Short of getting married and churning out a series of adorable kids, nothing screams “serious!” like asking your significant other to join your family for Thanksgiving dinner — or, more tellingly, inviting him or her to spend a few days at the family compound. But as fun as it can be for your sweetie to bask in the admiring gaze of aunts, uncles, parents and siblings — and as much as you’ll enjoy having a ready-made ally, should family dysfunction rear its ugly head — this is not a step to be taken lightly. Here are some signs that the love of your life may not quite be ready to spend this holiday season at home with your family — and a couple of clues that your honey is ready to join you.
Red flag #1: Your partner is noncommittal about spending time with you and your family It’s nice that the object of your affection asks what you’re doing for the holidays, but if you talk in detail about the annual family sleigh ride and he or she doesn’t immediately jump to reserve a seat, that’s a red flag. “If your date doesn’t make it completely unambiguous that he wants to be with you on the holidays, you’re probably hearing the wrong thing if you think that’s a yes to spending the time together,” says Marian Lindner, author of The Emotionally Available Partner.
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Red flag #2: He or she is indiscreet when it comes to personal/family gossip Holiday dinners can be a strange mix of exaggerated courtesy, eggshell-thin feelings, and grudges dating back to your childhood — so if your sweetie’s knowledge about your family is inversely proportional to his or her ability to keep quiet when a sensitive subject comes up, an invitation may not be in order. Ditto if your date just seems to lack the tact gene in high-pressure situations. Here’s a cautionary tale from the trenches: “One Christmas, my brother brought home his sweetheart. She was quiet and well-behaved, so she was doing fine in our collective opinion. The trouble started when my grandmother noticed that she didn’t put much food on her plate,” relates Nadia, 27. “She replied that she wasn’t very hungry. Which would have been fine, except as they were getting ready to leave, she asked my brother in a loud voice, ‘Do you think there’s a Burger King nearby?’”
Red flag #3: Your partner isn’t on good terms with his/her own family members
Granted, not everyone’s family is a warm, nurturing haven of sweetness and light — but if your date seems just a bit too eager to skip out on his or her own family gathering in favor of a get-together at yours, that can be a bad sign in itself. Odds are, your partner will behave just fine, but it’s hard to survive 20 years’ worth of dysfunctional gatherings without picking up (and being liable to spread) just a wee bit of holiday madness.
So what about the opposite situation — how can you tell your boyfriend or girlfriend is not only ready, but eager to join in the holiday festivities with you? Here are some sure-fire signs you should make the trek home together:
Green light #1: Your partner is very pro-holiday in general
What’s a great sign that your sweetie is invested in sharing the season’s joy with you? “He/she asks you what you want for Christmas and engages in conversation about the holiday,” Lindner says. (Of course, if your partner is being so inquisitive and caring in the hopes of scoring a big gift, this would all be in bad taste.)
Green light #2: He or she is curious about your own holiday traditions
A date who asks about your family’s traditions, the area of the country they live in, and so forth is showing a readiness to bond with you and yours this season. Invite him or her along, and your date is bound to bask in the warm glow of your extended family (even if you think they’re somewhat nuts) like a dog snoozing by the fireplace.
Green light #3: He or she enjoys reminiscing about holidays from the past
It’s also a good sign, Lindner says, if your date talks about (positive) memories of past celebrations and gently probes you for your own recollections from childhood. Then, your biggest problem won’t be whether to invite your sweetheart over; it’ll be deciding whose folks you should while away the holidays with together.
Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on About.com, the online information network owned by the New York Times.