To seek or not to seek?
December 1, 2012 7:53 AM   Subscribe

My bf was adopted out of Asia. He's never sought out his birth parents. Should I encourage him to?

My longtime bf was adopted out of Asia to the U.S. as a baby. His white parents are absolutely awesome and he had a picture-perfect childhood (seriously--like something out a story book. I'm jealous!). For as long as I've known him (10+ years), he's never spent much time thinking about his birth mother/parents. His general attitude has been one of, "They didn't want me, so why should I be interested in them?" I got where he was coming from, and it was more than fine with me. I'm not the type to believe in Reclaiming your Roots and Duty and the Motherland and things like that (I'm a 2nd gen Asian American). And if he didn't feel the need to look more into his adoption, I didn't feel the need, either. But lately...certain developments have arisen that have caused me to rethink my position.

It all started when we watched the documentary Somewhere Between. It follows the lives of a few Chinese adoptees and how they decide to (or NOT to) find their birth parents. It hit him hard. REALLY hard. I was surprised, to say the least. I realized my entire understanding of how he processed his own history was inaccurate, at best. Around the same time, we had to move some boxes of his childhood things from his parents' house to our own. I came across a small box and asked him what was in it. He said it was his adoption papers. I asked if I could look at them, and he said sure...he also mentioned that he himself had never really looked at them, which I thought was odd. We looked at them together and I was shocked to discover that the location and name of the hospital he was born in, along with the name of his birth mother, was written there in plain ink. There were also paragraphs of description about what his personality as a baby was like, written by someone like a social worker-equivalent over there. I think I always knew that there was some denial at work in his mind, but discovering that there was this much information about his past right under his nose his entire life and that he'd never even looked at it made me realize the extent of it.

Completely separately from all this, one of my close relatives recently relocated to the country my bf was born in and has been asking us to visit. It's a rare opportunity to spend a good amount of time in that country with the translation support we'd need to do some research (and we can't forget the financial support, like free housing). My relative is there for work purposes, so the window of opportunity won't be around forever.

There are so many negative what-ifs about delving into this arena: What if we try and we can't find his birth mother? What if we DO find her, and she slams the door in his face? What if she's already passed on? What if we find her, and she's overcome with guilt that she expects him to forgive? If you think about it, there really aren't that many happy endings to the situation. They weren't torn apart by fate. A choice was made for him when he was a baby and many lives were irrevocably changed--most for the better, but possibly some for worse.

But despite all these things, my BIGGEST fear is that we don't pursue this...and in 20 years he will look back and wish he had tried to get some answers when we had the opportunity. And it will be too late.

I've had 1-2 short conversations with my bf about all this. I've tried to make it clear that if he has any desire, even the tiniest bit, to look for his birth parents, now is probably the time. And that whatever he decides, I'll support him. I've also tried to gently press on him that whoever his birth parents are, they are probably in their 60s by now, and time won't wait for us. He says he understands. But I also now know he has a history of denial, and it's easy to put off a huge project like this one. I think this is basically the situation now: Unless I take it upon myself to start planning and coordinating this venture, it's just not going to happen (plus, it's my relative who's in that country now). But doing so might upset him. And, in the end, it might conclude with some kind of horrible life-changing experience, like his birth mother shutting the door in his face. So I don't want to do it. And it's his life, not mine, so I shouldn't butt my way in...

...or should I?

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking as an adoptee, let it go. To some of us this whole birth parent thing is a Pandora's Box and it is just better not knowing, let sleeping dogs lie and all that. You seem to have done everything to be supportive of him, but you also seem to be the one who keeps bringing it up to him, so I would let this go until he brings it up again. There are so many factors that come into play with making a decision like this; for example there is the whole issue about how his adoptive parents might feel and he may not want to hurt their feelings. My suggestion is to back off a little and give him time to suss this out. Much better for him to do this - if he ever decides to - on his own time, rather than feeling forced because of a convenient situation.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:00 AM on December 1, 2012 [12 favorites]

I went through this a few years ago with my adopted Asian girlfriend, and it's not your call or thing to pursue. It needs to be 1000% his choice to pursue it as the chance of not finding anyone is very, very high and Somewhere Between was the exception rather then the norm.

