Your partner has impressed all your friends, charmed your coworkers with their social grace, and even bonded with your sibling that one time. In theory, they’re ready to meet the final bosses: your parents. Or are they?
At a certain point in your relationship, it’s not a question of if you’ll meet your partner’s parents, but when. Ultimately, there’s no “right” time, because every relationship progresses at different speeds, says Catherine Salmon, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Redlands, who has studied family relationships. But there is such a thing as being “too early” to meet the parents, Dr. Salmon says.
Some people might be introduced earlier than others for logistical reasons, because your partner still lives with their parents, for example. It might take other people longer to plan an actual trip to meet, because they live far away from their parents. The point is that everyone is different, and the timing totally depends on the specific circumstances, your partner, and their relationship with their parents.
So what’s too soon? “The morning after a hook-up might be,” Dr. Salmon says. In all seriousness, she says it can be awkward if you meet your partner’s parents before you both feel totally comfortable in the relationship. “It’s definitely a step to take when both are ready, not before,” she says. Okay, cool — but how can you tell if you’re both ready?
Once you feel like you “know your partner well enough to judge how they’ll come across to your parents,” that’s typically an indication that it’s the right time, Dr. Salmon says. You also know your parents and can sense “whether they will be supportive off the bat or hesitant,” she adds. “That depends on the partner, and the parent, and how similar or different they are in terms of what they think is important,” she says. And a lot of it is just a gut feeling that tells you they’ll get along. While you can’t control what your parents ultimately think, you can influence their feelings by demonstrating how you feel about your partner during this meeting, she says.
Still, parents are parents, and even the most supportive ones might accidentally say something that you might interpret as nagging or pressure on your relationship, Dr. Salmon says. Many parents might think you bringing someone home is a sign that things are serious, even though your relationship might be complicated or wishy-washy (i.e. you haven’t defined the relationship, or you have only been on a few dates). You might not be ready to subject your partner to that kind of tension from your family members. But, if you feel secure about your relationship (label or no label), there’s a good chance your parents will too, because they likely trust you and want you to be happy, she says.
If you want to meet your partner’s parents, or want them to meet yours, just be open about it and ask. On the off chance your partner balks and says they think it’s “too soon,” keep in mind that it’s not necessarily a reflection of you or your relationship. It could just mean that your partner is worried that your parents won’t like them, and it’ll cause a rift in the relationship, Dr. Salmon says.
More likely, though, she says your partner could be stressed that you’re going to want to reciprocate and meet their parents. “They’re worried about how that might go based on their own relationship with their parents,” she says. There are lots of reasons why someone might hesitate to bring you into their family unit, so you shouldn’t take it personally, she says.
At the end of the day, the timing isn’t going to make or break your relationship, so try to let it go. As for how the actual meeting goes? There are so many other things you’re going to be on-edge about, like whether or not you should call your partner’s parents by their first names. So just know that, for better or for worse, there’s only so much you can control there, too.
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