69

Background

I'm the only child in a religious, conservative family. We do not see eye to eye on many current events, as they often only watch a single (biased) news source, and stand their ground on somewhat narrow/unfounded/unexposed views of the world. For the most part I try to be understanding, since we come from a small, non-diverse town, where most people grow up unexposed to issues outside of the town.

However, I have found that my dating preference is to date members of the same gender, which has been greatly troubling to my parents. They first found this out 5 years ago, forcing me to move out. They seemingly "chose to forget" (unspoken, unmentioned, etc) that I had come out to them after the relationship had ended and I was single for a while.

Once I started dating again, I came out to my mom again about my sexuality for the second time. She told me not to ever talk to her about it, and that she wanted no part in knowing about my love life. She has not told my dad, so he does not contribute to this scenario (but he would react even more poorly).

Situation

Whenever I go through any life struggles and complain to my mom, she starts giving me long winded rants about why I shouldn't live my life by myself. This often comes off as demeaning and frustrating to me. I'm a very social/romantic person, but she has chosen to not know or be a part of this part of my life and thus her assumptions that I have no one in my life at all are really testing my patience.

These conversations usually go something like the following:

Me: "The other day someone knocked on my door at 2am and it was kind of alarming."

Mom: "You should never answer the door if someone does that! This is why you need to find a soulmate... Someone to protect you, care for you, and be your partner in life. That way I know that you are safe."

While I know she genuinely wants me to not be alone, this makes me angry and upset. Because of our relationship when it comes to my sexuality, this instead sounds like:

"This is why you need to find a man to keep you safe, protect you, and take care of you."

Question

Previously, I have over-reacted and told her to essentially "mind her own business" if she didn't want to be part of that part of my life, but she backpedaled and acted hurt by my reaction. I've also tried telling her (albeit subtlely) that I have someone and I don't need her to worry about me. Neither of these have helped dissuade her continued annoyance.

I'd like to still have a relationship with my mom in which we can talk about my life and the things that happen. However, I don't want my mom to talk at me about my love life, since I'm "not allowed" to respond to her (i.e. telling her that I am in a relationship and her concern is unwarranted). How can I, most politely, get it across to my mother that I don't want her talking to me about things she actively chooses to not know about my life?

  • 4
    @Obie2.0 My dad knew the first time around, and I'm pretty sure he's caught on (since he's helped move me into/out of apartments with not enough bedrooms for the number of people in them). However, my dad is more "adamant" in his moral objections, and has been (in the past) emotionally abusive when angry. This is why my mom refuses to tell him, and why I haven't reminded him yet. My sexuality kind of feels like "the elephant in the room" that gets danced around, but I'm about 70% sure it's pretty obvious what page I'm on... – Jess K. Feb 6 '18 at 20:05
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    Does your mother explicitly say she thinks of a man? From the wording of your example, it appears she's actively avoiding any gender-specific information on the supposed partner by saying "soulmate" instead. If that's the case, can't this be the sign she does accept your sexuality, and that's how she deals with it? (disc.: I'm not sure if I should read the second example as "it literally sounds like this" or "it comes down to me like this".) – Neinstein Feb 7 '18 at 7:25
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    @Neinstein She doesn't - but she will say these things after I bring a girl home (girlfriend, but presented as 'friend'). My mom has expressed that she "knows" these people are more than friends to me but doesn't want me to show that by talking to her about it or displaying affection around her, so when she "knows" I'm in a relationship and still says these things, that's where I'm getting this implication. – Jess K. Feb 7 '18 at 14:11
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    Why is she "allowed" to talk about your love life, but you aren't? Are you just letting her apply the double standard? – JMac Feb 7 '18 at 14:41
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    @JMac I don't want her to be talking about my love life, if she doesn't want me to talk about it in return. That's the premise of my question. As it stands, I've been letting her make small comments without knowing how to respond, as I didn't want to start fights or ignore her request to "not know", but I'm tired of that double standard. – Jess K. Feb 7 '18 at 15:03
97

Wow, I know them feels...

It usually feels like being caught between a rock and a hard place when people ask questions that you know they can't handle the answers to. The place I've come to with these is a sort of "stand my ground policy", not always easy, or pleasant, but it helps me keep my sanity.

