The holidays are right around the corner, which means, at this very moment, there are likely a bunch of coupled-up people who are silently freaking out over a relationship watershed moment: meeting the parents. This time of year seems like a no-brainer when it comes to the “when” of how your S.O. will meet the people who raised you, because it creates a seamless event that your partner can tag along to without turning the meeting into a “thing.” Also, if your parents are from out of town, then travel logistics are taken care of.
But before you drag your partner home for the holidays to be given the third-degree by your Aunt Millie, take a second to pause. “The holidays in and of themselves are a very stressful time,” says Kelley Kitley, LCSW, a clinical psychologist. “People may not be on their best behavior, or they may be distracted. So bringing someone into that environment, and into unknown territory, can be a recipe for disaster.” Not every holiday table resembles a Norman Rockwell painting. Sometimes, it’s more like a Real Housewives reunion couch — and that may not be something you want your partner embroiled in. Or it just wouldn’t give them an opportunity to connect with your parents while everyone’s feeling (and acting) like their best selves.
There’s also the fact that people tend to regress when they’re around their extended families. “You go home, and there’s an intense dynamic,” says Brandy Engler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist. “A lot of your old childhood resentments might get dredged up, which can lead to uncomfortable situations with your partner.” They’re in love with grownup you, but are you ready to show them whining-on-your-parents’-couch you?
In fact, Engler says that she actually sees a spike in business post-holidays, because of the emotional toll Christmas at home can take on a person. “Is that really the healthiest environment for a first meeting?”
But if you’re really set on doing the big intro in December, there is a compromise that can help it go smoothly. Instead of bringing your partner to the family event, plan a brunch or a lunch within a few days of the holiday with just your partner and your parents. “That way, everyone gets to meet in a more intimate setting, and it’s not an all-day thing,” Engler says. “A dinner has a timeframe of a few hours, where Christmas Day can be an hours-long affair.”
And if your partner or your parents give you a hard time about not bringing the other around during the holidays, bring the conversation back to you. “Let them know how excited you are for them to meet, but that it would make you more comfortable to do it in a more one-on-one setting,” Kitley says. You want this meeting to be light, easy, and successful, and for some people, that may not involve the holidays at all.
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