I didn’t tell my parents about the break-up with J. I was just getting ready to tell them that I was dating someone, that it was serious, that we’d been together five months, that we’d dated last year and got back together, and it all turned on a dime last month. I then started thinking about friends I hadn’t told and I started to wonder why I had kept somewhat silent with certain people, and had not told my parents when it was really a happy situation and I was in love.
Then, a few weeks ago while getting a hair treatment from Kali, who I’d known almost since I moved here to Seattle, it all came out. Parental disapproval – I’ve become used to wanting to avoid that, so I don’t tell my parents lots of things. We don’t talk about personal things in general – our regular phone conversations revolve around politics, my dad complaining about crooked politicians, the rundown of 60 Minutes (though I keep telling them that I no longer watch the show because my TV reception is poor), our workout routines, vacations and vague descriptions of my activities with friends. I don’t complain about work because then they would get worried about me. I don’t tell them when I’m sad because that’s the way it is. So it was hard after the break-up last month to call them and not just be sad. To not just be myself. I know it would have completely freaked them out.
My parents are not heartless. Last year, when I had to get a biopsy following a mammogram, I shared the “all clear” news and could tell that it rattled them. A few days later, I received a card and a check in the mail: Do something nice for yourself. They are generous and I know that they love me, but they just don’t do the emotional part well.
When I talked with Kali, I recalled how my parents disapproved of my first relationship here in Seattle. S and I had dated long-distance for one year, and I decided to move out. We didn’t move in together, but I was the one who made the move cross-country. My parents disapproved before meeting him – he was younger, hadn’t gone to college, was sort of an artist. My mom said later that I did too much of the pursuing. My dad did meet him during one visit and liked S. My mom stayed behind at home and my dad’s excuse for her didn’t make sense. I knew that she didn’t want to meet S and that was the real reason. They didn’t issue any “I told you so” statements after we broke up, but it was hard to be home for Christmas that year and to be sad and missing S. I told my grandmother a little bit about him and the breakup, and I started crying. It’s funny that I felt comfortable around her, but not with my parents, and I think it was also because it was the end of the night and I’d driven her home. My grandmother, who was equally stoic in terms of emotions, said something at the time that seemed incredibly cliche – you can’t live on love alone. She was right, I realized later. S and I were very different and that’s what eventually drove us apart, or drove me to break up with him during round two of our relationship.
There have been other forms of disapproval. When I was in high school and close to going to college, they suggested that I stop hanging out with one of my good friends because she wasn’t moving on to college. I didn’t take that advice and we remain friends today. One time when they were visiting me in Washington, D.C., they said that I could bring a friend to dinner. I brought Jim, a close friend at the time that I’d met in grad school. My parents seemed oddly quiet after the dinner and said later that they had thought I’d bring my friend, Charlie, and not someone they hadn’t met before. At one point in college, when I mentioned someone I was thinking about rooming with, they weren’t happy about it and somewhat threatened to not pay for college if I chose that roommate.
I wonder what they would have thought of J. When my parents were here at Christmas, I was reluctant to have them meet him because of the potential for disapproval. He was older – would they think he was too old for me? He was boisterous, but not in a bad way. He had friends that were even older than him – would that make him seem even older in their eyes? Crazy thoughts, really. I didn’t think he was too old for me. But I can see how paranoid I’ve become based on their disapproval. I now think that they probably would have liked him, and maybe would have thought he was too old for me. I’ll never know on this one.
But the next time I’m dating someone, I’m going to take a step forward in shedding the parental disapproval cloud that hangs over me. If I meet someone and it’s going well, and I’m happy, I will tell them that. And if they happen to be around or in town, I’ll see if we can all meet. On my terms, no apologies.
My parents told me years ago that if I ever met someone and wanted to bring him home, that would be just fine with them. It makes me smile to think about them saying that now. If only it really was true.