The other day, I was invited by my girlfriend to her family's pre-4th-of-July barbecue, which was taking place later the same day. It involved her mom's side of the family, and about 15 relatives came. I was the only non-relative invited (and by her specifically), and she thought it would be nice if I could meet her extended family for the first time.

Given that it was such short notice, and that I had planned to spend some time with my parents later that evening, I told her I could only spend 30 minutes to an hour there, even though I certainly wanted to go. She felt that it would be rude for me to stay for such a short amount of time, and said it would be better if I didn't go at all.

In the end I decided to go to the barbecue and stay for about two hours, after talking with my parents. I had absolutely no desire to be rude, and as it turned out, I was well-received by my girlfriend's family. However, I was still a little unsure about what I should have done.

I'm a college student in the United States, and we've been dating for two years. I already knew her parents, and I had briefly spoken to some of her other relatives, but I didn't know them well. Under these circumstances, would it have been rude for me to just spend 30-60 minutes at the barbecue, explaining the reason to my hosts? I think it was certainly safer for me go, but would doing otherwise have been a breach of etiquette?


In most cases like this I would go to the event and be up front in greeting

It's great to see you! I'm very sorry but I'm only going to be able to stay around 30 minutes. My parents are expecting me for a similar celebration. However, I wanted to come and see you and spend as much time as I could because I have not seen you in a while

So I'd be doing my best to apologise and manage expectation over my time, indicate that it is my parents who are expecting me (someone of understandably greater hierarchy within my personal social order) and establish that I came because they are important people in my life.

However, in your case your girlfriend is suggesting that they would find this impolite. She knows her parents better than you do, so it may be worth listening to her and be cautious so as not to offend.

This final decision would come down to if you believed you could pull off the interaction without offending. Knowing that they are likely to be offended, do you have enough confidence in your 'charm' to disarm them with words, get them feeling good about you being there at all. You have to switch the frame of that 30 minutes from looking like a small amount of time and flip it into a precious amount of time that you are sparing for them.

If not, then avoid offending


When I was still married this was the juggling act that we had to preform with nearly every major holiday... My ex-wife and I both came from split families so every occasion meant making appearances at 3-4 family functions, and very often having to carefully and delicately manage expectations for each.

What I found most helpful over the years was making an effort to address schedule conflicts early on in the planning stages. Just sort of making the various family factions aware of when the other factions were planning their events, which allowed them to adjust plans a little.

Obviously you can't always expect everyone to play nice and be all that accommodating, but by informing them of prior engagements before they've set a time for their event they usually will be. In the worst case, they'll understand that you will have to leave early or show up late.

In your particular situation, being somewhat new to your girlfriend's family, it's good to put your best foot forward, but now is also a good time to start setting precedent. More or less, be upfront about your prior engagements and family obligations. You may even find that her family respects you more for it in the long run, it shows that you're responsible and that you're inclined to respect your parents wishes (parents like that sort of thing.)

So... TL;DR

Setting a particular time limit shouldn't be perceived as rude in most cases and try to give people the opportunity to work out a mutually beneficial event schedule.

Years from now if you opt to settle down with this particular girlfriend and have children... You'll be the keeper of the grandchildren and they're likely to become much, much more accommodating.


"All's well that ends well."

You did the right thing by telling your girlfriend's family of your dilemma. This would particularly apply since they asked you last, and you had other commitments.

Under other circumstances, you should have respected their request not to show up. Because it's your girlfriend's family (and your potential in laws), you brokered a "compromise" and stayed for two hours, at some cost to your own family. Under the circumstances (potential in laws) that was a smart thing to do because it could be their inlaws also.

You will be called to walk such similar "fine lines" in the future, if not with these people, with others. Good job.

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