It goes something like this:

Them: Have you found a soulmate?
Me: Do you really want to have this conversation right now?

It gives them an opportunity to rethink what they just said and back off, if they aren't really prepared to get into it. It also gives a small lip service to their messed up boundaries, and places the onus of the communication breakdown on them.

Basically "Do you really want to have this conversation right now?" makes it clear that your position/orientation hasn't changed and puts the ball in their court. They can choose to have this conversation or not. It's up to them.

Hopefully one day they'll come around and actually be really prepared and willing to have that conversation, but until then you shouldn't be obligated to humor them and pretend that the things they say don't hurt.

  • 4
    I've received a lot of great advice that I plan to use in most of these answers, but I think this one is going to be my accepted answer. After reflecting, the only time my mom did have a conversation with me about an ex was when I approached it this way. "Do you want to actually know what happened?" Either she says "yes" and we talk about it, or she says "no" and changes the topic. Other answers give me lots of ways to less blatantly put her on the spot about the topic, but this one is the kind of last-straw statement I will have to fall back on when all else fails. – Jess K. Feb 9 '18 at 16:58
  • Depending on the people and the situation, sometimes just clearly refusing to answer can be an option too. A convincing "...really?" face can convey pretty much the same thing as "do you really want to have this conversation right now?" especially once there's a bit of a pattern established, and in some cases might help avoid escalation. – Cascabel Feb 10 '18 at 19:04
78

If your mother is actually saying soulmate out loud with her mouth, and not man, how about taking her at face value? You can go several ways with it. You could argue that you don't need a partner to be safe, that you keep yourself safe, that her belief a partner is what you need is old fashioned and stupid, or you can grin and say

I keep holding auditions, but you're right, the role is not filled right now.

If she wants no part of knowing about your love life, she shouldn't bring the topic up. So she may react with "ugh ew don't talk about that to me" in which case you can cheerfully say "you brought it up, mom!" Or she may get the wrong end of the stick and be all "ooh you are dating a man? Tell me all about him!" in which case you can say "nope, I am not auditioning men, still want to know?" or she may just blush and change the subject.

Either way, you're not confronting or correcting her. Most importantly, you don't run the risk of "punishing the desired behavior." If she is actually willing, even on the tiniest and most superficial level, to acknowledge who you date, the last thing you want to do is push her down and tell her she said years ago not to talk to her about this, ever. Keep it light and happy (you're not upset about who you date) and let her set the boundaries about what you discuss.

Ideally, she would be able to discuss some aspects of your social life without getting upset. The next best thing is that she would stop initiating discussions about you having a partner because she realizes that leads to talking about your social life. It sounds like you'd be happy with either of those.

  • 10
    Taking people at face value in this kind of situation is some of the best advice I got from my therapist. It might be worth mention that even though the mom seems to think a female partner can't keep anyone safe, it's just not true. To me a great answer (as long as it's true) to the mom's comments might be, "I thought Kate was that soul mate, and I did feel very safe and cared for with her, but it just didn't work out and I wish I could meet someone else like her." – Todd Wilcox Feb 7 '18 at 20:35
  • -1 for the inflammatory, "Not Nice," and rude statement, "that her belief a partner is what you need is old fashioned and stupid." – user2921 Feb 10 '18 at 0:35
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    @Physics-Compute "you could be rude, or you could do this thing I recommend" is not actually advocating for rudeness. But whatever. – Kate Gregory Feb 10 '18 at 0:54
  • @KateGregory: From your latest comment, I guess you intended your "You can go several ways with it. You can argue that [...]" bit to be tongue-in-cheek? Personally, I didn't find that obvious; that bit still seemed consistent with your overall advice of taking the mother's statement at face value. You may want to remove that bit, or at least to rephrase it to make it clearer that you aren't serious about it. – ruakh Feb 12 '18 at 6:46
23

I had certain problems with my parents in the past regarding my career choices, and my sister also went through such a phase regarding certain life decisions. We did not like to compromise on our core priorities and found that our parents eventually 'came round' to our way of thinking, to the extent of supporting our respective policies.

