Family ties
June 20, 2012 3:39 PM   Subscribe

My Mormon parents won't meet, talk of, or accept that I am with my girlfriend. How do I navigate family events and holidays since I am very close to my family but I am also in a very serious relationship?

Hi Mefi, I am coming to you for some advice. I am in my late 20s (F) and have been out to my Mormon parents for about three years. They took the tack of "We love you anyway, let's just not talk about it and things will be fine." Which was okay when I was casually dating people, but things have changed.

Since last year, I have been dating the most wonderful woman- "Natasha", she's 30 and we've moved in together. This is a big step for us, and we are very committed to each other. We moved into the house that I have owned for 6 years, and we have a garden, chickens, bees, the whole nine yards. We both have jobs we enjoy and we're very happy together. But there is trouble in paradise.

Here's what I'm getting at: My parents refuse to meet Natasha, my mom asks me to not discuss her, my parents won't let my younger siblings meet her (I am from a large family), and while my older college age siblings have met her, I don't really have an ally in my family that will go to bat for me.

Side note: Natasha's parents are devout Mormons as well (we both grew up in blood red Utah county). But they have completely accepted me, a complete change from how my parents treat my beautiful sweetie.

Where this creates some drama is that our birthdays are coming up. They are one day apart from each other so it is a big birthday weekend for us. Natasha's parents are taking us out this weekend to a birthday dinner. My parents? They would like me to come home for a special birthday dinner but Natasha is not invited. I don't want to spend my birthday evening without my sweet girlfriend by my side.

I am sick of feeling torn in two different directions. Can I tell my parents "Sorry, but Natasha is part of my life and if she is not invited to dinner, I am not going to be able to come." How do I navigate this? Have you dealt with this in your life? Do you just not go to holiday functions until there is some kind of acknowledgement? Everyone says "It takes time".... but is that all I can do? Sit around and wait?

It is creating a huge cognitive dissonance for me and I am starting to dread Thanksgiving, the Fourth, etc.

Any advice would be appreciated.
posted by timpanogos to Human Relations (39 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Can I tell my parents "Sorry, but Natasha is part of my life and if she is not invited to dinner, I am not going to be able to come."

Yes. It's not easy, and it probably won't result in a happy, drama-free event, but that is the way to do it. One option is to accept a 'family-only' event on the condition that your parents come to dinner with you and Natasha at another specific time, but that's just to smooth things over and a way to offer compromise on your part so they will be more willing to take the first step. Good luck, and happy birthday.
posted by Garm at 3:50 PM on June 20, 2012 [34 favorites]

Mormons can be very intense about their unacceptance of homosexuality (my family is mormon). It is deeply against their beliefs so I think your relationship with your family will depend on what matters more to them, you or the "rules". I would suggest that you not visit them until they accept your partner, with the understanding that they may cut you off. My mormon parents pulled this when I (F) moved in with my (M) fiance 3000km away. It took 2 years then mom came to visit.

Good luck!!
posted by saradarlin at 3:52 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry for your situation. It's not unique to Mormons, I have gay and lesbian friends in similar predicaments from a variety of religions. But I'm sure the strong social conservative bent of LDS is not helping. I'm hopeful some folks who know more about the gay and lesbian LDS community can offer you some local help.

It is absolutely OK for you to tell your parents you want to be with your partner on your birthday dinner and if she's not welcome in their home, you won't be coming. That's 100% appropriate for you to do. The sad truth, though, is it won't stop you feeling torn in two different directions. I think it's a great idea to stand up for yourself in this way, particularly for a birthday, but it doesn't solve the larger problem.

