My Parents Don’t Approve of the Person I’m Dating! What Do I Do?

Hi Evan!

I have a dating question. What do you do when your parents don’t approve or feel that the person you love/dating is the right person for you? Do you respect their wishes and find someone who is welcome at home and around your family, or do you follow your heart and stay with the person you love even if your parents may not attend the wedding?

Sincerely,

Gili

Dear Gili,

Let me guess – you’re Jewish.

Yeah, me, too.

And while I like to maintain a separation between church and date, I don’t think your culture can be entirely ignored here.

I’ve explored this concept before, in relation to successful women, but I think it applies to Judaism as well. In short, good qualities come with bad qualities. They can’t be separated.

Good parenting means giving your kids the tools to make good decisions, NOT making decisions for them.

So if your parents are super-caring and attentive, they’re likely to be overprotective.

If they’re intelligent, they’re likely to be opinionated.

If they’re the CHOSEN people, they’re likely to look upon others as NOT chosen people.

Okay, so, maybe I’m making religion the unfair scapegoat for your parents’ judgment of your boyfriend, without any real context. Maybe he’s a drug dealer. Maybe he’s a slacker. Maybe he’s got a tattoo of a skull over his left eye. There are some genuine concerns that parents can have about who’s dating their daughter. But in the absence of tangible “you’re hurting yourself and risking life-long sorrow” reasons?

Parents just need to back the fuck up.

Good parenting means giving your kids the tools to make good decisions, NOT making decisions for them.

EVERY SINGLE HAPPY PERSON I KNOW is happy because of independent choices – not predetermined plans foisted upon them by overbearing parents.

I’m going to briefly use myself as an example, since I never, ever do that.

When I declared in 1993 that I was cancelling my LSATs and becoming a comedy writer, my parents supported me.

When I decided that I wasn’t going to pursue screenwriting anymore and that I was going to film school to be a professor, my parents supported me….

When I told them I was dropping out of film school to promote “I Can’t Believe I’m Buying This Book” and E-Cyrano, and was going to make my way as a dating coach, my parents supported me.

That’s what good parents do. I may have broken their hearts and drained their wallets and destroyed their dreams of having a professional son, but they knew that I was driven and competent and had to find my own way. Nothing could have sown the seeds of strife MORE than them putting their foot down and telling me where I was going to work and what I was going to do.

Am I concerned with what my parents think? Of course. If you love your parents, you probably want to make them happy. But once you put their happiness above your own, you’re screwed.

There’s a big difference between Mom cautioning you not to settle down with the heroin-shooting rock star and her commanding you not to marry Patrick because he doesn’t have a masters degree and his family goes to church instead of synagogue.

Good parents recognized this. Bad parents don’t. They think that because they brought you into this world and sacrificed tremendously for you that they have a right to tell you how to life your life as an adult.

Uh uh.

YOU are the architect of your own life.

YOU are the one who has to live daily with the consequences of her own decisions.

YOU are the one who is in her own mind when her head hits the pillow at the end of the night.

Whatever anybody else says is irrelevant. They don’t have to live your life. You do.

Still, I’d be remiss if you thought I was suggesting that all parental wisdom is worthless. Sometimes, we are so blinded by love that we can unwillingly steer our lives into a ditch. But there’s a big difference between Mom cautioning you not to settle down with the heroin-shooting rock star and her commanding you not to marry Patrick because he doesn’t have a masters degree and his family goes to church instead of synagogue.

Only you know, Gili, what the circumstances are. But if your parents find it more important to be “right” than to be supportive, I feel confident that you’re better off without them on your very special day.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Dating Headshots

    Not a lot of details as to “why” your parents don’t like the person your with but Evan gave good answer anyways of course. Noone can tell you how to feel and who to love. You can’t control who your attracted to. You know what makes you happy better than anyone else does. Making life decisions on based on what everyone else thinks is not going to leave you happy, whether it’s in love, career or any other of the choices you make.

  2. 2
    B.F.

    My mother’s parents objected to her converting to Judiasm and marrying my father. Guess what? She did what was right for her happiness and eventually her parent’s learned to cope. If your parents are good people who love you they will ultimately learn to respect your choices. Follow your own head and heart. Everything else will follow from there.

