Q: I went to meet my girlfriend’s 90-year-old father. They have a conflicted relationship. He doesn’t “agree” with his daughter’s homosexuality, generally looks down on women, and believes they should be helpful, nice, pretty, and married to men. When we got to his upscale senior living facility a few hours away, I jokingly asked my girlfriend whether I should change out of my jean shorts and into dress pants. She said yes, and I said, “I don’t have those; are you serious?” She then pulled out a “nice outfit” she’d brought for me. I felt angry that she’d sneaked this up on me. I felt even angrier meeting her father, who barely acknowledged my existence and didn’t notice this “nice outfit” I ended up putting on. Should I remind my girlfriend that she no longer chases her father’s approval? Tell her I certainly will not?
A: Here’s an ornery guy who’s probably spent much of the past 90 years convinced that women belong in the kitchen wearing ruffled aprons, baking pies, and practicing saying, “Yes, dear.” Yeah, he’ll be changing — the direction his finger’s pointing when he looks at his daughter, gestures toward his closet, and says, “Could you go back in, change into a dress, and come out with a husband?”
Your girlfriend can tell herself she’ll no longer be chasing her father’s approval yet be running as fast as she can after it on the inside. It’s deep-seated stuff, wanting your parents to approve of you, to appreciate who you are and love you for it, and it’s tough stuff knowing they don’t and probably never will. So as much as she might wish things were different and vow they’re going to be, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that her father still wears the pants in the family (even if he also wears the diapers).
It’s probably tempting to go all one-woman gay pride march and picket the old goat’s bed: “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” (Or, later in the day, “We’re here! We’re queer! We need a beer!”) And if how your girlfriend handled the change of clothes — going sneaky to get her way — is a pattern, you two have a problem. But maybe she was just desperate to keep her time with him from being conflict-filled and awful and couldn’t bear to do battle with you right before facing her father’s disapproving looks because the man of her dreams is a woman.
Her father is grazing 100 and will be dead soon; doing what you can to relieve your girlfriend’s stress when she sees him isn’t exactly the equivalent of bringing a plate of cookies out to the Westboro Baptist Church marchers. Consider telling her that you know how hard visiting him is for her and, in the future, she should just tell you what she needs from you to make things easier. Hearing this will probably make her melt into a pool of love for you and inspire her to extend herself when it means a lot to you. Sure, it’s unhealthy to always be in the habit of muzzling your beliefs, but there are times to stand up for them and there’s sometimes a time to just crawl into the back seat and put on those “nice pants” your girlfriend brought for you.
Q: I’m a 36-year-old guy who’s dated some great women but ended most of my relationships around the six-month mark. I wasn’t concerned about this until I was talking about how cool my girlfriend of two months is and my married buddy looked at his watch and said, “Yeah, bummer. Only got four more months of her.” I had a long relationship in my 20s, so I don’t think I fear intimacy or commitment. Do I need therapy? Or is this one of those things where, if you’re happy, you ignore the criticism?
A: You look deep into a woman’s eyes and whisper those magical words: “I want to spend the rest of my month with you.” Well, long-term relationships aren’t for everyone. Along with the benefits come the tradeoffs, like having to give up the suspense and buzz of the new for the comfortable old slipper of stability. It’s okay to be unwilling to make that tradeoff, provided you aren’t just covering for a bunch of unexplored fears. The problem comes in letting women believe that you have the potential to be Mr. Right when you’re most likely Mr. Lite. Unfortunately, some will see your pattern of succumbing to Restless Boyfriend Syndrome as a challenge to domesticate you. To keep things from going ugly, you might gently remind them that you’re looking to be there for them in good times and good times — and that someday their prince will run.
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