Dating with your parents in mind
June 14, 2021 11:53 AM   Subscribe

I am preoccupied with finding a partner whose family of origin compliments my own. This is a difficult task as my parents are a little unusual. Have you navigated this before?

My parents are white hippies: liberal-minded vegetarian Hindu-Christians who don't drink, smoke, or use recreational drugs. They have always been very isolated due to these lifestyle choices, and my dad in particular has a chip on his shoulder about he and my mom being "strangers in a strange land." A few years ago they moved to a conservative retirement community out in the desert and are now more isolated than ever.

As their only child I have always felt a need to find them people who will accept and embrace them without judgement. They will unconditionally welcome a son or daughter in law of any race or gender identity. It's just the other stuff, so as of late this has translated into me feeling extra anxious about finding a partner from a similar family culture. But this is so, so difficult. I would definitely like a vegetarian spouse who doesn't smoke or use weed/other recreational drugs, but I am willing to budge on the drinking, and probably on the diet stuff a bit, too. These happen to be the two things my dad is most sensitive to! My mom cares more about smoking as it aggravates health issues that cause her a lot of grief.

Obviously I cannot totally divine the personalities or lifestyles of a person's family from their Bumble or Hinge profile. Sometimes photos give a clue, but that's rare, and it's not like I can ping a potential match and be like, "hey, you're cute, can my parents meet your parents first please?" No! I'm already having a hard enough time finding people who don't smoke weed. This is giving me grief on stupid levels and I don't like it.

I know deep down that it is not my responsibility to date on behalf of my parents and that to try to do so is unfair to myself and my future partner. But I love my folks. I want them to feel connected and included in my life when I finally get married.

How can I take a more balanced approach to this self-made problem?
posted by Hermione Granger to Human Relations (40 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: *complements or compliments? I have lost all sense of the difference, please forgive me
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:02 PM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

You're jumping the guns of at least three different footraces here. You need to find someone who you like, who also likes you, who is interested in the same kinds of commitment you are. If you focus on that, what do you get? Do you even want to be dating right now? Is marriage a priority for you? Because focusing this hard on something you can't check for seems like it might be an avoidance behavior.

Also, what are your actual expectations for your hypothetical in-laws? Do you expect that they will move to live near enough to your parents to socialize with them? Because that's... not standard. Do you regularly throw family events where everyone's in-laws are invited? That's... not super standard either. It's much more likely that your parents and your in-laws will need to be sort of sociable at a wedding and otherwise might not see each other at all. What is your vision here?
posted by restless_nomad at 12:03 PM on June 14, 2021 [49 favorites]

It sounds a bit as though you're more worried about your parents' judgement of your potential partner than the opposite. As long as they respect your parents' choices, does it really matter to you what your parnter eats/drinks/smokes? If smoke aggravates your mom's health condition, the obvious answer is don't smoke around her; when they come for dinner, make a nice vegetarian meal. Lots of people who enjoy a drink/and or a smoke will curtail their usage of substances around their inlaws! Will your parents take a dim view of someone who smokes/drinks/eats meat when they're not around?
posted by kate4914 at 12:04 PM on June 14, 2021 [36 favorites]

How close do you live you your parents and how frequently do you hang out with them? And how much do you really want/need to share with them? I'm pretty sure my parents had NO IDEA whether my late husband smoked weed or not. Would a spouse who doesn't smoke or drink around your parents be acceptable?

In all honesty, I think finding a vegetarian, non-drug-using, teetotal partner sounds relatively easy compared to finding a partner's who is willing to let their partner's parents be all up in their business like this.
posted by mskyle at 12:04 PM on June 14, 2021 [49 favorites]

Honestly, I don't think it will be too difficult to find potential partners who are teetotaling nonsmoking vegetarians. Just put in your profile that you are a liberal/progressive teetotaling nonsmoking vegetarian looking for another liberal/progressive teetotaling nonsmoking vegetarian. I've certainly seen plenty of profiles that say things like that, along with quite a few "NO TRUMPERS" and the like. However, as others have pointed out, your parents' lives and choices are theirs, not yours. It's way more important for you to find someone who is a good fit with you than with your parents.
posted by slkinsey at 12:05 PM on June 14, 2021 [10 favorites]

More info please:
Are looking for someone who would accept your parents or are your parents unlikely to accept your partner if they were too different from them?

