Dear Dr. Chani,
When should I trust my own instincts and when should I listen to other people for advice? Over the past four months, I have been dating a guy who I really like – let’s call him Alex. We have a great time together, but my family cannot stand Alex. They have not clearly explained to me why they do not like him. It just seems like they were a bad fit from the first time they met.
I have been dating for around two years so Alex is not the first guy I have dated. He is kind, soft-spoken, and deep. I feel very comfortable being with him. He has a decent job and is generally reliable. We are also on the same page religiously. If it were up to me I would already be engaged to him. He is waiting for me to give him the green light.
Unfortunately, my parents have made it painfully obvious to me that they are not interested in us marrying each other. Whenever I talk about Alex to my parents, they avoid looking at me and they barely respond to what I am saying. They seem very concerned and stressed all the time. I have tried to bring Alex to my house so that we could all get used to each other. But my parents and my two siblings are not welcoming and friendly toward him. I can see that they are just being civilized and polite.
I asked a young couple who are family friends to meet with me and Alex so that they could give me their opinion and help me figure out why my parents are opposed to him. We went to meet them for supper one night. Afterward, the couple told me that they were not sure what bothered my parents, but they were not enthusiastic about Alex either. They basically told me that if my parents are concerned, I should trust their instincts.
My family is usually very close so my parents’ opinion is very important to me. Still, I feel like it would be a mistake to give up such a nice guy. It is tearing me apart that they are against me marrying Alex. Who knows if I will ever meet someone like him again? What should I do?
It sounds like your relationship was moving forward with a lot of momentum and your parents were the red light that caused you to make a screeching stop in your tracks. You describe how Alex is ready to get engaged and you would also be willing if it were not for your parents’ objection.
In some ways, you feel forced to choose between your love for your parents and your feelings for Alex. After you have come this far in dating and have found a guy who understands you and who you appreciate, it is disappointing to discover that your parents do not share your point of view. It sounds like you are wondering if you should try to convince your parents to see Alex the way you do, choose to marry him despite your parent’s hesitations or break up with him. Let’s explore what you are feeling right now and how you can get clarity about what to do.
Firstly, when your loved ones express hesitation about a person you are dating, it can be very unsettling. It not only makes you doubt your relationship with Alex. It makes you doubt yourself. You thought you could rely on your own judgment and instincts in dating, and now your parents are conveying to you that you are either wrong or missing something. You might be wondering how you can rely on your own evaluations and feelings in dating altogether.
In addition, you are confused about what to do practically. You are still in the dark about why your family and friends are not delighted by the idea of you marrying Alex. Although your parents have surprised you by reacting differently to Alex than you would have thought, they have not articulated their reasons. You and your parents are not communicating directly. That can create distance between you and leave you without comprehending why they are reacting the way they are.
Try to have direct conversations with your parents. Find out why they perceive Alex the way they do. Encourage them to share their impressions with you. You might also want to ask your parents what stops them from clearly expressing their concerns to you. (They might not want to upset you, they might be unsure of why they feel this way, or there might be other reasons.) Ask them to reflect and to be open with you.
Before you speak to your parents, prepare yourself to be ready to listen and to be receptive to their observations and feelings. Consider the possibility that your parents might have valid reasons for their feelings about Alex. It is important to recognize how difficult it is for you to look objectively at Alex and at yourselves as a couple when you are “in the situation.” Sometimes your loved ones notice things that you totally miss. For example, they might pick up on slight nuances of conversation or body language, or they might have a keen ability to compare the way you are acting to ways that you have acted in the past.
Allow yourself to be curious about their concerns, even if it means that ultimately you might need to break up with Alex. When you worry “Who knows if I will ever meet someone like him again?” your hope that you will move forward with Alex comes (at least partly) from a place of doubt that you will find someone who is even better for you. To some extent, you are holding on to your relationship with Alex from a place of fear. Your fear limits you from taking a step back and looking at your relationship from a more objective perspective.
Instead, use this hurdle in your relationship with Alex to your advantage. Heed this wake-up call to slow down your relationship and allow yourself to get perspective on it. Take this opportunity to get to know Alex even better so that you can make a more informed decision. Ask yourself, “What do I want to know more about Alex?” and “What do I want Alex to know more about me?” Use the answers to these questions as a guide to keep developing an even deeper understanding of one another.
Although your situation right now is challenging, you can learn a lot through this experience. Hearing out your parents’ concerns while simultaneously discovering more about Alex can help you to get the clarity you need to make your decision about your relationship with Alex from a position of confidence and strength.
Wishing you much success,