You sound like you really want to repair the relationship with your parents. That's admirable. It's not your responsibility, they're the ones with the problem, but I'm hopeful you can make things better. One tack is to have an intermediary talk to your parents. Do you have anyone in the Ward with your parents who can help? Do Natasha's parents live in the same community as your parents? Another approach is to have them on your home turf. Invite your parents over to your house with Natasha, for a visit or for dinner. Make it clear that it's Natasha's home too and she will be there when they come. They may well refuse, but maybe they won't. And either way it puts the ball in your parents' court.
posted by Nelson at 3:53 PM on June 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

I'm not gay, but I'm sort of in a similar situation in that my brother and his wife will not have my husband in their house, so that makes holidays difficult for my entire family. (there's a long and not relevant story behind that).

I've made a commitment to my husband that he is first in my life. Period. And therefore, I spend my holidays and my birthday with him. If he's not welcome, I'm not going.

So yes, "Sorry, but Natasha is part of my life and if she is not invited to dinner, I am not going to be able to come" is perfectly acceptable.

Note: This may mean that you won't be spending holidays with your family anymore and that's really painful. But sometimes there's just no other way.

In your case, I would keep repeatedly offering to spend holidays with them and Natasha (on your birthday, on the fourth, on Christmas, etc.). They may give in or they may not, but at least that way you've left the door open to them.
posted by bananafish at 3:54 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

if you don't prioritize Natasha's feelings, you won't be able to expect her to prioritize yours. I suggest that you tell your parents that you promised you would spend the weekend with your girlfriend, and that you definitely want to come and they should set the table for one more. Let them make an issue out of it- don't present it yourself as an issue.

Good luck! Sticky situation. Happy birthday to both of you.
posted by saraindc at 3:55 PM on June 20, 2012 [14 favorites]

For anyone who has to make choices between their SO and their family, I think you have to decide on your priorities on a case-by case basis. The bottom line for your family will be that you won't be around nearly as much if your gf isn't included, they are effectively making that choice for everyone involved.

Even when the families have welcomed you as a couple, there has to be decisions made on who to spend time with on which occasion. Once in a whole you will go to your family event alone.

Hopefully in the long run you can work with your gf's parents to bridge the gap. May be of help to have additional Mormon support.
posted by lizbunny at 3:56 PM on June 20, 2012

This is a tricky situation and I'm sorry you have to deal with this :/ It sounds like they aren't going to change because you haven't given them a reason to -- you're accepting their rules and they're still effectively controlling you. If you want them to respect you, you need to demand it. Have another conversation with them saying that you love and respect them, and you need them to love you and respect your decisions -- including who is in your life. If you give it one more shot and they refuse, then your above wording is perfect.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:56 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Dear Mom and Dad, this person is someone I love and I expect to be with her for a long time. It is unreasonable to exclude my partner from my birthday. If you do not want to have her there, then you would put me in the uncomfortable position of having to reject my partner in order to see my family. I hope that I never have to make that choice.
posted by zippy at 3:59 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

My boyfriend just went through a similar situation with his family. They invited him to dinner and specifically told him to come alone. He refused to be subtle about the matter to his mother, despite me being uncomfortable rocking the boat. He responded to her email with, "I don't feel comfortable coming without Marie. It seems inappropriate to attend family gatherings without my fiancee, and it'd be awkward explaining why she's not there to [other family members]. I hope you, [sister], and [aunt] understand my feelings on this." His mother's response was basically, "Oh, we'll add another person to the reservation." Everyone was pleasant at dinner.

Be straight forward; don't make them think this is an acceptable request. It might not go as smoothly as the scenario above, but I have my fingers crossed for you. Also, happy birthdays!
posted by plaintiff6r at 4:01 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Difficult, difficult, difficult.

I'd politely decline a birthday party thrown for me that excludes the one person I'd like to invite. It's a party inasmuch as it's a party to help them reinforce questions about gayness that they would like to deny. Unfortunately, your social gatherings now become political acts, which sucks, because they really are just social gatherings.

Talk with your girlfriend's parents about possibly inviting YOUR parents to THEIR party. They will no doubt decline, but if you're serious with this person, as you note, this situation is going to continue to happen.

