I’m often asked now I’ve got my partner, how do I keep them? The following advice goes for men and women, but I have answered it specifically in relation to the question I received which comes from a female reader who has been dating her boyfriend for just under 6 months.
The next important step after finding the right pertner is to keep him which means traversing the potential minefields such as meeting his friends, going on your first mini-break, meeting the parents and behaviour in public.
Meeting His Friends
Although many of us are delighted to reach the stage where our man wants to show us off to his friends, once the euphoria has worn off we realise that the first meeting is akin to being thrown into shark-infested water – worse still – without a life jacket! This is an important time for you as while being flattered you can also use this time to scope out your new beau and judge him by the company that he keeps. The first thing to remember is that males are generally guarded with their pack so any invitation shows that you’ve already made it to the next stage.
If his group is mainly male your chat will require slight adaptation minimising all talk of girlie pinks and purples and leaving feelings and emotions at home. Men in general when they are not fire gazing and communicating with a series of grunts tend to banter in an effort to display their wits and their ego. If you try to compete on their level, your one-liners will seem slightly ambitious therefore it is important to be yourself along with a charming smile and a demeanour that you’re easy to be with.
The best tactic is to remain your beau’s shadow every now and again disarming his friends with an indirect compliment. They are unlikely to be used to this and they will begin to start a rapport with you.
Remember his friends are not as interested in you as your girlfriends would be in him. Men are far more direct and their humour may even make you the butt of their jokes. The best way to navigate this situation is to not over-think it, respond always in humour and take nothing personally. In addition, when meeting his friends, spend more time mingling with them than hanging off his arm like a lost puppy dog. If there is a female friend in his group, suppress any territorial urges you may have and whatever you do don’t compare yourself to her or criticise her to him. The female friend appears to wield much power so often people advise to get them on side. However, the best tactic is to treat them like one of the boys and genuinely not notice their gender or let them influence your behaviour thus keeping the power at all times.
Men often criticise and jest their friends, do not be drawn into this trap by joining in with the banter, as the outsider it is possible to cause offence even if you are only agreeing with what others say.
Make sure you meet his friends before he meets yours. It is imperative that you have confidence in your relationship and that there are no cracks that niggle as your girlfriends will pick up on these as quick as a duck takes to water.
As for where and when, if possible choose to meet for drinks as this is less pressured than dinner.
Once you’ve made it past meeting the friends it won’t be long before he pops the question – not the proposal – but “do you want to go away for the weekend?”.
Just like the Scouts motto “Be Prepared”, the mini-break is a test drive to whether you can spend 24/7 together in close proximity so it is important to be fully organised enabling you to look good at all times. The trick here is to travel light as you are only equipped with one weekend bag so some location research and weather checks are the order of the day. Make sure you implement an underwear and grooming session before your weekend away and pack a book or local guide-book so you busy yourself up for when and if as most men do he needs some space.
It is traditional for the men to choose the destination of the mini-break and take control. If you are expecting Cannes but end up getting Brighton remember that it is only polite to express the same amount of excitement and enthusiasm as your beau will have put careful thought into your mini-break. Although as in the first part of this series we explain that etiquette dictates that you are not a girl who is easy to get, once you’ve got your man you should now become a woman who is easy to be around. Wherever you go, take in the local culture, restaurants and nightlife and be sure to supply many indirect compliments to his choice of venue and attractions. It is during this period that the focus is entirely on the two of you and rather than falling into the trap of being the perfect housewife and making your man happy, this is an important time to ask yourself whether you enjoy his company, whether he makes you happy, and whether you have just gift-wrapped this relationship or is it the real thing.
As for money, in this modern-day and age people find it acceptable to go Dutch. Etiquette still dictates that the person who invited the other on a mini-break should pay however as the guest it is only polite to offer to pay for a round of drinks here and there, a pub lunch and maybe a cab ride or two back to the hotel. If you are unequally matched financially then it is perfectly acceptable to have a conversation about who will pay for what before you embark on the trip.
Most importantly keep the mini-break light, fluffy and full of laughter and although little niggles may crop up along the way it is important to ask yourself if it is important to be right or enjoy your holiday.
Meeting the Parents
This part of the relationship can be the biggest minefield of them all so much so that there is a comedy along the same lines starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro and Teri Polo. No doubt your encounter will not be as hair-raising as displayed in this film but to guide you on your way ask your other half for a little information about his parents in advance. Typical questions to ask would include:
- Are they strict or relaxed?
- What dress code is expected?
- Will dinner be cosy in the family room or a more formal dining affair for 20 people?
- What topics of conversation should be avoided at all costs?
- What individual subjects are each member of the family interested in?
As for dress code, conservative and elegant wins every time, make sure you are comfortable and ready for any occasion packing both a smart and casual outfit if you are staying over.
On greeting the parents it is important to use their title and surname until they invite you to use their first name. It is also the order of the day to take a present – a decent bottle of wine or a plant is acceptable however the more original and personal you can make the gift the better. If the family includes a grandparent or a sibling, it is also good practice to take a token present for them as well.
There is a fine balance between acting like one of the family by mucking in and stepping on the toes of your boyfriend’s mother. Therefore offer to help with domestic chores but defer to the mother, showing that you know your place and that she is the ruler of the domestic household. As your boyfriend may be very relaxed at his parent’s home remember that when following his lead you should always increase the formality by a couple of notches, i.e. just because he drinks a few glasses of wine at dinner doesn’t mean that you should.
Over lunch or dinner, do not be a wallflower and enjoy an interesting debate with reasoning but avoid controversy at all costs. During such debate never complain about the injustices of your life or wax lyrical about those less privileged going through hardships in Third World countries. Likewise, do not throw out gushing compliments towards the family as it will appear creepy and insincere. Remember they have raised your other half from when they were little and they are invested in this with their own baggage and that the most important element for you to remember is to be the person your partner fell in love with, not change yourself to please a parent.
Typical old fashioned British custom is if the parent’s house is big enough to accommodate you sleeping in different rooms, although it is common knowledge that you have spent at least a night together before meeting the parents, don’t be surprised if the accepted protocol is to ask for separate rooms. On leaving thank each member of the family in turn for a wonderful stay and follow it up with a thank you letter within five days of your visit making sure you mention every member of the family present in your thank you note. In the modern-day this is not as well observed but it is always something to consider to make you stand out if it fits with your character. The most important part of dating is to be authentic and respectful.
Again make sure you have met their parents before introducing them to yours, and when such time comes make sure you prep them with family oddities and off-limits behaviour so that he too can make a good impression with your parents.
Well done on getting this far in coupledom, however remember that it is easy to lose friends and alienate people by giving up much of your previous life and relying on your boyfriend. Make sure to strike an even balance of maintaining your respective lives, not taking each other for granted, restraining from public displays of affection and respecting each other’s privacy. At this stage above all trust and honesty is the most important part.