Asking for a Friend is a weekly Sex and Relationships column hosted by Arts and Culture writer Dana Sparks and fueled by your curiosities. Click here to anonymously submit questions regarding sex, relationships and sex education.
Question: “When do you think it’s the right time for people to meet each other’s parents/families? What does it mean if your partner seems to avoid doing this?” — Next Steps
Dear Next Steps,
I’ve very recently had to deal with this as well, so this is kind of an exciting submission — remember, you’re not the only one questioning this or perhaps dealing with an avoidant partner.
I don’t believe that there is a universal “right time” to meet someone’s parents or family, but the wrong time is when they very obviously aren’t ready for it. As usual, my answer is that this is complicated. In my case, I was the avoidant one, so I feel for your partner — more on that later, though.
Firstly, you need to know where you stand on this subject and how your partner(s) feel too. There’s a multitude of things one might consider before meeting someone’s family — and some of these things might inspire a little more understanding about why your partner is avoiding this.
Try doing the following things by yourself so you know where you stand and have dedicated some thought toward articulating it.
Begin with the question, “What is the significance of my partner meeting my family, and I meeting theirs? Is it a big deal or not?” This is an important baseline question with an equally important answer. Some people keep their familial and love lives very separate, while others seem much more eager to squish these aspects together.
Of course, nothing is ever black and white — there are definitely folks out there who simply don’t concern themselves with this — but I want to try to keep this simple to start.
For me personally, it’s a pretty big deal. That brings us to the next question, “Why?”
This is where it gets a little complicated — the answer to “Why?” is often more nuanced — especially when it comes to love and sex.
My first thought is maybe someone hasn’t come out to their parents — and I don’t believe that you can rush someone to do that.
Alternatively, and sympathetically in your partner’s mindframe, there could be concerns that you are going to judge them based on their family, their family is going to judge them for their choice in partner, their family is going to judge you and so on and so forth. Lots of judgement to be feared — especially for individuals who might be a little sensitive to feeling rejection.
It could be that your partner wants to know that they can count on you to stick around if they’re going to introduce you to the part of their life that is permanent (family — usually there whether or not you want to them to be).
I could guess the reasons ‘til my fingers give out on my keyboard and I still may never be able to decode why your partner is seemingly avoiding this next step. It would be more beneficial to help you ask your partner what the deal is.
For starters, I wouldn’t actually ask, “What’s the deal?”
Make your language accessible — by this I mean that in a sensitive situation where hurt feelings and perceived judgement or confrontation are a big possibility, I would highly recommend thinking about how you’re saying something, just as much as what you’re saying.
Have you directly asked, “When do you think is a good time to meet each other’s parents?”
If you have and you get the brush off, try getting comfortable, putting a little physical space between you and your partner, and acknowledging the avoidance. I would say something like, “I’ve gotten the feeling that you might not be into this whole ‘meeting the family’ business and I would really like to talk about it so we can be on the same page.”
This way you’re using “I” statements instead of “you” statements — this might help with beginning a solutions-and-feelings-based conversation, instead of starting an argument by putting someone on the defense right away.
The idea of putting a greater amount of thought into how I say something has really facilitated a lot of growth and healing in many of my relationships; I would encourage you to try it — even outside of this specific issue you’re experiencing with your partner.
Take a deep breath. Collect your feelings on this subject and prepare. Open yourself up to the idea of potentially not hearing what you want to hear.
It’s very easy to confuse good communication — something that facilitates an exchange between two people — with giving your feelings to someone else without instructions on how to navigate them.
In fact, I’ve found that if I can’t communicate with someone well, I don’t think I would bring them home.