Make It Stop: “I’m Afraid My Parents Will Hate My New Boyfriend”

I’ve introduced my parents to my boyfriends in the past, with mixed results. They loved my high school boyfriend “Alex,” a varsity athlete with a good heart. And they hated my college boyfriend “Cliff.” He was a guitarist in a heavy metal band with a lovely creative spirit, made me laugh so hard I’d snort like a pig, and always made me feel beautiful. However wonderful he was as a boyfriend, my parents couldn’t look past his long hair and tattoos. For the two years we dated, this animosity put a strain on my relationship with them and on my relationship with Cliff. I’m now dating a new fella I’ll call “Sean.” He’s a graphic designer and while he doesn’t have long hair, he does have several visible tattoos. I find myself hesitating to introduce him to my family because their disapproval of Cliff was so stressful for me. Is it bad that I want to wait to tell them I’m in a new relationship? I feel like I’m lying by omission by not telling them about my new boo.

The short answer is you’re an adult and can do whatever you want. Assuming you don’t live with your parents or depend on them financially, you are under no obligation to have them approve of your romantic partners. While it’s nice to have your parents’ approval, it’s not always possible. What’s most important is that you’re happy, loved, and safe.

The longer, more nuanced answer is that I get the sense that even though you don’t need their approval, you want it anyway. After all, it was so nice when they welcomed Alex into the fold. You know how fantastic it feels to have your family support your relationship. It’s understandable that you crave it.

Let’s talk about Cliff for a minute, the scab that’s only semi-healed. While you saw Cliff’s wonderful qualities, your parents probably saw all the obstacles you had in your way to leading a “normal” life, one that they’ve been dreaming for you since you’ve had a rattle in your hand and a pacifier in your pucker.

His appearance was a threat to all they hoped for you. They didn’t see the guy who could make a kickass Pad Thai and sang Taylor Swift songs in the shower. They saw his clothes and hair and felt it meant a tougher road for you. Maybe they were afraid that dating a musician is fraught with problems. It’s a serious time and money commitment on his part to something other than you. It’s late hours practicing and playing gigs. It’s recording and touring. It’s a lot of short-term effort for a fuzzy future. What’s he going to do when he’s 30? Or 40? Or 50? How will he contribute if you two decide to start a family? Being a working musician is a tough sell to worried parents who just want their daughter to feel supported in her relationship, not the one doing most of the supporting while her boyfriend is on the road or in a studio.

Also, cut yourself some slack. You’ve grown up, too. Dating Cliff was a learning experience. You’ve learned that while it’s nice to have a cool, fun guy to date, it gives you more peace of mind to find a guy you can take home to mom and dad. That’s valuable information, just as much as learning any of the other trillions of things you learn when dating different types of people.

My hunch is that your parents are as eager to mend this rift as you are. My other hunch is that they just want to see you be happy with someone who will elevate your life in a way they expect. Give them a chance to do it.

When you’re ready, tell your parents about Sean. Tell them how you’ve met somebody special, someone who’s a terrific partner for you. He has a stable job in a creative profession and you think they will really enjoy meeting him. Move forward with Sean and let those wounds fully heal.

Make It Stop is a weekly column in which Anna Goldfarb — author of “Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through” and the blogger behind the blog, Shmitten Kitten — tells you what’s up. Want a fresh take on a stinky dilemma? Email [email protected] with the subject “Make It Stop.” She’ll make it all better, or at least make you laugh. Girl Scout’s honor.