  3. 3
    Honey

    As someone who can’t imagine her dad saying anything other than, “I’m sure you made a good choice, sweetie,” I’m with Evan. My mom told me once that only parents who didn’t trust their own parenting skills wouldn’t trust their children. If you’re truly happy then they’ll come around–maybe not as soon as you’d like, but you can’t control their actions. Only your happiness.

  4. 4
    Markus

    Evan, let me guess, you’re not a father. But seriously, I’m mostly with you but I give her ‘rents the benefit of the doubt. They may just not dig the guy too much and maybe mentioned something like that. I didn’t see the whole message to you so maybe I’m missing something.

  5. 5
    Rachel

    You should follow your bliss. I am a happy product of an interfaith-interracial marriage that both sets of grandparents were “dead set against” way back when my parents started dating. Not only are they still together, but my father’s younger brother; AND my mother’s older sister followed suit and married interracially and interfaith. They too are still happily married to their respective spouses.

    Obviously, racism and social taboos were a lot stronger when my parents were young; but there was way more than just the skin color, religious, and cultural differences at stake. My mother came from an upper middle class, East Coast, Ivy League educated family full of professionals and graduate degrees (yeah, Evan, probably similar to your family?) My mother was “supposed” to return home from her vacation and marry that CPA. Enter my dad: a sexy Hawaiian surfer who could win a contest and then serenade her with a guitar. He never went to college and spent his entire life savings on the engagement ring. But everyone else could go to hell. They were in love.

    So, I’m a staunch advocate for mixing up the genetic pool. My mom’s family is full of intellectuals; my dad’s family is full of athletes and musicians. I got the best of both worlds, enabling me to earn my J.D., become a Personal Trainer, and play music in front of thousands of people. All true. And damn, do I have some fine-looking cousins.

    Now, the funny thing about all this is: everyone still has expectations for me. On the one hand, I have my mother’s family ties showing me pictures of very handsome Jewish sons and asking me if I’m interested in dating/marrying any of them. On the other hand, my father and brother want me to settle down with a nice part-Hawaiian like myself– even though they didn’t marry Hawaiians themselves (my brother chose a beautiful lady from Japan). I ended up dating all over the board and, as you might guess, have often gone for complete opposites.

    All this points back to what Evan has said before, that if you limit yourself to whom you are “supposed to be with” (a specific ethnicity or religion; a specific level of education or income, etc.), then you could be missing out on someone who really clicks with you. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t everyone looking for LOVE?

  6. 6
    Jypsum

    Evan,

    Just curious, was the letter to you longer than what you posted? What makes you assume Gili is female, and the paramour male? I have known male Gilis.

  7. 7
    Markus

    @ Jypsum, the letter is kind of feminine. You know male Gilis?

  8. 8
    Evan Marc Katz

    Nope. Haven’t edited the letter. And whether Gili is a woman or a man, the advice remains the same. To thine own self be true.

  9. 9
    Lance

    Here’s a scenario that trips up daughters and parents: young daughters and older men. Say you’ve got a 20 year old girl and a 30ish guy. Hey, it happens all the time. I know a couple of these. The young girl says she’s in love and wants to follow her heart. The parents hate the idea of daughter being with the older guy. Maybe he’s a solid guy, but they worry about their friends clashing, having nothing in common, the guy dominating the girl with his age and experience, maybe he’s in it just for the sex, whatever. Can you blame the parents in this situation. Would you give the same advice?

    Personally, I say to each their own, too, but if I was a parent with a young daughter, I know this would give me pause. Why? Because these relationships often don’t work.

  10. 10
    Cathouse Teri

    Here by way of Lance. I’ve only read this first post, and I’m impressed. What great advice! Love, love, love it!

    Keep up the good work.

    Gili, I hope you are taking to heart EMK’s words of wisdom here.

    I happen to be a parent. My kids are 28, 23 and 20. I personally wouldn’t dream of telling them who to be involved with, or what career to have, or when to have babies, etc. I don’t believe that is the place of parents of adults.

    The training years are practically over by the time your children are teens. From that point on, the trusting and supportive relationship you are building with your child begins to be the thing that needs to flourish. If you haven’t taught them by then, likely they are not going to learn it!

