You know you’ve arrived at a big relationship moment when the woman you’re dating wants you to meet a very important person in her life: Her mom. And you want to make a good impression and avoid major foot-in-mouth disease. To help you do so, we offer up a field guide to the most common types of moms—and how to wow each of ‘em.

The “Best Friend” Mom
Distinguishing characteristics: She won’t be camouflaged: When you’re introduced to her, she’ll squeeze her daughter and say, “You know we’re best friends, right?” Mom/daughter best-friend duos spend weekends shopping together. They talk two, three, four thousand times each day. They’re not shooting the breeze. They’re talking love. Relationships. You!

How to co-exist: Dr. Dale Atkins, author of I’m OK, You’re My Parents, says mothers who expect intense inclusion in adult daughters’ lives can feel displaced by boyfriends. Also, if he’s not “like us,” mom might interpret the new relationship as a rejection of their shared history and values. Worst case, you’re the guy who stole and brainwashed her.
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You don’t need to invite Best Friend Mom on all your dates, but let her join you for a few non-romantic outings. While together, let her unleash some mom/daughter adventure stories. Listen. Laugh. You’ll learn something about her daughter—the woman who really matters to you.

The “No One’s Good Enough for My Baby” Mom
Identifying characteristics: Even if you’re a Fortune 500 CEO with movie-star looks (and, oh yeah, last year you won Wimbledon), this mom still won’t be satisfied. She’ll wonder why you haven’t yet been elected to public office.

The critiques aren’t always overt. Does she pull your sweetie aside for whispery one-on-ones? Dr. Atkins says the more your style differs from his mom, the more flack you can expect.

How to co-exist: The trick is sticking up for yourself without engaging in battle. Dr. Atkins recommends a number of approaches. Try humor (A priest, a rabbi and a perfect son go camping…). Try empathy (Parenting seems so tough...). If all else fails, there’s always honesty (I’m feeling as if perhaps you think you daughter should be dating a different kind of person…).

Remember, she worships her child. It can’t hurt to show her you’re keen on the kid, too. Lob compliments every so often. I know Jennifer’s smart and athletic, but a fabulous cook too?!?! She thinks her girl’s perfect, so almost nothing will be over-the-top. Soon you too could be an object of her affection.

Intrusive Interrogator
Identifying characteristics: On a first date, we want to ask about sexual history and salary, but we respect unwritten rules on cultivating healthy relationships. And we don’t want to seem weird. Intrusive interrogators don’t worry about how they seem. It’s “Where are you from, what do you do, what religion are you, and what size do you wear?” from the moment you meet.

How to co-exist: Joe*, 31, met Bonnie’s parents at a Chinese buffet in San Francisco. While Bonnie and her dad went to refill their plates, Bonnie’s mom powered up the klieg lights. “She asked how many children I want, how many years apart I’d like to space them. We met an hour before. I’d known Bonnie for eight weeks.”

Joe deflected the questions, guiding conversation to less personal ground. “That wasn’t so hard to do; her questions were just her way of making conversation,” he recalls.

Not all intrusive interrogators will be so easy to satisfy conversationally. The expert’s advice? Set limits and boundaries; don’t be afraid to say, “Quite frankly, I haven’t thought about that,” or “Oh, you don’t want me to reveal all my secrets so soon, now do you?” said with a laugh. This will help you maintain some privacy—and allow you to reveal more as this delicate relationship unfolds.

*Joe’s name changed to protect his identity.

Jeff Potash is a New York-based writer.