#732: “My daughter’s partner ‘doesn’t fit in with our family’.”

Lady Sybil and Branson the Chauffeur from Downton Abbey

Lady Sybil and Branson the Chauffeur from Downton Abbey

Dear Captain Awkward,

I just read your response to the question of how a person can deal with disapproving parents in the relationship area. It was a very good response. I am now asking as a PARENT what we are to do when our daughter is involved with a person we do not approve of. Our main complaint is his lack of manners, a lack of confidence, and a lack of personal motivation. Our daughter is a beautiful 32 year old professional, and part owner of a successful small business that we, her parents built. Her boyfriend is 36, a nice unmotivated man who seems to us to be looking for an easy deal. They plan to move in together soon. He just doesn’t fit in with our family. We doubt that he could really ever provide for our daughter, and hate to see her waste time waiting for him to kick in. We have been very patient with our daughter in the past, always hoping she would find a strong confident man for a life mate. Should we just say nothing and keep hoping that this fairly new relationship will soon come to a graceful end?

Dear Parent,

It doesn’t sound like this man is mistreating your daughter. It sounds like your main concerns with him are about class, career, and/or economic standing (“doesn’t fit in with our family” “doubt that he could ever really provide for her,” “manners,” “unmotivated,” etc.) It sounds like she provides just fine for herself (and that you, by building a business, have put her in a great position to provide for herself), which leaves her free to seek out other priorities in a partner.

If things aren’t meant to be between them, trust that your daughter will figure that out for herself in time. At thirty-two, she is the sole decider of her love life, and even if she were making a mistake, it’s her mistake to make. I think that trying to separate her from the man she loves will only alienate her from you. So, what do you lose by being kind to him?

252 comments
  1. Would it be better if an overly ambitious captain of industry swept her off of her feet, and the business away from all of you?

    • JenniferP said:
    • G said:

      At least he’d be a strong confident man!

    • Clarry said:

      Or how about: Would it be better if your daughter never found the sort of ambitious, confident, motivated, well-mannered man you approve of and instead remained lonely until she became bitter with no one to turn to except her parents on whom she relied on totally for companionship and all support? At that point, with no husband that meets with your approval, she might have to devote herself never to moving away either physically or emotionally and become you aide in your old age … oh wait, maybe that was the plan?

      • rydra_wong said:

        I feel like this veers a bit too close to implying (I hope inadvertently) that the only alternative to getting married is becoming a lonely, embittered spinster who has no friends or any kind of human interaction except with her parents.

        I entirely agree that trying to block your adult children from having the relationships they want is a bad move!

        But “It could be worse, what if she NEVER GETS MARRIED AT ALL?” *horror movie organ chords* doesn’t seem like the best way to take the argument.

        • TO_Ont said:

          Would it be better it she married an ‘ambitious’, ‘confident’ man who she wasn’t happy around? Who stressed her out or depressed her or wasn’t a particularly good friend to her?

          • MsM said:

            Or who expected her to set her ambitions aside so that his could take priority? The breadwinner/homemaker marriage model does have its advantages, and doesn’t have to be gender-based, provided both people involved agree that’s what they want.

        • Cactus said:

          Wasn’t that supposed to be one of the most terrifying parts of It’s a Wonderful Life? “If you didn’t exist, Mary would be working at…THE LIBRARY!”

          • Jane said:

            OOOOOH NOOOOO!

        • Kathleen Turner Overdrive said:

          Word.

      • Hahahahah, yeah, this was me both in the “my parents wish I’d found somebody better” and in the “yes, I ended up alone and bitter with nobody but my mom for support” categories.

        But…to be fair, my ex wasn’t so good at taking care of himself in adult ways, I can’t blame the people who were unthrilled at my being with him, and it was better that I ended up alone than stressed out supporting a guy who did nothing but stay at home playing video games.

        • emmers said:

          I feel like “does nothing but stay at home playing video games” is the genderbent “sits on the couch eating bonbons.” Both are a major problem if indeed they’re what’s happening, in the absence of a contribution to the household….but if the stay-at-home partner is contributing, then eh.

          • Buttermilk said:

            I too married someone who played video games that much. He stayed up late AND woke up early to play. It’s real.

  2. MK said:

    How would the LW feel if her daughter met a millionaire and his family considered her a gold-digger, simply because she wasn’t from the same socioeconomic background? Look, if this man is unemployed or underemployed and uninterested in changing that, I can understand the concern. But is sounds more like he has a low-paying job and isn’t ambitious. Also, while her daughter may be wonderful, it sounds as if she had a lot of advantages growing up; are they sure he is unmotivated instead of doing the best with what he got? Finally, the man the daughter chooses doesn’t have to fit in with the family, because if they become life partners, they will make a family of their own. He just has to fit with the daughter.

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      Hell, even if he’s underemployed or unemployed, daughter might be just fine with that – maybe they’ll plan to have kids and have him stay at home, or maybe she wants to support him doing something creative that won’t pay for itself. It doesn’t matter who in the partnership is “providing”. If the two of them, together, can provide for their household, they’re doing pretty well for themselves in this economy.

      • MK said:

        Sure, I am not saying it would be a red flag; just that I would understand the parent’s concern in that case. As it is, it looks like plain old-fashioned snobbery to me.

      • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

        The flip side of this is that you don’t have to wait until you’re in full employment – preferably with own house and car – before you are ‘worthy’ of a long-term partner, or that your dating pool while un/under employed is limited to people who are also struggling. But it often *feels* as if one shouldn’t impose on potential partners if one’s needs are greater (than average, than you’re comfortable with, than your partner).

    • ralucahippie said:

      Also “ambitious” can mean a lot of different things to different people. Like : right now I am trying to grow a small community NGO/ social enterprise. It’s very tiny and we have very limited funds (to the extent that everyone, myself included, are working on a freelance basis and doing our own taxes). It pays enough to live on, but definitely not enough to do things like save for a house.
      My ambition : to stick with it long term and grow it into the kind of charity /social enterprise that can make a substantial difference in communities and create jobs that pay a living wage for everyone we employ.
      I have been told I’m “not ambitious” because my plan isn’t instead “leave it in the next few months, get a better paying private sector job”.