    Some parents just don’t want to give up the role of training.

    And as a parent, I also know the anguish of seeing your children make some bad decisions. But it is NOT your business to threaten to reject them because of their choices. Nor is it your business to say, “I told you so” and scold them when they fail. It is your job to be loving and supportive of their independence. They are not extensions of you.

    Also, you will have much more influence in their lives if they are convinced that you really care about them, as opposed to trying to manipulate and control them.

  11. 11
    texaslady

    The first post mentioned mirrored my thoughts. I’m wondering why the mom & dad disapprove. Regardless Evan has the right of it. If there are serious concerns i.e. always jobless, always has an excuse, is verbally abusive in a subtle way, etc. the folks are right to be concerned & maybe you should step back & look at the relationship. If on the other hand it’s because he’s not of the same religion, race, or same level of education, doesn’t have the right kind of job, or whatever other reason telly your parents respectfully that it’s your life & your choice. It may hurt if they are so rigid that they would cut you off because of who you choose.

  12. 12
    Chris

    For the sake of argument, let’s say that the only thing ‘wrong’ with this guy is that he’s ethnically or religiously different from Gigi. Though parents are being wrong headed to disapprove of someone just because his heritage is different from theirs, if the man himself is someone who is genuinely culturally different from the parents, I think the parents can be expected to be disappointed.

    Sometimes someone (more often a woman) completely changes his or her identity in a marriage.

    If parents don’t want their daughter be absorbed in a foreign culture, possibly live in a foreign country, and see their grandchildren not identify with their maternal culture, I think that parents can be expected to disapprove of a relationship.

    Maybe the parents are wrong to think it, but parents can be concerned when it looks like a man is taking their daughter away from them. From a parent’s POV, a marriage is supposed to be gaining a son, but when it looks like they’re losing a daughter they can be expected to be hurt.

    If the man’s values, religious or cultural, are highly different from the parents and the daughter is adopting his religion/values as her own, then the relationship from the parents’ POV can look like the daughter is rejecting them. If you care about your religion, you are going to be sad when it is not passed down.

  13. 13
    Jill/Twipply Skwood

    I dunno…I’m going to say that until very, very recently my parents could have done a heck of a lot better job than I ever did picking someone out for me for dating or marriage. I can’t complain about the paths I’ve taken because I have a good life and all, but it wouldn’t have killed me to listen to them once twice along the way, especially when they were telling me not to date coke heads (which is very good advice, btw…)

    And then if you find out WHY they hate his guts, five years from now you won’t be going, “Why didn’t my mom SAY SOMETHING?!?!?!?” (Instead you can be thinking, “Why didn’t I LISTEN to them?!?!?) Or, y’know, if you end up perfectly happy 20 years down the road, then you can say I told you so. KIDDING!!!!!! Only about the “told you so” part, not kidding about listening to them.

  14. 14
    lily

    Evan,
    It’s more interesting to read your well-written letters and the original comments by others than to view those monotonous profiles.I am actually addicted to OnlineReading,but I don’t have the least intention of kicking my addiction.Thanks,you guys

  15. 15
    Steve

    It has been mentioned a few times in other threads that scientists have discovered a “chemistry of love” that seems to last about a year. During this time people overlook compatibility issues, that once the buzz wears off, can start stressing a relationship.

    I agree with what other people had to say about making the final decision yours, but listening to what people who know you have to say about who you are hooking up with.

    Either that, or make no final decisions until a year and the buzz passes :)

  16. 16
    Marc

    If Evan’s assumption is correct, and your parents don’t approve because you’re a Jew, and your partner is not, you’re in for a lot of heartache and frustration, if you allow your parents myopia to get to you. Like Evan said, those that see themselves as “chosen” will simply not accept those that have not been “chosen.” As much as my nagging Jewish mother wants me to meet someone and settle down already, she’d rather I be “unsettled” than bring home a woman who isn’t a card carrying member of the “chosen people” club. That’s her problem, though, not mine…nor should it be yours.