Plenty of adults do not follow their parents lifestyle. I would not assume that your hypothetical partner would reject your parents just bc their parents do not follow the same lifestyle. While it would be delightful to have the parents + in-laws be BFFs, sounds like a stretch to make that a requirement in your relationship. A huge stretch. Are you sure your parents would not be perfectly content with YOU being happy in a good relationship?
posted by Neekee at 12:06 PM on June 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

I think if you want to help your parents, you need to address the root cause of their isolation. Trying to find them a friend by marrying someone who will like them is a very roundabout solution and not fair to you or your future partner.

Are they isolated by choice? Do they avoid anyone who drinks, smokes, or eats meat? Why did they move to a conservative retirement community rather than someplace more open? Are they open to coexisting with people who don't share their exact beliefs? I think helping them expand their own peer social circles would be better for them (and you, and your future spouse) than trying to marry someone specifically to be their friend.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 12:06 PM on June 14, 2021 [34 favorites]

Putting aside whether you're jumping the gun (I think you know you are), I know plenty of people who drink or smoke weed and couldn't care less whether other people do or not. Some carnivores are dicks about it, but I actually see more judgment flowing from vegetarians to carnivores than vice versa. So I'm a little puzzled. Are you using these particular traits as proxies for other character traits you're having trouble articulating?
posted by praemunire at 12:08 PM on June 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

It might make it easier to shift your focus to dating people who are going to be flexible, kind and accepting of the people in your life. They can eat meat etc away from your folks, as others are saying, yes? But sounds like you really want people who are going to build a feeling of community with you and your family, even if you don't see your parents too often. This is not a weird thing to want in much of the world. But maybe look to their personal qualities and values rather than just their habits.
posted by ojocaliente at 12:09 PM on June 14, 2021 [8 favorites]

My husband and I had significantly different backgrounds. Our parents are very very different in their lifestyles. However, what we all have in common is a healthy respect for giving loved ones a lot of leeway in how they conduct themselves. We've all come to love one another, despite differences in religion, politics, economic status, etc. We love each other, we are good to each other, and our parents are grateful that we are happy.

Also, my parents are/were alcoholics. I almost never drink. So that's not an accurate predictor.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:12 PM on June 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

You’ve already gotten a lot of great comments about how to look inside yourself about what is driving this unusual in white culture desire you’ve expressed (and I’m sure you’ll receive more.) I ultimately agree that this is a question that is well worth looking deeper into, but for variety I want to comment from a South Asian perspective. Having parents meet each other prior to the first date, wanting families to be compatible, and having potential marriage be a foreground possibility prior to even meeting in person, these things would not seem weird if you were on instead of Bumble. Do you identify as Hindu-Christian as well? I have no idea how many if any white folks use shaadi or what kind of response you’d get from the South Asian user base, but maybe it’s worth a shot for you.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 12:20 PM on June 14, 2021 [12 favorites]

As their only child I have always felt a need to find them people who will accept and embrace them without judgement.

Obviously I cannot totally divine the personalities or lifestyles of a person's family from their Bumble or Hinge profile. Sometimes photos give a clue, but that's rare, and it's not like I can ping a potential match and be like, "hey, you're cute, can my parents meet your parents first please?"

Wait wait wait. You're trying to marry someone whose PARENTS will be FRIENDS with your PARENTS? That's not a thing you can do. Oh sure, it is a thing that happens, but that doesn't mean it's a thing you can MAKE happen.

Hon if your parents, who are fully fledged adults, have not managed to make any friends for themselves for basically your entire life, have you considered that maybe they actually prefer it that way?

I think the word for this is codependence, and maybe the sort of thing you wanna hash out with a professional, because as you say, you can see that it's neither rational nor happy-making.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:22 PM on June 14, 2021 [60 favorites]

(I would note that having in-laws approve of each other is not odd in many cultures, but it sounds like you want to basically matchmake some BFFs for your parents, and that, even in a lot of very family-oriented marriage cultures, is basically luck/icing on the cake.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:24 PM on June 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

Over the course of my dating experience, two questions hit on this better than any other:

-what cartoons did you like as a kid?
-what was your favorite breakfast cereal?

