Movies such as “Meet the Parents” and “Guess Who” comically tell the story of boy meets girl, then meets girl’s family. Though often laughed about, this experience will be quite real for many BYU students this holiday season.
Meeting the family of a significant other has become a rite of passage in today’s LDS culture, and is an experience often fraught with anxiety and awkward situations.
“I think for most couples, wherever they’re at in a relationship, that represents a very significant step,” said Kent Brooks, associate professor of church history and doctrine.
Of course, it hasn’t always been that way.
“Most dating and courtship used to happen in the home,” said Jason Carroll, associate professor in the school of family life. “In previous generations, most people dated and married someone they were introduced to by family members and friends.”
But as BYU’s student body becomes more geographically diverse, many more couples are meeting while living far away from their families. Now, students must go out of the way to introduce their special someone to the family.
“This means that couples who are dating need to look for ways to intentionally build close relationships with extended family members; especially when they begin exclusively dating and become engaged,” Carroll said.
Though some may be nervous about the big introduction, Carroll said it is an important step.
“Couples don’t live in a bubble,” Carroll said. “While it is important to focus on your relationship as a couple, don’t ignore the supportive relationships that will surround your relationship in the future.”
Carroll suggested couples make a conscious effort to create relationships with each other’s families by showing interest, helping with meal preparations, engaging in family activities and being a polite, genuine and sociable person.
“I think the best thing people could do to make a good impression is to be themselves,” said Chelsi Tolbert, a sophomore in physiology and developmental biology, from Kuna, Idaho.“Because if you’re not being yourself and they find out later, that’s not a good thing.”
Brooks said that an individual could prepare their significant other to meet their family by explaining family personalities, traditions and expectations.
“As unsettling as it may be, I think it is important that the individual spend time alone with the parents,” he said.
According to Carroll, the main thing parents are looking for is reassurance that the person will be a suitable mate. Parents are naturally protective of their children and intimately aware of how important the marriage decision is. Though not necessary for a good relationship, parental support goes a long way.
“We have good data that says that parent/family support is a predictor of better marital quality in the early years of marriage,” Carroll said.
However, the parents should not be the sole decision makers.
“We have to make a decision as to whether parent approval is being appropriately or inappropriately withheld,” Carroll said.
Students said that an appropriate time to meet the parents is when a relationship becomes serious and exclusive, potentially with a goal of marriage.
“I think a good time to meet the family is probably when you guys have been dating for three or four months and when you’re pretty serious according to BYU standards,” said Ezra Kwong, a junior from Los Angeles.
When a family lives locally, students said they are more comfortable meeting the family when the relationship is less serious.
Either way, many students are anxious about making a good impression.
“I think expectations are the scariest part about meeting people’s families,” said Christy Hoffmann, a visiting student from BYU Hawaii.
“You don’t know if you’re going to meet their expectations or what their expectations are.”
Though it may be scary for some, meeting the family is an important step.
“We often hear this and say this, that you don’t just marry the individual, you marry the individual’s family,” Brooks said.