Are you planning to pop the big question to your girlfriend? Do you dread the prospect of meeting your father-in-law for the first time? If so, worry not. Help is at hand!

In May, marriage guidance service provider Next Level published the results of an online survey of 108 18-34-year-old men who are thinking of getting married to find out how they feel about their prospective fathers-in-law.

They also asked 122 fathers with single daughters between the ages of 18 and 35 how they feel about their prospective sons-in-law.

First of all, the questionnaire asked the younger men how they felt when they thought about the prospect of telling their partner’s dad that they would like to marry their daughter. 23% said it was a “very scary” prospect and 54% said it was “a little scary.”

TheeErin | © (CC by ND 2.0)

When asked why they felt so scared of their prospective father-in-law, the most popular answer given was “I don’t know what he’s like.” This is hardly surprising, given that most of us rarely have the opportunity to talk with our partner’s parents while dating.

Other reasons given for feeling scared were, "I don't know what he might ask me,” and “I don’t make very much money.”

Here is a selection of the respondents’ answers:

  • “I'm still not confident about how much I earn.” (a 21-year-old from Chiba)
  • “I'm really worried about meeting him for the first time because I’ve only ever seen photos of him, and he looks like a really boring old man.” (a 30-year-old from Gifu)
  • “I'm worried because I don't understand the vibe, or what he’s like. I’ve never met him before, and I have to ask him the biggest question I’ll ask in my life.” (a 29-year-old from Hokkaido)
  • “I think it’s only normal to feel a bit wary of a guy you don’t know, especially when he wants to marry the girl you’ve raised from birth.” (a 33-year-old from Miyagi)
  • “I'm not very good with words, and I worry that I’ll say something rude to him.” (a 22-year-old from Kumamoto)

Photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb | USAF Air Education and Training Command website (public domain)

Even if you do find your partner’s father ‘scary,’ there’s no escaping the fact that sooner or later you’re going to have to tell him that you’d like to marry his daughter. Fortunately, there are lots of choice phrases you can use to let him know that you’re serious. The survey asked husbands-to-be how they would go about asking their prospective father-in-law if it’s OK to marry his daughter.

  • “I think you should just say it straight – please let me marry your daughter.” (a 31-year-old from Aichi)
  • “I'll make her happy, so give me your daughter. Please.” (a 21-year-old from Tokyo)
  • “I want to live with your daughter. Please let us get married!” (a 33-year-old from Ishikawa)
  • “I’m going to tell him all the things I love about his daughter, and then I’m going to say, ‘We love each other and we’re getting married. Is that OK?’” (a 24-year-old from Shimane)

So, what do fathers-in-law think about these phrases? More specifically, what does he not want to hear from the man who wants to marry his daughter?

Most respondents gave variations on what a 44 year-year-old father from Wakayama said. “The important thing is to speak clearly. Even if you’re nervous, you have to find the words to say what you want to say.”

In first place was “nothing at all.”

In second place was, “I’ve got your daughter pregnant” (nobody looks forward to a shotgun wedding).

In third place was, “It looks like we’re going to have to get married,” or anything that suggests you’re only getting married because you have nothing better to do.

In fourth place was, “I don’t make a lot of money, but I’m going to do my best by her.” Fathers don’t want to see their daughters suffer. As a 45-year-old father from Tokyo said, “I want to know how he’s going to make her happy if he only has a tiny salary.”

In fifth place is anything that smacks of being overblown or melodramatic. It’s OK to watch sentimental TV dramas but try not to take lessons in love from them.

“I don’t think it’s about ‘giving away’ my daughter,” said a 56-year-old father from Tokyo. “Men and women are equal… My daughter is not a thing, so how can I ‘give’ her to someone?”

As you can see, you have to be careful not to upset your father-in-law. You also have to be careful not to embarrass the old man with your heartfelt expressions of love. A 55-year-old man from Tokushima prefecture, said, “I don’t want to hear his declaration of love. Say it to my daughter, but I don’t want to hear it.”

So, what do fathers want to hear?

“’I will cherish her for the rest of my life’ is good,” said a 60-year-old from Yamaguchi.

“I like the sound of ‘Let me become a member of your family’,” said a 48-year-old man from Tokyo. “It makes it sound like he’s thinking of me and my wife.”

A few other apt expressions to bear in mind are, “I’ll do my best by her,” “I want to make your daughter my lifelong companion,” and “I’ll look after her for the rest of my life.”

In summary, don’t tell your prospective father-in-law that you’ve got his daughter pregnant. Don’t tell him that you make practically no money. Don’t go down on one knee and beg him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. And don’t get too soppy.

Oh, and don’t worry: the survey also found that more than half of fathers-in-law are happy with their daughter's choice of marriage partner.

Next, the survey asked fathers how they would feel if their daughter said, “I want you to meet the man I’m going to marry.”

The most popular answer was “I’d feel happy, but also a bit sad.” The second most popular answer was, “that depends on what he’s like.”

Although many fathers said they would feel positive about their daughter getting married, they were also a little wary.

  • “I know the day will come, and when it does, I will miss my daughter,” said a 54-year-old father from Gunma.
  • “Eventually, she’ll go off with another man, and when she does, I’ll be happy, but also a bit jealous,” admitted a 45-year old father from Tokushima.
  • “I’ll feel sad because I haven’t really seen much of the girl I raised,” said a 52-year-old father from Nagano.
  • “I trust my daughter, but if she shows up with a guy who I can tell from a glance is no good, I’ll strongly oppose their marriage,” said a 60-year-old father from Hokkaido.

The survey then asked fathers what kind of relationship they’d like to have with their future son-in-law. Here is a selection of their answers:

  • “I only have one daughter, and she doesn’t drink, so I want to be able to have a drink with my son-in-law.” (a 51-year-old from Fukuoka)
  • “I dream about having a drink with my son-in-law.” (a 41-year-old from Chiba)
  • “I like to play go, so I would like us to play go together if possible.” (54-year-old from Shizuoka)
  • “It would be fun if he can play golf. And if they have kids together, all the better. To have three generations playing golf together would be fantastic.” (a 46-year-old from Hyogo)
  • “I like pro baseball, so I’d like us to watch baseball together, though it might be a bit awkward if he’s a fan of a rival team.” (a 52-year-old from Okayama)
  • “I would like us to take a bath and sauna together at Kenko Land and talk man to man.” (45-year-old from Mie)

Another thing to remember when going to your partner’s parents’ place for the first time is that it’s not a good idea to show up empty-handed. Take the time to find out what your father-in-law-to-be likes, be it a top-notch bottle of sake or his favourite brand of chocolate. The survey found that ‘gifts from my son-in-law’s hometown’ are always welcome. You could also ask your partner about her father’s hobbies – this might give you an idea of what to talk about when you meet him for the first time too.

Just bear in mind that your gift might be misinterpreted. “I don't want to receive a present, because I’m not going to give my daughter away in exchange for a souvenir,” as a cantankerous 54-year-old father from Aichi put it. If in doubt, consult your own parents.

In conclusion, don’t worry too much. Your father-in-law is only human, and he just wants the best for his daughter. When you meet him, show him that you are sincere in your intentions, but also that you’re considering his feelings. They may well include sadness, but also excitement at the prospect of having a nice relationship with you. Gambatte ne!

You can see more details of the Next Level survey and its results here

By - George Lloyd.