lying to your girlfriend's parents?
July 24, 2005 7:12 PM   Subscribe

Lying to your girlfriend's parents...yay or nay?

The time is fast approaching where I will have to attend a dinner with my girlfriend's parents and be grilled with questions with unpleasant answers, such as religion (I'm an atheist, they most certainly are not), age (there is some considerable difference between us), and my home life (NOT GOIN' THERE) and who knows what else.

My question is, would it be best to just tell them what they want to hear now, until such time where my answers won't matter, or just come clean now and risk making the relationship, and our own personal lives, all the more difficult to maintain?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't lie to them. I'll leave the moral issues aside, just think of the logistics.

If you're meeting her parents for dinner, they've had at least one conversation about you. What did she tell them about you during that conversation? Did she answer any of those questions (truthfully or otherwise) already? Chances are, you'll be found out, and sooner, rather than later.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:24 PM on July 24, 2005

"Until such time where my answers won't matter"? What time is that going to be, exactly? When you're broken up? When her parents are dead?

Tell the truth, dude. Lying is just laying a minefield.
posted by saladin at 7:24 PM on July 24, 2005

Lying doesn't seem like a path to long term success here. Have you discussed the situation with your girlfriend? Is this dinner something that she actually wants to have happen? If so, the it must mean that she thinks her parents (and you) will manage to find a way to connect and get along. If not, if she doesn't think it will be a good thing, then maybe you should try to postpone until some more necessary time.
posted by alms at 7:25 PM on July 24, 2005

Don't lie. But make sure that when you offer the truth you do it in a respectful way and at an appropriate time. For example, if they mention God, don't use it as an excuse to say, "God? Yeah, that's a load of hooey."

If you lie, what are you communicating to your girlfriend about your integrity? Is that really a good foundation for this relationship?
posted by wallaby at 7:28 PM on July 24, 2005

I'd leave such a problem up to the experts -- the girlfriend, and if you're really lucky, her older sisters who have already tested these waters.

That said, lying sounds pretty counterproductive ("yeah, I'm religious... um, no, I don't attend church") -- her parents will figure it out, and not appreciate your doing it.

I predict that you (and your girlfriend) will be pleasantly surprised at her parents' own desire to avoid such topics.
posted by Aknaton at 7:35 PM on July 24, 2005

No. It is rude of them to be asking you about your religion. While you should expect a certain number of probing questions, you are under no obligation to answer them.

Parents: So, Jenny tells us you were raised [whatever]. What church do you attend?

You: Yes, my parents are [whatever].

Just be diplomatic and handle it with grace. Practice pausing before you speak. Be comfortable with silences. Good luck.
posted by mlis at 7:39 PM on July 24, 2005

Ask the GF, do what she says.
Personal experience: playing one of those games where you have to guess what the other person would say ("scruples?) with new GF's family, I got "your son tells you he's gay, do you a) throw him out of the house b) make him get therapy c)ask to meet his boyfriend."
I of course, chose (c), which led to a major parental meltdown, their trying to break us up, etc.
All of which was good for our relationship, of course, as it forced her to pick sides, and guess who she picked?
Truth is overrated, but so is being on the GF's parents' good side.
posted by signal at 7:52 PM on July 24, 2005

My being an atheist and opposed to Pinochet didn't help much either (they where catholic pinochetistas.)
posted by signal at 7:53 PM on July 24, 2005

signal: i can't belive they gave you a multiple choice question :P

That said, I say you should just ask your girlfriend what she wants you to do. Duh. Find out what she's already told them, for one thing, you want to be consistant.
posted by delmoi at 7:58 PM on July 24, 2005

Lying is never good.

Besides the constant worry about keeping your story straight, you have the inevitable embarrassment of being discovered.

Then, you're not just an Atheist, you're a damned lying atheist.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:00 PM on July 24, 2005

I'm married now, but when I met my husband's parents, they didn't discuss religion so much as decent behavior, which was nice. Of course, I've always just respected their views and not said too much about my own, because ultimately, I don't spend enough time with them to make it worth the argument/discomfort.

