A meeting that couples often find daunting

By Linda Marx / New York Times News Service

Published Feb 14, 2014 at 12:01AM

With Valentine’s Day here, now may be a good time to consider some of the more difficult things we do for love. Meeting the future in-laws is among the most daunting of those tasks, and since many of these meetings occur in the winter months, often a chilly one, too.

One of the reasons the meetings can be cold-weather propositions is easy to understand. Most couples want to get meet-the-family weekends out of the way before the marriage proposal is made. And while Christmas is often cited as the most popular time to propose, the latest American Express Spending and Saving Tracker indicates that about 1 in 10 unmarried people anticipate asking or answering a marriage proposal on Valentine’s Day this year. And 1 in 5 expect a proposal by year’s end.

(With such a hopeful sample to question, maybe in early March results would show St. Patrick’s Day as the most likely day to get engaged, and on Halloween in October, but we digress.)

Cheryl Clisby, a wedding planner in Boca Raton, Fla., said: “I have girls come to me before the winter holidays in hopes they will get engaged by spring. If it didn’t happen by Christmas or New Year’s, they are pretty sure it will be on Valentine’s Day.”

Clisby cautioned that a Feb. 14 proposal could feel a bit overwhelming and seem a little like a cliché.

“Restaurants are overcrowded, the day can feel rushed due to the commercialization of the holiday, and a proposal anniversary is not a stand-alone date,” she said. “But cliché can turn out well if the groom plays it smart and the bride is actually surprised.”

But first, before that all-important question is posed, comes the meeting with the future in-laws.

The pressure to please and to make a good first impression at these encounters can create more anxiety than those jittery hours leading up to the first date. And things don’t always go as planned. Months or maybe years later, however, some of the excruciating moments become laugh-out-loud funny and could make good scenes in a Ben Stiller romantic comedy. Here are a few examples of nerve-racking introductions we have come across:

Anna Whitlow, Jose Posas

On Nov. 26, 2008, the first Thanksgiving that Anna Whitlow spent with Jose Posas’ family in rural Georgia, the couple arrived late at night, let themselves into the house and placed their crated dog in the garage. Since Posas’ father and stepmother, whom Whitlow had never met, were asleep, she retired to the guest room by herself while Posas, who is now 33 and a sports neurologist, went to another room.

“This was a very traditional family, and I was supposed to be properly introduced the following morning,” said Whitlow, now 30 and an account supervisor with Murphy O’Brien, a public relations firm in Los Angeles.

But in the wee hours, the dog started barking in the crate, so Whitlow hopped out of bed and entered the garage, closing the door to the house behind her. She let the dog go into the backyard, then turned to re-enter the house, but discovered that the door had locked behind her. In a panic, Whitlow, pajama-clad with uncombed hair and no makeup, crawled under the slightly opened garage door and tried to find another entrance to the house. She found a door on the side, but it was also locked.

“I didn’t want to meet his family in such a disheveled state, so I frantically looked for another door, an open window, anything to get me back inside,” she said. “Since it was dark when we arrived, and I had never been to their house, I didn’t know the layout.”

She finally made her way around the yard and found the front door was unlocked. As she was ready to sneak back in, a tiny dog appeared outside out of nowhere. She had no idea whose it was or where it belonged.

“With the door cracked open, I tried to shoo away the dog and get inside,” she said. “Then I heard a female voice say: ‘Oh! You must be Anna.’”

So Whitlow met her husband’s stepmother while breaking into her house wearing pajamas.

“We still laugh about it today,” Whitlow said.” The couple married three years ago in Key West, Fla.

Meaghan Feodoroff, Tim Curcio

Meaghan Feodoroff and Tim Curcio met at a kickball game in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2006. A few months later, Feodoroff arranged for Curcio, an actor and writer, to meet her parents at an Italian restaurant in Manhattan.

“Since my mom had an entire dinner to learn about the man who I knew was the one for me, she was very inquisitive,” said Feodoroff, now 33 and the public relations director for Beauty Court in Santa Monica, Calif. “This resulted in a disaster.”

As dinner progressed, her mother fired questions at Curcio, now 34: “How do you think you are good enough for my daughter?” “Tell me now what you like about my daughter?” “How can my daughter socialize with your actor friends if she is not an actor?”

Curcio answered each question patiently.

Later, Feodoroff also entertained some embarrassing questions from her mother as Curcio listened: “There have been so many, Meaghan: Sean and Chris and Dave, and I just can’t keep up! Why is this one so special? Please tell me.”

After dinner, the couple went to a bar, ordered vodka on the rocks and didn’t talk until they had finished their cocktails. Finally, Feodoroff found the nerve to speak.

“I told Tim I would understand if he wanted to leave the relationship now and never see me again,” she said, but added, “My mom is a woman who says what she thinks.”

Curcio was a bit shell shocked and afraid that the interrogation would continue throughout their lives, but he gambled on it being a one-time ordeal. He was right.

“I quickly learned that her mom was great, and the initial meeting was just her fear of the new,” Curcio said. “We all laugh about it now, but it was not fun then.”

Eighteen months later, he proposed, and they were married in Nantucket, Mass., on Sept. 20, 2008.