As my sister, who is a counselling psychologist, explains it,

most parents originally see their children as extensions of their own selves, and later expect them to conform to social stereotypes. It is quite a shock for many a parent to realize that their offspring is not exactly swimming in the social mainstream, and their initial tendency is to judge/ argue/ advise/ correct. It's only when it doesn't work that parents tend to realize that their adult children are entirely unique personalities with their own identities and preferences, at which stage the parents begin to see their children's strengths rather than their 'differences.' Meanwhile the children also become more mature and less insecure about their parents' earlier disapproval. This resolves the conflict of perceptions and expectations between parents and offspring.

Observing many of our friends and relatives I find that even parents who were originally skeptical or disapproving of their adult children's life choices have soon become reconciled to the realities and become very supportive of their policies and decisions.

As my parents said recently in a frank and philosophical moment,

we are no longer bothered about our children's career/life choices because we learned over the years that we are not answerable to society for our children's decisions, nor are they themselves bound to follow social stereotypes in this enlightened modern world. What we are very satisfied with is that our children have become unique, responsible individuals; each is a good son/ daughter; and both are good human beings.

In short you need to give your mother time to get adjusted to the cognitive dissonance between long-established social stereotypes of romantic relationships ('hetero-normative dominant culture') and your unique individual preferences, which follow the equally valid 'minority path'. Also be careful to avoid hostility in your current interactions with your parents. Simply the fact that Mom said "soulmate" rather than "a man" is grounds for encouragement, as rightly pointed out by @Kate Gregory in an earlier answer. Your mother is likely to see things from your point of view, over a period of time.

Meanwhile keep meeting your parents and communicating with them in a frank and cheerful manner, never being apprehensive or apologetic about your life decisions, so that they will be positively influenced by your concrete reality in opposition to entrenched yet abstract societal stereotypes. I am certain that your parents will sooner or later learn to ignore artificial 'differences' imposed by society and become very confident and accepting of the fact that you are a unique person with your own unique qualities.

Also, parents often worry about their children and mothers tend to express it more than fathers do. You can reassure her by showing her that you are happy, safe and stable in your identity and relationships.


A friend who has the experience just now suggested that if you are currently in a stable relationship, then introducing your partner to your mother and even bringing her home for a visit (or arranging a lunch meet somewhere, etc) could go a long way towards breaking down intellectual and emotional barriers by making Mom see the warm human realities and dynamics of your personal life in its natural context. It makes sense because it's easy to oppose a relationship preference on general principles but much more difficult to be hostile in thinking of a real person who is in front of you: and also helps a parent to concretely visualise you in a healthy relationship. This is the approach that so many of my cousins who married men/women 'from other communities' (read Indian inter-caste marriage) used to win their parents' eventual understanding and approval, with most parents coming to the conclusion that

whoever my son/daughter may have chosen as partner, they are happy together and that's what really matters.

This is something you might try out if it seems to you that your mother could be initially neutral, or even 'only slightly hostile', to the idea of such an approach.

  • 6
    Except that this might not be a question of whether the parent is unhappy with conformity to social stereotypes. It might be that the parent is convinced that their daughter/son behavior is morally wrong. – Three Diag Feb 6 '18 at 18:45
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    It is possible @Three Diag. If so then OP might clarify by editing the question. Hower morality is itself a product of majority social expectations. – English Student Feb 6 '18 at 18:47
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    Or religious beliefs or.. I just want to point out that if that's the case an answer like "give it time" might never work. Either there is some challenge to the family moral beliefs or, if one thinks they can't change, there has to be some acceptance of the fact they old a different point of view and they need not to ever agree. – Three Diag Feb 6 '18 at 18:54
  • Your point is well made @Three Diag. If it is the case that the parents are never likely to accept it then I hope OP will give us that feedback in comments. – English Student Feb 6 '18 at 18:56
  • I didn't edit in specifics on if I believe my parents will come to terms with it because I am genuinely unsure. My mom can acknowledge my ex-relationships, usually because I talk about them with extreme negativity and avoid the topic of my intimacy/feelings of love for them. Whatever progress does get made, it will likely take time and be because they want to be a part of my life (see my future home, see their grandkids, etc) and not because they care for me, my partner, or the love we would share for one another. So the above here could apply. – Jess K. Feb 6 '18 at 19:15
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I feel like any sort of "we don't talk about it" agreements can only work if both people observe them, and she is the one that breaks it all bets are of, at least in the context of that conversation.