      • Wow, for real, you’ve been getting comments like that? People are judgmental and weird.
        Starting your own thing has always seemed more ambitious than getting a random job, but that’s just me. I’ve been working for NGOs or doing my own thing during most of my career as well.

        What NGO field are you in? Sounds exciting and I hope your dream comes true!

    • Melanie Chorisglossa said:

      “Finally, the man the daughter chooses doesn’t have to fit in with the family, because if they become life partners, they will make a family of their own. He just has to fit with the daughter.”

      Just quoting for truth, here.

      And, it being early days yet, I suspect that the contributions LW’s intended could make to the larger family ecosystem are still to be discovered.

      Such things, I can say from experience (“foreign” spouse to my heroic hubby), don’t tend to make themselves known in an atmosphere of judgement and criticism. Rather, when the partnership has stabilized, and partner feels more confidence in his intended’s family, small things show up and become large contributors to overall happiness. My MIL (bless her memory) had her doubts because I was so clearly “not from here”, but we eventually discovered shared interests that included resurrecting her neglected sewing machine. (Which, darling thing, is still going strong, so DH hasn’t yet had the chance to buy shiney! new! expensive! replacement.)

      As I write this, I hear my mind suggest in the voice of the LW, “That’s all right for *you*, because your husband is providing for you.” I agree, he’s providing for me – but this, too, is a decision that he and I have made, together, with no reference to someone else’s approval. LW, I’m pleased that you’ve turned to Captain Awkward for advice, because it shows you’re looking for solutions. I hope you can look forward to the new ways your daughter and her partner, should he become the lifemate she’s seeking, go about rewriting the social contract, to support their own happiness.

      • Jynnan_Tonnyx said:

        *applause* Well said!

    • I think the problem would actually be if he was taking financial advantage, but that’s really hard to define. Lots and lots of people cannot be employed because of disabilities, or because they receive some sort of benefit that means they would be worse off in work, or because they have huge employment gaps and large swathes of the world are still in recession. Or, hey, maybe they have some sort employment they can’t tell nice respectable people about.

      I’m sure there are people who sponge off partners and basically treat them like another parent. I’ve met one, and in fact he was variably employed but invariably unwilling to wash up his own damn plates. That, I think, is the bigger red flag.

      • I can say that this is definitely true. I’m moderately disabled and require very specific, very expensive medical equipment. Thankfully Medicaid covers all of this equipment. I’m a reasonably competent individual, so I could probably some kind of job should I actively pursue one, but said imaginary job would in no way cover my necessary med supplies.

  3. Got Gingham said:

    There are no examples as to the boyfriend’s lack of motivation/confidence/manners.

    Maybe he didn’t get up from his seat when LW entered the room, or do a half-curtsey etc, or use wrong salad plate for bread roll?

    Maybe he was clumsy so looked unconfident when riding barefoot on the back of the stallion and the tear in his jodphurs made him somewhat shy back at the hunting club? His red blazer wrinkled a tad?

    And his lack of self-motivation might be his lack of wanting to endear himself to the LW in a routine of consummate charm—that would soon run out anyway, were he a true cad.

    Or maybe the guy *is* a slob, lucked out by being in the right place at the right time, daughter–intelligent as she might be–could be naïvely dismissing obvious red flags for a deviant sociopath she met at the bus stop and they all wind up with some weirdo in the basement telling each other I told you so.

    But based on ‘tone’ of LW, I would imagine there is some wiggle room for improvement, if she’d let him wriggle. Sounds like an oppressive atmosphere to try and fit into. Perhaps open the french doors to allow the breeze/to blow the stink off him?

  4. Charlene said:

    Would you rather she marry she loves, or someone you love? Please don’t be so selfish as to pick the latter.

    • Having been in the position of having to win over my partner’s family when they had very similar sentiments about me, I know how much it sucks when the complex equation of intertwined needs and wants and capabilities of two people within a relationship is stripped down to class and prosperity issues. It took a long time for my SO’s family to realise that a humble upbringing and a late start in getting my shit together were not the dealbreakers they initially appeared to be.

  5. SilliYack said:

    I can’t help but wonder if LW may also be picking up on some sort of Darth Vader vibe, and kind of mixing up that feeling with the more concrete concerns (regardless of validity) of partner’s ability as a provider. It’s a very important distinction to make, speaking from personal experience. I think we dismissed legit insecurities about a person taking advantage of our loved one, because our concerns felt/sounded unfair to a partner of a different socio-economic background. But that partner also gradually reveled zerself to be a manipulative and controlling Voldemort-type who cleverly marketed zerself as one who needed saving and didn’t need to/wasn’t able to pitch in any realm of the relationship, not just financial.
    This may be nothing like your situation, in which case, the Captain is right on! But if the evil bees start swarming, how does a parent know the difference or take that into account?

    • NameChange said:

      The problem is, as another poster mentioned, that the LW gives no examples. We have no idea why the LW thinks the boyfriend is looking for an easy deal or doesn’t fit in. They don’t seem to be weirded out by him, just disapproving that he isn’t like them.

      Your idea that they may be picking up on something subtle is definitely possible, but without more information, it’s not something we can really address. Plus, what if the parents are the Vadery ones, looking for a way to control their daughter’s life as an adult?

    • JenniferP said:

      Darth Vader can be very charming and it can be hard to put your finger on what, exactly, is wrong when he’s around. Look for:

      -Daughter is always apologizing, even though she hasn’t done anything wrong.
      -Daughter seems exhausted and brittle all the time. Jumpy, confused, self-blaming (“I’m so silly/stupid/clumsy”), run down…
      -Daughter defers to him in all things including things she is an expert in and he is not, starts every sentence with ‘we’…
      -Daughter becomes suddenly unreliable about plans, canceling things at the last minute…

      If things like this are going on, then the question is, “you don’t seem like yourself lately…?” and giving her an opening (a lot of openings) to talk.

      • The Awe Ritual said:

        Oh, my golly, if I’d only seen (and been in a psychological position to hear) this when I was a teenager!

        …but then I wouldn’t have my wonderful daughter. Still, do promulgate this!

