Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dismaying Story #135: My Parents Don’t Like My Boyfriend




Dear Andrew,

I am nineteen years old and I’ve been dating my 21 year old boyfriend for about a year. We get along great but the only problem is my parents don’t like him. That bothers me because I think it should be up to me who I date. He’s fun to be with and says such nice things. My parents want me to find someone who goes to college like I do, or at least has a job. But it’s not like he doesn’t want to work. He had a part-time job at a store but that ended last summer and he hasn’t been able to find anything even though he is looking. This is the first time I’ve had this problem with my parents and I don’t know how to handle it. We’ve never really fought much before and I don’t like it. My boyfriend is cool about it, though. He just laughs when we talk about it and says not to worry about it, but it still bothers me. Any advice?

Signed, Unhappy


Dear Unhappy,

I can understand why you feel torn. It sounds like you have enjoyed a good relationship with your parents, and now you find yourself at odds over one of the biggest issues in your life – your choice of your current significant other.

You are correct about one thing. In my opinion it is completely up to you who you date and with whom you eventually settle down, if that is in your future. You are a young adult, it is your life, and you are the one who will be the most affected by your choices.

But ... yes, I have several very large ‘buts’ for you to consider.

I worry that one of the factors here may be what I call The Saturday Night Syndrome. A typical existence for a teenager in college revolves around classes, assignments, and a social life, with maybe a part-time job or some extra-curricular activities like sports thrown in to round out the mix. Your boyfriend doesn’t attend your classes, nor does he share your job or play on your volleyball team. He intersects your world when it comes to hanging out during your leisure time and when you go out on Saturday night. That is the arena where he must shine in order for you to feel good about the experiences you share with him.

You see, couples tend to feel better about each other when they share positive experiences. (Which is why the occasional date night or vacation trip can be so important later in life, when day jobs and mortgages tend to take over.) Based on your letter, I would say your boyfriend is good at helping you enjoy yourself when you’re at the movies or at a party. It sounds like he has some skills when it comes to knowing what to say to you in a social context. And those are all good things. I would also guess you are attracted to him for other reasons, such as his physical attractiveness or whatever else you are responding to in him. Again, there’s nothing wrong with any of that.

The problem is this is not a complete test of how well he may be able to contribute to your long-term happiness. Some young people measure compatibility based on how well things are going right now, when perhaps a some thought about the potential future might shed a different light on things.

I realize not all dating relationships are headed for a long-term commitment. People date for fun, have transition boyfriends – I get it. But you are at an age where relationships often start to get serious. You’ve been with this guy for a year and your letter gives no indication things are likely to slow down or end soon. In my books this is either already a serious relationship or has the potential to become one. I guarantee your parents recognize the same thing.

I haven’t met you or your boyfriend, so I can’t possibly offer an opinion about him as a person or as a potential partner for you. However there are a few things you mentioned in your letter that I recommend you should think about.

Let’s talk about a few life skills you should look for. The first is earning potential. That may sound callous and out of step with a discussion about love and how he makes you feel, but it is a hard fact that we all need to earn a living. That is especially true for someone who might marry a young lady and become a father. Now I can’t pass judgment on anyone who might be struggling to earn an income in today’s economy. Times are tough and jobs are scarce. Not everyone needs to go to college to succeed. The question for me, though, is this: What is your boyfriend doing to improve his situation? Is he working long and hard to scour the hills looking for opportunities? Is he treating his current downtime as an opportunity to improve his skills, learn a trade, or start a small business out of his garage? Has he volunteered to work somewhere for free in the short term so he can create contacts or learn something marketable? Or has he merely submitted a handful of resumes and asked a few friends if they know about any jobs? Everyone can occasionally be faced with challenges, but it is how we respond to them that shows whether we are a go-getter who is likely to succeed no matter what, or someone whose fortunes depend on luck and the good graces of others. I hope my daughter would have her eye out for one of the go-getters.

A second life skill in any relationship between young people is trying to get along with the potential in-laws. Like it or not, every boyfriend has a sales job to do, selling himself to your parents. That can involve communication, compromise, the ability to recognize issues and deal with them, and underlying it all, the desire to create good will and harmony. How much effort has your boyfriend put into any of that? I recognize his relationship with your parents is a two-way street and they own half the relationship. He has to do his part, though. If, as you say, he merely laughs off their concerns without taking positive steps to try to mend fences, then that should make you pause and think. Is this how he is likely to approach other important relationships in the future, such as with employers, co-workers, or your friends?

Going along with that, has he shown any concern for how this conflict is affecting you?

You asked about your parents, and all I’ve talked about so far is you and your boyfriend. The reason is I want to give you a perspective that many parents are likely to have on your situation. It seems there are plenty of factors involved that would give your parents reasonable grounds for being concerned, especially since they are likely to be the two people on this planet who are most interested in you ending up with a fulfilling and happy life.

One more thing you said gives me pause. This is not a recurring pattern for you and your parents. I assume you have dated before, which means they didn’t object to your previous boyfriends, just this one. I also have to assume your parents know something about life. They were once your age, dating and watching their friends succeed and fail at numerous relationships. Whether you want to admit it or not, they have some perspective on these sorts of things that you don’t have. So just the fact that they are concerned should make you stop and wonder whether they might have a point.

Please forgive me if any of my assumptions are off base. You might have already thought through many of the points I mentioned. And like I said at the outset, your choice of dating partner should be completely up to you. However, I suggest your parents’ concern should set off major alarm bells and get you thinking about some of the issues I mentioned above. I wish you the best of luck in working through that and, hopefully, arriving at a happy place for everyone concerned.

All the best,
Andrew

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5 comments:

  1. I wasn't taken aback with your post (as I think many a family goes through something similar) until I read that last part where you mentioned that your boyfriend "just laughs and says not to worry about it". To me, that would be a red flag.
    A respectable young man would share your concern and want to be able to reach out and show your parents that he is worthy of you and also that they can trust and like him. His nonchalance and lack of concern would concern me, if I were you.

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  2. andrew, well said!:)

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  3. Oh wow, you speak such sense!! Thanks for the comment on my blog, so glad you got what i meant - my husband is my world!! Love Posie

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  4. Andrew has covered every base, and covered them all so well too. Lots of issues here for the unhappy young woman to consider.

    I can add only something from my own life experience.

    I can, sort of, relate to her situation from a time in my long-ago past (as could many readers, I feel sure).

    I was much older than 19 at the time. My parents seriously disliked my relationship with a significant other. Though I could partly understand why they felt as they did, I went my own way. The relationship became a very long-term one - 30+ years to be exact. My parents, until their death never did fully accept this guy, though he did his best to overcome their dislike.

    What I can tell you from my experience is that it brought me a lot of pain over the years, but I still would not change anything because I loved the guy in question - and did love him until the day that he died.

    Love is the key to this conundrum, as it is to most of the world's ills.

    Your letter doesn't mention that you have any feelings of love for this young man - simply that you have been enjoying sharing dates for around a year. The feel I get from your letter is that you are not yet at the point where true love comes into the equation, and that your worries are more involved with not upsetting your parents. If this is so, then chatting with them and explaining that you are not seriously involved in a love relationship might calm their concerns.

    If, though, you do have deeper feelings for the guy - and if they lead you into a long-term relationship deeper than simply dating, do be aware that there will be pain....and a lot of it.

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  5. I agree with Owner of a Home School that a respectable man would reach out and care about the parents' opinion. That said, if he never had that behavior modeled, then it would be hard.

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