Mom: You need a soulmate

You: I do, she's very nice

Mom: I asked you not to tell me these things!

You: Well, if you don't want to hear about my soulmates, don't bring 'em up

Ideally, your mother should get used to your "dating preferences" and stop being judgy about such things, but if that's not in the cards at least it can be used to shoot down annoying dating advice.

11

The Answer

It's actually fairly simple - that is, not complicated; it might not be easy to bring yourself to hold up to it though.

You just keep pointing out that you are not allowed to talk about that.

Mom: You should... (or "Why don't you..." or "You need..." or whatever)

You: I do, but you don't know about it because you told me not to talk to you about it.

That's it. Period. Case closed... except that she might have a comeback. If she does, all you need to do is question whether you are allowed to talk about that now.

Mom: You know what I mean! What you talked about before, well that just isn't the same. She wouldn't be able to protect you the same anyway. (or "That's just a phase, and some day you'll snap out of it." or whatever)

You: It's not possible to have this conversation if I can't actually talk about it. So can I talk about it or not?

If you get anything resembling a "Yes" in any way, then just continue as if it's a yes. Otherwise, it's a "No", and you could say "Well then we can't talk about it. So what other things should we talk about?"

Here's the kicker: You can keep repeating the above over and over to the point of sounding like a broken record. "Can I talk about it or can't I? No? Then we can't talk about it so what else is there to talk about?" If you get accused of being childish or immature, that is the only time you should break out of your canned response, in which case something to the effect of...

Mom: You're just acting childish now! This is why I say it's just a phase. When you mature... yatta yatta.

You: I don't really have a choice. You won't actually let me talk, as in, you have said I am not allowed to talk about it, but then you keep talking about it. You are manipulating the situation, so I'm not the one acting immature. I am trying to have an adult conversation, but that can only happen if we change the topic or if you let me speak my mind: so which is it?

You might want to fine-tune the exact wording of that one a bit, but that's the basic idea.

If the topic changes, fine, otherwise you can still just keep repeating these 1 or 2 things.

7

The constriction is here:

she wanted no part in knowing about my love life...her assumptions that I have no one in my life at all

And these assumptions, that she is actively making and that you are disallowed from fixing, are the root of the problem.

How can I, most politely, get it across to my mother that I don't want her talking to me about things she actively chooses to not know about my life?

It appears your preferred solution is to set the boundary at the same place she has set the boundary. Right now it's a one-way boundary that she has set, which she enforces when it's uncomfortable for her, but you've failed to maintain her boundary when it's uncomfortable for you.

In this case I'd suggest maintaining the boundary in the same way she maintains it. When you bring it up how does she respond? Respond to her in the same way, not to throw it back in her face, but out of a desire to maintain the same tone, phrases, and style so she has immediate understanding of what you're asking.

Please don't discuss my love life. Just know that I am safe [or other root concern].

I would suggest taking it a bit further, though, with a reminder and an open door:

You asked me months ago not to discuss my love life with you, so I'm trying to avoid making you uncomfortable, however I'd love to be able to discuss that part of my life with you too. Is it ok if I respond to your statement about finding my soul mate?

It takes time for people to change and adjust, and while setting boundaries is important and useful for creating and maintaining strong relationships, we must recognize them as flexible, mutable things and allow for change, adjustment, and removal over time.

It's ok to knock on that door, or answer it if they knock, as long as you give them an easy out by recognizing the boundary and asking for consent to disregard it, if only for a short discussion. Of course, some people will never change, and you may always have that boundary, but if they're willing to cross it then you should give them an opportunity to make that choice again, each time they do so.

  • "if they're willing to cross it then you should give them an opportunity to make that choice again, each time they do so" __ Nice point @Adam Davis -- it is through making good use of such opportunities to discuss topics of disagreement (even if emotionally charged and potentially explosive) that people can make solid progress towards mutual understanding and eventual acceptance. – English Student Feb 7 '18 at 17:32
5

The way I see it, there could be two ways of approaching the topic once it's brought up: one where you avoid the subject altogether (as mentioned in your question), and another where you try to slowly get your mom to get involved again, while also ensuring your boundaries. I think it's important to show her that either way, you respect her boundaries and views, even if you do not agree with them, so long as that respect is mutual.