If your parents didn't have cable, or didn't let you watch the crass programming on Nickelodeon, we probably had fundamentally different upbringings.

If your parents didn't let you eat sugared cereal, they're probably liberal-minded vegetarian Hindu-Christians, and we definitely had fundamentally different upbringings. Worse, you probably like your parents and will want to spend time with them, and worse yet, will probably want to understand why I don't have a good relationship with my parents.

It got to the point where watching exclusively PBS programming and never having had a pop tart was a dead giveaway for the fundamental incompatibilities that would later arise, so I learned to ask early and cut often.
posted by phunniemee at 12:34 PM on June 14, 2021 [23 favorites]

I think it's pretty unusual for in-laws to become BFFs but it's also pretty easy to figure out if your potential in-laws are the kind of people who bring drama or tolerance. My wife's parents and my parents are culturally very different in a lot of ways, but they seem to get along okay. They don't live in the same state so they see each other MAYBE twice a year, but they have found at least a couple of superficial things in common such that we can all have dinner together and they will leave thinking it was a fabulous time. Which is usually the best you can hope for.
posted by AndrewInDC at 12:49 PM on June 14, 2021

Hypothetical inlaws would not need to be similar to your parents in order to get along with them. (Unless the actual problem is potential judgement of the new inlaws by your parents.) For example my parents drink but would get along with your parents fine.

I actually get where this is coming from, my parents didn’t/don’t have many friends and sometimes I find myself pushing them to hang out with my friends’ parents who live in their city. But I try not to do this, because my parents are grownups and just because I wouldn’t want their social life doesn’t mean it’s a problem for them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:09 PM on June 14, 2021

Response by poster: Ah!

Ok. So. On reflection, this is really about my dad and his hangups about who he and my mom are. In being judged and ostracized for most of his life, he has become judgmental and self-isolating. This is his choice. I don't know about my mom.

I am worried that my dad will feel alienated if my partner's family is too different. I think that even if that family is fabulous and welcoming and accepting etc, he will still feel alienated if they drink or eat meat. You are all correct! That is on him! He needs to process that baggage private IF that is ever the case. And it might be! I don't know! I just want to find the right person for me!

This has all been about my dad doing the judging and then putting it back on himself as the victim.

That is a dynamic for me to sort out with a therapist, before I date someone seriously again.

Thank you all for your help on this. I know it's stupid, but it really has been on my mind for a few months and I need to kick it out.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:15 PM on June 14, 2021 [55 favorites]

Good perspectives above. I'm curious if you've had specific issues with this in the past — partners that have not meshed with your parents in particularly difficult ways? Your question suggests to me that this sensitivity to how your parents will get along with a future partner may stem from previous experiences.

This stood out to me, too "[Drugs and diet] happen to be the two things my dad is most sensitive to!"

What form does your dad's sensitivity take? Is it just that he doesn't want meat or drugs around, or is it that when the topics come up he's triggered by them and it turns into a whole thing? Your focus on your parents suggests to me the latter, and that then suggests a much deeper and more problematic entwinement that is worth examining on its own.

ETA: so glad you saw this more clearly!
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:18 PM on June 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

But I love my folks. I want them to feel connected and included in my life when I finally get married.

This is, at the root of it, your main concern, yes? It's a reasonable desire to have - I can't imagine dating someone who made my parents feel excluded.

But if this is the main concern, like some of the comments upthread, I think you're a bit off in assuming this means you can only date people who had identical upbringings/parents. Most people make an effort to be friendly with their in-laws and likewise, the parents of whomever you date will mostly likely make an effort to get along with your parents.

I do get where you're coming from - my parents are an adjacent shade of off-beat to your parents, and when they met my partner's parents I was a little nervous beforehand. But my anxiety was totally unnecessary. And you know why? Because all those involved are generally kind if flawed people, and that's generally all you need for a friendly familial relationship to develop. So my main advice would be to focus on dating kind people -not that kind people can't have mean parents, but it's generally a good sign.

