Dating and Parents Don't Mix. For me.
May 27, 2008 5:32 PM   Subscribe

My parents are really bugging me about dating/marriage and I need it to stop. How, short of marrying someone random, can I get them to leave me alone?

For the last few years, my parents have been putting pressure on me to get married. I haven't been in a long term relationship in years and they see this as me "not trying hard enough." If I do tell them I am seeing someone, they get all weird and don't want to talk about it, and then when it's over they go back to "not trying hard enough." I should add here that I am Indian, so culture has something to do with it, but I want to say emphatically that they've never cared about the race of someone i was dating or wanted to marry, nor are they proposing arranged marriage of any kind. They do want me to fill out a profile with some kind of matchmaker lady. Several of their friend's children have done this profile thing and been married within months, and they're happy and all that. But I don't want my parents this involved in my romantic life. I don't want them telling me that I've had no luck looking on my own and should try this. I have enough stress as it is now that my friends are getting settled in relationships and I haven't found the right person yet. I just really don't want to do it this way, and I'm not happy with them telling me I need to get serious, I'll never find anyone, getting older, all that crap. They were never like this when I was younger, always told me I should be happy with myself, don't need a man, it's my life, very against stereotype. Now I feel like if i called up in a week and said I met someone and was ready, I'd be married by October.

I don't want advice like, "just go along, you never know when you'll meet someone!" I want, please, very much help that stops this involvement of theirs. I really feel forced to do this profile and then go on dates with these people. A few times in the past I've had to email men they've written me about, because if I didn't I'd get in big fight with them that went nowhere. It's just getting worse, and I feel too old to be taking orders from my parents, especially in the one area I've kept private for years.

If I could get helpful advice on how to approach this topic with my parents without fighting, that would be great. My friends don't get this at all, and usually stereotypes come into play if I try to discuss it with them, that's why I am looking here.
posted by sweetkid to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also my brother is four years younger, gets none of this pressure, and would probably like to meet someone this way. Go figure.
posted by sweetkid at 5:39 PM on May 27, 2008

Okay, you don't mention this in the question, but do you still live with your parents? If not, I'd say do your own thing and just "yes" them to shut them up. I mean, if big confrontations don't work, then nothing will. Just pacify them and do the "yes" thing, but keep doing your own thing in the background. Some parents will not get the hint.

If you do live with them, this will be harder to do... not sure how to get around them annoying you, short of doing something dramatic like leaving the room every time they mention marriage or dating.
posted by damnjezebel at 5:44 PM on May 27, 2008

Response by poster: No, I live five hours' drive from them.
posted by sweetkid at 5:46 PM on May 27, 2008

accept that you can't really change anyone's behavior and thinking, just how you respond to them. maybe they'll change when you start doing something different, maybe not.

in this specific situation, i would tell them something like "i love you and i appreciate your concern, it means the world to me that you want me to find someone special and have what you have, but i just don't want to talk about my romantic life anymore; discussing it makes me very stressed out and is counterproductive."

then comes the really hard part: you need to completely refuse to talk about it, changing topics or even ending conversations whenever they bring it up, until they either get the hint and stop bringing it up or you get used to just shrugging it off whenever they do. it takes at least two people to have a conversation; they can't talk to you or even at you if you choose disengage from the situation.
posted by lia at 5:47 PM on May 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

An Indian friend of mine cut back communication with his parents for a few years when they really started to get on his case in his mid 20's. They backed off a bit for unknown reasons a few years before he got engaged to his now wife. Lucky him. You can passively cut back communication with your parents in this manner or give them the ultimatum - "if you want to have a relationship with me, this topic no longer gets discussed."
posted by MillMan at 5:56 PM on May 27, 2008

This AskMe might help with this question.
posted by reenum at 5:57 PM on May 27, 2008

In three easy steps:

1.) Pick up phone. Call parents.

2.) Say the following, "Mom. Dad. I want you to listen to me as hard as you mother-fucking can. Stop this. Stop it right now. You're driving me crazy. I don't want to talk about romance with you ever again. Things have gotten so bad that it's to the point where I'm deeply stressed about your meddling. Unless you want to seriously damage our family and my relationship with you both, please cease and desist."

3.) Hang up phone.
posted by wfrgms at 6:12 PM on May 27, 2008

You said it yourself: you are too old to be taking orders, even kindly well-intentioned ones, from your parents. You're an adult, and they cannot "force" you to do things that make you feel unhappy and uncomfortable unless you allow them too. But that won't be true until you accept it and act accordingly. When they ask you to get involved with a matchmaker (which does sound like a mild consensual version of arranging a marriage) or contact people your parents have dug up for you, Just. Say. No. Every time you go along or get drawn into one of these discussions, you're rewarding their inappropriate behavior.

