A couple of months ago, my little sister announced her engagement to a man she has known for just six months–a man I have never met.
I live in Hong Kong and the rest of my family, including my sister and her intended, live in the US. My little sister is a college graduate in her twenties, but in my mind she is still a teenager. I commenced a minor freak-out session when she announced her engagement, analyzed his (very romantic) proposal over dinner with friends for signs of this guy being a creep and, of course, stalked him on Facebook.
It wasn’t until my sister introduced me to her (perfectly normal) fiancé via Skype that I thought about what it must have been like when I “introduced” my husband to my family.
I met my husband during a semester abroad in London. I was nineteen. After a six-week whirlwind romance, we agreed to try a long distance relationship. We dated long distance for three and a half years before we were able to live in the same country.
Now that I am on the other side of this equation, separated by distance from my sister, I can appreciate how worrying it must have been for my family to see me get deeper and deeper into a relationship with someone who lived so far away. The knee-jerk protective instinct I had when I learned of my sister’s romance has given me plenty of sympathy for the families of those in long distance relationships.
So if you’re in a long distance relationship, cut your family and friends some slack if they seem overly cautious or concerned about your relationship. They’re not setting out to mess up your life. They love you, and they’re worried. The best way you can help them stop worrying is to help them get to know your long distance partner. Here are seven things to do during this process:
1. Understand their reservations
In the throes of an exciting new romance, you may not want to listen if your family is skeptical. Remember that they have your best interests at heart. They don’t know this other person, so it’s natural for them to be cautious.
Don’t write off their concern and try not to get too frustrated with them. Instead, talk about why you like your partner and why you’ve decided to pursue the relationship. Offer to introduce them to your partner, even if it’s only on Skype.
2. Introduce them via video-chat
Don’t underestimate the power of a nice long Skype chat or Google Hangout for setting your family’s mind at ease.
Video chat may seem like a pale imitation of bringing your sweetheart home to meet your family, but giving your family the opportunity to hear your partner’s voice and see his or her face can go a long way toward alleviating your family’s concerns.
So, remember that the majority of communication is nonverbal. Fortunately, in the Internet Age we have the ability to transmit some of those nonverbal cues from around the world. After your family “meets” your partner via Skype, they may still be concerned, but they’ll have a better sense of who your partner is.
3. Look for other ways to tech-connect them
Don’t stop with the occasional Skype chat–look for other ways to help your family and your significant other connect.
One tool that has been fantastic for my family is a private Facebook group. Limited to my parents, siblings and their spouses/partners, we can post pictures and updates that aren’t necessarily relevant to our larger social networks.
This has become an organic way to keep in touch and get to know the personalities of the spouses/partners, something that is invaluable to me as I can’t come around for Sunday dinner. After grilling my sister’s fiancé in a long message thread in this group, I felt a lot better about their upcoming marriage by the time I met him in person.
4. Remember that you can’t please everyone
Your family wants to protect you, but you are the one who has decided to pursue this relationship. They may not accept your beloved right away, but you need to focus on getting to know this person. You alone will know whether being in a long distance relationship is worth it. Give your family time, and listen to their concerns, but don’t feel too much pressure to please them.
4. Don’t put too much stock in the first visit
The first time I invited my now-husband home to meet my family, we took separate flights to my hometown (me from New York, him from London). My flight was delayed and then cancelled, stranding me in Atlanta overnight. His flight was right on time.
I’d spent months worrying about how it would go when my family finally met this man I loved–and I wasn’t even there for it! Apart from my mom accidentally slamming his hand in the car door, it went beautifully. In retrospect, it’s good that I wasn’t there making things more stressful by worrying.
Things went well for me, but remember that as important as first impressions are, one visit does not have to define your partner’s relationship with your family forever. As you know well, it takes time to get to know someone from far away, and your family may need multiple visits before they 100% support the relationship.
6. Encourage them to study each others cultures
Long distance relationships often involve dating across cultures. Getting to know your partner’s culture is one of the fun things about long distance dating. On the other hand, it can be daunting for your family members. Encourage your family to read up on your partner’s culture. Watch relevant movies with them. Talk to them about some of the cultural differences you find interesting. Start to plant the idea of them visiting your significant other’s country.
Remind your family that your partner is an individual, but it’s important to understand where they come from. This can be helpful whether you want a British family to accept a Japanese boyfriend or a family of Irish Catholic Bostonians to get to know your girlfriend from Southern California.
7. Be patient, and give them time
Finally, remember that your family is also in a long distance relationship with your partner. Encourage the same communication and patience you use with each other, and you should all be just fin.