Friday, May 06, 2005

 

In Which I'm Off...

First, on behalf of The Brownie, many thanks for the good wishes as regards her recent trip to the ER. You'll be pleased to know she is so fully recovered from her injury that she is now using it as a device of manipulation. When she wakes up the next morning after getting stitches and tells you she can't go to pre-school because her head hurts, you're willing to give it to her. When she tells you at dinner time that she can't eat her asparagus because her head hurts, you know the healing has truly begun.

Second, while I'm pleased my litany of injuries proved so amusing to so many of you, I found myself slightly troubled over the entry. I was wracking my brain (well not really, it's been wracked enough, as you saw) to figure out why and then it hit me: in constructing my timeline of injury, I unconsciously mimicked the structure (but obviously not the content) of "After A Fall," an excellent essay by Garrison Keillor which was written shortly after the great man himself took a spill off his porch steps. He also recounts various falls he had taken and survived in his life (such as The Haymow Header of 1949). Anyway, it's highly recommended reading, and certainly different from my own effort (for example, Mr. Keillor's piece is way funnier and a far superior piece of writing). One of these days, I'll have to tell you the story of how I met the man...

Third, I'll be taking a few days off, but you may expect my return some time next week. Where will I be, you ask? Well, this is a blog shrouded in mystery, of course, so I shall leave it to the astute reader to guess.

But as a clue, I offer the following entry, written many years ago for a magazine which had hired me to be their relationship columnist, but which then folded before this piece could be published (at least they paid me first). I had quite forgotten about it until a certain movie starring Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro came out. And then everyone was writing a piece just like this, so I buried it again. A variation of it did appear in...oh hell, why don't I just shut up and let you read?

Pleased To Meet You?

Few moments in a relationship are more awkward and more nerve-racking than that moment when she brings you home to meet the folks. Standing in full view of the people who created the love of your life, you feel like a chimp in a tuxedo, a knuckle-dragging oddity that everyone is staring at, waiting to see what tricks he can do.

You smile, nod politely, and gently clasp her mom's hand in your great leathery, hairy paw. Then you turn, muster your best grip and take the outstretched hand of her father.

You're thinking: I'm sleeping with his daughter.

Dad's thinking: He's sleeping with my daughter.

But this awkward moment passes and when it does you realize something: Being introduced to her parents is actually a wonderful compliment. It means you have passed some kind of muster. Your honey considers you important enough to show you off to the other people in her life who are important enough to her. It's a moment that is good but weird. But good. But weird.

Because when you meet her parents, you're not just on display, you're on probation, aren't you? Sure, there's a slim chance you might turn out to be one of those mythical fellows who immediately endears himself to the parents of the woman he dates or marries. Just like there's a slim chance you might secretly be Superman.

We're not going to dwell on chance here because, after all, this is no chance encounter. But if you have a future with the woman who brought you to this moment, you can bet it will be a repeat encounter. So you might as well start it off on the right foot, laying the foundation for a longer relationship that will help you earn and maintain their respect. Who knows? You might even end up liking each other.

What follows are just a few gems of wisdom to help you get through that portentious first meeting. They were mined from relationship experts WAY smart than you or me (well, me anyway).

I might also have slipped in a smidge of personal experience here. Hope it helps.

--Smile and nod. A first-contact situation is NOT the time to be showing her parents what an exciting and dynamic person their daughter has latched onto. In a first encounter, in a parent's mind, "exciting and dynamic" equals "ultra-liberal" or "substance-abusing." Assuming you have a future with Her Lovely Self, you'll have plenty of time later to show her parents what a wonderful, eccentric genius you are.

--Mind your manners. When you're in a tough spot, it sometimes helps to have a set of rules or guidelines to fall back on. This is why coaches draw up game plans, why the Boy Scout Handbook is in it zillionth printing. Meeting her parents for the first time, the rules you should fall back on are the ones of basic etiquette. Let your manners be your shield against whatever happens to you as you enter their domain.

This will help you in two ways. First: It's a sign of respect. Second, it's excellent PR for you--good manners under pressure reveal you to be a man of poise and nerve. Parents who see a man with good manners think maybe that man was raised by someone just like them. So how bad could he be? (Don't worry, eventually they'll answer that one for themselves)

Quick refresher: shake Mom's hand first, then Dad's. The little fork is for salad. Keep your feet and elbows off the furniture. And NEVER sit in the recliner or any seat with a remote on the cushion--that's her father's chair.

--Show love, not lust. So you love her and see no reason why the rest of the world shouldn't know it. Shout it from the rooftops if you must. But in a first encounter, for the love of God, would you keep your hands off her? At least while they're in the room?

Let's be clear: it's important to show your feelings for their daughter. If they see that you love and respect her, your odds of eventually winning their love and respect (okay, well maybe just their respect) will be that much higher. But you show it through non-tactile means. By complimenting her (sincerely, now! Don't ham it up). By deferring to her in conversation. By holding doors open for her and stuff.

If instead her parents see you pawing her on the rec room sofa or fondling her bottom every time you walk by, they're going to dismiss you as a masher who's taking advantage of their little girl. A dad who sees this kind of behavior gets a certain wistful look on his face. Trust me: That wistful look ISN'T because he's recalling what it's like to be young and in love. It's because he's trying to remember where he keeps the shells for the shotgun.

--Suck it up. Aside from answering direct questions or throwing the occasional comment into conversation, try to speak less and listen more. Listening is a sign of respect and good manners. So sit there and absorb it all. Yes, even if her parents turn out to be a real nightmare. In that event, should they spend the entire visit heaping abuse and condescension on you, soak it in with a smile. Just because they've forgotten their manners doesn't mean you should.

Cold comfort, yes.

But if it helps, remind yourself that they will die sooner than you.

###


I know, I know. Can you believe someone paid me for that? But hey, at least you didn't have to.

See you next week.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Comments:
I'm a big Garrison Keillor fan myself. Great story teller
 
Well I like GK too but only one has he made me laugh as hard as I was when picturing that frantic dog on the phone. (It was the one about the many ministers on the too-small boat.)

Anyway, can't wait to hear all about your celebrity encounter.

Hey you need to post a pic of the dog too!
 
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