Politely and firmly let them know you don't wish to discuss this topic further, and, as lia suggests, if they keep at it, calmly disengage. If that means summarily hanging up the phone or leaving the room/house a few times until they get the message that No Means No, then do it. They will eventually, probably sooner than later, understand that you are not going to cave. Even if there's some temporary distance or hurt feelings until they get there, that's better than constant arguments that go nowhere and repeat the same old tune. Isn't it?
If it's hard not to get drawn into arguments, try envisioning them as door-to-door salespeople who are nicely but aggressively trying to sell you something you don't want, and adopt the civil but unyielding attitude you'd take with someone like that.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:24 PM on May 27, 2008

A therapist I went to for a while told me to tell my mother, "I understand that you want to discuss (my ex). But discussing (my ex) doesn't make it better. It makes me want to avoid talking to you. And I like talking to you. So, if you discuss (my ex), I'm going to hang up the phone/leave."

My mom was upset, started making all sorts of excuses. I said, "No need to apologize. Now how are you doing?" And when she brought up my ex, I hung up the phone. She called back. I was not angry or annoyed at her. "Hello again. So, how's the weather in Chicago?" I thought it would take a whole bunch, but honestly, saying it directly and then following through without malice or delay proved I wasn't kidding. She'll talk about my ex with me now, but only if I take the lead and bring the topic up.

I've never been more afraid or felt more rude in my life. But, well, it is my life.
posted by Gucky at 6:25 PM on May 27, 2008 [8 favorites]

I asked a similar question four years ago & received some very helpful advice.
posted by invisible ink at 6:31 PM on May 27, 2008

My parents gave me some of that crap, and I ended it with a shared dosage of sarcasm and harshness.

They were bugging me about having kids, wanting grandkids:
"Well dad, I have been depositing my seed in as many random females as I can find, but they just don't seem to be taking hold for some reason."

Bugging me (and my brother) about marraige:
"Why would I want to hurry into something like that? You both knew the answer before---got married, had kids, got divorced and had to deal with the consequences. I'd rather, you know, take my time and not look at this as something casual that I can end at a whim."
posted by TomMelee at 6:32 PM on May 27, 2008

This is a gentler variation - adapt it to fit your particular situation:
"Mom & Dad, I know that you have been worried about when I will get married. And I know that the reason that you are worried is because you want me to have a happy life. I want me to have a happy life, too. But you should also realize that you did a wonderful job raising me - I am a capable and mature adult with solid values and respect for myself and for the institution of marriage. I need you to trust that raised me to know what is right for me. Getting married is important but I need to do it in my own way."

Then, whenever they try to "help" just say "Trust me. I'm taking care of myself." If they ask for details, just say "Trust me. I'm taking care of myself." If they set up date, say "No thank you. Remember, I am taking of myself." Follow with a question about something they like talk about, changing the subject. If they push you, go back to what a good job did they did in raising you as the reason why you don't need their help now.
posted by metahawk at 6:36 PM on May 27, 2008

Seconding FelliniBlank. Set your limits and stick to them, even if it means hanging up or leaving the room. They'll eventually get the idea, even though it will probably be mighty uncomfortable for you at first. This is about retraining yourself as much as your parents, but it will work in the end.
posted by Quietgal at 6:40 PM on May 27, 2008

Best answer: Similar to Gucky, when my mom brings up a topic that I don't want to discuss, I just immediately and cheerfully change the subject to something else (especially something I know she loves to talk about and won't be able to resist discussing). So we have had discussions like this:

HER: So, are you and Scodyboy thinking of having a family?
ME: Oh, we've chatted about it. So! How are the dogs?

HER: Barack Hussein Obama certainly is a Muslim-sounding name.
ME: Interesting. So! How are the dogs?

HER: Your father's prostate surgery may have some side effects, including --
posted by scody at 6:47 PM on May 27, 2008 [18 favorites]

"but I want to say emphatically that they've never cared about the race of someone i was dating or wanted to marry, nor are they proposing arranged marriage of any kind."

I could only wish I could say that about my parents. I'm only in the beginning years of the "marrying age" according to brown people standards and my parents are already on my case.

Personally it always helps to have good communication and making them aware (understand mainly) of your reasons.

Try telling them what your reservations are or what your stand is and why.

I know in my case, talking to them and telling them my reasons like I want to be financially independent before I even get into any of this helped lessen their nudges.

In the end, they're brown parents. It's in their genes.

Ms. Upal
posted by Upal at 6:50 PM on May 27, 2008

your parents want you to get married because they care about you, and to them, marriage equals security. they probably don't feel like they've done their job until they have you safely ensconced in your husband's arms, and they think you are undermining their role as parents by stubbornly remaining unmarried.

that said, you absolutely have the right to want them to back the hell off.

there is probably no way to win this one. one thing you might do is talk to a therapist about learning strategies for distancing yourself from them. one thing that seems clear is that you still acutely feel a need to please them and win their approval, or else this wouldn't bother you so much. those aren't wrong feelings, but you'll have to learn how to deal with them in this situation if you're going to emerge with your sanity.

i like metahawk's suggestion: keep repeating that you want to take care of yourself.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:54 PM on May 27, 2008

Totally depends on your family dynamic. Both the nice ("how are the dogs?") and not nice (*click*) have already been offered.

