Dear Captain Awkward,
So there’s this guy, let’s call him James. We have been friends for several years and in this, our last year of medical school, have slowly gone from drunken making-out, to friends with benefits, to casually dating. It has been exciting and awesome, but we were both more or less expecting this part of our relationship to be temporary since we assumed we would be moving to different cities for residency. We agreed it would have been foolish to enter the residency match as a couple, since we were just starting to explore the attraction back when that decision had to be made.
Against all odds and without any attempts to manipulate the system, we matched in the same city, my hometown. We’re not sure yet if we are going to keep dating – the removal of a definite end date means we now have to consider long-term compatibility in a way we haven’t before (God, I sound so clinical. I have emotions, I swear). I don’t want to spend time in a relationship that doesn’t have at least the potential to be forever, so we have started talking about what we both want in life. I feel good about all of this. Worst-case scenario we keep having fun until graduation then move to the new city as really good friends.
The problem is that I have never mentioned this relationship to my mother and I’m starting to think I need to, sooner rather than later. As far as she knows, James is my good friend who I am happy is moving to our city. Both of my sisters are fully briefed on the situation, but my mother (1) is somewhat traditional and (2) can’t keep her mouth shut, so telling her something means telling my grandmother, aunts, and cousins as well. I’m a generally private person and originally didn’t want my loosely-defined, probably temporary relationship to be a general topic of discussion. I had been planning to fill her in after James and I made our decision, assuming the decision was to keep dating. However, I’m worried my mom is going to feel hurt if I wait much longer. The situation is complicated by the fact that James and I are planning an apartment-hunting trip (for separate apartments) in the near future and he will be staying with me in my parents’ home for several days.
The way I see it, the options are:
1) Say nothing to Mom, James and I decide it makes more sense to just be friends, extended family is none the wiser and I avoid any misplaced pity for a relationship that didn’t work out.
2) Say nothing to Mom, James and I decide to keep dating but only after the apartment-hunting trip. I’m worried that telling her we’ve been dating for months after having him stay in our home in the guise of a friend will make her feel lied to and poison her against him.
3) Tell Mom now that we’ve been dating, explaining that things are a bit up in the air while we evaluate the relationship. This seems like the mature thing to do. I think her feelings still may be hurt that I haven’t confided in her before now, and I have some (small) concern that she would try to disinvite him from staying at our house for the sake of propriety (and if she doesn’t, that things would be awkward).
What do you think?
Almost-doctor with an almost-boyfriend
Your conservative mom doesn’t want to know who you’re fucking, Almost-Doctor. That information is on a strictly need-to-know basis, and when she needs to know is when you say the words “My boyfriend James will be here for Thanksgiving!” and really even then you can let the “We like fucking!” part be silent and allow her to maintain plausible deniability about it. She may in fact put two-and-two together and realize the handsome “friend” from medical school has now been promoted to “gentleman caller” and that perhaps something was brewing way back when he crashed on your couch, so if she asks you about it you say “Of course we liked each other and were thinking about dating back then, but there was so much going on with school and relocating, it wasn’t the right time.” Or your sisters might spill the beans to her, in which case, “Sure, we dated in medical school, but we waited to become serious/decided we were better as friends.”
In other words, “traditional” parents, parents who flip out of they don’t hear every detail of your love life in real time, and parents who broadcast everything to the family set themselves up to have the truth doled out in stages. If things get a little weird, your mantra is “I told you as soon as there was something definite to tell.” Also, don’t have sex in her house and make a show of sleeping very, very separately – it’s just good manners.
There has been a rash of letters recently around the subject of trying to control how a romantic relationship is perceived by others or how it affects the wider social group, and it’s causing me to ask “What’s all this, then?”
What I’m getting from these letters (and your letter) is a ton of anxiety that’s directed away from the question of “Is this relationship happening/working/will it work/do we like each other” and into these side-questions of “What will other people think?” and “How can I stage-manage and control every aspect of this?”
I don’t really have an answer to why, and any advice I have boils down to “You must chill.” If you’re feeling solid and happy about your relationship (whatever form it ends up taking), carry that into how you interact with your family about it. If this anxiety of “What will my family think” is really about you and James and how you’d like to lock things down and spell them out more than you have before you bring him home? That’s a talk you need to have with James.
Loving someone is an adventure and adventures carry risk and there’s no way to be perfect.
What Cowboys Know About Love
Last night on the sports channel
I watched the rodeo.
Those cowboys have it right;
the best and the beauty of it.
You cannot win, so you ride
for as long as you can and enjoy it.
When you dismount,
whether it be on your own or not,
it won’t look pretty. You’ll limp off.
But you’ll feel good; your heart
will be pounding like it never has,
and walking away, one crazy step
after another, your ears will ring
with the loud approval
of those who never felt so good.