      • This! LW, if this kind of thing is going on, worry about a potential Darth.

        If, instead, the man appears to be a nice human being and your daughter happy, but he has appalling table manners, it might be worth saying to your daughter “look, I just, can you ask Bob to please chew with his mouth closed and not clip his nails at dinner, please, it’s so upsetting and it’s getting in the way of getting to know him.” Anything else (that is, anything that doesn’t affect you, such as his employment status), isn’t really your business.

        • Terrified Gardener said:

          Yes this. My parents don’t like my partner. Since we got married they’ve stopped criticising him to me but before I got a lot of complaints about him being lazy and unambitious. I did sometimes worry that being with him was the wrong thing to do but in the end it hurt my relationship with my parents much more than my relationship with my partner.

          If you’re genuinely concerned the best thing you can do is make space for your loved one to talk about their relationship honestly, not pressure them and put them on the defensive. That’s what my friends do and I know I can talk things over when there’s a problem rather than facing a barrage of I Told You So.

          • Or there is always the approach of criticizing everything the partner does, including how she eats bacon, and telling your child not to marry partner and that you are going to boycott the wedding. That’s the way to do it if you want your child to spend as little time as possible with you because your child’s partner wants nothing to do with you and if your child has to choose between spending Christmas with his partner or Christmas with two critical drunks, guess which one he will pick?

        • eightysixed said:

          Just a comment about table manners – both my mother and my brother smack their lips loudly when they chew. My dad doesn’t do this, and I presume I did this as a younger child but would guess that the time I lived with a family abroad when I was 13 was when I stopped. (I have vivid memories of them asking me why Americans ate like cows)

          It irks me to no end that they do this. But they do. And when I was younger and less diplomatic I definitely made an issue of it. The only place that ended up was in a conversation about how I was rude and aggressive (which no doubt, my approach came off that way). My mother has a high powered job, so however much this bothers me – it’s not impacted her professional life nor her personal life (she’s still married to my father, a man from a family where this is not done). While it may just seem like a small comment on table manners….beware…. This often gets at a lot more issues than just a case of “hey when you play loud music after midnight it’s hard for me to go to sleep”.

          Because while it may seem like just a case of manners, if the reason why the parents aren’t able to connect to the boyfriend is just because of some iffy table manners that don’t bother the daughter – then fixing the table manners won’t change the problem.

          • slythwolf said:

            My ex used to chew loudly with his mouth open. What happened when I asked him to please try to stop doing that was, he pointedly did it louder. Awkward Army, if you make a reasonable request and someone mockingly does the opposite, do not hang out with that person anymore.

          • Heh, my ex did that. The final straw was when we were food shopping and he kept taking stuff like cookies off the shelves, opening it, eating the contents and then handing the empty packet to the cashier to scan, with disgusting hands covered in crumbs and saliva. I asked him to please wait until after paying before stuffing his face because the cashier wasn’t paid enough to handle that shit, and he started calling me nagging and controlling, then withdrew a (completely unrelated) promise he’d made me that was really important to me. So I dumped his ass and walked out. Never regretted that.

    • Copcher said:

      I was once with a Darth Vader who also happened to be fairly unmotivated and from a different socioeconomic status and background from my family. If my parents had made any comments about that person “not fitting in with the family,” it would definitely have made me feel a need to stay in the relationship out of loyalty or something. My mother did once make a comment about not liking the fact that I frequently seemed upset after talking on the phone or hanging out with this individual, but that was it.

      LW, if your daughter’s boyfriend actually is an awful person with a ton of red flags, I don’t think your response should be any different from what the Captain originally said. Be supportive of her and her relationship so that she can come to you if she ever needs to, and continue to be supportive even if she doesn’t go to you for explicit support. And if the relationship ever ends (for any reason), please don’t tell her that you knew he was bad news. When I finally dropped my Vader, the last thing I wanted to hear was a comment with an implication from the people who were supposedly supporting me that they were better at judging partners for me than I was. Luckily, very few people (and no one in my family) ever said that.

      • Cactus said:

        I was once with a Darth Vader who also happened to be fairly unmotivated and from a different socioeconomic status and background from my family. If my parents had made any comments about that person “not fitting in with the family,” it would definitely have made me feel a need to stay in the relationship out of loyalty or something.

        This is exactly what happened when I was with my first boyfriend. The worst person I have ever met. It’s not something I’d want anyone else to deal with.

      • This.

        When I split up with a partner, and had to move back to live with my family, my mother said “Oh good! I never liked him anyway.”

        We had split up by mutual agreement due to Circumstances but were still best friends and chatted on the phone every day. A few months later, when Circumstances changed, we got back together. Which meant that he and I got a new place together.

        In the end, after 4 years we did separate – again with mutual agreement – and remained friends for many more years. He came to my wedding – and encountered my mother again.

        So, LW, whatever you may think about this man, expressing that view can be hurtful. And may drive your daughter away from you. Providing a supportive and welcoming environment where she can open up to you if she wishes, is much the best thing to do.

      • My mother once apparently sat my entire family down and told them that if they said ONE WORD against the boyfriend they hated, I was likely to kick over the traces and elope with him, so they were to KEEP THEIR MOUTHS SHUT NO MATTER WHAT, and they were to be PERFECTLY AT ALL TIMES 100% polite.

        Reader, I broke up with him.

        • Your mother, in that situation, was the best.

          • Copcher said:

            So much best in that situation.

          • She was! It wasn’t till years later that anyone told me about Mom’s Giant Come-To-Jesus-Meeting. Enough time had passed that I could be grateful to her, instead of angry.

          • At dinner at our house, with my husband’s parents and my mother, the topic came up of my boyfriend prior to husband, who was someone my mother did not approve of. (Not personally, but she knew, after having lived in Saudi Arabia for five years, that relationships between Arabic Muslim men and Christian Western women were often not successful.)

            Husband’s mother asked, “What did you say?”

            My mother answered, “Oh, I have always found it best not to get involved in my childrens’ love lives.”

            Husband’s mother, who, just three weeks before, had told husband I was a gold digger and he shouldn’t marry me and they were not coming to the wedding and how could husband be such a Bad Son, nodded vigorously and said, “I have always felt the same way.”