My advice from an SO of an adoptee is to let it go until HE decides he want to do it and is prepared for the disappointment and massive emotional mixture that comes with seeking the birth parents.

*Also, about Somewhere Between, every person in the theater that was adopted/Asian was a blubbering mess by the end and my SO (who knows her parents and has met them) cried for 3 days straight - so it's not a good judge of how much he's interested in it.
posted by lpcxa0 at 8:01 AM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

To not push this. Seriously, it's his choice and from the few friends I know who've done it, it was rough and not particularly satisfying. Not total disasters, but not what they thought they were getting into when they started.

I have a friend who was adopted from an Asian country. She knows the rough outlines of who her birth family was (she knows she has siblings, etc.), but has NO desire to ever meet them and she could pretty easily find them for a variety of reasons. From what she has told me she is very viscerally aware of how close she came in life to being poverty stricken in a society where she would have had very little chance of any upward mobility and would have likely spent her life in a very low wage menial job living below the poverty line. That reality is terrifying and it also means she has essentially no common ground with her birth family. She literally has no idea what she would say to them and it's not something she ever wants to go through. She didn't have a picture perfect childhood, but she had parents who loved her and supported her and has no desire to look back.

This isn't to say that there is anything wrong with wanting to find your birth parents, just that it's not something everyone "needs" to do.
posted by whoaali at 8:07 AM on December 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Beware, if you do encourage him, there's a chance your relationship will end (by him). This is hubristic if it comes from you. There's a tremendous emotional unknown underneath this endeavor.

Look up the law of unintended consequences.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:12 AM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

You've made it clear that the offer is out there. He is aware that his birth mom (or parents) may not be alive if he waits on this. He's probably also aware of all of the emotional upheaval this can cause. This is his decision to make. Don't arrange anything. If he wants to pursue this he will tell you so.
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:13 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unless I take it upon myself to start planning and coordinating this venture,

Please, please don't do this. It's okay for your boyfriend to not want to meet or research his birth family. It's okay if he doesn't know quite how to feel about it and does the denial thing (I know this well! I do it too!).

It's really not okay for you to take it upon yourself unless he explicitly asks, and it's not okay to hint, nudge, or push him into "wanting" to. Please drop it.
posted by rtha at 8:16 AM on December 1, 2012 [30 favorites]

According to your own description, you've already been as explicit about this as you can be without going ahead and planning a trip for him against his will. To go to those lengths would create a power imbalance in your relationship, where you're choreographing his life, his family, his feelings — all for his own good. Bad idea. Do not go any further with this on your own. If he changes his mind (which you can assume he won't), that'll be a different situation.
posted by John Cohen at 8:18 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't mention it again to him. This is his life, and his decision.

I understand that you think that this is the time, but it doesn't sound like it is. You know why? Because he doesn't think it's the time. If he thought it was the time to do this, he'd be doing it - possibly with your help, possibly without it. It might never be time for him to look for his birth parents. He might just not want to do it, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Please leave him be. I think you're doing this because you really love him, but I think that the most loving thing to do is to let him handle this the way he chooses. I fear that you think that because he's avoiding it that he's not making a choice, but avoidance and denial is, itself, a choice - and it's a legitimate one for him to make.
posted by k8lin at 8:31 AM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another (domestic) adoptee here. At the risk of sounding harsh, I'll say this: Not every adoptee has a burning need to find his or her birth parents, and I find it damn presumptuous when well-intentioned people push me in the direction that you're pushing your boyfriend. I have no desire whatsoever to find my birth parents, and I know many, many others who share that feeling. I was raised by parents who loved me, and I just don't have a parent-shaped hole in my life. If your boyfriend is anything like me and others like me, you are risking your relationship by pushing this. Seriously, stop, this is not ok at all.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:38 AM on December 1, 2012 [9 favorites]

A year or so ago, my mom came across my adoption papers, which I had never seen. (I grew up knowing I was adopted - as a matter of fact, the first book I read may well have been this one.) Aside from discovering I clearly got screwed out of a couple of inches of height, I got to read a letter from my birthmother to my parents.

