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How to Deal with an Embarrassing Family

by Eharmony Editorial Team - December 9, 2009

No one has the perfect family. In fact, most of us can count a few colorful characters as relatives. If you are introducing your new significant other to your clan, read this first.

Unless you grew up a Brady, introducing your family to a new significant other is cause for anxiety even for the most confident people. Rarely does the nervousness and unease come from our date embarrassing us (why would be bringing them home?), but rather our family coming off as a bit too…well, unique.

Because in fact no one was raised in the Brady household, no one has the perfect family. Yes, some are worse than others, but this seems of little consolation when you’re trying to find a way to tell your new beau that Uncle Chuck did some time awhile back and that your cousin Gloria has 13 cats. The last time you counted, anyway.

Theoretically, the older you become, the less you care about what other people think, but when it comes to your family, old patterns emerge. Teaching your mom that dance move was funny at the time, but when she’s cutting a rug in front of your date, it’s another story. At that moment, you’re transported back to age 13 and so embarrassed you wish your body would evaporate into thin air. Deep down, you know you shouldn’t care, but you do.

As most intend to put their best foot forward, especially when dating, we have examined a few situations that can make you squirm, and tips on how to straighten up and shrug it off.

Rewind to 1985

The proverbial record scratches to a halt when mom pulls out the family photo album to show your date. There you are, age 2 in the tub with a shampoo faux-hawk and a rubber ducky. A few years later you’re flashing a set of jack-o-lantern teeth in spite of your broken arm. And then there’s the prom photos. We don’t even need to go there.

The urge is to slam the album shut and throw it out the window, but take pity on poor Mom. She only wants to reflect back to the days of yore when her baby was young and innocent and still her own. Also, she’s incredibly proud of you. So, try to show humility and good humor. More than likely, your date will think the photos are sweet and endearing, showing a softer side to complement your cool.

A Family Full of…Characters

Grandpa owns a lamp in the shape of a leg that he can’t wait to show off. Old Uncle Lou makes everyone nervous with his smarminess. Aunt Ethel spends more time cooing to her dog, Mister Spots, than talking to people. Ah, family.

The French have a custom that is good to remember during family functions. It’s not unusual for a host to invite a person that’s a bit, well, unusual to their dinner party. The theory is that this person keeps the party from becoming dull and stuffy. People have something to talk about and something memorable to reflect upon later. This guest provides built-in entertainment, if you will. So when Uncle Rudy is showing off his war wound during Thanksgiving dinner, think of your relatives as the crazies invited to the party and you and your date as the hosts. Remember, you can’t pick your family, so there’s no point in trying to defend or change them.

Aunt Lulu, Meet 2008

There is always member of the family that hasn’t yet incorporated politically correct expressions into their vocabulary. You try not to cringe when obsolete and offensive terminology is used in front of your date, or when backward schools of thought are expressed. Perhaps some people in your family use poor grammar, causing the hair on the back of your neck stand up on end. Most of the time, these slips are generational and not malicious.

Older relatives come from a time when things weren’t so, well, correct. If you are more educated, more eloquent, be thankful and think twice before offering up the “right” answer or term to someone who wasn’t lucky enough to have as much schooling. After all, it’s their hard work and sacrifice that put you where you are today.

Our History

Heavy or not, everyone has a past. Whether your brother is in need of an intervention, your mom is a gambler, or your sister is nowhere to be found, you can’t change history and you can’t control where you came from. No one ever behaves exactly as we want them to, making embarrassment an inevitable part of life.

Try to keep a good sense of humor about the small stuff, as that’s what makes us interesting. For the heavier loads, remember that everyone has some sort of dysfunction, skeletons in the closet, and people that they are not proud of being related to, but ultimately that is all part of being part of a family.

Rather than thinking of your interaction with your family as an interview of who you are, look at it as a test of your date. If he or she is a good person, they’ll respect your relatives regardless of how insane they act (or are). If your significant other belittles your family, judges you or where you came from, we have news for you: The problem is not your family, it’s your date.