Edit: saw your update after posting - regardless, generally people want to make a good first impression. Your hypothetical partner could in the future tell his parents "Hey, for the first meeting the H's parents it would be best if nobody drank or ate meat." They might find it odd, but plenty of people would be willing to roll with it. Which is to say, sure, talk to a therapist about your feelings around this, but I don't see this as a reason to put off dating all together.
posted by coffeecat at 1:20 PM on June 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

In hindsight, my ex-wife married someone who she thought was like her parents and who would get along with her parents. I was. I did. I liked her parents more than she did. We are now divorced.

I am not a teetotaling vegetarian, but I would 100% get along with your parents because I respect people's right to make their own choices. Their discipline to stick with their choice in the face of pressure to change is also admirable. I also know a lot of people, hippies and not hippies who get paranoid and withdrawn as they get older.

And, fwiw, teetotaling, non-smokers (of anything), vegetarians can be found everywhere or anywhere. I have been to hundreds of concerts, mostly Grateful Dead and their offshoots, and you would be surprised at how many people who go to shows regularly don't drink or smoke. There is a community of people who are on the wagon called Wharf Rats who meet up at shows.

Put in your profile what you are seeking. Or what you are avoiding. You will be surprised at the response level.
posted by AugustWest at 1:31 PM on June 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

I see your update so this is really just in support:

I know deep down that it is not my responsibility to date on behalf of my parents and that to try to do so is unfair to myself and my future partner.

Do you know that? Because your actions and question here are actually speaking louder than these words. If your criteria include that they fit your parents' lifestyle to a T, then...that's your requirement and you don't have to budge, you just have to screen your dates hard and maybe look for communities that align with those things like abstinence communities.

How can I take a more balanced approach to this self-made problem?

Well one of the things I find really interesting in your question is that you are kind of making a you-and-your-parents shaped thing, and trying to find a them-and-their-parents shaped thing. Because this actually doesn't make sense:

If I find someone who doesn't do weed, smoke, drink, eat meat, and who is Hindu-Christian, our parents will get along. Like I'm vegetarian, don't smoke or do weed, am pretty fluid about religion, and my parents are...not hippies. They were. But they horrify their hippie friends now and have broken up with them. Which also speaks to change over time, there are no guarantees that even if everyone gets along on Day One, that they will on Day 1297.

I'm going to encourage you to reframe this in terms of values, as above. When you find someone you love, who you value, who values you, and with whom you can see building a life together because you share your values...a) I think it won't matter and b) I think it will generally work out. Because you value family harmony and you'll probably want someone who does as well.

A few more thoughts --

I was raised by a narcissist who wanted me to find a son-in-law that made her feel special and to birth children who would be a credit to her as a grandmother. I wonder how much of your concern is based truly in a love between parents and child, and how much of it is based in some family expectations that you will be The Good Daughter, The Ray Of Sunshine, The Provider Of Joy. Be wary!

When I did meet my husband of 27 years, he was a monk. I am not a Christian, never mind a Catholic, I am also bisexual and a lot of things. In all the major decisions of our lives, how to treat people, how to manage our Earth's resources, what to prioritize, what to teach our children, and when to take our first child off life support...we have been aligned almost without words.

If I'd had a list, he would have failed the list before I met him. (And in fact he did, it was only through a friend's weirdness that he got my phone number.) I think it's absolutely okay to have dealbreakers like don't eat meat or don't date monks, but just remember that you're looking for a person - not a puzzle piece, not a solution, not a prophet, but a partner to you.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:34 PM on June 14, 2021 [32 favorites]

Your potential partner may not 1) have parents 2) have emotionally close parents 3) have physically close parents 4) have parents that are anything like them. Hell, I don’t speak with half of my family because they are abusive and most of those have horrible views I won’t be around.

Your partner should be about you and your wants and support and mutual love. A partner who is supportive of YOU helping your parents find their circle is a wonderful thing to look for. But don’t make your relationship about your parents.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:56 PM on June 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

I've been with Mr Corpse for 25 years, and our parents have been in the same city at the same time maybe three times in all those years. I love my in-laws, and everyone got along just fine when we went on a vacation together, but I don't think it's something you should plan your life around.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:58 PM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I was raised by a narcissist who wanted me to find a son-in-law that made her feel special and to birth children who would be a credit to her as a grandmother.

