Illustration by Maxine Crump.

Illustration by Maxine Crump.

Hey there!!! My boyfriend and I have been dating for about two months but he’s been in my life for three years. He’s extremely shy around adults, so when meet-the-parents time came around, he clammed up. My parents are very involved so they really want to get to know him. How do I encourage him to get to know them? And how do I reassure them that he’s a good guy? Thank you! —Hal, 15

Here’s the good news: Your folks have been in your boyfriend’s shoes in this critical meet-the-parents stage of a relationship (and if I’m mistaken in that assumption, they have, at the very least, seen one of the 45 million romantic comedies that address the subject). So, they probably understand how uncomfortable this scenario can be. I would be surprised if they are expecting your boyfriend to charm their socks off the first couple of times that you’re all interacting. They likely understand that really getting to know a person can take time and don’t judge him too harshly for being quiet.

But I also get the desire to have your parents see all the wonderful things that you see in your boyfriend, and to want your boyfriend to understand that he’s awesome and doesn’t need to be self-conscious. Luckily, there are some things you can do to help both sides feel more at ease with each other.

Start by giving your parents the low-down on your boyfriend’s situation. Maybe they’ve already figured out that he’s a quiet guy—or at least quiet around adults—but if it’s important to you that your parents and your boyfriend form some kind of relationship, really explain it to them before the next time you’re all together. This will clue them in to why he clammed up the first time they met. If they’re aware of his shyness and, like you said, really want to get to know him, they will likely consider adjusting the way they approach him. Maybe they won’t bombard him with questions, or maybe they’ll joke around with him a little more. When they know what’s up, they can do their part to make everyone in the room comfortable.

You can give your parents some pointers, too. Let’s say they were overly enthusiastic or went into full-blown interrogation mode during that first meeting. You could say something like, “Hey, Mom and Dad, this guy is really important to me and I’m happy you’re so interested in him. Last time we all talked, though, the questions were even making me nervous. To help BF relax, can we keep the conversation a little bit more low-key next time, please?” However you phrase it, it’s important to be clear with them.

When it comes to your boyfriend, I have to tell you that I 100 percent relate to him. I’m a quiet person and it takes me a good while to warm up to people. But whenever I’ve been introduced to a significant other’s parents—or even a friend’s parents, for that matter—I’ve tried to be polite. I might not talk a ton, but I’ve found that answering questions with a smile, saying “thank you,” and making sure to tell Mom and Dad that it was nice to meet them all go a long way toward showing them that I’m an OK person. I don’t feel comfortable making small talk, and yet I’ve had parents joke that they want me to live with them just because I’m polite. So let your boyfriend know that being amiable, even if he isn’t super chatty, is something he can shoot for the next time he sees your parents.

To make things a lot easier on everyone involved, you might also consider facilitating the conversation the next time you’re all together. Whenever my boyfriend introduces me to his friends, he’ll jumpstart things by telling them about some interesting development that’s going on in my life or about my hobbies or job, which takes a lot of pressure off of me. Thanks to him, I don’t have to come up with something to say or figure out a way to wiggle my way into a conversation. The next time your boyfriend is around your parents, break the ice by telling your parents about the cool trip BF just went on, or that he just read a great book that he’s super pumped about, or that he just made the basketball team. Whatever it is, you can help homeboy out a little if you get the conversation flowing. A shy person is often more comfortable talking about something they’re invested in than they are fielding random questions. And because you know all parties involved, you can probably find some common ground that’ll make everything go even smoother. You could be like, “Oh, guess what, Mom—you and BF both love The Exorcist.” And then you can all have a little convo about demons.

That said, it’s really important not to push things. Even though your boyfriend’s been in your life for three years, you’ve only been dating for a short time. Really, you’re only beginning to know him yourself in this new way. Give your relationship room to progress organically. Try not to force anything. Pushing him into a situation that he’s uneasy with might create unnecessary tension in your relationship this early on. So take it slow. Tell your BF that it’s important to you that he speaks to your parents but that it’s OK for him to do it at his own pace.

At this point, I think it’s perfectly acceptable for him to just make sure that he says “hi” to your parents whenever he sees them, asks them how they’re doing, and maybe exchanges brief pleasantries. He and your parents may never have a chill little gabfest, but hopefully they’ll get to the point where they’re on friendly speaking terms. —Amber ♦

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