“My Parents Hate Him!”
You finally introduced your new boyfriend to your parents and, horror of horrors, they can’t stand him! Sadly, he’s not too fond of them, either. Try these five tension-taming tips to keep the peace.
o you made it through the first weeks or months of dating with no deal-breaking issues surfacing. Congratulations! Then you took him to meet your parents and — to say the least — it didn’t go well. “This is the happiest I’ve been in such a long time, yet I’m so upset,” says Kristen, 32, from North Carolina. “I feel like simultaneously jumping over the moon and crawling under a rock. And all
because my parents disliked my new boyfriend almost instantaneously and for reasons they can’t explain.” Kristen, you have my condolences.
|My new boyfriend decided to out-macho my Dad, the cop.|
But who can blame her? You want the people who have known you the longest and love you the most — your family — to embrace the new guy you’re crazy about and vice versa. Is that too much to ask for? Actually, it can be… but only if there’s just cause and you can figure out why the dynamic suddenly implodes when a new person enters the picture.
“My new boyfriend decided to out-macho my Dad, the cop. It was not a smart idea to take him on immediately post-introduction,” says 30-year-old Erin L. In such cases, you can’t blame Erin’s parents for questioning Mr. Maybe if he’s disrespectful and combative. If this has happened to you, perhaps your own folks have seen your guy behave in ways that they consider to be disrespectful, think he’s a mooch, or generally an unhealthy choice for you based on your personalities or lifestyles. What if they have a point? It doesn’t matter if you’re 15 or 50, the infatuation stage of dating often comes riddled with blind spots. You may not see what’s completely obvious to everyone around you because you’re overcome by the rush of new love.
You may find yourself struggling with your parents’ disapproval, especially when you understand their point all too well and disagree with their bogus or bigoted reasons for disliking your new boyfriend. Superficial judgments by suspicious parents abound. Examples? He has long hair. He’s not a doctor or lawyer. He comes from the so-called “wrong side of the tracks.” His opinions differ from theirs on something they consider to be critically important. He’s from a different religious or cultural background. Or, as in Kristen’s case, the insta-clash seems purely irrational because the folks couldn’t or wouldn’t provide any real justification for their reaction.
No matter what the reason, where do you go from here when all hope of a happy, non-confrontational dating life that includes both boyfriend and family seems lost? Follow these five steps to get to the bottom of the conflict and heal the rift as best you can.
1. Address the conflict immediately.
The only way to get past your parents’ negative reaction is to directly confront them about it. Don’t wait, since minor discord can fester and grow into major discomfort for all parties. Healthy relationships with both your boyfriend and parents require that you be able communicate with all parties and avoid sticking your head in the sand when issues arise. “I ignored the fact that my Republican parents hated my Democratic boyfriend and it came back to bite me months later,” says 34-year-old Boston resident Linda W. “I avoided taking sides, completely unaware that the bitter exchanges over politics were a slow-acting poison that eventually eroded how my new guy felt about the two of us. He mistook my avoiding taking sides in the conflict as a sign that I didn’t care that he was (in his mind, at least) being attacked.”
2. Summon your inner diplomat.
Once you get your parents alone in a relaxed setting, spell out your guy’s virtues; mention that he treats you well, he’s a responsible citizen, and that you share many interests. Don’t be defensive, but don’t be apologetic, either. Don’t overreact. Hear them out. Remember, your goal is to resolve the conflict amicably, so it’s up to you to serve as a diplomat between the two embattled parties. Show them that you care about their opinions but that in no way means you must follow their rules anymore when it comes to dating. You are capable of making your own path in life and be responsible for the choices you make. That’s what adults do (as you gently remind them that you’re no longer a teenager living under their roof).
3. Weigh all sides, then make a decision.
Once you’ve heard your parents out, you have to decide for yourself what’s fair. Was your new beau acting out due to anxiety, rudeness or, worse, an
unattractive character trait you somehow overlooked before? Were your parents being impossible to please, bigoted, or irrational? It’s advisable to get a second (or even third) opinion. Face it: you can’t really be objective when you hear your family critique the guy with whom you’re smitten. That’s why you should ask someone who is as objective as possible what he or she thinks about the situation.
|You can’t always change your parents’ hearts and minds.|
If this is the first time your parents have so much as raised an eyebrow at someone you’re interested in, maybe there’s some aspect of this new relationship that deserves a second look. But if they’ve consistently hated all your dates on sight, remind your parents that they can’t keep the “No one is good enough for my little girl!” attitude up forever.
4. Show, not tell.
Maybe it’s time to let your parents see your relationship dynamic in action outside of the insular family bubble. After a cooling-off period, invite your parents to a social event where they can see you two interacting as a happy, functioning couple. (This is especially effective if other friends and family members like your boyfriend.) Use this opportunity to demonstrate to your parents that they’re the ones out of step in their overt disapproval. It might have a much stronger impact on how they view the relationship than your vocal protests ever would. Meeting on neutral ground benefits you, too, since meeting at a family friend’s home or a restaurant feels more informal and less like a court setting where your boyfriend is on trial.
5. If diplomacy fails, try for détente.
If, despite your best efforts, they still don’t like him, forget your old goal of warm-and-fuzzy togetherness and aim for a new one: a peaceful coexistence. The truth is, your family isn’t required to like your new guy and vice versa. It’s doesn’t have to be a relationship deal-breaker. But you have to set some ground rules for both sides, since respect is the bottom line. Your parents can have whatever feelings they want about your boyfriend. After all, you aren’t the “feelings police.” But you should draw the line at them continuing to criticize him in your presence (or the fact that you fell in love with him, for that matter). On your boyfriend’s side of the equation, he must accept that you and your parents are a package deal — so, like it or not, he has to be civil toward them for your sake. How he handles this relationship rule will give you great insights into his maturity level.
You can’t always change your parents’ hearts and minds, and not all couples experience a blissful, stress-free family integration, especially in the early stages of a relationship. But who knows? Maybe everyone will come around in due time. For now, try these strategies to keep the peace while you find the balance between your new boyfriend and your own family’s expectations.
Dave Singleton is the award-winning author of two books on dating and relationships, numerous articles, and a regular columnist for Match.com since 2003. Please send your dating and relationship queries to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.