How do I get my parents to stop worrying about my relationship?
October 27, 2009 5:41 PM   Subscribe

Generation/culture gap + relatively young relationship, please advise.

Relevant background: Female, 21-turning-22-next-month, full-blooded Asian, agnostic/can't-give-a-damn religiously.

Parents: Traditional, stereotypical Asian overprotective parents, somewhat religious.


I'm an university student at a decent school in my second-to-last year of my degree. My grades are mediocre-to-solid if not great (spoiled by one particular year), with a healthy amount of relevant work experience. I'm generally logical to the point of that I'm told I'm being cold; in reality, while I'm as emotional as the next person I just try very very hard not to let that affect my judgements.

My relationship history is very sparse. I had a brief fling two years back with a guy I sort of worked with (same workplace, didn't see each other very much). He was (much) older, charming, very similar interests and while in general I knew it wouldn't work in the long term I still put a lot of stock into it. Until I discovered he had a girlfriend. I was furious, hurt, the whole nine yards, and somehow through a mix of guilt and pain and genuine like for the guy still tried to remain friends. He took that as to mean that I'm okay being the other woman and tried sexing me up a few times, which was met with very angry refusals. This fling, coupled with an overwhelming courseload and the job and first time moving out to dorm led to my mental health spiralling downwards and I pretty much bombed that year, failed two courses, and flunked out of my honours degree (back to major now). Stupid? Yeah, what can I say, he was my first kiss. And up until now, he was the only person I've ever touched in a sexual sense.

Anyway. I've since then gotten my act together (ditched the jerk and didn't look back, plus took a year off getting relevant work experience far away), thought a lot about what my dealbreakers are in a relationship and generally love myself through my single life. I'm okay with being celibate and single (one of my rules for myself is that I will not have sexual relations with anyone I'm not in a serious relationship with, although I don't care if other people have casual sex as long as they're safe about it). I consider myself liberal, even if the choices I make for myself are on the conservative end; I don't begrudge others for my choices.

So now that I'm back home, I've gotten my head screwed on right and am at least solidly trucking along in my life again, I've met this really lovely guy my age and we've been dating for...close to half a year now. He is aware of my sparse sexual history and why (I've alluded to the important parts, he never asked for more details and just accepted it), has no problems with the fact I'm a virgin, and seem more than happy to show/teach/explore. We've never had an argument (granted, relationship's still young); there's been hurt feelings once or twice but was resolved, our communication seems solid (although generally I bring up things I think are issues and the boy wasn't even aware that it was worth worrying about, but we've both told each other straight up to bring up anything we're concerned about) and generally speaking we're really quite happy together.

However, my parents are (understandably) wary. They don't precisely know that previous jerk played a large part in my breakdown, but they know there was a guy and it ended badly and it was roughly around the same time. Not hard to connect dots. And that this current guy is my first serious boyfriend, the first one they've met...they're going a little crazy. Particularly worrying for them is a) sex and b) staying over.

I view sex (not that I've had it, being a virgin) as a bonding experience, something fun to share between you and your partner. Parents are of the view that sex is sacred/for marriage/etc. The notion of me staying over at my boyfriend's place is unthinkable, inappropriate, etc. etc. what have you. Sleeping around leads to diseases, girls get hurt more easily than guys, yadda yadda.

I'm aware that it's unlikely this guy will be my life mate. I'm not concerned about that--life is a journey, this is an experience, what have you. I'm happy with him now. I am educated on sex ed in school, and read pretty thoroughly on my own outside of school; I haven't slept with my boyfriend yet but I insisted both of us get tested before we even got to handjobs (we're both clean). We've talked frankly about options for contraception and what would happen if I was to accidentally get pregnant even despite precautions. And no, I still haven't slept with him yet. I'd like to think the both of us are being mature and careful here.

Obviously, given my parents' views on sex and intimacy I'm not exactly about to tell them in full detail why I'm not worried about STIs and pregnancy, because that'd be outright admitting that I intend on sleeping with him. Speaking in the theoretical does nothing to assuage their fears, because "it's different when it's happening to you, and accidents happen". They're convinced that I'll turn into a sobbing wreck if the boyfriend leaves me/if we break up, and doesn't believe me when I say that "I promise, I'll survive". I'm not saying it won't hurt; of course it will. But through the first disaster of a fling I went through a lot of (online, through reading the Green and another level headed advice community) therapy, did a lot of thinking, and generally came to the conclusion that relationships add to my life but cannot be my life and that I am a perfectly lovable, self-sufficient human being on my own. And having worked towards that, I worked my way out of my downward spiral.

