You’re invited to meet her parents. You’re nervous. You really like this one, and you hope to make a good impression on her mother and father. Knowing how important first impressions are, you want to be sure they think well of you. In fact, social psychologist Bertram Gawronski published a study in "Social Cognition" that showed how important it is to get it right the first time because first impressions are somewhat difficult to change later. With a little bit of preparation, you stand a good chance of succeeding.
Ask your girlfriend for information that will help you navigate your way conversationally. Find out about her parents’ hobbies, interests, political views, issues about which they are sensitive and anything else that might be pertinent. Be sure to stay away from the sensitive subjects. Take an interest in topics they like to talk about.
Change your attitude from one of trepidation to one of curiosity and anticipation. Body language expert Carol Kinsey Goman, writing for Forbes.com, claims that people immediately sense your attitude. Therefore, if you are nervous that will affect the impression you make. On the other hand, if you stand tall, smile and give a warm and firm handshake, you will be seen as open and friendly. If you enter the situation anticipating liking your girlfriend’s parents, they will catch onto that as well.
Dress appropriately. Ask your girlfriend about the place where you are meeting and what kind of attire is expected. You should know whether to dress a bit more formally and conservatively or if casual dress is OK. There are some contemporary fashions that many parents find objectionable, such as pants that are in a size so large they fall well below your hips.
Mind your manners. Good manners are important, and her parents will be acutely aware of them only if you lack them. Be polite but not obsequious. Be mindful of table manners and how you eat. If you are in a restaurant, order something that is in the same price range as what others are ordering. If her mother has cooked a meal, leave food you don’t like at the side of the plate without comment and compliment the dishes you do like. Do not fondle your girlfriend in front of them; you can look at her lovingly, but not lasciviously.
- Social Cognition: Back to the future of dissonance theory: Cognitive Consistency as a Core Motive; Bertram Gawronski
- Forbes.com: Seven Seconds to Make a First Impression; Carol Kinsey Goman
- How to Win Friends and Influence People; Dale Carnegie
- Cognitive Therapy and Research: Socially Anxious Individuals Get a Second Chance After Being Disliked at First Sight: The Role of Self-Disclosure in the Development of Likeability in Sequential Social Contact; M.J. Voncken and K.F.L. Dijk
- In his classic book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie, perhaps the original coach, wrote that your smile is the most important factor in making a good first impression.
- While first impressions may be hard to change, it's not impossible. A study published in "Cognitive Therapy and Research" showed that if, in spite of being anxious, you show genuine interest in what your girlfriend’s parents are saying and if you share some of your own positive experiences and feelings, over time, perhaps even by the time this first meeting is over, you can increase their regard for you.
- Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images