It was affecting, for sure. I've never wanted to find my birthparents - Pandora's Box is a bit of an understatement - but reading how my then-eighteen-year-old biological mother struggled with her choices when she found out she was pregnant by some dude who promptly bailed... well, I certainly Had Feelings about it.

But I still don't want to find her. It's still a Pandora's Box that I very much do not want to open. I've had friends who have tried that search and failed, tried and succeeded and wished they hadn't, and only very rarely tried and succeeded and were happier thereof. And my situation doesn't even involve the overseas, potential-culture-clash issues, which I can't even begin to contemplate.

I tell this story to try to illustrate that you may be reading the situation wrong in the first place, and that your boyfriend's feelings on the subject may not have changed regardless of his reaction to a documentary. It needs needs NEEDS to be his choice, made freely and without pressure from anyone.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:41 AM on December 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

He's not in denial. He told you he wasn't interested in finding out about his birth family. The fact that he never really checked out his adoption papers is just evidence that he's telling the truth. I do not think you should butt your way in. I don't think you should even bring it up again. If he changes his mind, he can pursue your favored course of action. If it happens after your family member is no longer in the country, it will end up being harder and more expensive. That will be okay.
posted by claytonius maximus at 8:42 AM on December 1, 2012 [9 favorites]

No, you shouldn't. You very much need to let this go. Searching out one's birth parents is one of the most emotionally fraught things that a person can do. It can take a long time of anxious waiting and end in bitter disappointment and failure. People above are mentioning Pandora's Box because that's exactly what this is. Once an adopted child meets their biological parent(s), they can't ever un-meet them. For the adopted person, these people will be in their life and/or mind for ever, a whole extra family attached to the one they've grown up with and known all their life. And there's not gurantee it will be a positive experience. The two people I know who sought out their birth parents both regret it. And they wanted to find them. Trying to force or manipulate someone into doing this is pretty awful.

There is no way in the world this is any of your business. If he decides, completely independently, that he wants to do it, be there to support him, because he'll need it. But until then, it's none of your business.
posted by Ookseer at 9:08 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a girlfriend who found her Asian birth mother who had abandoned her as infant and it was a bad experience because what my girlfriend imagined and idealized about what her mother might be like was far from reality. So it's clearly a very risky situation with lots of possible negatives. I agree with the person who said your boyfriend is not necessarily in denial (that's a loaded word anyway and often carelessly or unfairly thrown around). He's simply not interested or has weighed the pros and cons and made a logical decision. It's laudable that you want to help and understandable that you have some curiosity yourself, but if he had a great childhood and is a happy, well-adjusted, successful adult, sounds better not to rock the boat...unless he wants to.
posted by Dansaman at 9:11 AM on December 1, 2012

I have seen this situation in another couple I knew quite well. Knew as in past tense, as it was this one issue - the non-adoptee pushing for the adoptee to track down his birth parents - that ended up wrecking their relationship.

Needlessly. They were good together. But there was an irreversible breakdown of trust when she underhandedly started using detective skills. To be honest, I don't blame him for dumping her.

Please let this go. If you've unambiguously mentioned it and put the offer out to him, then that's good. Going behind his back to track down his real-life mom may result in him dumping you. If he, in 20 years, regrets not taking up your advice/offer, then so be it. We all accumulate a stack of regrets throughout or lives.
posted by Wordshore at 9:17 AM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is actually more about you and your projections than it is about him. You actually do not know for certain what your SO is thinking right now in regards to his birth parents and his status as an adoptee. You just THINK you know and are projecting onto him how you think you'd feel if you were in his place, and that's selfish and inappropriate of you.

Don't wreck your relationship over this. If you keep pushing, he may dump you, and with good reason. This is none of your business and may never be, even if your relationship continues and progresses into marriage. Come to grips with that, don't bring the topic up again, and absolutely do not do any sleuthing on your own. This is his journey, not yours.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:21 AM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Definitely drop it. (1) It's not your decision AT ALL, he has had years and years to think about this and apparently is not interested; and (2) the consequences could be absolutely disastrous even if he does find them, so his lack of interest is totally rational. As someone said above, support him if he decides to do it, because he'll need it, but otherwise drop it completely.