I'm generally pretty much a straight arrow; drinking/drugs/staying out uber late partying has never appealed to me, and generally speaking save for that school year of insanity I think I've a pretty level head on my shoulders, and I wish I could get my parents to just trust me a little more. I'm at the point where I feel cornered and defensive about my choices and if something does go wrong, I'd never tell them because I don't feel like I'd get any more than "we told you so". These conflicting beliefs come to a head whenever I bring up my boyfriend in a slightly more serious context: Staying over at his place for the night, go out with him for a late date and/or out with friends (I have a curfew for midnight), what have you. To them, dating a boy means hand holding and dates once a week and god forbid we want to do anything else more sexual than that.

I get that they're worried and scared for me. I really do. And I know that it's not only a generation gap, but the cultural gap plays a huge part in it too. But at the same time, I'm getting tired of being patronized to and that "it's your first serious relationship, it won't last, it won't even matter in a few years". Be that as it may (or may not), this guy is important to me now.

Complicating the problem is that we have a serious language barrier; I grew up in the Americas and English, while not my first language, is my primary language. Theirs is Chinese. There are some concepts like intimacy != sex that I cannot articulate in Chinese for the life of me, and I'm at my wit's end as to how to make them trust me, and my boyfriend, a little more.

Yes, he has met them. No, they haven't said much (language barrier, again; the parents feel awkward, say hi, and get out of our way).

I don't feel it's fair to tell the boyfriend "no, there's no way I can sleep over at your place until after I graduate because my parents feel uncomfortable" when I don't share their beliefs (and it's our relationship, not theirs, right?). But to them, it's family first, and he might abandon me but they never will. I'm already feeling a little starved for attention because I rely a lot on physical contact (kisses, touches, hugs...not even sex) to feel close, and school schedules between the boyfriend and I (different schools, 1.5 hours between our homes) make that very difficult already. But to hear them say "concentrate on school, he's just a boy" (and yes, I do study a lot) and "it's not necessary for you to stay over, why do it? It's not necessary and it's inappropriate" just drives me a little crazy because these are my (our) needs in our relationship, not theirs.

Neither me nor my boyfriend like the idea of sneaking around behind their backs; to us, nothing we're doing is anything to be ashamed of (and lies have a habit of being exposed and blowing up anyway). But this does mean that it's turning into open discussion which seems to go in nothing but circles.

So, hive mind, what's a girl to do? For the record, yes, I am contemplating moving out for next year to dorms again, but 1) I don't know if this relationship will last that long (although I sure hope it will) and 2) that does nothing for the now.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
University-aged students contemplating sex should not be living with their parents. Done and done, move out asap. Choose a nice student neighborhood, vet your roommates through church or whatever, but there's also no reason to choose a dorm.
posted by gensubuser at 5:51 PM on October 27, 2009

Have sex in the day time instead.

Seriously, though I am a parent and I support safe sex in a safe place (ie at home, provided it's not too noisy) I don't think you're going to be able to change your parents' views.

You could try "mum & dad, I love you very much, and I respect you. That's why I'm letting you know that I plan on staying with a friend tonight instead of trying to get home after dark."
If they say "OMG, you're having sex," you could say "that's none of your business, that's private etc," but then you risk the line "It's house, while you're in our house, you live by our rules and you will be home by 6pm." That's a hard one to argue, because, uh, yeah, their house, their rules.

Also, introduce your guy to your parents as your friend. Don't get them all riled up and confused with the word boyfriend. Seems to me that it's a kindness not to involve them in your relationship ideas/plans.

So, sex in the daytime at your boyfriend's place. It's just as good.
posted by b33j at 6:20 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm Asian American with parents who are very conservative in their beliefs about love and sex, probably along the same lines as your parents. My advice to you: Keep your parents out of your love/sex lives and LIE about it.

Your parents will probably either never learn to treat you equally as an adult or take more than a few weeks to do so. They're your parents and are pretty much going to stay in that role their whole lives in relation to you. It took a long time for me to get this, but I find that it's easier to go with the flow than against it.

I'm 27 and every time I go home or talk with my mom on the phone and she asks if I have "ever done Bad Things," ie have sex, I ALWAYS tell her "No." This is despite their knowing that I've worked for a Safer Sex organization for four years and an LGBT organization for two. I'm not even sure if she actually believes me but it calms her down - thus, I am in zero danger of getting STDs or getting pregnant - and then the conversation moves on from there to another topic entirely.

