The winter holidays are upon us! People are hitting the streets en route to family gatherings or tracking down great deals on after-Christmas sales. For many, the holidays mark the first time they’ll bring their significant other home to meet their family. The anxiety and drama inherent in this first encounter has been mined for comedic gold by screenwriters and novelists alike.
Perhaps the most nerve-wracking part of this first meeting is discovering how one’s family plans to vet the new love interest. Will the new boyfriend have to arm wrestle grandpa? Will the girlfriend have to provide evidence of her culinary expertise? Even in a time of effortless Facebook-stalking and online background checks, nothing indicates whether or not someone new is a good fit with your family quite like spending the holidays together.
Of course, there are all kinds of reasons for a family to believe a suitor isn’t a good match. Sometimes it’s a matter of connections or esteem. In The Birdcage, the father of the young fiancé rails against her plans to wed because she is too young, he is a conservative senator with a reputation to uphold, and he would rather pick a more politically advantageous match for her. Desperate to be with the man she loves, she lies about what his parents do for a living. Suddenly, they are no longer a devoted pair of gay nightclub owners who star in a drag show in South Beach. Instead, they’re a cultural attaché to Greece and a housewife. As the story proves, however, even unconventional families can be loving and supportive.
In Pride and Prejudice, one parent accepts a suitor while the other rejects him. Looking to secure financial stability for her second-prettiest daughter, Mrs. Bennett encourages the family’s distant cousin to propose to Elizabeth. His social position, his income, and his estate make him a great match for her daughter. However, Mr. Bennett sees they are a bad match in terms of personality and intellect, and supports Elizabeth’s dissent. Of course, Elizabeth’s feelings toward her suitor are more important than however qualified her parents find him to be, but the situation illustrates how sometimes families aren’t on the same page about what’s best for whom.
Liz Lemon of the show 30 Rock knows what it takes to be a good boyfriend, though. In the episode titled “Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter,” she says emphatically, “I want someone who will be monogamous and nice to his mother. And I want someone who likes musicals, but knows to just shut his mouth when I'm watching Lost. And I want someone who thinks being really into cars is lame and strip clubs are gross. I want someone who will actually empty the dishwasher instead of just taking out forks as needed, like I do. I want someone with clean hands and feet and beefy forearms like a damn Disney prince. And I want him to genuinely like me, even when I'm old.” Every woman deserves such a man, right?
Sometimes what matters most is how well someone rolls with the punches of meeting new people for the first time. In Meet the Parents, the introduction of a new love interest is soured by terrible first impressions and the hilarious and glaringly obvious reality that these people were raised with very different customs and perspectives.
In all of these stories, the comedy comes from the “fish out of water” theme. What was it like the first time you brought your significant other home to meet your family or when you were the proverbial fish yourself? Are the holidays filled with happy memories of family encounters past? Share your funny or tragic stories in the comments!
Be sure to check out my $1.99 e-novella, Death, Taxes, and a Sequined Clutch, to find out how Tara Holloway’s dad vets the men in her life. Spoiler alert: even cast-iron stomachs may have met their match!