For avoiding the subject altogether, you could simply state that you respect her choice not to touch the subject, while mentioning it in a cheerful manner. By showing her you wish to respect her boundaries with a positive tone, you also take away some of the feelings that might linger around the subject, as she might see it as a "bad" subject. That is, something that brings up conflict. The conflicts may or may not influence how she sees the subject, but in both cases, a "friendly reminder" should do the trick:

Mom: I want you to have a soulmate so that you can be safe!
You (with a smile): I'm happy you want me to be safe, but I chose to respect your decision to not talk about this subject.

While you might disagree with her way of seeing the subject, I think it's important to still acknowledge the underlying motives: she's worried about your safety and happiness.

If, however, you'd like to try to bring her back into that part of your life, you could try a "safety check" on the subject. By keeping the positive tone, you show her that you're open to discuss it, so long as it's not treated as a conflict:

Mom: I want you to find a man to protect you.
You: I really wish we could talk about this, but you asked me not to, so I chose to respect that.

In both cases, you should evaluate whether or not she's open to discuss it open-mindedly. If she opens up to letting you talk about it, approach it slowly, but reinforcing the positive tone; after all, it's a part of your life you want to be happy with, and you want her to know that. If, however, she starts getting stressed/fed up/uncooperative about it, you can return to the previously-placed boundary:

Mom: I do not agree with this, I want you to have a man to take care of you!
You: I think we should talk about something else. You asked me not to talk about it before, and I'd like to respect that.

Additionally, if you also want to let her know you expect the same level of respect from her, you can bring it up the next time she mentions it:

I chose to respect your decision on not talking about this subject, but I'd like you to also respect my decision of keeping my views on it when you bring it up again.

Either way, I'm finding - from experience - that keeping a positive overtone on a parent's views/boundaries on LGBT+ dating goes a long way into avoiding conflicts. You want to treat it not as a "problematic" or a "touchy" subject, but rather something you're open - and happy - to talk about, given how willing they are to respect you.

As my first answer in this site, any comments/edits on improvements will be very much appreciated.

  • I'm usually not one for soft 'no's but I think this works for the specific issue presented by the OP. By keeping it light, she makes the mom feel able to actually broach the subject if she's decided to get on board with her daughter's orientation. If she hasn't, it allows her to move on to another subject with less awkwardness or tension than a hard shut down would likely cause. – user61524 Feb 10 '18 at 8:05
2

If as you say she is using the phrase "soulmate" she might be trying to open up communications without actually touching on the "ickyness", if you always both play the pronoun game she can always say to herself that she didn't know, but still actually be part of your life.

My mother in law claims not to know her daughter smokes, her daughter hides the fact she smokes from her mother. She is not a stupid woman she knows her 50 year old daughter smokes but both have just agreed not to flaunt it/ not to talk about it.

Edit: I am saying there may not actually be a conflict that needs resolving, sometimes in life it is best just to accept a small olive branch and live with it. The chances of ever actually convincing her mum to publicly accept her chosen sexuality is about 0%. But if she is choosing to privately ignore it then, just sometimes live with it.

As a teenager i thought the smoking solution was a terrible solution. But as I have matured i realise some battles are just not worth the effort and destruction it will cause.

-2

There are two things at work here, and from what you describe I think your mom is terribly conflicted internally.

Firstly, from your words I understand you are female. In your moms world, a woman has a strong man on her side to protect her. The fact that you prefer women also means that you are - in your moms view - helpless and unprotected in life.

Secondly, you two have dramatically different world-views that are irreconcilible. You will never convince your mom and she will never convince you. When a person has been exposed to one view of the world for most of her life, it is incredibly difficult to shake that believe. Don't count on it to ever happen.

The best way is, as always, to communicate. The most important initial step in that is to show your mom that you accept her views, even if you do not agree with them. You understand they are her views and you let her have them. Only after you have done the first step can you ask for the same from her, and if you both agree on this, you can have an open discussion about how you can talk and relate to each other despite having such very different views of life.

For the first point, you need to give her assurance that life is possible without a strong man on your side. If she comes from a small town, pointing out how different city life is might be a start. This depends too much on your specific living environment to give a good hint, but the basic idea is that in your moms world, a man is necessary for protection. Once you understand that, you can find a way.

protected by apaul Feb 9 '18 at 16:25

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