It's understandable that you're curious, but this road leads nowhere good.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:24 AM on December 1, 2012

Why is it your BIGGEST fear that he ignore all of the "negative what-ifs" you have identified, so that "how he processed his history" is brought into coherence with your view of things? What's behind the power trip here?
posted by rhizome at 10:02 AM on December 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've tried to make it clear that if he has any desire, even the tiniest bit, to look for his birth parents, now is probably the time.

Nah it's not. The right time is when and if he decides, in his own sweet time.
posted by springbound at 10:17 AM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

"And that whatever he decides, I'll support him."

He's been making his decisions all along.
So far, he's decided to open the box of papers;
He's decided NOT to pursue this;
he's decided to NOT to plan a trip that would take him closer to meeting his birth parents.

He's decided-- now support him.
posted by calgirl at 10:21 AM on December 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

It is extremely hard to explain the experience of being adopted to somebody who wasn't. The first thing that's worth knowing about, in my case, is that it is something that I rarely think about. I have parents, and they did right by me, and whatever positive and negative experiences I had with them are the sorts of positive and negative experiences that everybody has with parents. I email my father every month or so (he lives abroad) and speak to my mother on the phone every week or two, and they are my real parents, if not my biological parents.

The second thing that's worth understanding is that, even if I never think about it, my being adopted still overwhelming defines my experience. I do not look like my parents. They are little brown Jewish people from New York. I am a nearly six-foot tall pink creature of English and Irish extraction. And that heritage is extremely important to me. I run an Irish theater company. I had a Celtic punk band. And, because I lived in England for a while when I was a boy, and because I am half-English, there's a lot of stuff from the British Isles that I have great interest in. And English and Irish are two of the largest ethnic groups in the United States, and it's a cultural heritage that can easily just be background noise, but I pursue it because it helps me distinguish who I am -- imagine what the experience is of growing up adopted from Asia. It was always important for me to claim my heritage, but not my biological family, because I have a family.

The only time I have ever wanted to find out anything about my biological parents was when my mother miscommunicated to me, making it sound like my ethnic heritage was, at best, a guess on their part. I had invested an entire adult life exploring that heritage, and it sent me into a sort of free fall for a while. So I contacted the adoption agency and got all the non-identifying information about me, confirming that I was, indeed, English- and Irish-American, which was such a tremendous relief that I burst into tears. There had been, for a while, a terrible sense that I didn't really know myself, and something I thought I knew about myself, that I had invested years in, was uncertain and perhaps wrong. And, because this is an experience that is really distinct to adoption, there isn't a lot of people I can share these experiences with, and there isn't really a roadmap. It's can be a pretty rough road.

That was just me tracking down my ethnic identity, and it almost completely overwhelmed me. I have friends who have tracked down their biological parents, and it's always fraught, even if it turns out well. There is tremendous concern on the part of the adoptive parents. There is almost never a happy story as to why a baby was given up for adoption. There is often terrible guilt on the part of the birth-mother. Sometimes the biological father didn't even know there was a child. And sometimes the biological parents are awful. I had one friend, a woman who, like me, had been adopted by Jews. When she met her birth-mother, the woman had converted to an extremist branch of Christianity, and was really bothered that the daughter she had given up for adoption was going to hell for not being Christian, and so started to proselytize to her. That relationship ended very quickly. Another friend was the woman who gave a child up for adoption, and it haunted her her entire adult life, and so when the son contacted her, she perhaps made too much of an effort to be part of his life and alienated him. And there is always a risk to discover something truly awful -- that you were a product of rape or incest, or something that would be enormously disconcerting to know.

So it's a very fraught decision. Just finding out the non-identifying details of my biological parents was overwhelming for me, and I have literally spent years trying to integrate what I know into who I am. It's a very private, very personal, and very difficult decision for adopted children to make, and, in a very significant way, it's their business and nobody else's, because it's so linked to who they are and what they know about themselves, and what they want to know.

The best thing you can do is support him on whatever decision he makes. Down the road, he may want to know. He may not. He has parents, and he has a life that they helped him make, and anything else (besides medical information, which he can find out without looking up his biological parents) is additional information that is extremely hard to integrate into the life that he's already living.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:27 AM on December 1, 2012 [11 favorites]

my BIGGEST fear is that we don't pursue this...and in 20 years he will look back and wish he had tried to get some answers when we had the opportunity. And it will be too late.