If your parents insist on being stubborn jerks about it, it really is their loss.
posted by artlung at 4:10 PM on June 20, 2012

I can't speak from your parents' standpoint specifically, but here is how my religious family members would view the situation.

"Homosexuality is a sin. Just like lying. Just like murder. Just like stealing. Because of this, we cannot condone homosexuality and by accepting your girlfriend into our family and our intimate gatherings, we would basically be validating a sinful relationship and calling it acceptable. We wouldn't invite a friend of yours who was a known thief or one who deals drugs to our family gatherings. We wouldn't invite a witch or someone who practices Satanism. And we won't invite a homosexual. Even though those sins all have different levels of severity, they are all still immoral. We will still invite *you* because you are family, but even then we will voice our disapproval."

If that is their point of view, then you will *always* be torn between your girlfriend and them. They won't likely become convinced that homosexuality is un-sinful.

Knowing that, it falls in your lap (however uncomfortable it might be) to decide whether or not to spend time with them. It is your choice to say "I will not spend time with you until you accept my relationship." It is their choice how to react at that point.
posted by tacodave at 4:14 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I am sick of feeling torn in two different directions. Can I tell my parents "Sorry, but Natasha is part of my life and if she is not invited to dinner, I am not going to be able to come." How do I navigate this? Have you dealt with this in your life? Do you just not go to holiday functions until there is some kind of acknowledgement? Everyone says "It takes time".... but is that all I can do? Sit around and wait?

Yes. You owe it to both Natasha (the woman you love) and yourself (because this is who you are). If Natasha is not invited, then you don't go. It's the same advice I would give any young straight couple.

And it might seem painful that your parents can't accept you for who you are, at least not yet, while Natasha's do, but at the same time, you are incredibly lucky to have in-laws who have welcomed you into their family with open arms. It's something you can take comfort in.

I am of the "give it time" camp. Whatever their problem with their children's partners, most parents do come around, either because their relationship with their children trumps arbitrary religious doctrine, or because they become grandparents, which changes everything, or there is some family crisis that makes them realize that they don't want to lose contact.

In the meantime, in the unlikely event of a serious accident, death, or illness, both of you should make sure all your paperwork -- wills, medical directives, living wills, etc. is in order and that your doctor/hospital will comply with your requests and Natasha's instead of allowing them to be overridden by either of your families'. I've heard a number of infuriating and devastating stories about same-sex partners shut out of their stricken spouses' financial and medical affairs even by families who seemed to accept them unconditionally when all was well. You want to make sure nobody swoops in and makes decisions your spouse should be making or confiscates what should be your joint property. Sometimes otherwise reasonable, well-intentioned parents have highly emotional, "circle-the-wagon" reactions even to their straight daughters- and sons-in-law. You don't want that to happen to you and Natasha.

But I'm hoping for and expecting you to have many long and happy years together, and that your parents come to their senses soon so they can share in your happiness.
posted by tully_monster at 4:14 PM on June 20, 2012 [17 favorites]

I can't identify with this on a personal level since I'm not gay, but Dan Savage has advised people to flip the disownership approach on parents who don't accept them. I think he advised people to give their parents a year to get their squicky feelings about homosexuality sorted out, and then cut them off until they accept. Your future lies with someone of the same sex, so this is a bridge you're eventually going to have to cross one way or another. I wish you luck.
posted by alphanerd at 4:17 PM on June 20, 2012 [25 favorites]

Stick to your guns and keep your cool. I've seen parents as conservative as yours - possibly more so - come around. It takes time. I like Dan Savage's advice to think of it as you taking the parent role. Your parents are going to act like the kids, tantrums and crying, and it's up to you to be patient and wait for them to grow out of it, answer their questions, whatever. He generally says to give it a year.

