Hitched: Help Me Platonically Charm The Pants Off My New In-Law Family

In a couple of weeks, I’m going to be living it up in beautiful South Dakota. The occasion: my new grandma-in-law’s octogenarian birthday and combination family reunion. I hear there will be picnics and jet skis involved.

I am petrified.

But Andrea, how can you be petrified when there are jet skis involved, you ask? Well first off, I’m afraid of watercraft, so there’s that. But there’s also the fact that these jet skis belong to my new-in-law family, and what am I supposed to do around these perfectly nice, terrifying people for three whole days in beautiful rural South Dakota? Also, “beautiful rural South Dakota” is a few kinds of redundant, right?

This will be the first time I’m a licensed member of Patrick’s family, participating in a full-throttle multi-day clan celebration. We’ve been married for just short of three months now, and for the first time, I am nervous about hanging out with his people.

Because now I am his wife. Mistakes I could make as a mere girlfriend will be promoted to sins. Bring a weirdo date to your grandma’s birthday party, and it’s a faux pas with future hilarious story potential. Bring a disappointing new family member to your grandma’s birthday party, and she might go to her grave thinking you’ve poisoned the family well forevermore. I don’t want to look stupid, but moreover, I don’t want Patrick’s family to think he’s chosen some kind of assbag woman for a forever partner.

The good news: I met many members of Patrick’s extended family during our wedding weekend and I like them very much. I found them to be a sweet and gregarious bunch of dyed-in-the-wool Midwestern goodfolk. But I was lost in a haze of nerves and exhaustion, and honestly, I don’t remember much of what we talked about beyond all having a pretty good laugh about trying to wipe a shoe polished cock-and-balls off of Patrick’s truck windows the day after the wedding. So that bodes well, right?

I want his family to like me, too — even after they spend three days with me quivering at the mere mention of a jet ski and scarfing down an unacceptable amount of clam dip. (I like clam dip!)

Thus: petrified.

I have much to be intimidated by. There are millions of these folks compared to the tiny Grimes tribe to which I am accustomed. They are really into hugs, and I am really into firm handshakes. They are high-ranking Republican officials. I am a pinko socialist. Do they talk politics at dinner? Do they want me to talk politics at dinner? And then there are the various social pressures that I hear new wives are often subject to, like what if they want to talk about presto grandbabies! and I am like, presto MYOB?

What if that thing happens where you’re eating a delicious steak but you get the huge, slimy piece of gristle and your only option is to pretend to wipe your mouth for a long time and gunk that thing into your napkin but it inevitably falls out of your napkin and you have to casually find a nondescript way to pick a piece of half-masticated meat off of someone’s nice new berber carpet?

What if they accidentally call me by the wrong name or, even more likely, what if I accidentally call one of them by the wrong name because, yes for real, all the members of at least one generation of Patrick’s family have names that start with the letter “M”!?

Of course, none of these concerns mean we can’t all have a very nice time. I know I’m being a worrywart. But I’m genuinely nervous. I want Patrick’s extended family to think I am a nice, polite woman at whom they look forward to waving from their jet skis while I eat clam dip on the lake shore for years to come. I want to get to know these people well enough to ascertain whether to send each of them jovial holiday cards featuring adorable cats in festive but compromising positions, or something more in the “tasteful glitter crèche” way of things.

How do I do this? I don’t know. I’m asking for your help. I’ve already given you fine folks the little advice that I have to offer, so now it’s your turn. You’ve done this before, right? Platonically charmed the pants off people who didn’t ask to be related to you?

Typically, I think I’m fair to decent in social situations. I make friends at tweet-ups and can talk to strangers at the bar without getting the creep-slink or the side-eye. And I know the basics of good guestdom: clean up after myself, only use my iPhone enough to keep my Tiny Tower from collapsing in on itself, bring a bottle of wine or nice loaf of fancy bready product as a hello-and-thank-you present. Ask thoughtful questions and listen to people’s answers. I got that part. Basic polite, I can do. But long-weekend polite with strangers I’m suddenly related to?

What I don’t have is the benefit of your personal experiences, dear Frisky readers. Have you had nightmare in-law times? If so, how did you negotiate the situation or improve upon bad first impressions? On the other hand, do you love your by-marriage folks? How did you cultivate good relationships with them — especially if you live states or hundreds of miles away?

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