It's difficult to do this gracefully, but at some point, adult children need to convey to their parents that if they continue to be annoying, they get cut out of the loop. Maybe partially, where they don't get a genuine version of you or your life - or totally, where they don't get to participate at all. They raised you to get out of their hair and be your own person - and this decision is part of that process, whether they realize it or not.

If it helps any, I'm also from an immigrant stock, and I've tried very hard to open up to some members of my family. They absolutely refuse to accept some aspects of my life, and the lives of other relatives, and the hard truth is they wind up getting sidelined from many important milestones, decisions, events, etc. Sucks, but that's the choice they've made, consciously or otherwise.

You don't get to pick your family, but you do get to choose the degree to which you include them in your life. I get the feeling your folks mean well, and are carrying some heavy cultural baggage (at least from the Western perspective), so I understand the motivation to be nice to them about it.

It is doable. You'll know when it isn't, because if it escalates to a full on ultimatum, there are tons of stories of parents choosing to remove themselves from outcomes they don't like. That's their loss - but you're along way from that, yet. Best of luck.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 7:21 PM on May 27, 2008

Many moons ago, my mother-in-law began hassling me about grandchildren, something which did not please me. My wife, being subtle, took my mother-in-law to one side and said, "mother, I really want kids. If you keep hassling rodgerd he'll be likely to dig his heels in, and then I won't get them. Knock it off." And she did.

Can you enlist your brother to take you parents aside and say, "you know, I'd like to see my sister married, but you know how she is. The more you mention it, the less likely it is. Could you back off so I can see my sis hooked up?"
posted by rodgerd at 9:12 PM on May 27, 2008

Let them know you have been smart enough to not make the same mistake as many others. Hell, give 'em my story...married by 23 divorced before 32.
posted by illek at 9:36 PM on May 27, 2008

Back in the day, I went with "your hassling me is not going to make me find my life partner and fall deeply in love any faster, you know." It worked for me, but my parents try to be logical and cool about that kind of stuff, so all they needed was a reminder that things aren't quite as easy as they were making it sound.
posted by salvia at 11:00 PM on May 27, 2008

I'm Indian, and of course this stuff never really ended until I got married. What ended up making their marriage obsession manageable was to explain the context to them: "Mom and Dad, you were raised in a culture where parents have a say in these decisions, but I was not. If you didn't want to have an American kid, you shouldn't have come here. But you did, so now you need to understand the implications of your choice. I'm happy you made that decision, not least because it means my future marital plans, if any, are my business." Then repeat this education to them every time they bring it up, and eventually they'll hear you.

Now my parents just remind me they want me to go back to school and be a doctor.
posted by anildash at 11:29 PM on May 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Before my wife met me, when she wasn't even seeing anyone, her grandmother kept bugging her, "when are you going to have kids?"

Eventually she snapped and told her, "If you're not too picky about who the father is, nine months, give or take."

Grandma never mentioned it again.

For my wife's mom however, it took hanging up, calling her out on little asides, and a single heated conversation. I don't think my wife's mom will ever emotionally understand why anyone wouldn't want to have kids - but she now respects those boundaries.

Everybody's lit on the essential truth - you have to decide on your boundaries, and then enforce them calmly, consistently, and mercilessly. You can't change how they feel, you can only change how you react to the situation. Lay down the ground rules and then stick to them.

It might seem mean hanging up on your mom if she starts talking about hooking you up after you've already told her not to discuss it, but I guarantee you, she'll learn pretty quick. Even if it takes a few hang-ups.
posted by canine epigram at 9:42 AM on May 28, 2008

Not Indian but my younger brothers and I never waver from 'the throw off'. We NEVER talk about ourselves. But always kind of bait and switch by bringing up each other when we need to relief from all the... love. (In a mutually beneficial way of course!) Work as a team and always keep each other in the loop, is all I can say.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 10:40 AM on May 28, 2008

My mom emails me profiles of guys off of Indian matrimonial sites constantly. I have a separate email address that's pretty much a big garbage can for all of her forwards.

I hate to recommend being distant from them, but it has worked for me.
posted by onepapertiger at 12:27 PM on May 28, 2008

My parents used to do this to me. It was a forbidden topic really. Then over time reality hit and my siblings marriages started to show visible cracks. I know they wanted me to get married because then "someone" would take care of me, but that security is really just a parent's fantasy. After a while my parents realized that I was more responsible than they'd given me credit for, that I took are of myself okay, and they never questioned me again. Just last year my dad actually told me that he felt I showed better intelligence, relationship skills and respect for myself by staying unmarried rather than going through three or four husbands (as one of my siblings did). I was pretty surprised when he said that, actually. He said, "You probably have far more respect for marriage than the people who take it lightly." I was happy but shocked he finally considered that perspective.

As other people have said, you just need to accept that you are an adult and establish your own boundaries. Be calm but firm and don't let people cross them. Getting it into your head that you're an adult and not a child is the only way they're going to accept you as an adult too. In time your parents might just get it. Just don't be bullied. Don't placate them. Live your own life and don't let anyone else dictate your own priorities or morals. Life is short, live it the way that feels right to you.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:32 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

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