Yeah, I just wanted to chime in here, I was also raised by a narcissist who did her best to make it seem like the most important thing about my choices was how they affected HER. And my other parent was an alcoholic which is its own kind of self-centeredness. He was always feeling persecuted and would often be a grump about it. I grew up being fairly independent because I found their desires/needs/wants smothering and the most important thing for me was really having people who had the same type of relationship with their parents as I did.

For example, I was in one LTR with a guy whose parents expected him home for Thanksgiving, Xmas and Easter. My parents were divorced and so I had two families to visit over Wintertime holidays (I did not celebrate Easter) and his family was just not very yielding or understanding about how we had to rotate among three families, or maybe even see no one some of those times.

Partly this was him not making his own choices, but partly it was just a different family culture. My current partner has a mom who lives in AZ, we are in New England, he goes to see his Mom maybe once a year and I Zoom or Skype with her but her lifestyle isn't that interesting to me living in a suburban retirement community, so I visit less frequently. And this is acceptable. Before my parents died he'd come down and see my dad over his birthday but winter holidays were usually our own.

Part of forming adult relationships is having some degree of differentiation from your family-of-origin, particularly if they have made some choices (or lack of choices) which take them further away from the family you had when you were a kid and lived with them. Parents grow and change as well and it's not just your job to accommodate them, in a healthy relationship, they should be accommodating you as well. And yes to what other people have been saying: some families have those "everyone's parents become friends with each other" dynamics but in my experience that has been the exception and not the rule.
posted by jessamyn at 1:59 PM on June 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

My husband was raised by abject spelt-eating, homeopathic, commune-living hippies and I was raised eating sugary cereals and going to the mall and probably watching too much tv, but it isn’t very important in our day to day adult lives and relationship, more than anything it amuses me that we have such similar senses of humor and outlooks on life despite having such completely different childhoods. I kinda think it points to some parenting decisions (amount of time watching tv, going to McDonalds) as being very unlikely to have very lasting effects on your kids when they grow up. We all grow up and become adults eventually and then you have to form your own preferences.
If you date with the expectation that you and your future partner had identical childhoods and upbringings you really are limiting your choices in very unfortunate ways, but it sounds like you already know that. One of the compelling reasons to find a life partner is so that you have someone to make a family with when your parents aren’t around anymore, so unless you are trying to find a partner who perfectly replicates say, your dad, it shouldn’t be such a concern.
posted by cakelite at 2:03 PM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

It is reasonable of you to require that your partner love and accept your parents, warts and all, if you are to share life with that person. That was a requirement for me, and my parents are far from perfect. Beyond that, as others point out, it is too much to expect or aim for. Your partner's parents are too many degrees removed from that situation to reasonably be factored in.
posted by namesarehard at 2:21 PM on June 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know how many people who answered here above are only children too, who are maintaining a reasonably good relationship with their parents.
I am an only child and I feel your pain, or rather: I have firsthand experience with the kind of conundrum you are describing here.
The urge not to smash the proverbial porcelain in that relationship can be absurdly deep-seated;
On top of that, one tends to internalize one's parents' expectations of a future partner, so it becomes a merry mix of what type of person one thinks one likes and what type of person one believes one knows they like;
There's no sibling to dilute the attention;
And intellectualizing doesn't reduce the pressure very much - this is seated in one's soul, not in one's thinky brain.

So what you (in my view) need to do is to allow for a slowly-getting-used-to-certain-thoughts-process to happen. It is a statistical likelihood that you at one point will be ending up with just your partner and that your parents will have passed away. You should train yourself trying to imagine a partner who is a good fit for you, and you alone. That's the kind of responsibility you would have to aim for: responsibility for your future selves (yours, your partner's). Everything else is secondary, and I think there is actually no other good way than to try to embrace this particular perspective.
posted by Namlit at 2:43 PM on June 14, 2021 [9 favorites]

I don't think this has been touched on a lot yet in this thread, but . . .

I mean, a ton of people become who they are at least partly in reaction to who their parents are. There's a darn good chance that the next 5 or 10 cute progressive vegetarians you meet will be that way even though - or because - their parents are chain-smoking gun-toting Republican-voting conservative evangelical Christians.

