In Which We Have A Bad Feeling About This Choice

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Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to


I have yet to meet my girlfriend Sara’s parents yet, but from what she has told me, they are very religious Christians. I really want to make a good impression on them, but I don’t know a whole lot about what they believe or why, and many of the things Sara has explained to me about it seem rather disturbing. What’s the best way to come across well to these people?

Jayson C.

just plain afraid to fail


It’s possible Sara was overstating the extent of her family’s focus on Christ. After all, she has a decade or three of experience with these people and that is a lot of time to collect memories. Without knowing exactly how religious her family is, we can assume a couple basic things: they believe in God, they believe that Jesus is their savior, and they are planning on a solid vote for He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Defy any of these three basic principles and you are in for a long night. Disagreeing with anyone about politics is a recipe for disaster, but it is even more so when their beliefs come from faith, since their connection with Christ may well be very important to them. Be prepared to mention certain fun facts about Jesus, and come up with some pre-planning material that shows you honoring Jesus but not in a traditional way; e.g., “It must be tough to walk around in a loincloth all the time!” and “Besides Larry David, that guy was arguably the most fantastic Jew ever.” Thank me later for these delicious bon mots.

If it turns out Sara’s family really is quite devout, ask questions about it, and respond with vague encouragement, like “I understand,” and “That must have been hard for you.” If you really like Sara, you can develop a belief in God later on by reading C.S. Lewis or something.

hard to say mia nguyen


Recently I have been going on a lot of first dates since I broke up with my boyfriend. All of the guys I have met online seem exclusively devoted to getting to know each other over alcohol. I’m not much of a drinker but I don’t want to come across as a stiff. Is there anyway around this singular focus on drinking socially?

Mary A.

Dear Mary,

There are two distinct problems at work for you here. The first is that you don’t want to come across as if you’re not enjoying yourself or partaking in the central activity of the evening. This has been a challenge for alcoholics and non-drinkers since the beginning of time. The solution has usually been to drink something else. If you get there early and consume something non-alcoholic, it will probably be an hour before you have to order something else. By then you can claim you’re feeling tipsy and order something else with no alcohol in it. You could go the entire night in drinking one or zero drinks in this fashion.

Tons of excuses will also get you out of drinking. Unpalatable ones include, “I have to get up early tomorrow” or “I don’t like the taste of alcohol.” In this scenarios you seem disinterested or strange, since why would you meet at someplace that served alcohol if you did not really want to drink it? Explaining that you have an operation in a few days or that you took medication for your knee is a substantially better way of getting out of a jam.

The larger problem is avoidable, too. If being at a bar isn’t your thing, you’ll want to have dates that don’t take place there. Otherwise, it is tough to communicate this later on; and why shouild you have to spend an annoying night when you could be doing something more to your taste? Just cancel on the bar and ask to meet in a park, which is a much better date overall. Coffee usually communicates disinterest, so I would avoid that.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

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