Dear 100 Hour Board,
I'm in a tough situation and need some advice. I would say I'm good friends with my boyfriend's parents, but ever since he left on his mission I've found it very hard to be around them for a few different reasons.
1. My boyfriend and I first started dating when we were very young. His parents weren't happy about us "steady dating" and often got in arguments about it. Hearing about these (often heated) arguments made them seem like monsters. I became so scared of being near them.
2. They are VERY different from my family. My relationship with my family is that combined with a sibling/parent and best friend. We all love each other, have fun being around each other, and often outwardly display that love (ex. hugs, kisses, etc). My boyfriends family isn't quite like that. They aren't very "touchy-feely" with each other and don't often verbally express affection for each other.
3. The most obvious, my boyfriend isn't there to help me and comfort me. This is something I now must do on my own.
What are the results? Now, I'm not scared of my boyfriend's parents, I just get nervous every time I go to visit them. I was so young and immature when I met them. I often use humor to carry conversation and fun, but I worry that doing so will only make me appear to be "a joke." I want to be seen as a mature and intelligent young woman that any parents would LOVE their son to date. No matter what happens with me and my boyfriend, I want to be a life long friend with his family. He's told me they've told him that they like me and care for me, but I've personally never heard or seen this approval.
In conclusion, how can I build the confidence to feel like I can be myself around his family? How can I find love and approval from two people who don't even outwardly (or at least when I'm around) show it to their children? Oh, and what are good conversation starters besides the normal "how are you, what's new, etc?" Please, I'm open for any advice!
Dear Needing Approval,
When my uncle was dating my aunt, she was hesitant about him for a while because he was trying so hard to seem "fun" that he just came off as kind of shallow. My mom told him that he was like a Mini Wheat - he had a frosted side and a whole-wheat side. The problem was, he was only showing her his "frosted side," and she needed to see both. Nobody wants someone who's all whole wheat, but frosting only doesn't make a healthy breakfast. So, he started adding more serious conversation topics to his mix of "fun," and now, well, they're married.
Obviously, this isn't the same sort of relationship, but I think the same idea applies. Keep using humor and trying to be friendly, but if you want them to see you as mature, try to work mature topics into conversation. Now, I'm not saying you have to walk into their kitchen and say "Sooooo...how about those drone strikes in Afghanistan?" However, you can easily do this by asking them about their day, and then telling them about your excellent Institute lesson or some volunteer thing you did or whatever when they reciprocate and ask about yours.
I think you will have to get used to a different sort of relationship with them than with your own parents, though. For one thing, they're not even your in-laws yet, and they might be cynical about pre-mission relationships and not yet see you as a permanent fixture in their lives. Once you and your missionary start dating again when he's back, they'll probably warm up to you more. Furthermore, as you said, they're not very demonstrative people. With them, it's probably best to assume that "no news is good news" - if they're not complaining about you, they probably like you.
Also, why don't you write to your missionary about it and ask him? He knows his parents better than you do, and certainly better than I do. He'll probably have some advice for you, and might be able to reassure you about your lack of confidence around them.
Finally, I'll just remind you that while it's certainly way easier when your significant other's parents like you, it's not the most important thing in the world. Keep trying to build a relationship with them, but keep in mind that they're not the ones you want to date. Your missionary wanted to date you even when they openly disapproved of you, and it sounds like they've mellowed out about that since then. Ultimately, while this is a good goal, you haven't failed if they don't treat you like a daughter by the time your missionary gets back. My guess is that if you keep trying to get along with them, but don't try so hard that you let it make you nervous or awkward, it will go better than if you constantly let yourself stress out about it.
Dear Needing Approval,
I'd also recommend that you learn about love languages. While I don't agree that there are only five or that everyone can be categorized into some and not others, I do think that it's an important concept to understand. Different people express love in different ways. For you, verbal affirmation and physical affection are very important. From the sound of things, your boyfriend's parents just aren't fluent in those languages, or if they are, they don't like to speak them. They probably prefer to express love in some other way, one that you don't recognize or understand because it's something that you're not used to or something that's not important to you. I'd suggest that you try to figure out what love language your boyfriend's parents speak, learn to recognize when they're speaking it to you, and learn to speak it to them. If they do appreciate you as much as your boyfriend says, then my best guess is that learning to recognize the ways that they prefer to express love will make a huge difference. Best of luck!