Caroline Fare, Eric Villency

Eric Villency had a bad case of the prenuptial jitters when he boarded a plane for Europe to meet his fiancée, Caroline Fare, and, for the first time, her parents during Swedish Midsummer festivities in June 2011. Villency, the chief executive of the Villency Design Group in New York, landed at 10:30 a.m. totally jet-lagged.

“I wanted to make a good impression, but I was nervous and completely out of it,” said Villency, now 38. “I was wearing a rumpled T-shirt while Caroline’s family was celebrating a Swedish holiday that is like Christmas, Thanksgiving and July 4 all in one.”

When Villency arrived at her family’s home in Mellbystrand, Sweden, 90 minutes from the airport, he wanted to spruce up and at least put on a jacket over the T-shirt. But that was not to be.

“The whole family was ready to jump naked into the sauna as I arrived,” he said. “I was promptly invited to strip down and join her father, whom I had never met, and the other male relatives as they enjoyed their holiday tradition.”

Inside, with steam rising, Villency nodded to her father and tried to enunciate a “Nice to meet you, sir,” but sitting naked in the sauna with a group of strangers made him feel painfully awkward. The Swedes, who were having a great time, did all they could to make their American guest feel at home.

“Eric was so nice and eager to meet the family, yet he was modest about our sauna tradition,” said Peter Fare, Caroline’s father. “We tried to make him feel more comfortable, and he seemed to relax after a while. We were so happy to have him join us for the holiday.”

The rest of the day, Villency, fully clothed and joyfully refreshed, joined Fare, now 28 and a model and jewelry designer, and her family in running egg-sack and potato-sack races, drinking rounds of schnapps, singing traditional Swedish songs and dining on meatballs and Norwegian lutefisk soaked in lye, which “traumatized” him, he said, but he “manned up and sucked it down.” They were married at the courthouse in lower Manhattan followed by a spiritual ceremony in Manalapan, Fla., on Dec. 14, 2013.

Sarah Ivory, Carl Gambino

Sarah Ivory met Carl Gambino six years ago at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in New York. They became friends and started dating. Gambino, an actor who is now 28, soon asked Ivory, now 30, to join his family for an annual holiday tradition in which his father rents a limousine to ride around New York, shop and admire the holiday windows. She wasn’t thrilled.

“I come from a family of no traditions,” said Ivory, who is a talent manager. “Christmas barely makes a dent in our lives. So you can imagine my surprise and wonder why anyone would waste time driving around looking at windows.”

She added, “They literally stop at every major department store so grandma, cousins, aunt, etc., can get out and admire the holiday scenes.”

When the limo fetched Ivory at a sushi restaurant in Manhattan where she had been dining with friends, she climbed into a jam-packed vehicle filled with the family members talking loudly, laughing and joking.

The first thing Gambino’s mother said was: “Hello. So you must be the young lady who has been violating my son.”

Ivory and her boyfriend were “mortified.” But while she was deciding how to respond, the banter among the family members immediately shifted to a more lighthearted direction. Within a minute or two, all was forgotten. The couple plan to marry May 24 at Blooming Hill Farm in Blooming Grove, N.Y.

Vanessa Menkes, Alex Orlofsky

The first time Alex Orlofsky met his future mother-in-law, he was beyond nervous. He and his girlfriend, Vanessa Menkes, had traveled from Florida to Massachusetts to attend a friend’s wedding on Cape Cod. Although he had never met her mother, Orlofsky, a Miami lawyer, was planning to ask permission to marry Menkes, now 37 and the vice president for communications of the Opium Group, a Miami-based restaurant and nightclub operation.

“Since Vanessa is German, I decided to ask her mom in German to impress her,” Orlofsky, now 36, recalled of the meeting on Sept. 12, 2009. “I asked Vanessa how to say this, and while her German was rusty, she jotted down what she thought was correct on a piece of paper.”

When they gathered in his future mother-in-law’s garden on that perfect end of a summer morning, he read the words on the paper which translated, “May I marry HIS daughter?”

She stared at Orlofsky with an expression of utter confusion and said, “Whose daughter?”

“My mom looked at Alex like he was crazy,” Menkes said. “Here he was asking her if he could marry someone else’s daughter.”

While it wasn’t the seamless proposal Orlofsky had intended, it resulted in a “yes.” And the couple married at the Miami Beach Resort and Spa on March 6, 2010.

Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi began to date his fellow tennis star Steffi Graf not long after his 1999 divorce from actress Brooke Shields. Both Agassi’s father, Mike, and Graf’s father, Peter, who died in December 2013, had been driving forces behind their children’s tennis careers.

When the two dads met, according to Agassi’s 2009 memoir, “Open,” the “unavoidable moment” took place. After Mike Agassi showed Peter Graf a machine he had rigged for 7-year-old Andre to shoot as many as 2,500 tennis balls a day at him, each flying 110 mph, the fathers got into an argument over the merits of Graf’s one-handed backhand and of Agassi’s two-hander. Both men raised their fists before Andre Agassi broke them apart.

Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi had a secret wedding at his Las Vegas home Oct. 22, 2001. Neither father was present.