Looking for love: Meeting the Parents
By Sara Who
It’s a milestone in every relationship. At some point, comes the time to meet your other half’s family. Meeting the parents is already stressful enough in itself, but what can you expect when cultural differences and language barriers are involved? Although it depends on families, bringing a boyfriend or a girlfriend home in Japan often means the relationship is turning quite serious – potentially marriage serious.
Whereas I met my all of my previous boyfriends’ families back in Canada after just a short while, I only met the family of one of my Japanese boyfriends. We dated a good six months before he told his mother about my existence. His family being incredibly traditional and conservative, we knew from the start she would be one tough nut to crack. She met the news with a cold and disapproving silence.
Eventually, she allowed me to stay with them for a month while I was on exchange. I tried to be on my best behavior. I packed gifts for the whole family, carefully picked my outfits and offered to help as much as I could around the house.
She begrudgingly came to like me as a person, but as a possible daughter-in-law, my foreignness would just not do, even if I could make a decent miso soup.
One night she made her feelings quite clear – in that special Japanese roundabout way. She was apparently under the impression “I was only a student doing a homestay and not her son’s girlfriend”. Let’s just say we broke up soon after and I never asked to meet anyone’s parents again.
If you are about to meet your potential future in laws, don’t panic just yet. Even if my experience has not been a good one, it doesn’t mean yours won’t be.
I asked three friends to tell their story.
Sara: When did you meet your girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s parents?
Chad: I met my girlfriend’s parents about a year and a half into the relationship. My girlfriend invited me to stay at a ryokan in Gunma with them. I actually met the whole extended family which was a bit of a surprise.
Emily: I met them by accident a few months after we started dating. We came to his house to pick up something when the whole family unexpectedly turned up. They were quite shocked, as was I, and we sort of stood around awkwardly until going to hide in his room. After about 20 minutes, his mom brought us snacks and tea which I think was her way of saying “Welcome”.
Andrea: Like Emily, we met by accident. We ran into his parents in the neighborhood and it was quite obvious we were dating. They looked surprised too, but they soon invited me to come to dinner.
Sara: How did the meeting go?
Andrea: The second time we met went over really well. I was a bit nervous around them because of the way we met, but they turned out to be really nice. My boyfriend’s family is quite international. They can all speak really good English and they have traveled so there wasn’t any real “Japanese” formality to the meeting. I think it was more my own awkwardness that I had to get over if anything.
Chad: It was a bit awkward. They’re a pretty traditional family from the countryside. I’m still learning Japanese, so I had to deal with the language barrier as well. They didn’t ask me much, just the usual questions Japanese like to ask foreigners. What Japanese food do you like? Can you use chopsticks? That kind of stuff. It’s hard to make a good impression when all you can say is “Yummy!” like a pleb.
Emily: After the initial shock, it went over well. His parents were very accepting of our relationship. They don’t speak English and my Japanese is not the best, but we managed to communicate somehow. They’re quite hands-off as parents so they seemed happy to let him date whoever he wants.
Sara: How is your relationship with them now?
Chad: I have met her parents only once since the ryokan, but I often hang out with her brother. We have no plans of getting married yet either, so we don’t really need to worry about her parents. I don’t think they talk much in her family anyway so their opinion doesn’t directly impact our relationship…at least, for now.
Andrea: It’s going really well. I lived with them for a few months and they really made me feel welcome. They were quite relaxed about me staying there. My boyfriend and I are living together now and they are very supportive. I even go on family vacations with them!
Emily: I think sometimes we have some misunderstandings because of cultural differences and language barriers. I stayed with them for a few months and unlike Andrea, it wasn’t always easy to feel at home. I felt more like a guest and couldn’t really relax. I was constantly trying to be on my best behaviour, not because they asked me to be but because I felt like, as a foreigner, it was expected that I would mess-up or make some cultural faux-pas – I really didn’t want to fall into that trap.
Sara: What advice would you give to someone who’s about to meet the parents?
Andrea: Just relax! I worried about it way too much!
Emily: I second that. Don’t over think it and just be yourself. Wherever you are and whatever relationship you’re in, meeting the parents is never going to be a walk in the park. Like Andrea mentioned, a lot of the awkwardness comes from your own paranoia about what they’re thinking since Japanese people are generally less direct. Give yourself, and them, a break.
Chad: Just ask your girlfriend or your boyfriend for advice, they know their parents best. But ultimately the only opinion that should matter is theirs.