Although you came out 3 years ago it sounds like they've been in denial and haven't really come to grips with this yet. I think you should be taking the long view of how you want your relationship with your parents to look, and laying the groundwork now. Therapy might be good, in the meantime.
posted by bunderful at 4:18 PM on June 20, 2012

Oops, just saw alphanerd's post.
posted by bunderful at 4:19 PM on June 20, 2012

Everyone says "It takes time".... but is that all I can do? Sit around and wait?

You can do two things:

1) Give your parents time by checking in with them periodically to see if they'll be willing to let the real you into their lives, girlfriend and all. This does not mean asking if you can bring her to a holiday event, having them say no, and then going alone. It means checking to see if you're both invited, and if you are, you both go, and if she's not welcome, neither of you goes. The part about giving it time is that a few months later, when the next holiday/event comes around, you ask again.

2) Make other plans. Spend holidays with your girlfriend's gracious family, or just the two of you, or with friends. Accept that your parents aren't willing/able to be the warm, loving family you'd like to spend holidays with, and seek that love and celebration elsewhere.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:19 PM on June 20, 2012 [14 favorites]

This is not about Natasha. This is about your parents inability to accept you. Try to always approach disagreements with this in mind, because it sounds like they are trying to frame it as you picking "some lady" over your family. And you seem to be willing to take that argument on it's face.

Family is not about loving the parts of people that meet your definition of acceptable behavior. That's called friendship. Demand that they act like family and accept your wayward journey into homosexuality. Or they get to be the other kind of family that only gets holiday cards while they hold on to their petty grudges.

I'm an optimist. I'm going to guess that love wins. But right now, you're enabling their bad behavior because you're scared love might not beat out homophobia. And that's no way to live.
posted by politikitty at 4:29 PM on June 20, 2012 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow. I am truly overwhelmed. Thank you everyone for your support and advice.
posted by timpanogos at 4:37 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is a really hard thing when being true to oneself creates strife with people you love. You clearly care deeply for your family. But doing what they would want you to do means bringing unhappiness to yourself. It means putting them before yourself. I agree with politikitty- this is not about Natasha, this is about you, and being your own best advocate.
posted by ambrosia at 4:40 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I'm sorry you are struggling with your issues over my sexual orientation, and over my choice of partner. Her mother and father are devout Mormons, yet they have no issue whatsoever with our relationship or our sexual orientation, and they're quite lovely people as well. I hope someday you get to meet them, and in the meantime, I can't let your personal issues interfere with my happiness. If you want me to visit you, you'll have to accept me and my life as it is; otherwise I can't visit you, and I wish you all the best in dealing with your issues."
posted by davejay at 4:44 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

It might be helpful for your parents to meet and talk with Natasha's parents, since they apparently have similar backgrounds.
posted by bq at 4:55 PM on June 20, 2012 [13 favorites]

Can I tell my parents "Sorry, but Natasha is part of my life and if she is not invited to dinner, I am not going to be able to come."

Yes, and you do it just like that.
posted by LarryC at 4:57 PM on June 20, 2012 [24 favorites]

I second the suggestion that they meet Natasha's parents. Hopefully Natasha's parents will have the right language to explain to them how to cross this difficult (but obviously NOT unbridgeable) divide.

In the meantime, yes, I do think you have to insist that Natasha not be excluded from your birthday celebration. Just say "I can't exclude my partner from this family event." But it might also be helpful to suggest that you also come over another time by yourself. Dynamics are always different when a kid brings her partner, even without the extenuating drama here; it'd be a kindness to make yourself available as "just you" on some less important day.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:10 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Right now, your parents are likely under the impression that you are willing to go along with their approach of completely denying that your partner is a woman. As long as you accommodate their fantasy and they don't have to deal with consequences, that will continue.

Gently, but consistently, let them know that you are not willing to cast your partner aside to humor them. Give them the choice to spend time with you and your partner during special events and holidays while reinforcing that you will not accommodate their "no girlfriend allowed" restrictions for visits or conversations.

I'd also be hesitant to offer up Natasha's parents for a meeting unless you can be absolutely sure that your parents won't be insulting or inappropriate toward them or their daughter. Alienating her parents due to the bad behavior of your family will not serve you well.