If they bring up religious stuff, just navigate the conversation around to something where you don't lie. If they say the community found in a church is really nice, you can say, sure, it's great, I think it's a lot like group x that I am affiliated with where we talk about the world at large (or whatever. You may not have such a group.) Church-->Community Building --> Interfaith Community Projects or anything at all, really. Habitat for Humanity. Anything, other than an untruth, because you don't want to have to keep track of all that.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:16 PM on July 24, 2005

Just to echo here, I would certainly not lie about it. Diplomacy would be good, and a certain brevity might be on point too. But if they ask you up front you'll either have to dodge the question politely or come clean, quietly and respectfully. Lying seems like a good way to end the relationship quickly.
posted by Tuwa at 8:19 PM on July 24, 2005

Tell the truth, have a chat with your girlfriend about the things that may concern you and the things they may ask, like others have said, diplomacy is a good starting point.
posted by Chimp at 8:40 PM on July 24, 2005

Just remember, whatever you say in this first meeting with your girlfriend's parents will be remembered. Whatever they ask you will be something that they think is important. Dont' screw it up by taking this opportunity to lie. Dodging questions, giving fuzzy answers, and changing the subject are all ok though.
posted by Arch Stanton at 8:44 PM on July 24, 2005

A lot of the advice upstream seems very abstracted and idealistic to me. Sometimes the girlfriend's relationship with her parents is itself strained and based on observing certain polite fictions, or otherwise suboptimal. Sometimes "old" people just plain need humoring, some more than others.

So: definitely ask the girlfriend. She's the one that will know when to be straight-up with her folks and when they can't deal with anything other than a polite fiction.

Those things that you have to humor them about now, you'll probably have to keep humoring them about, so if any of that is a dealbreaker, well.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:46 PM on July 24, 2005

Why lie? Be your self, and be respectful, but don't let your worries make you lie. If they ask about your home life (NOT GOIN' THERE), say you aren't comfortable discussing it. If you were raised by aliens, or worse, Unitarians, spent freshman year in detox, and your brother is running for mayor as a socialist, and you think they'll freak, you can politely decline to discuss. Have some discussion topics up your sleeve, and use them to deflect difficult issues, i.e., "I hate talking about my childhood, but I did love camping - did you all ever camp when %SO was a kid?" If you can get them talking about their home life, values, education, etc., it'll take off some heat. Really, the key is how you disagree, not whether.
posted by Mom at 9:00 PM on July 24, 2005

the Unitarian crack - just a leetle joke.
posted by Mom at 9:01 PM on July 24, 2005

That's nice, Mom (and Maven and jacquilynne and all the rest), but your responses more-or-less assume that her parents are basically reasonable people.

I wouldn't make that assumption about parents I didn't know. Parents can be reasonable... or ludicrously demanding, or utterly intolerant of imperfection or disagreement, or infantilizing and unwilling to deal with their daughter as an adult, or racist fuckwits, or afflicted with any number of other hideous conditions.

This is what Anonymous should be asking his girlfriend about, in part.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:27 PM on July 24, 2005

They may be polite, in which case such topics would never come up in conversation. Don't you bring them up either, if that's the case.

If they do bring them up, answer them honestly, and with a slightly pained expression on your face as if you can't believe that someone could be so crass as to bring up such topics over a meal. You may not be able to out-religious them, but you can certainly outclass them. They may even take the hint and shut up.

Keep smiling and don't be drawn into debate. You can't lose. After all, their daughter picked you - she did not pick them, she got stuck with them.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:05 PM on July 24, 2005

Your GF either has the ability to support you in this encounter, including prep coaching, OR she is setting you up to be her weapon against
controlling/suffocating/manipulative/other parents.
posted by Goofyy at 11:06 PM on July 24, 2005

Mom knows best. Learning how to keep your mouth shut gracefully will come in handy for the rest of your life. Why not get a little practice in now?
posted by cali at 11:34 PM on July 24, 2005

OK: I'm going to play devil's advocate and say you should lie like a trooper.

I am so offended when parents drop clumsy references to religion, education, life-goals in what is essentially an effort to judge, that I quite happily spoon-feed them utter tripe without the slightest compunction.

