At what point do you tell your parents you have a SO?
October 3, 2013 12:11 PM   Subscribe

I've been dating my boyfriend for a little less than 5 months. We have radically different approaches to how much we tell our respective parents (for what it's work, we're both in our late twenties). I talk to my parents a few times a week and let them know a few weeks in that I was dating someone. He hasn't let them know he's dating someone yet. At what point do folks generally start telling parents they're seeing someone?

I guess I want to know what the norms are, and what makes you feel ready or hesitant to share your dating life with your parents. For what it's worth, neither of us have met the other's folks, and we're pretty committed and spend a lot of time (almost every evening) together, but are not talking about the future at this moment since we're both going through some major life changes. I feel a little insecure that he hasn't told them about me yet, but if not telling parents about a significant other is pretty normal this early on, I'll feel less awful about it. We both have solid relationships with our parents, though he doesn't talk to his folks nearly as often as I talk to mine.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on the individual's relationship with their parents. I personally almost never told my mother about anyone I was dating and would not let her meet any of them, because it wasn't important to me or worth the hassle of dealing with her in any way. I was pretty clear about explaining this ("it's not you, it's her, trust me!") if anyone brought it up, but I didn't announce it unprompted.
posted by elizardbits at 12:16 PM on October 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm pretty sure this has absolutely nothing to do with you, and speaks more to your boyfriend's relationship with his parents. Maybe he was raised in a family where his parents never asked him about dating. Maybe his parents want to hear how he is doing at work or school.
posted by phaedon at 12:17 PM on October 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

There is no "generally" here. Everyone is really quite different, and everyone has vastly different relationships with their parents. I almost never talk to my parents about my relationships, but that's about me and my parents, not about me and my relationships.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:19 PM on October 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

My partner doesn't share a lot about his life with his parents. It took a long, long time for him to tell them he was in a serious relationship. Different folks are different in this respect. (Mine knew about two weeks in.)
posted by linettasky at 12:20 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I told my parents the day after my first date with my now-husband, and they met him a month later. My sister was dating her partner for over a year before she told anyone (parents included) about him. It all depends upon the relationship with the parents. For me, I am extremely open with my parents in regards to the goings on in my life. My sister says I have "tell-daddy-everything-itis" and thinks I am insane. She hates feeling like they are meddling in her life so she keeps everything very close to the chest. Telling our parents represented to her a major pain in the ass because she knew (correctly) that my dad would get all worked up and start harping on with relationship advice and having all sorts of questions about him, etc. Her partner knew this, took no offense, and let my sister tell when she was comfortable. He knew it had nothing to do with him. She wasn't ashamed of him or anything, she just doesn't like parental involvement in her life. (FWIW they are still together 3 years later and just bought a house together, so it really wasn't anything against him)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:20 PM on October 3, 2013

I'd be about on your boyfriend's timeframe, but I am a little more withdrawn about this sort of thing.

I'd tell my family before I was planning on bringing my SO to meet them, but not too much before.

This is only one sign of many potential.

What are his other relationships like?

Do his friends know about you? Have you met them?
posted by RainyJay at 12:21 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is no norm. My third date with my now wife involved picking up a Christmas tree for my mom, taking it to her house and decorating it for her. Of course it was at that point that my mom realized I had an SO. I think it was several months before I told my dad and I was living with him at the time.

It depends on: Your relationship, his relationship with his parents, his past relationships (because maybe he had a bad experience with his parents meeting an SO), the phase of the moon, etc.
posted by bondcliff at 12:22 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

This varies wildly from person to person.

An ex of mine told his parents all about me, even before we started dating, because he has a really close relationship with his parents (much more of a friendship than parent-child/he speaks with them every day). I found that unusual, but it was fine.

I generally don't tell my parents until there's a natural time to tell them, like if I mention I'm going to some event, and they ask if I'm going with anyone, and I'm like yeah, [name], and they're all "who's [name]?" and I'm all "this dude I'm dating."

I generally don't discuss these things with my grandmother at all because she's extremely judgmental and actually stopped talking to me for two years because she didn't like that I was dating a brown dude.