If you can afford it - or your parents are willing to help you - and you can deal with it psychologically, then move out. This will make having a love life easier. And tell your parents that you will visit them at regular intervals. If it's not getting pregnant or getting herpes, my parents are afraid of losing me to a boy, that I will choose my boyfriend over them.

Regarding your boyfriend and future partners; sorry, but they are going to have to suck it up and move at your pace. You are going to have to tell him "no, there's no way I can sleep over at your place until after I graduate because my parents feel uncomfortable." Your parents love you fiercely and there is nothing you can do to convince them to move at the pace your boyfriend demands. After all, to them, who is he to dictate your relationship with your parents?

To conclude:
1. Your parents, like most Asian parents, take Being Parents seriously regardless of how old you are. In your relationship to them, you will always Be A Child, in which being an adult does not compute.
2. Lie about all sexual activity and seriousness of relationship to them; you are not having sex and you are not serious about this boy.
3. Move out if you can and regularly visit your parents and make them feel like they've done a good job of parenting and that you haven't forsaken them for your boyfriend. Do what you can to make them not worry about you, but don't overstretch yourself.
4. Keep doing what you're doing.

Following this will enable you to pursue your current relationship as well as any future relationships. If a guy demands to "out" your relationship, he's not worth the hassle.

You sound like an awesome and smart girl who's made some mistakes but learned from them. Like an responsible adult, you deserve a relationship that's fulfilling romantically and sexually. However, to your parents you aren't a responsible adult - and therefore undeserving of such "adult" pleasures - until you graduate and get a good job.

For now, you and your boyfriend are going to have to deal with "sneaking around." You might feel bad about it initially, but from my experience, it's a lot better than trying to confront your parents with it. With mine, it'd be like wringing water from a stone.

Feel free to email me at come dot back dot harold at gmail dot com if you want any more long-winded advice.
posted by mlo at 7:05 PM on October 27, 2009 [9 favorites]

what mlo said!
posted by anadem at 7:57 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was in a very similar situation in college. Based on my own experience with my parents they will never stop worrying. In my own situation this meant that I had to just not talk about big parts of my life with my mom, because she refused to trust my judgement and level-headedness. Fortunately, I lived four hours away at college during the year and only at home during the summer. Because I had a similar curfew rule, I was never able to spend the night at my boyfriend's place, and because I was always home by midnight I think my mom allowed herself to believe that I had complied when she forbid(!) me to have sex and so she didn't bring it up directly, although she would complain if I spent "too much" time at my boyfriend's. Basically, it turned into a don't ask, don't tell situation, although I have no doubt there were times when I did have to outright lie to her, because my boyfriend and I were having sex; we just did it during the daytime. So I hate that that has to be my advice: lie and live your own life, but you really sound like you have your head on straight and this is not an argument with your parents you're ever going to win.
posted by MsMolly at 8:08 PM on October 27, 2009

Seconding what mlo said. I was in your shoes a few years ago. My mom is also Asian, and assumed that me having a boyfriend meant that I slept around with all my male friends and wanted to drop out of college. Eventually she came around, but it took a couple of years, I guess once she realized we were really serious. But for now, as long as you are living at home you will never win the argument, so start lying. Spend the day at his place, if either of you has access to a car, all the better.
posted by Shesthefastest at 8:08 PM on October 27, 2009

My mother expected me to live up to her totally wacked-out religious ideas, it was a huge stressor to me when I was young. Then one of my brothers gave me the same advice you were given upthread -- lie. So I did.

And lo, it was good.*

I'm pretty sure she knew I was lying, and of course over the long haul it came out anyways, when I'd come home drunk or whatever. But it stopped just all kinds of guilt and shaming from her, and all kinds of arguments, arguments I'd never have won, because she had Jesus on her side, blah blah blah -- it was total jive.

And sex in the daytime does in fact rock, and you can sleep in his arms with the afternoon sunshine spilling through the window in that thin golden way that it does in autumn, and awaken and kiss on his arm, etc and etc.

It sounds like your culture is way different from mine -- melting pot Americn -- but it also sounds like it's given you lots of good things. And though there are definitely strings attached to it, you know for a fact that they love you, and they want the best for you -- that knowledge is more valuable than most other things to be found on this planet.

I think you can have it all; stay at home and keep them happy and save you lots of money and keep harmony in your family, lie to them about what you're doing with your sweetie because they'll go berserk if you don't, you'll get their love and support and live much of the life you want at the same time.