If, 20 years from now, he regrets not pursuing his birth mother or birth family, he'll need to deal with that regret. Part of dealing with it will be having compassion for his younger self and believing that his younger self made the best choice he could out of a complex array of options. Frankly, it might be best if he didn't have, "If only I'd listened to my girlfriend," rattling around in his brain.

Your pushing him to make the choice you think he should make will not help in this situation. Your accepting that the choice is his, and that it is 100% ok for him to make the best choice he can right now, even if you don't understand it, will help.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:33 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm going to agree with everyone else and say let this go unless your boyfriend brings it up. My boyfriend is adopted and has zero desire to find his birth parents. And it would be easy to get started on the search - he was born less than 50 miles from where we live now and we have a copy of his birth certificate with his mothers name on it. But it just isn't something he wants to pursue. On the other hand, I totally get where you are coming from - I am so curious about it, I just imagine if it were me I wouldn't be able to stand not at least knowing more about who my birth parents were and what their story was. But I'm not him and I didn't grow up with this as a part of my life, so I accept that his life has formed how he feels about his adoption and it isn't right for me to act like I know better and to push the issue.

I think that there is this idea out there that knowing "where you come from" is an important part of people's lives, and that part of being adopted is going on this quest to figure it out. It sounds like this idea may be what is driving you - that this is the "right" thing for someone who is adopted to do. And for some people that may be true, but for many it is not, and it sounds like right now your boyfriend is one of them. Respect his decision and respect that he knows himself and his feelings about his origins better than you do.
posted by Sabby at 10:43 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

whaddya mean, there's no chance of a happy ending??? hasn't he had the happiest ending possible, being raised by a great family that loves and values him?

be grateful you have nice in-laws and let it go
posted by hms71 at 10:51 AM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please let this go. For every east-west adoption reunion that ends in joy, there's another one of alienation and resentment. You have no right to play with his life like this.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:55 AM on December 1, 2012

I've also tried to gently press on him that whoever his birth parents are, they are probably in their 60s by now, and time won't wait for us. He says he understands. But I also now know he has a history of denial, and it's easy to put off a huge project like this one.

From what you've said, he doesn't "have a history of denial", he chose not to pursue investigating his birth parents. There's nothing wrong with that choice. He's been aware for many, many years that he was adopted and has been processing that in his own way all this time. He's going to continue that for the rest of his life, and that may include coming around to the idea of doing more investigation, or it may not. It's not up to you to steer this process based on your feelings of what should be important or timely to him.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:06 AM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Unless I take it upon myself to start planning and coordinating this venture, it's just not going to happen (plus, it's my relative who's in that country now).

Please do not do this. I say this as the wife of a reunited adoptee. The momentum for this has to come from him or you are setting a lot of people up for a potential world of pain, greatly increasing the risk of a bad outcome on an already perilous journey. I'm not trying to be melodramatic here but the odds are long and as even a rudimentary read through adoption literature will tell you, the pitfalls many.

I was shocked to discover that the location and name of the hospital he was born in, along with the name of his birth mother, was written there in plain ink. There were also paragraphs of description about what his personality as a baby was like, written by someone like a social worker-equivalent over there.

One thing you may discover is that this is complete and utter made-up bullshit. This is common in international adoptions of the era - whatever went in the paperwork was whatever would make the adoption legit. So at that point, what little connection he thinks he has dissovles, and if he's not the one leading the search and prepared for all outcomes, everything just got massively worse for the poor dude who was never really onboard with this plan in the first place.

I understand your desire to search. There were moments I was massively more gung-ho than my partner. My husband had the best possible imaginable fairytale outcome (we live around the corner from his family now) but when I look at all the places it could have gone wrong and at some moments did go wrong, all of the risk was his and it would have been cruel to force that on him. If your partner isn't willing to shoulder those risks, back all the way off.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:25 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

It seems that a film, Somewhere Between, has really influenced your thoughts on whether or not to encourage your boyfriend to seek his birth mother. May I suggest another film that may help you to understand how the decision to seek out birth parents is fraught and complicated? Daughter from Danang follows one woman's attempt to locate her birth family, and the cultural misunderstandings and dissatisfactions that can result from that search.
posted by pickypicky at 11:28 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not adopted, but if I had been and was thinking about my biological parents, I'd at least be considering: 1) How might contacting my birth parents negatively affect my real parents, who chose me and raised me in such a positive way? I wouldn't want to do anything to hurt my real parents; and 2) Would I want the responsibility or guilt of supporting (or not) a birth family that might turn out to be in poverty or difficult circumstances?

