ironically named for his introductory impotence. Some of these rules are completed with planned execution, and some require the dance of repartee, but each is essential. Know them.
Rule #1 – Meet on a neutral site – Parental turf would guarantee some revertigo from girlfriend to “daddy’s little girl.” It also gives the parents a feeling of superiority as the life they built stands all around you like a testament to your youth. The inverse of that testament is also why you don’t want them coming to your bachelor pad. Restaurants are an emotionally sterile ground. Go there.
Rule #2 – The early bird gets the worm – In this case, that worm is the meal, and YOU are getting it, check and all. Show up first so you can tell the server that the check comes to you, no matter what. Maybe even pre-tip to ensure it.
Rule #3 – It’s an interview. Dress like it. – No matter how open-minded a person is, they tend to be more guarded when their children are in question. Dressing too nicely won’t hurt you. I’d argue that it goes a long way to helping you. Wear a suit, and if it feels awkward, claim to come from a late business meeting with no time to change. This tells the parents you take work and life seriously and that you probably have a little cash in your pocket as a result. When that check lands, you’ll reinforce that assumption.
Rule #4 – Watch the clock – Dinner and drinks. Dessert if it’s pushed. That’s it. Call it a night. The longer you’re there, the more likely you are to talk about how you convinced their all-too-naive daughter to try touching her elbows behind her back for five minutes when you met her. This is a bad thing.
Rule #5 – You are a conversational cul-de-sac – DO NOT attempt to take their questions anywhere. Answer directly and deflect to a follow up question. If mom asks you where you’re from, you say, “Kansas City, born and raised. What about yourself?” Treat your spotlight like warm potato. It’s not uncomfortable, but you don’t want to be holding it. This works with almost anything. When Dad asks what your intentions for his daughter are, you say, “It’s new, and I’m just really enjoying getting to know her at this point. Any favorite memories you can share with me?” DO NOT swing for the fences. DO NOT talk about yourself. The most common fallacy of people in a first-impression scenario is that they think they can impress people on the first try.
Rule #6 – Hobbies are the new weather – The first time conversation stalls, your automatic question is, “What do you do in your free time?” Whatever the answer is, that’s your tentpole for the evening. I don’t care if their answer is breeding cats. You will be fascinated by the topic. It’s your true North, your base camp, your safety net. When the convo stalls next, it’s because you were lost in thought of the previously rapturous topic that left you wondering, “What kind of cat food is ideal during the pregnancy?” …er, something like that.
Rule #7 – Tip heavy and slow – The “heavy” portion should be a no-brainer. The “slow” portion is in regards to how quickly you close the little booklet enclosing the check. You want to write/place your tip openly so it doesn’t appear that you’re trying to sneak a miserly gratuity. But you don’t want to just leave it out there for the world to see. Tip, look at it for a 2-count as if you’re checking your work, and close the book.
Rule #8 – Thank you card – This doesn’t have to be done every time you meet with parents. Only the first. Place them a “thank you for joining for dinner” card in the mail. Stamp and all. Wondering what to say? The four steps are 1) Thank you, 2) Express pleasure 3) So much pleasure that you hope it happens again, 4) Best wishes.
There you go guys. I’m not going to pretend that parents will walk away thinking their daughter is dating some kind of real life Ed Bloom, but you check all the boxes for “respectable fellow,” and that’s pretty damn impressive.
If there’s one thing you can say about him,
Dusty “Social Person” Riedesel