Dear Wendy: “Should I Let My Family’s Bigotry Ruin My Relationship?”

After several years of being contently single, I have met the most amazing man. He is smart, career driven, attentive, and we have a ton in common. While our relationship is new, and we aren’t rushing into anything, I feel that there is potential for something serious to develop. There’s just one problem — I’m white and he’s black, and while it doesn’t bother me in the least, my family is very conservative and they don’t believe in interracial dating. I am from a small town in a southern state and interracial dating is fairly uncommon here, and there are still prejudices about such things. I know that my family would adore him as much as I do if they could only look past his skin color and see him for the amazing person he is. The problem is that I don’t think that they will ever be able to do that. I feel torn between pursuing a relationship which I think could be serious, and pleasing my family. There is a possibility that some members of my family will never speak to me again, but I’m afraid that if I don’t give him a chance I may always wonder what could’ve been. I know that it’s a little early in the game for me to be thinking of choosing between a man and my family, but I am stressed out thinking about how to break the news to them. I could use any advice about how to tell them or how to know if a relationship is worth disappointing my family. — Stressed Out and Color Blind

If you’re posing this situation as a choice you have to make, the choice doesn’t necessarily need to be between a man and your family. Maybe it’s between your family and your personal convictions. Or, it’s between challenging outdated beliefs and enabling and promoting bigotry. If you want to get really reductive, it could even be between what’s right and what’s wrong. I think those of us who are rational human beings can agree that bigotry is wrong, so wouldn’t making a choice that allows bigotry to win be the wrong choice to make?

It just seems to me that your decision is so much bigger than deciding whether to pursue a relationship with someone your family might have an issue with you dating; it’s about deciding how you define your core values and whom you’re going to put in the driver’s seat of your life. It’s about the role you want to take in society and how that role represents your values. It’s about allowing your beliefs to influence your actions rather than letting other people’s beliefs influence your actions. And it’s about respectfully challenging beliefs that are not in line with your own. What I’m saying is, this isn’t just about the guy and your family here. It’s really about you and deciding right now whether you’re going to be the kind of person who makes decisions for herself or let other people make your decisions.

Part of being an adult is making difficult decisions and that’s never going to change. This won’t be the last personal dilemma you’re faced with. And while I can’t tell you what choice to make, I can tell you that it’s much easier to live with an unfavorable outcome from a decision based on personal conviction than it is to live with a favorable outcome from a decision based on fear. Do what you believe in your heart is the right thing to do. And believe that as much as your family has influence over you, you can have influence over them. With courage, you might even have the power to change minds and open hearts.

As for breaking the news to your family, I’d recommend telling them the truth — that you’ve met a man who is smart, career-driven, and attentive, with whom you have a lot in common, and you hope they grow to adore him as much as you do. If you give them the chance, they just might. But if you don’t, they definitely won’t.

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