Ugh, oh no, meeting the parents, am I right? There's a good reason so much stuff has been written about this traumatic rite of passage, including that movie trilogy in which American treasure Robert De Niro accidentally O.D.'s on boner pills. Yikes! And everyone has their own real-life horror stories. Maybe you spilled red wine on their family dog, or maybe the person you were introducing to your parents just never showed up to the dinner at all, ever! Ahaha! What totally hypothetical fun that is not at all based on scarring personal experience!
Anyway, most parents are nice people who just want to meet the person dating their kid and are very willing to hold together any family weirdness for a couple hours. But the whole thing is still fraught, and there are opportunities to genuinely fuck it up (and genuinely make them like you) at every turn. Allow us to steer you in the right direction.
Specifically, if there are any children, pets, or elderly relatives in the vicinity, go out of your way to make sure they're engaged and having a good time and not just hanging out forgotten in a corner, as so often happens at family parties. You'll look like a mensch, and besides, they're probably easier to talk to than probing adults. I mean, hopefully this is a thing that occurs to you to do anyway (you're not a jerk, are you?), but if you can be seen doing it by a group of people who are trying to assess your character, all the better.
This also falls under the category of "things it should occur to you to do anyway," but read a newspaper, have something, anything, of interest ready to talk about. See Argo in advance. Parents love Argo. It is also a very good movie. And wow, that's crazy Dad — can I call you Dad now? — there's so much more I don't know about how the Iranian hostage crisis really went down, they just don't teach it properly in schools anymore. Tell me all about it!
Your girlfriend may be on "parent rules" and think she doesn't need to bring anything, but you're still on "stranger/guest rules," so act like a grown-up and show up with a bottle of wine or something. Unless someone in the family doesn't drink and that's a whole weird thing, in which case, I don't know, grab a box of chocolates on the way. This is a good thing to do recon about with your date beforehand.
Again, this is not a time to just follow your boyfriend or girlfriend's lead if they seem to think PDA in front of the family is totally normal and chill. Oh, but maybe their family's just super relaxed and bohemian and no one worries about this kind of thing, how refreshing! Nope, it's still gross. And, for all you know, you're being silently roped into some kind of weird power play or psychodrama between him and his parents. No touching. Hand holding permissible.
Chop something, wash a couple dishes, I don't care what you do. Just ask, figure it out, do something to keep yourself from being tarred with the "lazy ingrate" brush.
This should go without saying, but don't get too drunk. Limit yourself to one glass of wine, two, tops. If someone is making a scene and/or racist comments you're obligated to politely ignore and/or you're in the company of WASPs, you can add one more glass of wine to this limit.
Or a cousin, or anyone other than the person you came with, you sick fuck. And didn't we just talk about laying off the wine? Anyway, don't do it, unless you really think this new thing you've found tonight has a chance of working out, I guess.
Yeah, your boss or landlord probably is a useless fucking piece of shit, but there are better ways to tell this story to mom, or better yet, find a different story altogether. No one likes a complainer. Really, just break out all the manners you should be using anyway. Make eye contact, participate in the conversation even if it's boring, don't steal toilet paper from their bathroom just because it's free and you forgot to stock up for your own apartment. If you really had to be reminded about any of this, you probably don't stand a chance with the parents, anyway.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.