My philosophy is that if somebody is bigoted enough to impose their values on the choices I have made, then they're the easiest people to pacify and I'll quite happily do so, just as I'd give a dog a bone to get them to shut up.

So anonymous: have some balls. Don't be intimidated by the parents as you rather sound you are - play the game, give them what they want: they're never going to find out as much as they're never going to find out about the disgraceful things you're probably doing to their daughter :-)
posted by forallmankind at 11:41 PM on July 24, 2005

(probably been influenced by practicing law)

you make it sound like it's either lying or complete disclosure. there's another option - who says you HAVE to talk about everything? don't. think of pleasant/interesting things you'd like to talk them about and steer the conversation there.

there's nothing wrong with not discussing these things. especially since at least two of the issues you've mentioned (beliefs, your homelife) are very personal. age is sort of obvious (isn't it?), but there also isn't very much to say there, because it's not really something you or your GF can change anyway.

hope that helped.
posted by mirileh at 2:04 AM on July 25, 2005

Try to enjoy the situation. So long as your girlfriend isn't one of those "I so want you to get along" types, seriously: just have fun. See if you like them and go from there.

Whether or not your girlfriend still lives with them should probably have some bearing on your course of action, though. If she doesn't, and you won't have to see them all that often, I wouldn't worry about it at all. It'll probably go better that way.
posted by nthdegx at 2:28 AM on July 25, 2005

When I first started dating my boyfriend, I was underage, he was 12 years older than me, and I didn't want to stop seeing him. So I lied and said he was only a few years older. Now that we've been together for a few years, my mom knows his real age. She doesn't like that it took her so long to find out, but I don't regret lying, because had she known that her delicate teenage flower was being sullied by an older man, he probably would have been chased out of the house with a broomstick.
However, he still tells his dad I'm 20 (I'm 18), simply because people can do the math and it's obvious we were together when I was still insanely illegal to have sex with.
So, on honest-to-goodness LIES(you have mentioned an age difference), I hate to support it, but there is a point to it. If you crazy kids break up in two months, what does it matter that you lied? If you're together for a long time and they learn to accept you, it's unlikely-but completely possible, depending on their craziness-that her family will reject you upon learning the truth.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:47 AM on July 25, 2005

There's lying and then there's lying. Unless these people are truly unreasonable people, there's no reason not to look at this as an application procedure or a job interview. So put your best foot forward, cast your weaknesses as strengths. If they ask you your religion tell them you're still looking but you have a lot of questions and doubts. Throw out some bible quotes to make 'em happy. (This is a dangerous gambit though, they may try and convert you). Age differences can be explained away with 'true' love--and if you're older, it's a plus, as you've got 'life experience'. If they ask you about your home life tell them the past is the past and you prefer to focus on the future. Wear a suit. Really it's easier than pie.

There's no reason not to do this. Everybody will be a lot happier if you guys can establish a polite relationship based on some mutual respect. That said, it's your girlfriend you want and not her parents, so if stuff hits the fan and they are assholes, don't hesitate to stand up for yourself. The night may end up with them asking you to leave but them's the breaks.
posted by nixerman at 2:59 AM on July 25, 2005

It's not atheist it's "secular", sounds a lot less harsh and anti-social.
posted by geoff. at 7:00 AM on July 25, 2005

Don't lie. But make sure that when you offer the truth you do it in a respectful way and at an appropriate time. For example, if they mention God, don't use it as an excuse to say, "God? Yeah, that's a load of hooey."

