In not-so-breaking news: The holidays are a crazy time of year. As lovely as the lights around town look and as exciting as your social calendar is, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day also brings on a lot of extra stress. And while exploring a relationship as the calendar is on its last page can be magical, mixing a new partner with your family’s holiday plans might only add to the pressure.
Bringing your new partner to Thanksgiving dinner seems like a fun way to introduce them to your family (and finally get your nosy aunt to stop asking why you’re single). In reality, it could be overwhelming, nerve-wracking or awkward for everyone involved … including you. Same goes for tagging along with your new partner’s family plans — which might also involve travel and overnight stays … all things you don’t want to experience for the first time around a ton of new people who you’re trying to make a good impression on.
The thing to understand is this: Spending the holidays together is a statement that says, “We’re serious.” Even if you’re exclusive and have been seeing each other for a few months, the holidays aren’t exactly the best time to get to know someone for the first time. Mom is cooking, Grandma is setting the table, Dad is stoking the fire, the dog is running wild looking for crumbs — you know the scene. It’s often a chaotic atmosphere that doesn’t really lend itself to good conversation and understanding.
It’s also important to set boundaries for yourself. With work and other obligations, it’s hard to see loved ones as often, and the holidays are a good time to make that the priority. Enjoy the time you have with your parents, grandparents, siblings and other family members without worrying about potentially babysitting a new partner.
My advice would be that when you do introduce your significant other to your important family members for the first time, pick the right time and place. Choose a quiet restaurant or host dinner at your place, somewhere that you can really focus on the point of the situation: your partner getting to know your family, and vice versa. Having a meal together is the perfect amount of time to make a good impression without feeling you’re putting up an act for several days at a time, which can be exhausting. And then when it does become time to spend the holidays together, you all have a firm footing — and can all enjoy the day more.
Of course, this isn’t one size fits all. Sometimes the holidays are the best (and only) time for your family to meet your significant other, or for you to meet their side (hopefully after your relationship has had some time to grow and see potential). If that’s the case, there are a few ways to make sure everyone is comfortable.
When you’re bringing your partner to your loved ones for the holidays, make sure they’re welcome (as in, invited and expected) as well as prepared. It doesn’t hurt to let them know what they’re walking into — like if your cousin just welcomed a baby or another family member just went through a breakup — so they can make a good first impression and avoid any awkward subjects.
If you’re heading to a partner’s holiday gathering, you can make a good impression by bringing a small gift (flowers or chocolate are classics for a reason) and being willing to pitch in where help is needed.
In either scenario, make sure you make your travel arrangements and overnight stay plans in advance. The last thing you want is to get into an argument with your partner around family because someone forgot to book a hotel and now you’re stuck sleeping on a couch unexpectedly.
Holidays, however merry and bright they’re supposed to be, are notoriously difficult times, and mixing family with new romances can sometimes only add to the pressure — which is the last thing a flourishing partnership needs. Be sure to set boundaries for yourself so they are an enjoyable time of the year, only added to by a new relationship rather than overshadowed by one.
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