If I was adopted, my birth parents would have given me up - a difficult and often noble thing to do, when you consider the possible alternatives. I think I might simply be thankful for the circumstances that brought me into my real parents' family and leave it at that.

Something to think about, anyway.
posted by summerstorm at 11:47 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

As an adoptee, I'm gonna go with the consensus here: back off. Given the myriad of results that are possible, it is not necessary to do a search if he doesn't want to. I met my birth mother at 21 and was recently reunited with her again. She's...interesting. And every time we get together, it takes me a few days to process. It's a complex relationship which had no specific "resolution."

It's been my experience and I've heard other anecdotes that girl adoptees are more likely to seek out their birth parents and boys are more likely to feel abandoned. Maybe it's empathy for the mother's situation from the girls. Anyway, if you have had feelings of abandonment and then gotten over them, maybe it is best to close the book there. It's his decision. You two can go on this trip to see your relative if you like but lay off. This isn't your concern at all.
posted by amanda at 11:52 AM on December 1, 2012

I don't know where you get the idea that he is "in denial" just because he is choosing not to seek out his birth parents. Denial of what? I get the feeling that you are in denial about the fact that this cool detective adventure you are so keen on taking is not something that your partner is interested in pursuing. You want it so bad you can taste it, and you can't believe that your boyfriend does not view it the same way. Face it. He's not interested.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:53 AM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

He has stated many times, in clear wording, that he does not want to pursue this issue. Please respect his boundaries. Even if you don't agree with them.
posted by vignettist at 12:50 PM on December 1, 2012

"I desperately want to find my birth parents but I have no idea how to start and I don't have the time and energy!" is the situation in which your encouragement and help would be needed. If he were interested or motivated otherwise, he'd already be doing it and wouldn't need your help and encouragement. He'd already be on his way.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:04 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is his journey, not yours.
posted by mynameisluka at 1:20 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I were in your boyfriend's situation, I would be furious at you continually bringing this up after the first time. It's very obvious you want to pursue this line of questioning and he doesn't. Continually returning to the question says to me that you do not respect his decision and therefore his agency, which reflects very negatively on you. Please stop. Now.
posted by spatula at 1:45 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]




Stop. No. Very seriously extra uncool for you to push this at all ever.
posted by kavasa at 2:46 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The only reason I could possibly come up with is if there were some pressing medical issue that your bf needed clarification on for survival/treatment. Otherwise, leave it alone until/if he pursues it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:27 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I notice in the narrative you've constructed here, you consistently use the pronoun "we/us" to refer to the process of finding his birth mother ("what if WE try" "what if WE can't find her" "what if WE don't do this"), then switch to "he/him" when referring to the potentially negative/troubling consequences that could arise ("what if she slams the door in HIS face" "what if she has guilt she wants HIM to absolve" etc.).

This strikes me as if you feel personally invested in the act (the research, the puzzle-solving, etc.) of finding his birth mother as part of a couple, while at the same time realizing that all the emotional risk (the upheaval, the pain, etc.) of what happens after you find her (or not) ultimately falls on your boyfriend alone. That means he must be the one who makes the decision to pursue it or not. And, in fact, he has already made that decision: his decision is no.

Will he change his mind in the future? Maybe, maybe not. That's not for you to decide or to influence, and the fact that your relative won't be in his country of birth to assist with research down the road is wholly irrelevant. The thing is, this is not just a research project for him; it's his entire life. Your feelings, projections, and curiosity about the matter do not trump his needs and desires, which he has already made clear to you. Your only role is to fully respect and support the decision he has already made.
posted by scody at 3:41 PM on December 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

As a birthmother and adoptee, I gotta say that you shouldn't push him either way... if he wants to seek out his birthparents, be supportive. If he doesn't, be supportive of that, too. He may never been interested in finding them, or he may randomly decide he wants to find them. Also, it might be kinda weird for him should he decide to meet them eventually-- for example, my birthmother has never been affectionate towards me.... my birthfather's family on the other hand, had no boundaries and things were too awkward for me to keep in contact with them. Just some things to think about.
posted by camylanded at 4:01 PM on December 1, 2012

At this point, I expect you have gotten the message, and I don't want to pile on, but you really need to drop this, and never mention it again unless HE brings up the topic and says he wants to find his birth parents. Then and only then is when you offer your help.

