I recently realized my parent's opinion of the next boyfriend I bring home is very important to me. I make... er, questionable dating decisions. I don't necessarily have a problem with these crushes, but my family always does.They pester me with questions like, "Why can't you bring home someone we actually like?" On one hand, I understand where they're coming from. But I can't change who I am or who I like. You can't help who you fall for, IMO. So, I'm left with the question of what to do if your parents don’t like your boyfriend. It certainly puts me in an odd predicament: I don't want to compromise my romantic desires just for the sake of appeasing my family, but I've also grown tired of hiding the people I'm dating from those I love. It just doesn't feel right.
How much should my family impact who I date and the decisions I make in my love life? And how much should your parents' opinions matter in yours? As psychotherapist Deborah Sandella, Ph.D., explains, "Dating is for learning about yourself, your heart, your soul and the kind of partner that fits with you. This is about you, not your parents!"
Dating is about your heart, your soul and the kind of partner that fits with you.In other words, don't totally base who you choose to date on whether or not you think your parents will like them. Despite your love for your folks, their opinion of who you bring home isn't what matters the most; What matters most is that he makes you happy.
That being said, I get it if you're currently dating someone new and you want them to meet your parents. And you want your parents to like, nay, love them. Here's how to help make that happen, from start to finish:
Before You Introduce Your SO To Your Parents
How far you're into your relationship with your SO can determine how much you tell your parents about them, says Sandella. So, if you've only been dating for a few weeks, there's no need to dish about every detail. But as you two get more serious, you should start sharing more about this special person in your life.
If you complain to your parents about your partner, or you complain to your SO about your parents before they meet, you're only further weakening the bond that could potentially develop between them, says Sandella. Such remarks can stick in their minds and make them biased against each other, which can have negative repercussions when they do meet. Of course, you never need to hold back your feelings or do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Just keep in mind that both your SO and parents care about your well-being. So, choose your words wisely and select your language carefully.
Additionally, if your parents already have a bad impression of your SO because of implicit bias or unchangeable facts about them, or because of something they did or said to you, you may need to do a bit of damage control before introducing them. Sit your parents down and have an open and honest discussion about your relationship with your partner. Communicate your feelings and needs as directly as possible, and engage in a dialogue about your expectations of each other. By being candid with your parents, you may be able to put out any fires before they’re lit.
Listen To Your Parents Concerns, If Any
"When you become serious about someone, you'll want to see how they interact with your parents and vice versa," says Sandella. If you’ve had a good relationship with your parents your entire life, you should try and facilitate the relationship between your parents and your SO as much as you can — without making that effort seem weird or contrived, Sandella says. "For some families, activities and games are great ways to interact without too much heavy conversation in the beginning," she says. So, challenge your parents to a round of cornhole, or suggest breaking out that old Monopoly board."Spend the time fostering your partner's relationship with your parents and seeing what can happen," says Sandella. "By doing this, you're making it clear to both your parents and your partner how important it is to you that they all get along."
What I really want to know, though, is if I suddenly felt the urge to go back to my old ways and bring home a jerk, would there be any chance my parents could ever come around to them? I mean, I've seen my cousins bring home dates their parents were not crazy about, but eventually, they came around to accepting them because they wanted to see their children happy. But Sandella says going into a relationship thinking your parents will come around to liking your SO is a "risky strategy." Instead, your best shot at winning your parents over is to sit them down and listen to what they have to say when your partner isn’t around. Hear them out or take their valid (keyword being "valid" here) concerns about your partner into consideration.
"It may be helpful in some cases to have someone facilitate that discussion," Sandella says. So, invite a friend over to be your trusty moderator. Remember: You don’t have to agree with everything your parents say, but you can still engage in a respectful dialogue.
Live With Your Decision
The biggest takeaway here is this: As your relationship with your SO gets more serious, you should consider being as open and communicative with your parents about them as possible. Share the special things they do for you, and keep inviting them to be a part of your family's life. Of course, everyone’s relationship with their partner and their parents is unique and subjective. So, if you don’t feel ready to let your two worlds collide, there’s no need to force yourself to do something that makes you uncomfortable. Take your time, and go at your own pace. As your parents get to know your SO better, they're bound to fall for them as fast as you did.
This post was originally published on Oct. 19, 2016. It was updated on Sept. 6, 2019 by Iman Hariri-Kia.