Adding the extra criteria that they should be progressive non-smoking vegetarians because they were raised that way and their parents are that way and will therefore maybe get along with your parents seems . . . well, potentially adding a lot of unrealistic barriers to a relationship.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:09 PM on June 14, 2021 [7 favorites]

I realize I maybe came across as too harsh above. For what it's worth, I am someone who really struggles to balance my family responsibilities with a romantic relationship, and has in fact lost relationships because of it. My mother had a traumatic experience of losing a relative when his new spouse disapproved of/disliked our entire family. Now she has straight-up panic attacks when she perceives ANY loss of contact due to someone's new partner.

So I can definitely relate to the fear that making a choice that makes you very happy might well cause your parent's WHOLE DEAL to implode. Especially as our parents age, and we start moving into more of a caretaker role overall. We do start to feel a bit like, well, their parents, worrying about whether they have enough birthday parties to go to and whether they're going to get invited to the big dance. I have occasionally thought that it would be best if I just didn't bother trying to date anyone until my mother is gone (and she's rather young so, you know, I'd be entering the dating market when I'm 65 or 70 years old). It is not unlike a divorced parent who decides not to date until all the children are wait wait, until the grandkids are grown. And then whoops, they're quite alone after decades and decades, feeling like they have missed out.

You are responsible for communicating to your parents that you love and accept them. You are responsible for finding a partner who meets your needs, and if "gets along with your parents" is a need, then that's cool! But your parents are responsible for their internal lives. You aren't responsible for building a loving and accepting community FOR your parents, when they seem resistant to building one for themselves.

Actually I wonder how much of this is maybe about your own longing for a community, if you grew up with parents who were isolated/isolating and judgmental. Might be something to look into...
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:19 PM on June 14, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: It seems like your dad has a story he tells himself: he is a stranger in a strange land. It seems like, based on what you are saying, he makes decisions that perpetuate that story (moving to a community of folks more conservative than he is). It also seems like he uses this positioning to get attention (from you, at least). And now, this story has become such an element of your family life that you are considering how you can date to argue against/ameliorate his feelings of isolation and persecution.

This isn't a great dynamic. Your dad seems to be using this framing as a way to get attention. I wonder if it might be helpful to take a big step back and think about the boundaries you have with your dad and if you are behaving in other ways that take into account far too much his concerns and sensitivities and feelings on this. It's not your job to make your dad feel less like a stranger in a strange land, and definitely not to the extent that it somehow directs your choice of dating partner.

Another thing that might be helpful to think about: do you also see yourself as a stranger in a strange land? Are you looking for a partner who also is? Are you (perhaps unconsciously) looking to replicate your parents' marriage in your own dating relationships?

It's really good that you are asking these questions because I think you are probably learning an awful lot from the answers.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:04 PM on June 14, 2021 [12 favorites]

I think it’s great you plan to talk to someone about this.

It’s not horrible to want your parents to think highly of a future spouse. Earning approval validates our own judgement in such a vital decision and means we found someone important enough to earn our parents’ respect AND fall in love with us.

I’m Indian and parental approval can be a big deal in our culture. I’ve seen friends and cousins place an outsized emphasis (in my humble opinion at least) in what their parents thought of a future spouse. A number of those marriages have unfortunately resulted in divorce.

Parents often want the best for their kids but this can lead to the exact opposite if parents don’t realize their kids are not exact clones of themselves. What a parent thinks is the best may actually make the kid miserable.

Think about your Dad. Was your paternal Grandpa a vegetarian Hindu Christian? If your Dad followed exactly what his Dad thought was the best thing to do, he would have been miserable himself.

Becoming a parent changes people and in the midst of wanting the best for your child, it’s easy to forget our own struggles with parents. Or we think, this is different, of course we’re right and our parents/children are wrong.