I'm the wife, sister, sister-in-law, cousin and cousin-in-law of adoptees. All told, I personally am closely related to 7 adoptees. Of those 7, only 1, my husband, has ever pursued finding his birth parents. I helped him do this, but only when he brought up that he wanted to do it. He found his birth mother and is glad he did it, but it was not easy on him emotionally, nor was it an experience of unmitigated joy, and they are not currently in touch, though he could easily find her again if he wanted. His conception was not a particularly happy experience for his birth mother, and she now has three adult children that do not know about Mr. gudrun. She, said, and this is true, that she chose to have him rather than getting an abortion (this was an option even though abortion was not legal at the time), and she arranged for good parents for him, so she launched him well and was not under any other obligation to him. He got some medical history and found out his ethnic heritage on her side (he had not known any of that), but it was a very hard emotional experience. Also, though his adoptive mother helped and encouraged him in this process, she was still a bit hurt he pursued it, and he had to tread carefully with her, and his adoptive brother (they are not biologically related), was pretty hurt that Mr. gudrun was doing this, as he felt that somehow that meant Mr. gudrun did not really consider his adoptive family as his "real" family or he would not have pursued finding his birth mother (note, this is not how Mr. gudrun felt AT ALL), and it strained their relationship. So, as I said, this has been tough, and there is still some emotional fallout from this that he is dealing with. However, he pursued it on his own, knowing he really wanted to, and knowing it might not end happily, but all this is to say that it was definitely a can of worms, and finding birth parents is not something I would ever push someone into pursuing.

Finally, my sister, adopted from an Asian country at the age of four, is adamant that she does not want to find her birth parents. When she came of age, our parents offered to help her if she wanted to pursue it. She said no then, they dropped it, and she still, at the age of 50, feels the same way.
posted by gudrun at 4:30 PM on December 1, 2012

I'm adopted.

It's his fucking business. If he wants to, support him. If not, it's none of your concern.

If he has issues that might be related to his adoption (many of us do), a therapist might help; knowing his birth parents' identity is not the solution.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:42 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You said he had a picture perfect childhood. As a result he's likely emotionally secure, has good self-esteem, is confident, well-adjusted, etc. So when you say he's in denial, in fact it's easy to guess that alternatively he may actually just be very content, at peace, etc. and have no insecurities, uncertainties, or concerns about the circumstances of his birth and adoption. It may be something that he simply doesn't care about, is not interested in, etc. I don't think there's any need to put a negative spin on that by calling it denial.
posted by Dansaman at 1:24 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The advice you've gotten has been very consistent, and I'm sure you've gotten the message, but one more thing to think about (and if this is off base, then I apologize - I've gotten unfairly harsh responses on the Green before myself and it's no fun - I'm only offering this in case it is relevant and might help you understand why your "encouragement," which seems so reasonable to you, is getting such a unanimous thumbs down.)

You mention jokingly that you're jealous of his picture perfect childhood with his adopted parents; I assume this means your own childhood was not picture perfect. And I can't help wondering whether part of your motivation in encouraging him to find his birth parents is to take that picture perfectness down a notch or two, maybe to make things more equal between you, since the circumstances of his birth were obviously bad - his mother either didn't want him or couldn't afford to raise him. The opposite of picture-perfect.

We all have destructive impulses from time to time, but if this one is part of your mix, then it's something to squelch, not explore.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:19 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

"I am not adopted; I have mysterious origins."

You should read this column by Ellen Ullman, and her recent novel, "By Blood," which touches on the same themes.

Seeking out birth parents isn't for everyone, and there are some advantages to not knowing who your genetic parents are.
posted by jtothes at 4:14 PM on December 22, 2012

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