I’ve been dating Sharon for more than a year and we are talking about getting married. Christmas is rapidly approaching and I’d like to bring her home to my parents’ house where my whole family (siblings, spouses, nieces/nephews) all gather each year. But my parents are not too keen on that happening (sibs are cool with it). To be fair, I just came out to my family a few months ago as things with Sharon got more serious. But after many years of being closeted around them, I no longer want to compartmentalize my life, so I would really like to have my significant other celebrating the holidays with us. Sharon says she’ll understand if she can’t come but I think it would be very hurtful. I’m worried that her being excluded will damage our relationship, and wonder how we can ever get along with my parents in the future if they insist on rejecting us as a couple now. On the other hand, I don’t want to force my parents to do something they’re uncomfortable with, even though a lot of my friends are saying I should give them an ultimatum (“either both of us come, or I’m not coming”). What do you suggest?
Pulled in Two Directions
First of all, coming out to your family and facing the possibility of rejection was a brave step, and I am sorry that your parents seem to be unsupportive of your relationship at this time.
I’d like to suggest that you not think that this situation must be remedied by this Christmas. Your decision to come out to your parents was a process, and it is often also a process for parents to accept that their child is gay. It is possible that over time, your parents will thaw or even warm, although they do not want Sharon to join you at their home over the holidays this year.
Toward this end, decide how you want to relate to your parents, going forward. Key factors in making this decision will include whether you think your parents will change; your willingness to tolerate their current unsupportive stance with some measure of calm; your interest in having a relationship with your parents; and, your ability to generate your own self-esteem rather than looking to them for validation and approval.
One possibility is that you do your best to be close with your parents going forward, even though they do not support your relationship. If you take this tack, you can still advocate that they welcome you and Sharon as a couple. Though you cannot force them to change their minds, you may well be able to influence them. A caveat: If you don’t want to be treated disrespectfully, remaining close with your parents may be difficult, because one could make the case that you are being treated disrespectfully with regard to your relationship with Sharon.
Alternately, you can choose to cool your relationship with your parents until that time (if ever) that they change their stance. Choosing this path may feel like the best way to honor your commitment to Sharon, but without much engagement, do you think that it is possible that your parents will change their attitude? You should also consider how you might miss your parents’ presence in your life if you are contemplating distancing yourself from them.
I do think that your wish to avoid an ultimatum is wise. Trying to change others by making threats is a great way to inspire others to try and change you by using similar tactics.
One more point to consider: you write that you were not out to your family until recently, so I suspect that their opinion of you has been very important to how you feel about yourself. Given your parents’ disapproval of your being in a relationship with Sharon, you may be at risk of betraying your own ideas of how you want to live, in order to please them. Be careful: grasping for others’ validation can be a good way to erode your self-esteem.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information in the questions has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.