Long story short, people have all sorts of relationships with their families, and these discussions can be strained and come fraught with all sorts of baggage. I wouldn't worry about it too much. I think it would be totally fine if you asked your boyfriend why, though. You're allowed to be curious.
posted by phunniemee at 12:23 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I guess I want to know what the norms are

There's no such animal. But whatever the very wide range of "normal" is, five months is definitely well within it.
posted by ook at 12:25 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

It can also depend on the culture. I've known Indian women who had boyfriends for years and never told the parents. I've also had someone after 4 months tell me he hadn't yet told his family about me, and that if he "told them about every little relationship".... well suffice to say, he's out of the picture now.

I'd just ask my SO. If you're worried about his intentions towards you & his level of seriousness about the relationship, ask that too. 5 months is the right time to have the first of these kinds of conversations.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:26 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't tell my parents (father and stepmother) that I was dating someone until we were engaged, living together, or had been exclusive for at least a year. I wouldn't say anything until I was ready for a partner to be treated as a member of my immediate family, because that's how they would treat any partner I mentioned, even casually, because they really, really, in a loving but very uncomfortable way, want me to be married as soon as possible. I'm much closer to my sisters, but even them I wouldn't tell until I was ready to be treated a long-term social unit with someone, because it wouldn't be fair to tell them and ask them to keep it a secret from my father. My family are very nice, but they want to invite people I've known for a few days home for Christmas to ask about their intentions towards me, because they worry that if I spend one more holiday without a ring on my finger, I'm going to be alone forever, and since they're so happily married, that would be a tragedy. So, I choose not to share. It 100% has absolutely nothing to do with my feelings for the person I'm dating. Nor does it, really, have to do with not loving my family; they're just terrible on this particular issue, and I choose to save myself (and my dates) that discomfort.

That's me. Your SO may have his own reasons that also have nothing to do with you. The best way to find out is to talk about it.
posted by decathecting at 12:26 PM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I told my mother I was dating my husband when I decided to move in with him. Not everyone is as close to their parents as you are.
posted by crankylex at 12:26 PM on October 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

I've been with my wife for over a decade and I still haven't met her parents (she really, really doesn't like her parents). My mom only met her well after we'd gotten married and only knew she existed because I happened to mention she'd been in a car accident and my mom was all "Who's that?!" (Likewise, I don't like my parents).

Part of the reason I didn't tell my mom anything is she'd always get really weird about girls I was seeing or she thought I was seeing and I wanted to have the foundations of the relationship in place before she got all weird.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:26 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Even within the bounds of "he has a good, solid relationship with his parents" there are so many reasons why he might intentionally or unintentionally delay telling them about an SO. I do not think you are even close to the timeframe where I would start asking questions about it. Maybe at one year, or at a major relationship threshold (cohabitation, engagement, house buying, etc).
posted by Rock Steady at 12:28 PM on October 3, 2013

I feel the need to state that the timeline in which he tells his FRIENDS about you is much more telling. Family telling is a very individual personal thing. Friend telling I think should happen fairly early on. If it is five months in and he hasn't introduced you to any of his friends, that is when you should worry.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:29 PM on October 3, 2013 [9 favorites]

I never told my mom I was dating anyone until it was time for whoever I was dating to (physically) meet her, not because I didn't want her to know, but because there was always a chance she would tell my grandmother. My grandmother would then get on the phone with every single human being she knew and straight-up make shit up about how I'm getting married to a person she never met and that I am terrible. I never told anyone about that because I didn't want people to think certain members of my family were, well, exactly who they were.

His relationship with his parents might be fine, but there are all sorts of other people who may not use this information for good.
posted by griphus at 12:29 PM on October 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

As people have said, there is no norm but you should speak about it if it makes you feel insecure. I met my SO's parents at Thanksgiving, which was about 3 months in, and my parents didn't know of his existence until nearly 10 months. I told him early on that this is how I am on this issue and he was okay with it until he wasn't okay with it, which was at the 10 month point. He basically said, when do I met your parents, I'd like to. I realized it was important to him then, put aside my quirk about it, and set up a dinner with us all.
posted by inevitability at 12:30 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who has dated both men and women. Her parents were upset they found out she was dating a woman, and told her they didn't want to hear about it. When she was later dating a man she was very reluctant to tell her parents and didn't do so for a long time.

