Is there anything worse than when your partner's family doesn't like you? I mean, Romeo and Juliet feel you hardcore on this one. It's rough.
Even if you're normally super confident when meeting new people, it can be scary to meet your partner's family for the first time. It's already a high-pressure situation — like, OK, chill, the fate of your relationship and possibly your future hangs in the balance of this one dinner — and as anyone who's ever hyperventilated while taking the SATs can attest to (hey), it's tough to stay calm when you're feeling stressed.
If you're worried that Mrs. Smith didn't approve of your carefully-chosen "meeting the parents" outfit, or that Mr. Jones didn't actually find your joke about football to be all that funny, don't panic. Honestly, if you're stressing over something small, chances are good that your partner's family didn't even notice or care about it.
But if you got a legit pit in your stomach all through dinner that something was... off... then it's time to confront the possibility that you and your potential future in-laws might not be getting along. Here are some red flags, according to two experts who have seen it all.
They Don't Seem That Interested In You
This is a big one. "When they're not trying to get to know you, that's typically a signal that they don't want you there for some reason," Richardson says.
Unfortunately, this can take a couple of forms, including not asking you any questions, always directing questions to your partner, or cutting you off from the conversation by tossing around inside jokes or topics you can't contribute to (like if the entire dinner is spent recounting memories of Great-Aunt Judy's 90th birthday... which you conveniently weren't invited to).
As the newcomer to the group, you shouldn't be relegated to the sidelines — ideally, you'd be in the spotlight. "If you meet someone for the first time, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t be curious about them," says Anita Chlipala, founder of Chicago-based relationship therapy firm Relationship Reality 312. That is, no reason unless... you already made up your mind that you're not interested in them.
There's No Eye Contact
If a family member doesn't warm up to you right away, don't freak out. Some people are just naturally a little standoffish, and that's OK.
Instead, look out for eye contact, says licensed marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson. Different families express warmth differently, but eye contact is always a polite way to make people feel welcome.
They Ask Aggressive Questions
On the flip side, if they hammer you with tons of intense or negative questions, that could signal trouble, too. If they ask how you chose to major in English and eagerly asked what you're currently reading, that's fine. But if they frame the question as, "You really want to waste all that money on a liberal arts degree?" Well, that's a little different.
"If they're asking challenging questions that make it sound like they don't approve of you or the choices you made, that's not great," Richardson says.
Your Partner Is Avoiding Leaving You Alone With Them
At first, it might seem sweet when your partner is stuck by your side all night. How protective, right? But ultimately, they should trust you to hang with their family without a chaperone. "If your partner is being kind of clingy, not encouraging you to go up to people, and trying to keep you with them," that could be a reg flag, Richardson says. "Your partner knows their family and their subtleties better than you do. If the mom is giving you a little side-eye, your partner's likely going to pick up on it before you do."
They Don't Invite You Along
If your partner's sisters all get brunch together the day after Thanksgiving and don't bother to invite you — even though you're staying in their house — that could be a sign they're getting together to talk about you, Richardson and Chlipala agree.
They Don't Try To Meet Your Family
If you've been together for a significant amount of time and both families live near each other, it's a natural progression in the relationship for the families to meet. The first time they meet each other shouldn't be at the wedding ceremony. "There should be some kind of attempt that they’re getting to know your family," Chlipala says.
If there isn't, that might be a sign that your partner's family doesn't see you sticking around for long.
Your Gut Tells You Something Is Wrong
Let's be honest — you wouldn't be here reading this if you weren't worried that something was wrong.
"I tell my clients to trust their gut but balance it out with some logic," Chlipala advises. But she stresses the importance of staying objective. "Is there actual evidence? What gives you this sense? Try to really analyze it in the moment. What gives you this feeing? Sometimes, we could be taking it personally or our own anxiety can get the best of us. But sometimes, our gut can really tell us if something is off."
If you're not sure where you stand with your partner's family, it's always worth checking in with your partner to see how they thought the meeting went. Hopefully, they'll be honest with you — and they'll probably be able to reassure you that everything is fine.
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