Your relationship with your in-laws is one of the most complicated relationships you’ll ever have. They’re like your parents, demanding respect, but they’re not your parents because they still make you call them Steve and Eileen. They’re like your friends because you can bond with them over inane hobbies, but they’re not your friends because you’ll always be the one who stole their precious child away. Navigate the tricky waters of in-law relations with the great uniter, alcohol. Just be sure to also follow these rules to avoid any Meet the Parents-style mishaps.
DON’T Drink to Excess
This is an obvious one, but it bears repeating, over and over again, with flashing neon lights around it. Don’t get drunk in front of your in-laws. You can quickly become too casual, cursing or referring to your in-laws by nicknames as if they were your college bros. Or you could become too honest, revealing that your father-in-law’s toupee does not actually look natural. And if offending them isn’t bad enough, you also run the risk of getting sick all over your mother-in-law’s new shag carpet. Simply put, it’s not a good look.
DO Order Like Everyone Else
Whether you’re out to eat or your in-laws are asking what you’d like to have for a drink from their own bar cart, be sure to read the room. If everyone is drinking wine and beer, don’t ask for a glass of neat bourbon. If everyone is drinking a simple digestif, don’t complicate things with a cocktail. You don’t want to drink anything that’s any stronger, pricier or more complex than the rest of the family’s drinks.
DO Bring a Gift Bottle
Bringing a host gift is non-negotiable if said host is your mother- or father-in-law. Show that you put a little thought into the gift by purchasing a midrange bottle of wine or a spirit (or an affordable bottle that looks expensive). The gesture will be much appreciated by your in-laws, especially if you cater to their preferences, showing that you took notice of your father-in-law’s scotch collection or your mother-in-law’s love for Gin & Tonics. Just don’t be pretentious and bring a bottle of some obscure amaro if bitter isn’t to your in-laws liking—then you’ll have just bought a bottle for yourself.
DON’T Embarrass Your S/O With Drinking Stories
It’s perfectly fine to bond with your in-laws over some light-hearted jesting at the expense of your significant other (“‘Isn’t she the loudest chewer on earth?’ ‘I know right!”) What will not be appreciated by either party are tales of your partner’s wildest drinking experiences, no matter how funny you think they are. Do not throw your partner under the bus by recalling how he or she took five tequila shots and got up on the bar Coyote Ugly-style last Halloween. Your in-laws don’t need to know that information, and you’re just going to make it awkward for everyone.
DO Accept Anything You're Offered
Much like accepting endless plates of lasagna and cups of tea, it’s only polite to take any alcoholic beverage that you’re offered. Does your father-in-law make the world’s worst Martini? Drink it with enthusiasm, then volunteer to whip up the next round. Is your mother-in-law insistent that her sour-mix laded frozen Strawberry Daiquiris are a crowd favorite? You better bet you’re part of the crowd. Graciously accept any and all drinks that you’re given—then discreetly dispose of them in the potted plants if you must.
DON’T Try to Keep Up with High-Tolerance In-Laws
If you have the type of in-laws that can drink anyone under the table, don’t try to unseat them from their throne. Enjoy their looseness, but don’t take their own extreme intake as an invitation to meet them at their level (see rule No. 1). If they have been drinking straight vodka for three decades and you’ve only just worked up the courage to try a Vesper, don’t try to go shot for shot. Embrace them as the true drinking champions, and hope that they do something embarrassing enough to make them feel the need to gain your favor the next morning.