I’m not a parent and never been married. These are just some thoughts from what I’ve seen from a culture that values parental approval.
posted by mundo at 4:45 PM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I saw your update and want to offer this tidbit: my dad loves my spouse, and vice versa. They are as different as can be in terms of professions, backgrounds, religions, and politics. But they are kindred spirits and it’s fun to see their friendship. You might end up with a partner (or partner’s family) who isn’t a natural match for your dad’s personality, but I don’t think the issue is lifestyle/habits. Everything you’ve shared is a choice your dad has made for himself that doesn’t require others’ agreement or participation. A person doesn’t need to share his faith, diet, or view of drugs/alcohol in order to get along with, like, and respect him. And, though it sounds like he might struggle with this, he can build relationships with atheist omnivores who drink.
posted by theotherdurassister at 5:03 PM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

My folks raised me on my local equivalent of PBS and bran cereal - I'm a film studies professor with a focus on pop culture and horror now, and have four different kinds of imported American cereals in my pantry. There are a lot of things I am willing to be flexible on - vegetarian at the in law's wouldn't bother me, but every single doctor I see makes sure I'm not trying to be vegetarian again because there's a whole bunch of ways that is detrimental to me. Religion is similar - my family is atheist but I'd happily do religious things with in laws. But trying to make my folks mesh with religious vegetarians who are righteous about it? It's probably gonna end badly. Events and whatnot, sure, but holidays or whatever.

For me a FAR bigger issue would be the enmeshed relationship you have with them and the expectation that a partner will adhere to it. I got out of a fifteen year enmeshed in law situation and I still have issues springing from my experiences with judgemental, controlling, and occasionally cruel treatment. And it made me unhappy and awful on top of that. I am happy with my relationship with my family but it is simultaneously less and more than my boyfriend's, for example. I am much more open with my family but they are not daily parts of my life and I don't hang out with them a lot, or regularly; he is less open about certain things but regularly sees and hangs out with them. So we are slowly working out how we will approach that when we do introductions etc. What neither of us expect is for the other to take our approach - I don't demand he be as open with his parents as I am and he doesn't demand I start having regular dinners with my siblings, and we definitely don't expect the other to become part of our relationship with our own family.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:29 PM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm still not entirely sure what the problem is here, I guess? Like, I guess where you live being an old hippie is a problem, but I am from Old Hippie Region(ish) and those are usually some of the nicest, most easygoing people to hang out with. Maybe you or they are in a red state and they're the only hippies there, I don't know, but usually those sorts seem the most accepting to me of anyone.

About all I could figure out was from this paragraph:

I would definitely like a vegetarian spouse who doesn't smoke or use weed/other recreational drugs, but I am willing to budge on the drinking, and probably on the diet stuff a bit, too. These happen to be the two things my dad is most sensitive to! My mom cares more about smoking as it aggravates health issues that cause her a lot of grief.

Do your parents specifically object (as in, CANNOT live and let live) to anyone who drinks or occasionally eats meat? It sounds like you agree with those overall preferences, but I'm unclear as to whether or not your dad will lose his shit if he finds out your SO has a beer every once in a while. Is it a HUGE problem if people have different preferences from them? Are they not accepting of people in general, or just lose their minds over specific things? Will it cause a family war if you don't marry someone just like dear old Dad?

However, you need to pick a dude based on what works for you, not what works for your parents. Unless you're the sort who is always at her mom's house and see them every weekend and your future husband is really marrying your parents too (which uh...that's other problems and expectations I can't even start with), you need to find someone who you can work with, and then hopefully gets along with your parents too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:34 PM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If I were trying to take a more balanced approach to this, the questions I'd ask would be:

Do your parents have friends? Are they only friends with vegetarians?

Are they open to new people that share their lifestyle? Or at this point are they mostly closed to new people?

What would your dad say if he knew you were struggling with this? Would he say ¨It would be a betrayal of your family and your good values if you married someone who drinks and smokes¨? Or would he say "I'm sorry you feel that burden, of course you should marry someone for yourself, we will learn to love anyone who you love"? Would it be acceptable to bring the topic up with him?