  17. 17
    Rachel

    YOUR KIDS DON’T HAVE TO LOSE THEIR ROOTS. Roots are important. It’s a way to honor your ancestors and understand what the family went through to bring you into the world. I don’t discount the parents who want to pass this on to future generations. Maybe I’m an anomaly, but I was raised to understand multiple religions and cultures through my parents’, aunts’ and uncles’ marriages — with no conflict. Growing up, I knew when it was Passover, as well as Easter. I learned about my “pagan” Hawaiian and Asian roots — and Buddha, and Brigham Young, and so on. I learned to embrace everyone’s labels for God and their rituals, and also to cast aside dogmatic instruments of control which create hatred, fear, and inequality. I do have a strong identity, but it’s not boxed into one category. I’m not saying I’m better, only different.

  18. 18
    Steve

    Marc, post 16;

    I grew up in a mixed background, heavily American Jewish. One thing I never learned to wrap my head around was “the chosen people” thing and the complete myopia of the subculture that allowed them to see it as an innocent thing rather than as misguided snobbery.

  19. 19
    vino

    Preface…I’m cranky.

    All of these gyrations are silly. Are we 10 years old seeking mommy and daddy’s approval? Gili is an adult. She can (and should) decide who she wants to be with. If her parents don’t like it, they can hit the road. The consequence of being a disapproving misery merchant is that Gili can simply walk away, and her parents won’t see much of her or talk to her much. Unless, of course, she can’t bring herself to do that. In which case, she probably isn’t mature enough to date.

    My $0.02

  20. 20
    hunter

    Can’t let parents tell us who we date. However, I am told, that in other countries that have “fixed” marriages, success rates are higher.

  21. 21
    cinnamon

    hunter,
    re: #20
    I think, it may be true for countries where arranged marriages are considered a social norm. In such case, the whole societies are built on different (and I would like to underline DIFFERENT, not inferior) set of norm and values, and so are the children socialized.

    In more individualistic cultures, young adults are supposed to find their own way independently of their parents. This is not an easy proces, neither for the young people nor for their parents. Some parents will try to keep their children dependent on them and influence their decisions. In extreme cases, there is only one way out – the one that vino described. Fortunately, in most cases being firm and consistent about own decisions is enough for parents to find their “new” place in the life of a young adult. And I personally think, this is for the best of both parties.

  22. 22
    Shari

    Gili doesn’t give the reasons her parents don’t like the person she’s dating, and the automatic assumption is that it’s religious/cultural in nature in which case the advice is right on. But there are reasons beyond a person being a drug abuser, or unemployed slacker, for a parent to have misgivings. I don’t think it’s right for her parents to speak their misgivings to the point of making her feel the person is unwelcome, but I think if the reasons for disapproval fall within not being religious/cultural and not being a drug abuser, she should think about their advice before making any major decisions.

    From personal experience, when I was 18 I met a man my father told me much later he didn’t approve of, but said nothing to me at the time. We married when I was 20, had 4 kids, and stayed together over 20 years before we divorced. He had a good job, nice place to live and a nice car to drive, but he didn’t then, nor to this day does, accept me for who I am. He made my life miserable trying to turn me into something I had no desire to be and I made myself crazy trying to anticipate who it was he wanted and turn myself into her. Subsequently, we lived in a war zone.

    Since Gili doesn’t say the exact nature of the disapproval I think she should consider that if what her parents see is something like what my father did, she needs to take a step back and really look at the relationship. Not all parents disapprove because they’re trying to run their children’s lives, sometimes they have their kid’s best interests at heart and just aren’t diplomatic in how they say it.

  23. 23
    hunter

    To cinnamom,

    I agree with vino’s statement, after all, we do have to sleep with the person we select.

    Other countries are built on a different set of norms and values, hmmmm..so, does an individualistic society contribute to a high divorce rate?

  24. 24
    Confused

    I have been reading this blog for a while now. It really helps me in my relationship. However, now I am facing a different problem. I am so lost and confused. Please advice!

    I had a seven years long term relationship when I was 19. I broke up with him because I don’t feel passion with him anymore. He was my first boy friend. We broke up for 4 years now. He becomes my best friend and housemate (different room and not intimacy). He never dated anyone else since we broke up. I told him that he should move on and I encourage him to start go out dating but he said he isn’t interested to meet other girls now; he wants to focus on his career.