*I'm not a fan of lying (I'm actually sortof appalled that I'm writing this here, but it is what I did and it seemed to be the only way out, perhaps it was) but the fact is that what was going on in my family -- and what it sounds like is going on in your family -- there was really no other way to keep the peace
posted by dancestoblue at 12:59 AM on October 28, 2009

Seconding this:

>: My advice to you: Keep your parents out of your love/sex lives and LIE about it.

and the rest of mlo's comment so hard.

I've just married into having (not quite as conservative but quasi-religious) Chinese parents, and the first thing I am rapidly learning is that it's pointless having conversations with them where you disagree, because the way it seems to work is that The Parents Are Always Right. They mean well and are nearly always thinking about your welfare, so take comfort in that.

IMO there's no shame in lying in this case - your sex life is not their business, you're old enough to make these decisions for yourself and if they won't disengage themselves from that part of your day, you have to do it for them. Considering you've had bad reactions to stress in the past, give yourself a break! It's OK to take the easy way out.

If you get caught out, all you have to say is "Mom, Dad, I know you love me and want me to be safe, but I'm happy, I'm doing well in life, and who I spend my time with is none of your business" and refuse to discuss it any further.

"Yes, he has met them. No, they haven't said much (language barrier, again; the parents feel awkward, say hi, and get out of our way)."

Just a sidenote to say I know how this is, and I also struggle with it - but food, learning bits of Chinese, and time do wonders.

posted by saturnine at 2:35 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll bet that even when your parents realise that you are *gasp* having a sexual relationship with someone, they'll continue to lie to themselves about it.

I know two sets of parents (one Asian, one white-Catholic) who allowed themselves to think that when their daughter moved in with their boyfriend, they slept in separate rooms. To maintain this fiction in their world, they never even entered the home that their daughter lived in, at least till they got married.
posted by almostwitty at 4:36 AM on October 28, 2009

Hi anon! mlo gives you some great advice here, but I just wanted to add this: though I'm not Asian-American, my mom wasn't so different from your parents when it came to my first sexual relationship, when I was about your age. I wasn't allowed to sleep over; she said it "looked bad" and "wasn't necessary", et cetera et cetera. And there's something in your post that reminds you of me back in those days, namely the length to which you go on about how responsible you are. Because of how critical my own family is (up to, and including, stuff about sex), I've often found myself defensive in situations when it wasn't necessary, in part because their anxieties rubbed off on me and, deep down, had somewhat convinced me that I was doing the wrong thing. I just wanted to chime in and tell you that you don't need to defend yourself, to us, to your parents, to yourself--it sounds like you have your head screwed on straight and are making good, smart choices. Trust in your own intelligence and responsibility that you know what is best for you better than anyone else can.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:06 AM on October 28, 2009

My parents are staunch Christians, I am not. I went to church every Sunday up until the second year of college out of obligation because I love and respect my parents a whole lot and because they would think that I would be Damned To Hell if I didn't go to church. So I mechanically went to church every Sunday, went through the motions. In the last two years of college, I started going to church sporadically, and tried to be evasive whenever they asked me how my faith was going. After I graduated, I completely stopped going to church. When they asked me about church, I would lie.

Lying greatly affected my relationship with my parents. I began to avoid/ dread their calls. Up until then, other than the Christianity factor, my parents and I had a great relationship where I would tell them everything about my life. That sense of openness and sharing was destroyed when I started to lie about this major change. I was angry and defensive with my parents all the time, for reasons hard to describe here, but I think it had to do with the fact that I had a major change in my life which I couldn't share it with them.

In the end, I came to a conclusion that this all was ridiculous. I am an adult, and they can't control my life decisions. So I told them, very calmly and slowly, that I thought a lot about it, and I wasn't going to church anymore as I didn't believe in Christianity. They were understandably very, very upset, and occasionally call me on Saturday nights in to persuade me to go to church the next morning. But, strangely enough, our relationship has improved. I don't have carry the burden of lying, I can tell them everything, and I don't have to worry about covering my tracks.

So, if you're okay about the lying, lie. But realize that if you do explain it to them, if your relationship with your parents has enough love and understanding in the first place, while they might disapprove your actions and your choices when you explain to them, they will realize that these actions and choices are not worth destroying your relationship with them. Explaining is never as bad as you think.
posted by moiraine at 12:14 PM on October 28, 2009

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