I had been dating someone for two months before she was supposed to leave for a teaching gig in Japan. She left NYC and went to spend a week with her family in Florida first. She invited me along for the last few days. As sweet a gesture as that was, she had forgotten to tell her parents I was coming and I arrived to a father who already was unhappy I existed.
I like to think I'm quite good with parents, but if I'm going to be honest it took me years to win her father over. He wasn't always as gruff as the initial visit, but I was her first serious boyfriend and I imagine he was not pleased to know the person having sex with his princess. Even in my case though, I consider myself lucky. I have other friends who have been introduced to potential future in-laws and be grilled about their tattoos, career choice, and religious background.
While each of my friends have walked away saying they're okay with the parents not liking them, you can tell it stings and is a sticking point in the relationship. "How was it meeting Erin's parents?" I asked, only to see the smile leave my friend Lawrence's face. "I think it went well, although they wish I wasn't on Wall St." My friend pretended he was kidding, and his girlfriend was clearly a bit uncomfortable post-intro, but they shrugged it off.
Months later, Erin's parents were in town and wanted some alone time with her. Lawrence would join them for dinner later, Erin said, but her parents wanted to take her out during the day. Lawrence played it cool and didn't push, but as soon as her parents left town they were fighting about it. Even if they both shrugged the disapproval off initially, it became grating over time.
If it's one thing I've learned the hard way it's that you can't change other people; you can only change yourself. In my experience, you have to stop spending your time convincing someone's parents to like you and relax enough to give them lots of opportunities to come around. It's often been when a woman's parents see how much I care for their daughter and how happy I make her that they begin to give in. For Lawrence, Erin's parents took their time coming around, but recently they confessed to Erin that they hope the two get married. Here's what to learn from their story:
There will always be discomfort in your relationship. If the issue isn't your parents it might be how late he stays out or how little he initiates plans together. Whatever it is, you have to remember that meeting discomfort together is love. After their initial fight, Lawrence and Erin sat down and realized that the whole parents-not-liking-him thing was indeed an issue and that in order to address it they needed to support one another, not attack each other.
Don't Complain About the Family
I have found that when a guy says something negative about a woman's family they're asking for trouble. Gentlemen, do not ever complain about her parents. You can say you don't like when they do certain things, but they are the beings that birthed the woman you're with; don't demonize them. Lawrence would occasionally complain to me, but he learned over time that saying that same sort of thing to Erin did not fly. Attacking Erin's parents was tantamount to attacking her and would only lead to a fight.
Say When Discomfort Arises
Lawrence bit his tongue the first time he was excluded by Erin's parents, but after that he would point out to her when something they said or did bugged him. Instead of complaining he used terms like, "It hurt when your dad only bought three tickets, not four" or "Can you see why I might not like that joke your mom made?" He never made it Erin's fault that her parents acted the way they did but communicated what was wrong. To Erin's credit, she would then bring these things up to her folks, who often didn't intend to be hurtful and were naive to how their actions were being received.
If you are able to openly communicate about this issue, you have a good chance of weathering the storm. Even the toughest of families can change over time, if you continue to lovingly stick together and give them plenty of chances to do so.
Photo Credit: CBS Photo Archive