            And the devil put on a sweater.

        • Anon said:

          My mother didn’t think my first husband was a good match. She actually referred to him to her friends as “Anon’s first husband” while we were engaged. She didn’t breathe a word of this to me until a few months after I told her we were divorcing. I never had a clue. She was unfailingly welcoming to him all the time, and would ask how he was doing when we were on the phone. Our marriage was a mistake that ended after 2 years. If we had faced opposition, we probably would have stayed together longer.

        • Catwood said:

          One of my rare instances of wisdom in my teenage years was making nice to my older sister’s boyfriend, who was not the right guy for a host of reasons including, not the fact that he was from a poorer family than ours, but that he constantly used that disparity to browbeat my sister, guilt her, and win arguments.

          When they finally broke up, I joined in my parents’ (hidden from sister) jubilation and they said, “We thought you LIKED him!” and I said, “Never ever did, but I saw how she stopped talking about him to you at all when you expressed concerns. So I shut up and she kept talking to me about him and never got defensive.”

          Honestly, you’d think I was smart about people from that example. YOU WOULD BE WRONG. But I’m still so glad I rolled well on my wisdom check that one time!

        • Zooey Glass said:

          That reminds me of the genius of my best friend’s parents. When she was a teenager she got into a serious relationship with a much older man. Her parents were naturally not thrilled at the thought of their 14-year-old being with a man in his twenties (and rightly so, he was skeevy). However, they bit their tongues and smilingly invited him for dinner. He bailed soon after. Sometimes all it takes to deter a skeevy Darth is the realisation that it’s going to be hard to detach you from your Team You.

          • ReanaZ said:

            “Sometimes all it takes to deter a skeevy Darth is the realisation that it’s going to be hard to detach you from your Team You.”

            I’d never thought of it quite like that, but it’s a great point.

          • I LOVE THIS SO MUCH.

            If only we all had origin families like this.

          • Whoa. That’s one where I might just have called the police. In the US, that is illegal.

          • Luminous said:

            I have run out of nesting, so this is in response to The Gold Digger’s comment: “Whoa. That’s one where I might just have called the police. In the US, that is illegal.”

            This is sort of a tangent, sorry. I know that it is illegal in the US for a 20-year-old to engage in sexual activities with a 14-year-old, but I don’t think it is illegal for them to just be in a dating relationship without sexual activities. It’s a bad idea, but might not exactly be illegal.

            I think that the parents in that situation handed it perfectly well the way that they did. In my interpretation, it sounds like the parents got involved when their daughter’s relationship was serious, but hopefully not yet a sexual relationship. Calling the police at that point not only might have been unnecessary (nothing illegal was happening yet), but it might have escalated things out of their control if their daughter chose to take her boyfriend’s side. The daughter might have become angry with her parents for getting her boyfriend in trouble, started to hide her relationships from her parents, or even run away with her boyfriend, all of which would have left her much more vulnerable to exploitation from older men.

            Instead, by inviting him over and getting to know him, the parents were sending a clear message of “We are a part of our daughter’s life, so if you try anything inappropriate with her, we’ll find out about it and take action then.” The guy clearly got the message and left, which serves two important purposes: first, it proves that his intentions were not honorable, and second, it allows the 14-year-old to direct her anger and grief towards her ex-boyfriend who dumped her, instead of blaming her parents for breaking them up.

          • Yeah, you’re right – not illegal to date.

            But I don’t know that I could have handled it as calmly as those parents, although it is a brilliant strategy!

        • Leonine said:

          Oh yeah. My mom and I made no secret that we didn’t like my sister’s Darth Boyfriend until the *minute* she said they were thinking about getting married. Then we both froze like the proverbial deer in the proverbial headlights. “Huh,” I said. “Oh,” said Mom. And then we nodded and maintained politely interested but carefully neutral expressions every time the subject came up, and we didn’t say another word against him. She dumped him a few months later.

        • Light37 said:

          Your mom rocks like the world’s most awesome rocking chair.

      • Saira Ali said:

        I was with a Darth Vader for a long time and all my parents’ bullshit about him not having ambition and just not being ‘our kind’ made me cling even harder to him. Right up until he actually raped me. And by then, I was so enmeshed in his horrible head game that it took me another six months to get out, six months where I was being abused and couldn’t tell anyone because I had enough mental energy and fortitude to either work on getting out, or listen to my parents’ we told you so bullshit.

        So LW, if this guy is actually bad news (and I doubt he is, but just in case there is something real there that didn’t come through in your letter) complaining about his socioeconomic status, his class markers, his not being “your kind” is going to make things a whole lot worse.

      • the last thing I wanted to hear was a comment with an implication from the people who were supposedly supporting me that they were better at judging partners for me than I was.

        Ugh, yeah. After Crappy Ex, my mom let me know she thought he was wrong for me all along. Thanks heaps, Mom.

      • I married mine, and stayed with him when I wanted to leave, for these reasons. My mum said things like “he’s not intelligent enough for you” meaning wasn’t university educated (ironically HILARIOUS from a woman who told me I should dumb down because ‘men don’t like intelligent women’) and “you’re just so different” meaning our family was upper/middle and his was working class. So I dismissed my red flags cos I was determined not to be a snob like my mother.

        LW, you want to know how he wasn’t good enough for me? Not his manners, his social class, his education or his ability to fit in with my insular family. It was when he spent all of his money on drink. It was when he stole from me then gaslighted me to make me think I was going crazy with pregnancy hormones. It was when I had to work a job where I was on my feet on a sloping floor until I was 8 months pregnant with SPD screaming at me, because we needed the money to pay bills and god knows HE wasn’t contributing anything. And when I was heavily pregnant, I found out he’d been screwing around, but I didn’t leave him because I was terrified to go back to my parents and have them throw it in my face. It wasn’t until my son was nearly a year old that I had the guts to end it.

        Please, LW, understand that your daughter is a grown woman and you have to let her make her own mistakes. And that is with the MASSIVE GREAT IF IF IF this is indeed a mistake. Your behaviour now will only push her away and make it harder to leave if she needs to. IF. You never know, he might just be a bit different to you, and that could turn out pretty interesting if you let it.

