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Lauren M.G. Burt: Must-have tips for meeting the parents

Romantic relationships are an amazing part of life. But one of the most nerve-wracking parts of dating can be meeting your significant other's family. Movies like "Meet the Parents" and "Father of the Bride" were created for a reason — almost everyone has experienced the encounter and survived to tell, or laugh about their experiences.

Timing: The timing of when to introduce a new partner to family members differs for each couple. Most people wait until they know the relationship is moving forward on solid footing. If parents live far away, the timing may depend on holiday and travel schedules. Getting to know someone's family is an important ingredient in a serious relationship, but as they say, it's all about timing.

The First Meeting: This is a big moment in the relationship, but chances are, the meeting is more stressful in the mind than in reality.

Introduction: Prep your significant other with important details they should know prior to the meeting. Address anything that would help the situation feel more relaxed. Take the lead by selecting a location where everyone will feel comfortable. Your parents should also know a brief background on your new love interest so they can make conversation.

Guest: Represent your best self by dressing appropriately, shake hands, make eye contact and engage in conversation. Address them by Mr. or Mrs. when you first meet them. If you're going to their home, take a small host gift. If they pick up the dinner tab, send a hand-written thank you note afterward. Some people suggest treating it with the same seriousness and positive attitude of an informal interview. You want to make the best impression possible — especially if you think your partner is "the one."

Engagement: If you get engaged, both sets of parents should meet each other as soon as possible if they haven't done so already. The tradition of the groom's parents making the first contact is an old tradition but some still follow it today. Regardless of who reaches out first, the couple should plan the meeting so both sets of parents feel at ease and have an environment to get to know each other. The initial meeting should take place before the engagement party.

Moment of Pause: If you've been dating someone for a long time and they're still hesitant about introducing you to their family, that may be a red flag for the future of the relationship. On the flip side, if someone asks you to meet his or her parents and you decline the invitation, that reaction may be an indicator that you're not that serious about the relationship.

Overall, meeting the parents is an important milestone that should be a fun and positive experience. No family is perfect, but family holds an important place in life. Meeting the parents is a big step and shouldn't be taken lightly. Treat the event with respect, openness and an optimistic attitude. The addition of new family members or in-laws can bring abundance and joy. And for every awkward moment, there will also be laughter.