It could also be interesting to look into the internalization of parental narratives (in this case that a person's personal eating habits, etc, could be thought of as "being judgemental towards your parents". I mean it's beyond reasonable to want whatever you want from a partner, be that vegetarian or non-smoker or whatever; but it sounds like it's your dad's narrative about what these lifestyle choices mean has gotten into your own thinking).
posted by hungrytiger at 11:52 PM on June 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

Others have said this but honestly I just feel like this is not realistic. I have ended up with someone who has lots of lifestyle differences from me. And in spite of, or maybe because of our differences, we are incredibly happy and in love after almost 10 years together. If I had to also calculate in her mother's lifestyle and politics though - we'd be doomed (her mom is a passive Trump supporter)!

Being with someone who is different from me is actually a benefit! In some ways, she's helped me chill out and take things less hard. In other ways, she's pushed me to challenge myself about stuff I would never question if left to my own devices. Stuff like pot smoking or alcohol or meat eating - well some of that has been hard to negotiate (I too am a vegetarian who doesn't smoke), but for the most part this stuff has fallen away as we get at the deeper issues. (Think about it: WHY is your partner's substance use important? Do you want someone who is present? Attentive? Prioritizes their physical health? Try to get to the WHY, and the surface expression of these things, or what you're projecting onto these things, is less important)

Picking a partner who respects your parents, is kind to your parents, is considerate of your parents: realistic and worthy goals. Picking a partner who's parents will share the rather unusual personal history and choices of your parents: impossible.
posted by latkes at 8:35 AM on June 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

Friend, what you're describing is common to the majority of south asian kids. We marry to please our parents. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I can appreciate your care and concern and think it's great that you realize that your marriage is more than just you and your partner. Of course you can list all of these things in a dating app and see who shakes out or use similar avenues like a matchmaker, friends of friends etc. Of course, I would suggest having 3-8 gentle casual and formal conversations with your parents to find out what is truly most important to them. They likely know your same struggles as they have found themselves so isolated. But I'll give you some practical advise. Fudge it a little. Find out what's non negotiable in your and your partner's life. Then, like the rest of us people from parent-pleasing cultures, just tell your parents what they want to hear. When you visit with them, you can keep vegetarian or don't drink when they're around.
posted by ColdIcedT at 8:04 AM on June 16, 2021

My parents are white hippies: liberal-minded vegetarian Hindu-Christians who don't drink, smoke, or use recreational drugs.

No, this is just no. You don't get to be white and "Hindu-Christian" -- not on a continent that actively perpetrates hate crimes on actual Indian bodies.

I can't even digest this question. I'm of actual Hindu descent, I have lived in Canada all my life, and I have never been embraced for my Hindu heritage, so I'm not understanding at all where your family's entitlement to be accepted as "pure Hindu-Christians like themselves" is coming from. Because I have seen so many shades of this whites-gone-brown, I'm going to state this outright: your parents are just masking their actual issues under "Hinduism" and that's probably been a HUGE turn-off in your quest for a mate willing to be complicit in this form of identity confusion at the family unit level.

How can I take a more balanced approach to this self-made problem?

Try educating yourself with a more balanced, less white-washed perspective on what it is your parents are actually doing by misusing Indian culture to veil their attachment issues. White Christian people hurt Indian kids, you know, especially those in pursuit of the "purest" form of Indian. Please cease your search for the perfect blank slate container to take on their unresolved attachment-related transgenerational debts, and seek innovative ways to individuate that doesn't require the ongoing colonization and misappropriation of Indian cultures. Do some actual detective work and unearth where this emotional poverty is really coming from. Once you can see yourself for yourself, it might become much easier to attract a suitable mate with authentic compatibility. What others have suggested about reading up on narcissist parenting would be an excellent place to start.
posted by human ecologist at 9:37 AM on June 16, 2021 [6 favorites]

The OP probably mentioned their parents' faith because it's why their Dad (at least in his mind) feels different and isolated. It's also likely the same faith they were raised. One's childhood can influence the way we view the world today even in terms of a faith we may no longer believe in.
posted by mundo at 3:38 PM on June 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Mundo has it. It's an aspect of their life that further alienates them from possibly like minded people. I 100% agree that my parents appropriated their faith and that whatever ostracization they experience for being Hindu frankly isn't on the radar of reasonable. It is not something I can discuss with them as it is a deeply, DEEPLY important part of who they are.

FWIW I would be well matched with someone who attends a Universal Unitarian church. This is something my parents would be okay with.
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:32 PM on July 9, 2021

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