  6. erica said:

    It’s so weird how some parents are okay at understanding in the abstract how it’s wrong to try to control your child when your guidance is no longer needed…but then, when it comes to their own adult kid, they absolutely cannot get it through their heads that the same rules still apply, that their kid is an adult now and doesn’t need or want their advice anymore.

    It really just amazes me how the LW’s opening line was about how they’d read this other post of yours about how uncool it is when parents try to control their adult children, and *agreed* with what you said, and then her question was “But my daughter’s doing something I really think is a bad idea. How do I make her stop?”

    • rydra_wong said:

      Eh, I think it’s pretty common for humans of all ages to sometimes need to hear someone external telling them what, on some level, they already know.

      Because our brains are so often going, “Yes, I know that theoretically you should never such-and-such, but my situation is TOTALLY AN EXCEPTION AND DIFFERENT, right?”

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      I think it can come from a place of “I have an outside perspective and I see things they don’t – how do I get them to see that?” Sometimes it’s really hard to deal with the fact that often you can’t, even if you’re right – they have to live the experience to know for themselves.

  7. boutet said:

    I doubt I would ‘fit in’ with a group of people who were quietly judging my worth based on nebulous “confidence” and “motivation.”

    Somehow the phrase “We have been very patient with our daughter in the past, always hoping she would find a strong confident man for a life mate. ” is rubbing me the wrong way and I can’t seem to articulate exactly why. Maybe it’s that they’ve been “patient” waiting for her to change rather than being accepting of her as she is. Like there’s some goal she’s supposed to reach and everyone is just waiting for her to get there before she can be happy with her chosen partner.

    • Myrin said:

      The “patient” thing is one way this phrase rubs me the wrong way, the other is that “strong confident man for a life mate” seems decidely animal kingdom to me. I imagine the boyfriend needing to face a three-headed stag head-on and carrying the body home to LW’s daughter to actually earn approval.

      • Majikkani_Hand said:

        Agreed on the complete, complete sketchiness of the “strong confident man” thing. URRRGH. I really can’t stand that whole “traditional roles” thing (although if they work for you then awesome!) and it’s very likely, LW, that your daughter isn’t looking for what you’re looking for, and if you ask her to please you in that regard, you might end up with a daughter you can show off, but that’s eaten alive inside. There’s more than one way to be happy and self-supporting.

        I’d probably run this test by yourself, as well, just because of that sort-of-scary line above: would you be alright with an economically secure son of yours selecting a woman who wasn’t looking to move up the job ladder, but who treated him well? If so, why is this situation any different?

        • Leonine said:

          Yeah. I’m also feeling like “strong confident man” might be code for “an impressive specimen who will raise our status when we introduce him at social gatherings.” The “manners” thing might be part of that code. Does he chew with his mouth open and double dip the crudité, or is he just not as charming in company as you’d like? Does he drop f-bombs over brunch, or is it just that the occasional “ain’t” makes itself felt? The former issues are legit, but the latter are not matters of etiquette and are not open to polite comment or review. LW, I understand the desire for a picture perfect (or even “normal” family), but I gotta say, I don’t see this working out in a satisfactory way for you. There’s a strong streak of this “only highly qualified applicants need apply” outlook in my Uncle Patriarch’s family; he is estranged from one of his three adult daughters, on thin ice with a second, and keeps the third in a state of fawning obeisance to him that threatens her relationship with the rest of the family. It’s ugly and sad. As long as this guy isn’t a Darth Boyfriend, you might consider whether creating that perfect picture–if you even could–would be worth the stress on you and on your relationship with your daughter.

      • Nanani said:

        “We’ve been very patient while she goes through this funny phase of making her own decisions about her own life”
        is the implied thinking here, whether LW realised it or not.

        • storyranger said:

          YES YES THIS. Sheesh some parents just don’t get that when the “rebellious” phase has been going on for over a decade, it’s not rebellion, it’s their actual personality and internal values that guess what! aren’t yours because your kid is an adult and they get to decide their own life principles.

          • I wish someone could have taught this to my mother 😦

            Perfect advice.

          • strophoria said:

            Lets print this phrase out on laminated notecards so my family can keep them in their wallets and refer to them as necessary

    • Jenny Islander said:

      Yes, their “patience” seems to imply that her marriage is an expectation of her, by them, which she is supposed to fulfill.

      NOPE.

      • Jenny Islander said:

        Or permanent boyfriend-age, or whatever.

        Also if she already has an income, why is he supposed to become the breadwinner?

        • storyranger said:

          Because women shouldn’t work once married, they need to stay home and incubate babies and raise them to be strong, confident boyfriends for someone else’s daughters.
          *heavy sarcasm endeth here*

          • MsM said:

            You say it sarcastically, but I seriously wonder if they expect Daughter’s future husband to take over her share of the business. If so, no wonder she’s looking for someone who has zero interest in cutting her out of her own career.

    • Andrew Glasgow said:

      Yeah that sounds like code for “she has consistently dated people we don’t approve of, but we’ve been very patient waiting for her to start dating people we do approve of.”

      • Og said:

        It also carries this weird implication that they’re very closely monitoring her actions in this regard (and perhaps writing them down on scorecards).

    • TO_Ont said:

      Yeah, ‘we have been very patient with her’ is what you say about a misbehaving child or about an employee who isn’t fulfilling their job duties or about someone who is treating you badly.

      It very much implies that you think you have a right to be otherwise, and that you are being somehow generous by not cracking down more forcefully.