So yeah, it depends.
posted by alms at 12:30 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I'll say, I talk with members of my family several times a week. When asked (and I'm asked often), I actively lie. It's for my dates' benefit as much as for mine, because if I didn't lie, all of my dates would end up on the mailing list for my stepmother's New Years Letter, which is all about the details of the medical procedures she's had in the past year. Though recently, I told my sister that she needs to stop asking, and that I'll tell her when there's something to tell, and she's respected that for over a month, so she may be reforming somewhat...
posted by decathecting at 12:31 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hell, I told my mom about the lady I was seeing right after we got married. And I like my mom. So as others are suggesting YMMV.
(still married 20 years later)
posted by edgeways at 12:34 PM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Enough people have mentioned that you don't have any right to influence the private conversation between your boyfriend and his parents. I think it's also worth pointing out that it's totally okay to feel perturbed by this - you're not a monster!

So I've got a pretty good relationship with my parents, and I'd probably tell them at whatever point it felt comfortable. I know that's not very objective, but it depends really is the only answer here.
posted by Magnakai at 12:35 PM on October 3, 2013

At what point do folks generally start telling parents they're seeing someone?

It depends on the parents, on the individual, on how close the two parties are and how independent of one another they are. I've dated a man who's mother was SO FUCKING NOSEY AND PERSISTENT I sincerely wish he'd never mentioned me. I would not be at all surprised if he didn't tell his mother about the next woman he dated until they were about to get engaged because JESUS WILL YOU SHUT UP AND BUTT OUT ALREADY.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:38 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

It really depends on the person's relationship with their parents. I've held back for a while sometimes because I know that as soon as I mention it to my parents it is going to be Broadcast Through The Family At Large; I also tend to wait until I'm pretty sure "okay, this guy's gonna be around for a while." For me, usually that's within a few dates.

(The only time that's bit me in the ass is when I came down with a freak medical thing during our second date and I needed emergency surgery, and it fell to the guy to call my parents and let them know - "Hi....uh, you don't know me, but I was on a date with your daughter last night and she's in an OR at St. Vincent's right now...." it ended well, but I still don't recommend that method of informing parents.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:41 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I talk to my mother weekly, and since I pretty much recap anything of interest that happened during the past week, she finds out about guys I'm dating pretty much from the get-go. It doesn't necessarily mean it's serious or heading toward a relationship, just that it was a thing that happened to me that week.

I think deliberately holding off on telling them would make the whole thing more drama-filled than it should be. If my mother knows about every random OKCupid dude I go out with, it's less of a big deal than if, after years of hearing nothing about my dating life, I announce I've been seeing someone for 6 months.

On the other hand, that's my mom, and she accepts that dating random OKCupid guys is something that happens in my life that she doesn't need to get all worked up about. Not everyone's mom is my mom.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:46 PM on October 3, 2013

Is there a ring on my finger? No? Then family doesn't need to know my relationship status.
posted by bahama mama at 12:48 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

My mother-in-law knew about me before my (now) wife and I started dating. My parents didn't know about my (now) wife until we'd been dating nine months and we're looking at buying a place together.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:49 PM on October 3, 2013

I didn't tell my mom about my now-husband until maybe a year into the relationship, and then it was just a "oh I'm seeing this guy" mention. We didn't meet each other's parents until maybe 4 years in, and the parents didn't meet each other until the wedding (7 years in). I didn't tell my mom about breaking up with an ex (of 5 yrs) until about 6 months after it happened (and only because she asked if he was joining us for a holiday). I just don't really fill my parents in on my personal life like that. Neither does my brother - we didn't meet his ex-girlfriend of 4-ish years until he was in a car accident and we met at the hospital; didn't meet his now-wife until they moved in together.

My parents are lovely people, extremely nice, friendly, not overbearing. This is just the nature of our relationship with them.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:53 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't tell my mom about anyone I date unless we've been together for literally years. My mom is strongly religious and would give me lots of subtle and not-so-subtle indications of criticism, disapproval, and worries about the state of my soul, so I don't do it.

I used to be different. In my early 20s I was unflinchingly honest, and would tell them everything on principle, and it made my life royal hell to be quite honest. I will still tell them once it's serious (and just deal with the fallout) but am less eager and open about it. Then again, I had a SO for a while who waited THREE YEARS to introduce me to his parents, WHOM HE LIVED WITH, long after discussing marriage and his mom trying to get him to marry various other people, and that one was a giant source of conflict because it was a cultural issue, and he obviously wasn't fully ready to own his own choices in the light of his parents' potential disapproval, so he stalled and stalled. So I would say it's really really context dependent.
posted by celtalitha at 12:56 PM on October 3, 2013

My parents are not your parents or his parents so I'll just emphasize that this is different for each person (and maybe even with each parent for each person) and you should not think it's a reflection of you or your relationship. It's a little like the way people relate to the facebook status thing.