This is golden advice. So many MeFi atheists seem to delight in being belligerent about it, which I've never quite understood; take quiet pride, if you will, in being more enlightened than the majority, but it's just plain bad manners to push it in people's faces. Develop a line of patter beforehand to deflect the likely topics: "Religion? I'm afraid I've never given much thought to it, but it's certainly inspired a lot of great art." (Segue into Mozart, Fra Angelico, gospel music, whatever seems appropriate.) "My family? Oh, you know what families are like." (Tell a story about your Uncle Zeke that leads naturally into a totally different subject. If you don't have any family members you can bear to talk about, just change the subject gracefully.) Age: "Oh, let's just say I'm old enough to know better." (Insert well-worn age joke from borscht-belt comedian, change subject.) The important point is to think like a PR guy (for yourself), not a witness in a court case. Your job is not to answer questions, it's to carry on a conversation that will (hopefully) end with their thinking "My, what a nice fellow, I'm glad our precious girl didn't pick one of those thugs you read about"... or at least not thinking "Satan!"
posted by languagehat at 8:02 AM on July 25, 2005

You could always make the first move and try to keep them talking about themselves all night. Ask them questions, ones you are actually interesting in knowing the answers to. Get them to relate anecdotes and rambling stories. If you're really good they won't even realize they know nothing about you until you're long gone and making out like a prairie dog with their girl.
posted by sciurus at 9:31 AM on July 25, 2005

LH: but you also don't necessarily want the parents to think "Wow, what a smarmy git he is -- he's just like a slimy PR flack!"
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:47 AM on July 25, 2005

Yes, the problem with continually trying to change the subject is that, unless you're used to charming the socks off people, they'll pick up on your avoidance very quickly and this'll set off all types of warning flags.
posted by nixerman at 10:23 AM on July 25, 2005

Well, sure, if you're doing it constantly (see: presidential press secretary). I'm assuming it will only have to be done for a few particularly sensitive issues, and the rest of the time anonymous can be his own charming self.

I also second sciurus's suggestion: get them talking about themselves. People love that.

Um, how exactly do prairie dogs make out? Or should I make that a separate AskMe question? Wait, that's two questions, and the second one is more appropriate for MetaTalk...
posted by languagehat at 10:41 AM on July 25, 2005

As others have suggested, be honest when asked a direct question, but don't volunteer more than you need to. If you can steer the conversation away from touchy subjects, do. If you can answer a question with something vague like "well, you know...", so much the better.

An alternative tactic (which perhaps I'll have a chance to use some day) is to respond to touchy questions with such an astounding answer that it completely forestalls any further inquiry into the subject:

Q: So tell us about your family
A: Oh, brother, where do I start? I've got this cousin who was having an affair, and convinced her boyfriend to kill her husband. They were caught, and while awaiting trial, her parents made a deal with the mob to have the boyfriend whacked in prison. So she walked, but now there are always members of The Family dropping by their place.

[that ought to shut them up]
posted by adamrice at 10:59 AM on July 25, 2005

I second the advice of Mom and others to be polite and tactful, but I'd also encourage you to stand your ground on any issues you're unwilling to discuss.

I've found myself in a tight spot more than once when my busybody mother-in-law pushed into areas of my family life I'm unwilling to discuss. I tried to make nice by answering her nosy questions with polite but comfortably vague responses, only to to have her dig further with even more intrusive questions. Having already attempted to answer her, my sudden retreat into, "I'm sorry, I don't like to talk about that" always feels cowardly and forced. If a topic is a no-go, a bungled attempt to avoid it can only make things worse.
posted by junkbox at 12:20 PM on July 25, 2005

I'm an atheist
If they ask you your religion tell them you're still looking but you have a lot of questions and doubts.

This would come under "lying", assuming anon means it when she says she's an atheist. (Just kidding; I assume, as do other posters, that the gf's religious parents would have more to worry about than an age difference if anon were female.)

Personally, I would regard this as a particularly unsatisfying lie, in that it would lead into exactly the sort of discussions that you'd rather not deal with. Only to be used if you're assured by your gf that religion is her parents' one and only topic of discussion.
posted by Aknaton at 12:28 PM on July 25, 2005

Speaking from experience, there's no need to lie when you can just be vague. After they get to know you, they'll either (1) like you enough to not care or (2) hate you enough without additional anger at having been lied to.

Has your girlfriend already been lying to them? That might change things a bit. Then you'd be telling the truth for two in that case, outing her lies to her parents -- which she might not care for.

You should probably just ask your girlfriend what to say, and say that.
posted by BackwardsCity at 12:55 PM on July 25, 2005

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