    After him, I went out dating with a lot of guys and I had 3 serious relationships but none of them go as far as I wanted to. 3 weeks ago, I broke up with my boyfriend for 6 months and I am still trying to recover from the pain. I won’t say this is a peaceful break up because we both said mean things to hurt each other.

    Every time, when I am heartbroken, I look around, my first boyfriend is the only one who is still there for me. He still care, spoil and love me like he used to, never stop. For some reason, I start feeling love and passionate are overrated in this country.

    Perhaps because I am 30, I start realize my pool of selection in the dating games is smaller compare to when I was in my 20s. I am an attractive girl. I don’t want to settle down for something less, however, I am not so sure if I can find my Mr. Right that is willing to settle down with me. As you know, you pick people and people pick you too. I know I want to get married and have a kid. However, I don’t know if I can meet someone who love me like my first boyfriend does. I also realize love and passion fade away with time. My feeling with Mr. Right may just end up like the feeling I have with my first boyfriend, just that he won’t treat me as good as my first boyfriend treats me. I am so confused… I know I sound desperate. I think I am… 30 is a magic number. I feel like my clock is ticking now. I never thought this will happen to me when I was in my 20s.

    Yesterday, my first boyfriend proposed to me.

    I am struggling between stable life and passionate love (which I may not be able to find or eventually may fade away).

    I also have my dilemma. My first boyfriend is a great guy. I feel like he deserves someone who loves him with all her heart. If I just be with him because I want a stable life. Won’t it be unfair to him? In the other hand, I know I am going to be regretted if I let him goes. I can picture myself single for the rest of my life with a dog and my first boyfriend is having a loving family. I will envy his “future wife” because I could be that woman but I just let something amazing goes. However, I still can’t picture myself having intimacy with him. GOD… why things have to be so complicated!!!!

    Then I found this article should I settle down when I can? Please advice!!!

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200803/single-marry

  25. 25
    Lori

    Gili-
    I’m 28. My mother has disliked EVERY guy I’ve dated. She was never very vocal about it, and even dodged the question a few times if I asked her point blank if she liked the guy or not. However, she didn’t say no when the guy I got engaged to asked my parents for their approval, she went dress shopping with me, etc., and she had mentioned several times before that she didn’t like him. So…supportive? Yes. Did she have a better grasp on the situation than I did? Absolutely. See, I was one of those that was pretty blinded by love. And while I thought some of her reasons for not liking him were petty, it turns out they weren’t all that petty in the long run. Needless to say the relationship didn’t last, the engagement broke off before the wedding was planned, and I’m much better off now. When I look back, I wonder what I ever saw in him. We didn’t have a whole lot in common when it came down to it, he drank too much, he didn’t really have a good grasp on what he wanted in life, and most importantly, I realized he saw me as an object to be coveted, not as a real person. Now I’m dating the most wonderful man. We have a lot in common, he looks out for what makes me happy, he’s willing to compromise on things so that we’re both happy… I could just keep going. And you know what? My mom actually likes him.

    If I were to give you any advice, I’d tell you to go talk to your parents, find out just why they think he’s not right for you, and if it’s more than religious/racial issues, try to look at your relationship from their point of view. Maybe they have a valid point, maybe not. Either way, you’ll know and be able to decide if you’re in the relationship that is perfect for you, or if there is someone out there that is better for you.

  26. 26
    Lance

    Wanted to respond to Confused’s comment #24. I see two routes for her:
    1) The “easy” way, which really isn’t that easy. She could settle for her first ex-bf and get the stablility, love, and adoration she wants. Several problems here including a) she’s not attracted to him and b) she can’t picture herself having sex with him. I decoded that from the second to last para, lemme know if I got that wrong. Taking this route means many years of growing together emotionally and sexually. Likely to fail, IMO. At the very least, they need to date and try the LTR thing again for awhile.

    2) The hard way, which is a commitment to several years of personal and emotional growth without the ex-bf. It sounds very much like Confused needs to be single for a bit, find herself, become more secure, confident, self-loving, and mature. If she’s an attractive woman, which she says she is, this is the better route. The risk is that the adoring ex-bf will find someone else. Also, 30 really isn’t that old. There are plenty of 30ish single women out there doing great.

