When Parents Don’t Get Your Relationship
Originally Published: July 29, 2014
Revised: July 29, 2014
It was Saturday night and I had a date. We had been going out for a while, but neither of us wanted anything too serious. We thought that relationships were messy and tiring and wanted to enjoy each other’s company without all the drama. It was going on the fifth weekend in a row that I went out with the same guy. I went about my usual routine: I did my hair, spritzed myself with some perfume and tried to slip out the back door without having to explain my evening plans.
It’s not that I needed to lie to my parents. He wasn’t a bad guy, and I’d always been allowed to date. It was just that telling them that we were hanging out again would invite a slew of questions that I wasn’t prepared to answer. Was he my boyfriend? Were we exclusive? Why not? Should they be worried?
After successfully avoiding the interrogation the first four times, I was met with my mom’s knowing smile just before I left for my fifth evening out with this guy.
In their eyes, relationships are black and white. You’re either boyfriend and girlfriend or you are not, and the label is important.
Explaining My Relationship to My Parents
“So, Sarah, who are you going out with?”
I told her the truth.
“So, is he your boyfriend?”
“No, he’s not my boyfriend,” I said.
“But if he’s not your boyfriend, why do you spend so much time together?”
“We like each other; that’s all,” I explained.
“So if you like each other and spend your time together, why isn’t he your boyfriend?”
“We just don’t want to be boyfriend and girlfriend.”
My mom shot my dad a wary look. A boy and a girl who like each other and spend all their time together, but aren’t dating—what sort of relationship is that? Our decision to keep it casual was not something my parents could understand no matter how much I defended it.
Different Perspectives on Relationships
My ideas about dating and relationships are very different from my parents’. In their eyes, relationships are black and white. You’re either boyfriend and girlfriend or you are not, and the label is important. The concepts of being “together,” “in an open relationship” or “exclusive but not official” simply don’t make sense to my parents. I, on the other hand, see the value in recognizing these gray areas. While my parents and I agree that partners should always respect and communicate with each other, our definitions of respect in relationships are different sometimes. To them, hanging out with someone without calling her your girlfriend is disrespectful. They were worried that, because we didn’t label ourselves, this guy didn’t truly care about me and would end up hurting me.
I don’t always agree with my parents. I think that as long as the boundaries and expectations are defined, nontraditional dating relationships are A-OK, and in some cases, the best option. Whether you’re seeing multiple people or just one person casually, the most important thing is to make sure you are communicating your intentions with your partner(s) so that you are on the same page.
Some parents will understand this nontraditional way of thinking, while others might not. Since I first brought it up, my parents and I haven’t seen eye to eye on everything. That being said, talking about what we expected out of relationships definitely lifted a weight off my shoulders. I realized their ultimate goal was to make sure I was being respected. They wanted to feel that I was not only being respected by my not-boyfriend, but also that I was respecting myself. Although they don’t always agree with who I’m dating or how serious we are, my parents are always more supportive when I communicate with them and with my partner. Talking about our differing views didn’t create tension in our relationship but alleviated it, and I’m thankful for that.
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