This is about you and your family. You should be the one your parents have to face. Don't let them get distracted.
posted by quince at 5:19 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Can I tell my parents "Sorry, but Natasha is part of my life and if she is not invited to dinner, I am not going to be able to come."

I have sibling-in-laws in my family that are Mormon, and they cut off most communication with my partner because of my being male. If I was in your shoes, my advice would be to lovingly assert your relationship by reducing or eliminating communication with your parents in the way you prescribe. As they get older, if they are decent human beings, they will acknowledge being wrong and will try to earn your trust and love again, when they one day figure out what's really wrong with the big picture and their current place in it within the Mormon Church. Good luck.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:28 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Christian family, here. When I first came out to my parents, it was brutal. My mom and step-dad started by sending me a bunch of those "Pray Away The Gay" type DVDs, and crap like that. Before I came out, I was always a central figure in my nephew's lives, and suddenly my sister cut off all contact and I couldn't even email them. For a long time, mom flat-out refused to acknowledge what I'd shared, shaking her head and storming out of my house on our first discussion.

Fast forward five years. Mom and Dad were both at our wedding when I married my husband. Dad gave me away, Mom was fully engaged in the planning. Both were thrilled and proud to be there. My sister and I have reconciled, and she's proud to call both my husband and I uncles to the boys.

You may not have a family ally now, but give it time. For all too many people, it's always "other" people who are gay. It's not until a close friend, a child or a family member comes out that it really hits home and becomes real to them. All of a sudden, it's something they have to deal with in a very real way. It's not an issue they can just hand-wave away or sweep under the carpet.

Give them time, and keep loving them. Hopefully, they'll come to appreciate that you're truly in love, and that's all that should matter. Hopefully, they'll come around and accept you both, fully.
posted by xedrik at 6:00 PM on June 20, 2012 [11 favorites]

I think you will be surprised at how quickly your parents come around when you assert yourself. And if they don't, you'll probably be surprised at how little it effects you to cut them off. Just stand up for yourself.
posted by empath at 6:00 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

You must put your partner first. It is the only way.
posted by hworth at 6:30 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hi there! I'm a Mormon.

Your parents are disgusting. The Church teaches to love our children no matter what. I tend to be a lot more liberal than most, but what happened to Families are Forever? Apparently your parents can talk the talk a lot better than they walk the walk.

Don't go. If your SO isn't invited then don't go. If it will hurt you (or her) to be there without her, don't go. If they really want you around then they will put on the "Happy Family" face and deal with their own discomfort, if not then you're well rid of them. It'll only get worse. It'll sting a little to begin with, but after awhile you'll feel so much better.

Since her family is so nice, you can spend holidays there. At least it saves you the fight over who to visit on which holiday.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:38 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

I've made a commitment to my husband that he is first in my life. Period. And therefore, I spend my holidays and my birthday with him. If he's not welcome, I'm not going.

This. This, this, this, this, THIS.
posted by spinturtle at 6:45 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Mom, Dad, I love you. I also love Natasha. She is not making me choose between you and her. Think that over for a little while and decide whether you really want to be the ones who make me choose."
posted by Etrigan at 6:48 PM on June 20, 2012 [20 favorites]

Oh, what Etrigan said is brilliant.

Please, please do not choose to participate in family events where your partner is excluded. I say this not in order to punish your parents, but because I have known LGBQ people* who have started going along with that and thus sent the message to their parents that it was OK for them to do that and then were stuck there. Sometimes for decades. It's terrible for everyone.

The sooner you put your foot down, the sooner this resolves itself one way or another.

(*and for that matter, both opposite-sex and same-sex couples where the dividing issue was something else like religion or race or ethnicity. I know someone who met his inlaws for the first time at his wife's funeral. It added another layer of sorrow, which was the last thing he needed at that point.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:17 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the folks up there above this comment have it, for the most part.