      • boutet said:

        Yes! And a hidden hint/threat of “and we needn’t be so patient in the future”

  8. Agree with Captain: Why does your daughter need her husband to support her? If she were a man and fell for a “nice unmotivated” woman, would that be as much of a problem for you? If not, maybe you should reexamine your innate gender biases and consider whether your daughter perhaps does not share them.
    This letter reminds me so much of my mother. When my sister started dating her husband, my mom could not adjust to the fact that he wasn’t the wealthy, strong-jawed country-club type that she had always seen sweeping my sister off her feet (instead he was a middle-class sometimes combative penniless musician). For years she simply pretended he didn’t exist. When they got married she couldn’t do that any more, but she has never been able to bring herself to like him, or to shake the idea that he’s after my sister’s money. For the record, husband went back to school, got a PhD, and is now a hot-shot professor, and my sister is now a stay-at-home mom with a nice house and a purebred puppy. And yet my mom still can’t forgive him for not initially fitting her preconceived notions of what my sister’s husband should be. The only result of her continued disapproval is that her relationship with my sister has completely soured and family reunions are now tense and fraught. If you asked her, she would probably tell you that her “instinct” told her he was wrong for my sister, and that “a mother always knows” or whatever…but he’s been on the scene for fifteen years, he’s not going anywhere. The rest of us like him and most importantly, he is the partner my sister wants and she is happy with him. My mother, who is acting out of the impulse of wanting my sister to be happy, has been the most consistent source of my sister’s unhappiness for the past decade and a half. LW, you might want to think about whether forcing your daughter to choose between your ideals and the person she loves is a position you really want to put yourself in.

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      It may not be a gender thing. We don’t know if this is, “My daughter ‘needs’ a man who can out-earn her/ be a good support spouse so she can finally make admiral,” or, “While it’s nice to think we’re above money, I shudder to think what will happen if my daughter got hit by a car and could not earn a living for both o0f them, and this young man is congenitally unable even try to show up for work on time and unstoned.” I want so much more information from the LW!

      • JenniferP said:

        I think if there were actual *dirt* on the dude, the LW would have used it to make the case.

      • I think it was the language the LW used–saying “We doubt that he could really ever provide for our daughter”–that made me think it was a conventional gender expectations thing. Totally agree that both spouses should be able to care for each other in the event that one is incapacitated, but that wasn’t the reading I was getting from LW’s language.

        • mskyle said:

          But also, for all we know, the daughter subscribes to those conventional gender expectations and will be disappointed if this guy doesn’t eventually “provide for” her. I’ve seen this happen with very successful women – I used to work with a doctor who was aggressively pressuring her husband to go to law school because she didn’t want to seem like the dominant one in the relationship (and I think he was probably out-earning her even without the law degree…). I have another friend who only got engaged after her boyfriend started pursuing a second masters degree and was embarrassed that he had a job that paid hourly.

          • Oh yeah, that’s totally possible. But my opinion would be that, in that case, it’s between the daughter and her boyfriend–it’s not really any of the mom’s business how they navigate that within their relationship.

    • wondering said:

      2nded dunaganagain: I’m a woman, I’m also the “ambitious, motivated” one. My male partner has had perfectly fine, albeit low-paying jobs and also had a couple of years off for creative pursuits. We are now in the early years of starting a business that he is primarily responsible for, in his area of expertise/hobby.

      Certain of my family members are quite scornful of MrW as a result, but mostly they’ve learned to keep it to themselves. My youngest siblings think he is adorable and the girls all go through a phase where they have a crush on him. But the oldest of my brothers? Dude can barely keep it to himself; he seems to have a real problem that I make three times the paycheck. Christ, who cares? We live comfortably, we’re happy, can you keep your prejudices about “men having to support women” to your 1950’s self?

      • Laughing Giraffe said:

        Amazingly sometimes even complete strangers will chime in. It once came out at a party that I’m a teacher and my boyfriend works a part-time office-gofer-type job in addition to freelancing. A person who had been a classmate several years ago piped up with, “Bet you resent the hell out of being the moneymaker!” I was appalled into speechlessness.

      • miss_chevious said:

        Yeah, I’m one of those “ambitious motivated” women myself, and I’ve found that my most successful relationships are with dudes who are less ambitious in the traditional sense, because it is extremely hard for two career-ambitious people to make a go of it where both will be professionally satisfied. In fact, most of the “successful” (meaning high-powered, well-paid, high status job) women I know have husbands or partners who are less so, so that the “successful” one can make unfettered career decisions. Maybe a less ambitious guy is what the daughter wants so that he can support he emotionally rather than financially.

      • TurquoiseDragon said:

        LW, speaking as a woman in her early thirties, I think your daughter is doing excellently for herself.
        My family is blue collar, manual labor type of people, who go to the theater when it’s Shakespeare in the Park. One of my husband’s parents works on Wall Street and the two of them go to the theater a couple times a month, on stage, with pricy tickets, and a fancy dinner beforehand. My husband has a master’s degree, and I have only a B.A. He worked in his field until recently, and I work in something I stumbled into. For some senses of the phrase, I married up.
        However. I make three times what he does. I like my job and have been working diligently to turn it into a career. He recently quit his job to work at Starbucks, and is much calmer and happier. We are planning children, and he will be the stay at home parent. He has no ambition to succeed in the workforce (much to his parents’ dismay), and I don’t want him to. I want him to be happy and cheerful and a good parent to our children. I will happily make the money we will live on, manage the finances at home (I work in finance and enjoy it, so it’s a natural extension for me). He will continue to be “a nice unmotivated man” who takes care of me when I am sick and supports me when I am tired or sad and makes sure I stay hydrated.
        If you daughter thinks this man will make her happy, the rest of it doesn’t matter.
        My hope for you in that in twenty years, you and she can laugh about how much you had to bite your tongue over him. If he’s still around, the laughter will be about how wrong you were. If he’s gone by then, it will be how little your daughter suspected your unease and how much she loves that you trusted her.

  9. Mookie said:

    Her boyfriend is 36, a nice unmotivated man who seems to us to be looking for an easy deal.

    The relationships your children pursue and develop are not business arrangements for you to meddle with and judge as “easy” or “difficult.” Your choldren’s friends and partners are not trying to pull a fast one on you. It’s presumptuous, grace-less, and manner-less of you to assume that your daughter’s boyfriend is an opportunist, or that relationships are only valid when someone is catering to (your outdated understanding of what is “owed” to) your daughter. Do you care about what she wants out of her life? Do you know what she wants out of her life?

