Both of them recommend that guests bring a small gift (even if your significant other says not to bother!) and always respect the host’s wishes regarding sleeping arrangements. But you probably knew that already.
Here are five less clear-cut conundrums you might face.
1. Before arriving, get the lowdown on whom you’ll be meeting.
Just as most of us don’t go into first dates completely blind, it’s smart to talk with your partner about specific family members and their interests and personalities. “If you already know ahead of time the things they’re interested in, it makes conversation flow easily,” Neely Steinberg says. “It’s a nice way to bond with people you’re meeting.”
If you’re not good at small talk, knowing that someone is a diehard Redskins fan or is very serious about her book club will give you built-in starters that can make the conversation flow easier. “It is almost like doing a little family research,” she says.
If the small talk stalls, offer to help the host in the kitchen, Samantha Daniels says. Or, if there are little kids around, it can be fun to join them: “You don’t have to talk a lot,” she points out. “You can engage with them, and then you seem family-oriented.”
2. Assume you’re going to have travel problems.
There’s no way around it: Holiday travel is hectic. So if you’re traveling with someone for the first time, “think in advance that there is going to be a problem and then you’re pleasantly surprised when there’s not,” Daniels says. If there is a problem such as a flight delay or horrible traffic, be helpful but “you don’t want to take it over and be bossy about it — unless your partner wants you to be,” Daniels says, adding that that’s especially important if your partner is the one who made the travel plans.
3. Set aside some one-on-one time with your partner, away from the family togetherness.
Before you arrive, Steinberg suggests asking your partner how much time you might expect to spend together. You might find out that your significant other has to spend time with his or her mom or sister alone, leaving you with some solo time.
If you’re visiting your partner’s family, Steinberg adds, he or she should steal you away a few special moments for just the two of you, like a walk around the host’s home town. That way, even though you are spending lots of time with the host’s friends and family, it’s clear that the guest is a priority, she says.
It’s also important for the guest to go with the host family’s flow a little bit, Steinberg says; after all, if you stay together, you and your family could be the ones hosting the following holiday season. “Let go of the need to control every minute,” she adds.
4. When meeting high school friends, bring your partner into the conversation.
Try not to abandon your partner for any long periods of time at a large gathering of high school friends, Steinberg advises. And if an ex is going to be present, you might want to skip it. “If you’re on good terms, that’s fine,” Steinberg says, “but maybe think twice about it.”
If you’re the one trying to make a good first impression, don’t try to keep up with the big-drinking hometown buddies. “You want to hang with the friends — so they feel comfortable with you and you with them,” Daniels says. But “at the same time, you still want to be on your best behavior.”
“Most people care what their friends think,” Daniels adds, “even if they say that they don’t.”
5. If anyone asks you how serious this budding relationship is …
You can always deflect that question to the other person in the relationship, Daniels suggests, saying something like: “I guess it depends how successful this weekend is.”
Just make sure it comes off as a joke, she adds.