OPINION: How to be the best significant other at someone else’s holiday

The holidays can be a pretty stressful time, especially when meeting a partner’s family for the first time. It can be nerve-wracking trying to navigate a ton of new social norms with someone else’s extended family.

Luckily, there are a few easy things everyone can do to make sure they get through meeting the (potential) future in-laws.

The easiest, most effective thing anyone can do before meeting their partner’s family is to do some research ahead of time. Knowing a little bit about what sort of drama land-mines already exist in the family can save you from mentioning Aunt Dorris’s horrible unicycle accident and coming off as a heartless jerk. Getting the lay of the land also serves as a warning system. Maybe grandpa Mel is a racist or uncle Jeff tends to haze new arrivals — either way, hopefully you won’t be caught off guard.

After some light recon work, the next-easiest thing to do is avoid being on a cell phone the entire time. Social media may give us all a constant drip of dopamine, but keeping your nose buried in a phone all day is probably going to irk grandma and grandpa, or your partner. A few hours without checking in on Instagram, Twitter or texts is not going to kill anybody, either.

Additionally, everyone should make an effort to interact with the rest of the family, not just their partner. A little effort can go a long way. How is your partner’s family ever going to form an opinion of you if you don’t talk with them?

While drinking can help loosen someone up, there is nothing worse than a friend or family member who gets too drunk at a 4 p.m. dinner. Be careful to follow your partner’s lead to figure out how much is acceptable. If their family is slamming shots together, it’s probably safe to join in, but it would probably be a mistake to bring a six-pack to someone’s Mormon family event.

It might be impossible to be the absolute best significant other present, but that’s fine. In the event that cousin Jimmy’s new boyfriend is a doctor who does heart surgery for charity and volunteers as a firefighter on the weekends, just make sure you’re not the worst significant other present. Don’t overshare about your love life, don’t bring up the 2020 (or 2016) election and offer to help clean up. Odds are if your partner has a big enough family, somebody else will provide enough drama for you to get by on basic social conventions.

However, if the relationship seems like it might last, the most important thing to do is to be yourself. Any lie or misrepresentation is just going to complicate things in the long run if it lasts long enough, and ideally, your partner’s family should like you for who you are, not who you’re pretending to be.

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