  10. AltoFronto said:

    My successful step-sister married a confident, ambitious young doctor who “fit in” to our family (I always thought he was a nice guy, although maybe never quite relaxed enough to stop trying so hard to impress us). She’s divorced after two years, and buying a house of her own – and good on her, she chose what would make her happy.
    I’m partnered to a guy with little ‘career ambition’, whom my mother has disliked for years (she thinks he’s “rude” too, for some reason*), but who has been my soul-mate throughout and has always loved and supported me. Despite not being my mother’s idea of a “suitable” partner, he fits me to a T and I feel blessed to call him my Beloved. It’s been about 10 years (4 of those living together).

    All that my mother’s disapproval has wrought is that I visit my family without Beloved, and now find it awkward to arrange Christmas.
    Parent, you are not going to have to marry the guy, so don’t decide he is unsuitable for you or your daughter. Trust her to be the kind of adult who can recognise good people when she meets them. If she’s the capable businesswoman you’ve raised her to be, then expect her to be both headstrong and an excellent decision-maker.

    Also, why does it sound a if you expect Daughter to marry a Business Partner, instead of a Husband? Couldn’t she just as easily hire someone else to help run the business and enjoy her domestic life with Boyfriend? I’ll bet it would lead to less stress and fewer arguments between them.
    If she is the part-owns a business, she shouldn’t need to be provided for. Money isn’t a huge priority in most non-feudal marriages, anyway.

    * Going forward, be polite and welcoming towards her Boyfriend and he’ll likely respond in kind. Other people can usually sense hostility even when it’s disguised under pleasantries. Turn your hard-work ethic to building a relationship with your daughter’s partner and try your damndest to see the good qualities she sees in them.
    The biggest obstacle I have with my own mother is that she is quick to latch onto a negative opinion about someone, and extremely slow to let go of it, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are Good People. I still have friends that I’ve known for years and she’ll say “Oh, was he the one who was sick on our carpet that one time?” or “Is she the one that Once Said Something Foolish over dinner?” and that one moment they were in a poor light becomes the one defining characteristic by which she remembers them, even if they were before, or since, “The One Who Drove Me Home Safely”, or “The One Who Does Brilliant Things With K’Nex”, or “The One Who Told A Joke So Funny My Mum Cried”.
    She doesn’t get to see all the tender, funny, interesting, upsetting, wonderful moments that Beloved and I share together, just the events during the handful of brief visits she’s made, filtered through her pre-formed opinion and edited into a highlight reel that she’ll bring up at our next argument. Try to combat this unconscious biasing if you can.
    Try to avoid zooming in on his faults, and for every negative opinion you have of him, try to come up with two positive ones and see if your opinion changes.

    But most importantly, keep all your negative opinions to yourself and express love for your daughter by watching her make her life choices. You can be there for her when she needs your support or advice… but she might not want to ask you for help when she needs it if she knows your foregone conclusion will be the same classist opinion you’ve been airing at every available opportunity since they first started dating.

    • Elsajeni said:

      Going forward, be polite and welcoming towards her Boyfriend and he’ll likely respond in kind. Other people can usually sense hostility even when it’s disguised under pleasantries.

      This is a really good point. I think this came up in the comments of a similar previous letter, #533 — that letter was from a parent who didn’t like their son’s girlfriend, describing her as unlikeable and phony, and several people in the comments pointed out that “defensive about being judged all the time” and “trying desperately to act like she likes being here and spending time with you even though you’re stressing her out” could read, especially to an observer who already kind of dislikes the person, as: unlikeable! Prickly and weird! Putting on a big phony act! Seems to me that this LW’s daughter’s boyfriend could be coming off as having a “lack of manners” because he’s reacting a little tersely to being obviously disapproved of, or a “lack of confidence” because the LW only sees him when he’s around people (which is to say, the LW) who are measuring him up and finding him wanting.

    • Leonine said:

      “Other people can usually sense hostility even when it’s disguised under pleasantries.”

      Ugh. Yes. My first husband and I moved in together before we were married, and his Christian (“Christian”?) family did not approve. We moved in together in March, but I was not invited to Thanksgiving. They were mostly polite on the surface, but ugh. I was not at all their kind of person. I was not religious enough, not feminine enough, not “normal” enough, etc. He and I ended up getting married, and looking back on it, their disapproval was a big reason I married him. See, he was not a terrible guy; he was just a very bad fit for me. Unfortunately, because of some issues of my own, breaking up with him was beyond my capacity even to consider. So we got married. I divorced him less than two years later, and holy hell were they pissed! They concocted all these high-drama explanations: I was cheating on him (I wasn’t), I was just using him for his money (ha ha what! I made more than he did!), he was somehow not fulfilling his husbandly obligations (I can’t even), but no. It was just that we were a bad fit. Although they attempted in their extremely bougie, smugly Christian way to hide it, their disapproval was palpable, and it not only prolonged the inevitable, it made the inevitable much more expensive, embarrassing, and painful for everyone involved.

  11. Jae said:

    Dear LW, with 32 she’s an adult. Imagine for one moment, should you and your wife be divorced or one of you died and the other took a new partner after some time, would you consider it YOUR parent’s right to still intervene if they “don’t like him”? It’s time to acknowledge that your daughter is a grown up woman and apparently she’s quite capable of making a lot of good choices. Trust her to make the best choice to make herself happy.

    • Jae said:

      Erp, sorry, that should have been “should you and your partner be divoced… etc” I don’t know LW’s gender, of course.

  12. Karen said:

    I decidedly agree with Mookie’s last questions. We are only getting the picture through LW’s eyes – without a lot of helpful detail – therefore the answer is also sort of without a lot of helpful detail. What things are LW’s eyes adding or subtracting to daughter and to partner? Is daughter actually happy in the life and milieu she is in? But then again, I have seen many partners come and go for many friends’ kids. They come – they go. Afterwards the kids tell me things about the partner or themselves that I was never aware of before. It is often not my concern that becomes the breaking point.