Also, though, a booklet for parents in your parents' situation just was reviewed in the Salt Lake Tribune - I want to say it was yesterday. Might be something worth sharing with them.
posted by SMPA at 7:52 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ugh, I'm sorry, this must suck.

So, listen, this advice is super easy for me to give, since I'm a straight male with tolerant parents who are totally accepting of my gay sister. But still. I think it's time to have a Big Talk. I wouldn't make this about an individual event, or even a matter of them inviting Natasha or not. I would say this:

"Mom, Dad, I love you, and I want you to be a part of my life. But my life is the life of a gay woman. You've had three years to come to terms with that, and I'm through making allowances for your discomfort. If you'd like me to remain in your life, you have to get on board 100% with who I am. This means that you welcome my girlfriend into your home the way you would a boyfriend. It means I don't want to hear another word that indicates your disapproval of who I am. If you can do this, awesome. If you can't, then I'm afraid that I will not be seeing or speaking to you until you do. Once again, I love you, and I hope that you'll choose to follow love here."

And then stick to it. It will be very, very hard to say, and it will be even harder to follow through if they make the wrong choice. But if you do follow through, they might come around some day. And if they don't then I really believe that, painful as it is to contemplate, you're better off without them in your life.

I'm sorry again. Good luck!
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:39 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wow! I feel for you. I grew up straight and non-Mormon in Utah and I can only imagine what it would be like to be in your situation.

I agree with the others who are saying that you are going to have to pick your moment, make your stand and stick to it. Whether or not this is that moment sounds like a good thing to discuss with Natasha.

I wonder if, at some point, Natasha's parents might be willing to help with this by modeling more accepting and loving behavior for the benefit of your parents. Perhaps they could get in the habit of, once a month, inviting your parents to join you and Natasha at their house for dinner. It might take repeated tries before your parents say yes, but even getting the invitation will remind them that there is a different way to deal with having a gay daughter. Once they accept the invitation, your fathers can talk about where they did their mission, and they can all talk about their involvement with their Wards and compare genealogy or whatever else Mormons do when they are establishing their bona fides. Your parents will, hopefully, see that they too are good Mormons, and that good Mormons can have gay daughters and treat them and their partners with respect.

Admittedly this might be a lot to ask of her parents, but it seems that if they've accepted you into their family, then either they had the strength to go through a lot of soul searching, or they had the character that there was never any question about what the right thing to do was, despite church teachings and the inevitable judgemental gossip from neighbors.

Good luck to you!
posted by Good Brain at 10:51 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gay man here, raised in a devout Mormon family. I just learned about this book the other day, in the (awesome) interview with Benji Schwimmer linked here on the blue, and am planning to send a copy to my parents. Sounds like yours could use one, too. And I agree; love will win.
posted by theperfectcrime at 11:42 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you do pick your moment, you may want to use the 'Is this how it is going to be when I have a child with her / get married to her?' arguements.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:40 AM on June 21, 2012

I think that is exactly what you say to your parents. They reject your homosexuality but they are uncomfortable with completely rejecting you the person. I am sure they love you very much and are quite confused themselves on how to handle this situation. You can help guide them through this area by being firm on how important your girlfriend is to you and how this situation will not go away by just ignoring it. It might be interesting to see if your parents would be interested in visiting you at your house where they would have less control and be less likely to insist that your girlfriend not attend. Perhaps they will even find that the concept of a gay relation is far scarier to them than your girlfriend is in person.
posted by caddis at 8:40 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Since Natasha's parents are Mormon and accepting, is there a way that you might be able to get your folks and her folks together? I agree that you should politely refuse invitations that don't include Natasha and continue invite your parents to your place to meet your sweetie and see how awesome she is.

You might want to gently remind your parents that they raised you with their morals, their love, their beliefs and somehow you ended up gay anyway, nothing in the way that they reared you changed that. Clearly this is the path that God has chosen for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:26 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

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