However.... I'd examine why you're worried about this. Is it just because your timelines don't match up or you have the normal insecurities that can pop up around the 5-6 month mark? Or is he telling them about that great concert he went to but leaving you out of the story? You don't mention how often he speaks with his folks, or what kind of conversations he has, so if your little voice is noticing something like actually omitting you in his conversations then I'd talk to him about it.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:00 PM on October 3, 2013

My dad met my husband when we had been dating 10 days, but it was not on purpose. The rest of my family met him when we'd been dating about six months, but they'd known about him for about six months. I don't keep secrets.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:01 PM on October 3, 2013

My second date with my husband was at his family's xmas party. My mom met him about a year later.

There is no norm for a "healthy" relationship. But what is healthy is looking at why this bothers you, and if it continues to, talk to your partner.

Is he keeping you from meeting or talking about you to his friends also? That would make me hesitate more than parents.
posted by haplesschild at 1:04 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've known Indian women who had boyfriends for years and never told the parents.

This was a leading cause for breakups among people who are me and said Indian women. I tell my parents when the relationship moves from the "casually seeing each other" stage on to the "OK we are now an item stage." And I'm going to drop a big old pile of disagree onto this thread and say that to do otherwise feels, to me at least, somehow like we're sneaking around.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:07 PM on October 3, 2013

For me within a couple of months it feels like it takes more effort not to tell them, because we talk on a regular basis and I generally keep them informed about what I'm up to, and saying I went hiking/skiing/whatever with "a friend" starts to get old.
posted by Asparagus at 1:18 PM on October 3, 2013

we're pretty committed and spend a lot of time (almost every evening) together, but are not talking about the future at this moment since we're both going through some major life changes

Forgot to include above but this stuck out at me-- can you clarify what "not talking about the future" means? If one of you is, like, moving across the country for grad school next year and so you have an agreement that your relationship has an expiration date, it would make perfect sense that he hasn't told his parents about you, since having to tell parents about a breakup kinda sucks.

But if you haven't clarified one way or the other what your big life changes could potentially mean for your relationship, you might want to have that conversation. Even if the big life changes mean that the future will be one where you and he are not together, there's nothing about "big life changes" that prevents you from talking about that.
posted by Asparagus at 1:30 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Too many variables to state a 'norm'.

If the couple were 15-year-olds, then yeah: the parents should know the partner's name and address, as well as have met the person, *before* the first date even happens. If the couple are adults living on their own, then as everyone says above: it depends on your relationship with your parents and family, your culture, religion (same or differing?) and all sorts of other variables.

But if he hasn't even introduced you to his friends, then it might be time to be concerned. At five months, you should be a full member of his entire social circle.
posted by easily confused at 1:42 PM on October 3, 2013

I also talk to my mom a couple times a week, but I like to keep her and everyone else a few dates behind. I just don't want to hear, "Hey, what happened with So-and-so?" if it all goes sideways.

For ME, it would be strange to keep quiet for 5 months. But if he doesn't talk to his parents that often, I wouldn't think much of it.
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:05 PM on October 3, 2013

As everyone has said, there is no "normal." I don't remember exactly when I told my parents about my fiance, but it was probably pretty soon after our first date. That said, he and I were friendly before and I may have mentioned him. We started dating in September and met each others' families around Christmas (we're both from the same area but met while living in a different area). Had we lived closer to family I'm sure we would have introduced to family in person sooner.
posted by radioamy at 2:14 PM on October 3, 2013

My entire family knew met and hung out with my now husband about a 3 months in to the relationship, his family didn't know me as anything other than a passing female friend of his right up until he proposed to me. I am now really good friends with all of them, and none of us, even my husband know why he waited so long to tell them.
posted by wwax at 2:21 PM on October 3, 2013

As you may have gathered, there isn't a point at which everyone tells.

For me, I'm not incredibly close to my parents - they live a long way away, so they won't encounter my boyfriend randomly. I don't really talk to them about private things, and when I do, the whole family will know two weeks later.

I have friends who have parents who absolutely freak because of religious or other conservative values. I'm not sure how my parents would react to some ethnic backgrounds either.