    It sounds to me like they both need to do some growing. Why would the ex-bf propose even though they aren’t dating? That’s ridiculous. You want to approach marriage from a position of emotional health and security, not out of neediness.

  27. 27
    Rachel

    DEAR CONFUSED: Would also like to comment, though your letter should have been written to Evan directly. Let me first address your question with one of my own: do you want a HAPPY marriage?

    Okay, first of all please understand why I’m skeptical. The Ex NEVER tried dating ONCE in four years AND became your flat-mate? He had to live in the same home, knowing you were (presumably) having sex with other guys — and STILL, he held out for you? Is this a HOAX? This doesn’t sound like a good start for a marriage, anyway.

    Assuming this scenario is all true, the Ex proposed because he sensed that you were vulnerable — bad breakup, plus hitting the dreaded 30. Is that love? No, it’s capitalizing on FEAR. And if he was that encouraged after 4 long years, you must have been giving out signals that you were still open. Is that love? No, that’s a CONTROL TRIP. Again, not the best foundation for a happy marriage.

    If statistically 50% of all American marriages fail, what do you think your odds are if you are just getting hitched out of convenience?
    Have you ever been privy to divorce mediation or litigation? I have. It’s damned common to watch one spouse yell “no fair!” (or worse) when dividing the marital property. Oh, and then there’s the oft-seen scenario when one spouse airs out the dirty laundry, while the other one says, “You see why I had to get out?” Really uncomfortable. How many times have I seen Wife point at Husband and say, “I RUINED my body to bear your child(ren), so you OWE me (fill in the blank).” Oh, loads. And then there’s the children who may feel compelled to take sides; who may start taking antidepressants or street drugs; and who hate the shit out of you for making them move to a new school zone. All your court filings become part of the public record (hello, identity theft risk!) And for all this, you’re probably shelling out upwards of $200 per hour to your attorney. Ouch!

    For a marriage to not come to this end, you both have to WANT to be in it and really work together at it. And damn if you didn’t say about 10 times that you really don’t want it.

  28. 28
    Rachael

    Just wanted to leave a bit of input on the “taking her away from our culture” point.

    In my case, it’s “taking HIM away from our culture” – I married a Vietnamese man, after many, MANY years of his parents’ disapproval. They wanted a Vietnamese daughter-in-law, someone of their culture, etc., etc. We’re still butting heads over what they expect and what I’m willing to do.

    Thing is, often the significant other/fianc/spouse gets blamed for the loss of the parental culture…but what the parents don’t want to see is that the culture was lost before we ever met your kid. My husband is not very Vietnamese, having lived in the U.S. since the age of two. He doesn’t even speak the language anymore, beyond baby talk.

    And yet…I’m “not Vietnamese”, my culture is wrong, and they’re afraid of his losing his identity to me. Sorry, folks, that wasn’t my doing. Had he been culturally Vietnamese the way they want, we never would have gotten together in the first place.

    My point? “Loss of culture” is just another excuse people use when they don’t want their children marrying someone who’s different from THEM. Not from their child, but from them.

  29. 29
    sunray

    CONGRATS Evan!!!

  30. 30
    Chris

    Rachael,

    Thank you for responding to what I said about a culturally different spouse taking the child away from the parental culture.

    I suppose that very often if parents are less than delighted with the child’s bf/gf, they are really less than delighted with how the child himself/herself turned out. In your case, your parents-in-law did not succeed in raising a very Vietnamese kid and are showing their regret by witholding complete approval of you.

    “My point? Loss of culture is just another excuse people use when they don’t want their children marrying someone who’s different from THEM. Not from their child, but from them.”

    Your parents-in-law though do have their beloved traditions, so it’s going to be sad for them to see grandchildren for whom those traditions aren’t very important, not practiced practiced at all, or in competition with other traditions like Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Xmas, Ramadan, etc.

    In your case you seem to be willing to adopt a few Vietnamese customs for your parents-in-law, but there are cases where really one spouse’s culture dominates the other. (I think this happens with Muslim intermarriages (yeah, I know that a non-Muslim woman can keep her birth religion)).

    I think that if a child is entering a relationship where he or she is going to be passing on the spouse’s customs much more than the natal family’s customs that parents have a right to be upset, though they should be upset with themselves as much as they should be upset with the outmarrying child.

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