Carolyn Hax: Between controlling parents and the boyfriend they hate

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 5, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My parents and I are really close, but they don’t like my boyfriend. They won’t say why. I’m planning to spend the next several months living with him. How do I keep up a nice relationship with my parents through this?

Moving In

What are the chances you can pry out of them the reason for their dislike? I have to think it’s important, verging on everything.


Carolyn:

I’m not sure if they even know. They’ve given me a string of petty reasons that read like a list of prejudices (he has a profile on social networking Web sites, so he must be looking for other women; he plays video games, so he must be irresponsible; he likes beer, so he must be an alcoholic). These are all a matter of intent and degree, and from what I’ve seen of him, these are things he enjoys but isn’t dependent on.

My mom also started yelling at me about him one day, and later said she had no idea why she was so angry, she just couldn’t stop it. If I had to guess . . . I had an abusive boyfriend once, and while I did get out of it by myself and got counseling, it terrified them. Even if that hadn’t happened, I think it would still weird them out some to see me dating. It’s really not something I ever aspired to in life, I just happened to think this guy was really special.

Moving In again

A lot going on here, then — starting with the extreme degree to which you apparently have been sheltered. It would “weird them out some to see me dating”? When I first read this, I assumed you were referring to fallout from the abusive ex, but a closer look tells me your mom just doesn’t want to let go, and you were primed to comply until you met your current boyfriend.

Whom you apparently don’t know too well: “from what I’ve seen of him . . .”?

Again, much to parse here.

To show respect for your mom while asserting your right to think for yourself, assure her that you take her concerns seriously, especially ones she’s able to articulate and support. Say you want to keep the topic open so you both feel free to say what’s on your minds. That way she’ll know you’re listening, which might help her relax, which in turn might help her sort out her reaction.

It will also take the pressure off you to prove to her that your boyfriend is okay — which is often the first step in missing warning signs, since you become invested in seeing only the good things about him.

Carolyn:

I guess I should have kept the lines of communication open, but I finally told them I wasn’t going to talk to them about him anymore. They always read evil into everything, even if it was just a list of fun things I’d done that weekend. It just got too much for my mental health.

Moving In again

You say you got therapy after the abusive relationship, right? Please consider going back to explore your family dynamics. Controlling parent(s) + controlling ex + possibly rushed new relationship = much to discuss.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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