So when would I tell them?
- it has to last long enough that I won't be asking 'who' next time I see the extended family. I see them every few years.
- I have to be fairly certain my weird and meddling family isn't going to scare off said boyfriend
- Ideally at a convenient time, which to me means when I see them in person. This is once or twice a year.
- Also ideally before or around when we move in together

When wouldn't I tell them?
- If it was casual
- I expected it to end (e.g. grad school expiration date)
- If they were likely to freak.
posted by Ashlyth at 3:22 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm estranged from my parents now, but I wasn't from my mother when I started dating my SO. I definitely told my mom after our first date that he was The One.

My SO is not very close to his family (physical distance, reserved nature, not a "sharer" type etc.) but definitely not at all estranged -- he told his family about me within the first couple of weeks.

Talk to your boyfriend.
posted by sm1tten at 4:03 PM on October 3, 2013

Okay, OP here. Am definitely a part of his friend group at this point, so that's reassuring. I had a feeling I was overthinking this. Glad to know this is well within the range of normal on both ends.
posted by superlibby at 4:12 PM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I avoided telling my parents I was dating my now wife for a bout half a year. They had already met her, even, but I didn't introduce her as my girlfriend. I'd have tried to go longer except I didn't want to full on lie to them. I figured it would be an extra hassle if they knew.
posted by chunking express at 6:44 PM on October 3, 2013

It depends on how crazy his parents are to deal with, especially with regards to him dating. There are good reasons for some people to not tell until they absolutely have to.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:53 PM on October 3, 2013

I have three kids. Oldest son tells me all about his dating life. Second son casually mentions occasionally and regularly brings girls around to dinner like its no big deal. Youngest child, and only daughter NEVER reveals any details. All three have always been this way. My point is that the rules vary, even within families. My kids are all in their twenties, if it matters.
posted by raisingsand at 7:12 PM on October 3, 2013

My relationship with my parents was difficult for most of my 20s. I dated my first partner for almost three years, and I didn't officially tell my parents about him until after we broke up. I'm on better terms with them now, but my current relationship is now about 3-3.5 years old and they didn't know about my partner until last year.

Meanwhile, I haven't spoken to them about any of the short-term (less than a year) relationships I've had.

So it very definitely may have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with him and his parents.
posted by schroedinger at 8:18 PM on October 3, 2013

A friend didn't say a thing to their parents, who they spoke with multiple times a week, until they were ready to introduce the person they later married to them. It can be really uncomfortable to have your parents constantly trying to find out more about who you are dating, what they are like, are you getting married and giving us grandchildren yet, etc.

Other people tell their parents about every date they go on, or want to discuss relationship issues and arguments with their parents.

This has more to do with the sorts of conversations he wants to have with his parents than with you. Is there some reason why you think he should be discussing your relationship with his parents? Not bringing it up with them might just mean that he doesn't feel he needs their advice on how to handle a relationship or who he should be dating -- this is not a bad thing.
posted by yohko at 8:32 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm an Indian girl who just got engaged to a white guy and though his parents and family adore me, I have yet to introduce my SO to my parents. In my view, inserting my SO into the drama of my family--parents pushing for med school, Mom obsessed with Indian grandchildren, Dad sick and obsessed with a caste-appropriate Indian husband--would make our relationship unnecessarily difficult. I love my parents, and I appreciate their input, but I don't want them jeopardizing the good thing I have going on here.

Though I can see why a few others might think that your boyfriend is deliberately hiding you from them because he doesn't see a future with out, don't rule out the possibility that there could be a lot of drama in his family that he wants to protect you from. It's been two days since I got engaged and I'm still trying to work up the courage to change my status from "Single" to "Engaged to ___" and to tell them that there's a really special guy in my life that I think I'm seriously falling in love with.

I recommend you talk to him about it and explain why it matters to you to be on the same page, family-wise. My fiancé broached the topic with me and I explained to him that once my parents see me graduating from college and see me finish my white coat ceremony, they'll be receptive to my being married and in a relationship. Even though they have a marked preference for an Indian son-in-law, I know that they want me to be on the road to being successful and financially secure (i.e., medical school matriculation) far more than anything else. My fiancé loves me and has been incredibly patient with the cultural barriers we've faced thus far.

Best wishes. MeMail me if you have any further questions.
posted by lotusmish at 10:51 PM on October 4, 2013

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