  13. DaFunk said:

    Oy. My good friend, age 35, had a sweet caring boyfriend, age 27. When her lease was up she moved in with him. We thought it was too soon but they were in love and seemed happy! Until she met his parents. Parents usually adore my friend. She’s charming, funny, makes a sincere effort to get to know people; she’s successful in her career and takes care of all her family; she has tons of friends. But she’s from a small industrial town (to their posh suburb) and can be boisterous (to their stiff upper lips). They pegged her as a “common” (regional accent horror!), gold-digging (hardly; she makes more than him) cougar (he pursued her against her reservations about the age difference). After meeting her once, and dropped enough not so subtle hints that boyfriend got the message, even though his other friends and family all loved her. This sowed enough doubt in him that he – a young guy who is still measuring himself up against his parents’ expectations – engineered a break up in the most awful way. Which he of course regretted after it was too late, because actually they made each other very happy.
    I have another friend who is a high-flying lawyer from a family of lawyers, who married an artsy lady who worked in a coffee house and showed no desire to be “professional”. His family were way less than impressed and, though superficially polite, certain made their feelings known over many years. Fada forward to the wedding, and family of groom wonders why they feeleft out if the ceremony. Fast forward to now, when groom is a law firm partner and bride manages said coffee house, now a successful local institution, and in her spare time has used all her crafting abilities to create a gorgeous home from a fixer-upper, walks the dogs, and organizes trips to music festivals, which lets lawyer friend explore his creative side. They complement one another and together have built a life they both find fulfilling.
    So … my point is … unless the red flags are along the lines of abuse or deceit, trust that this guy offers your daughter something she values (fun! support! conversation! really terrific sex!!!).

  14. ralucahippie said:

    Ok, if you had a son, in the same position career wise as your daughter, would you be concerned that his wife’s career choices are “not providing for him”?

    • Light37 said:

      Good point. I think the LW needs to do some unpacking on this issue.

  15. B. said:

    If you’re worried that this man might turn into an abusive partner, make sure that your daughter keeps being able to support herself and that she knows she can trust you to be there for her should she need you (by respecting her, her right to make choices you disagree with, and her choice in partners). Economic independence and family support are her safety net for scaping bad situations, and you will not be being supportive if you undermine her ability to take care of herself or make her ówn decisions.
    I understand that you’re worried for your daughter, LW, but the way you expressed that worry was classist, sexist, controlling, and disrespectful of your daughter’s autonomy as an adult. Unemployed people are not worth less than you. Women do not need “strong men” to provide for us. We are strong enough to provide for ourselves and our families, as your daughter is proving.

  16. I do think it would be nice to have a script going, essentially, “$DAUGHTER, I have some concerns about your current relationship. Would you be open to talking about them?”

    But I suspect it would basically go:

    “$DAUGHTER, I respect your choices, but I have some concerns about your current relationship and it’d be nice to know you’re aware of them. Would you be open to hearing what’s bothering me?”
    “Not really, no.”
    “Ok, then, carry on!” ::shuts up on the topic forever::

    If you can actually follow through with that script, you’ll probably do OK if $DAUGHTER says “Sure, what’s on your mind,” too.

  17. rydra_wong said:

    I just read your response to the question of how a person can deal with disapproving parents in the relationship area. It was a very good response.

    I’m really intrigued that this made the LW want to write to the good Captain, since in various ways it seems to say the opposite of what one might unkindly guess that they’re angling for.

    Short summary of the Captain’s response in the linked post: ask your parents for the specific reasons why they disapprove of your partner, in case there are any red flags that you haven’t noticed; otherwise, be very clear that you expect them to treat your partner with respect and kindness and stop trying to undermine your relationship.

    You could compose a reply to this one derived directly on that: if you’ve seen any outright red flags (“he seems nice but lacking in confidence” is NOT a red flag), then yes, it’s legit to let your daughter know that you’re worried about how her boyfriend’s treating her, hopefully in a way that won’t scare her off or make her feel she can’t talk to you if it turns out he is a Darth Vader Boyfriend. But otherwise, not your business. You may never like him; you don’t have to like him. But you should support your daughter as a grown adult who’s capable of choosing what she wants herself, and be appropriately polite to the person she’s chosen.

    • rydra_wong said:

      P.S. Also, if he is a Darth Vader Boyfriend, the last thing you want is for him to be able to say, “Your parents just hate me because I don’t earn enough! They’ve always hated me, right from the very start!”

      “Disapprove” enough, and you run the risk of alienating her so that she won’t feel able to talk to you if there are problems, or will feel she has to stick it out to the bitter end so as not to prove you right.

      • Cassandra said:

        Very, VERY good point.

    • I’m really intrigued that this made the LW want to write to the good Captain, since in various ways it seems to say the opposite of what one might unkindly guess that they’re angling for.

      That just made me want to see the Bad Advisor tackle this one.

      • rydra_wong said:

        Ha, I thought of the Bad Advisor too. But — unless they really didn’t read the Captain Awkward response they thought was “very good” — kudos to the LW for writing to someone who wasn’t going to give them the bad advice they were hoping for.

        • Phospherocity said:

          My mum thinks LW was really seeking permission to give up: e.g you are not a failure if your daughter does not marry a Successful Professional TM, you do not need to put energy into worrying about this any more.

  18. weird carpet said:

    What gets me is that the LW describes their daughter’s partner as lacking manners, but then goes on to describe him as “nice”. Like, ???? Since no the LW doesn’t provide any examples of the partner’s lack of manners and the whole thing is coming across as super classist, I’m guessing the LW means “lacking manners” in the “doesn’t know the nitpicky rules involved in certain social classes” (used the wrong fork or didn’t wear white tie at the opera, eh?) sense rather than the “overtly rude and mean” sense, because people who do things like interrupt others, dominate conversations, belch in people’s faces, say demeaning things about others, etc. aren’t usually considered “nice” on any level.

    LW, like a previous commenter (forgot who, sorry!) said, your daughter’s partner doesn’t have to fit in with your family, he just has to fit in with your daughter. Who your daughter dates is her business, not yours. This is not your decision! At all!

    And it’ll do you a world of good to take your outdated notions of gender roles and who should be the “breadwinner” in a relationship and chuck them in the trash. Since, again, you describe this guy as nice and don’t provide any examples of him being a crappy person, it sounds like there isn’t any reason to believe that he’s a leech and is scamming your daughter out of all her money and is set to dash once he has enough dough. It’s 20flipping15 and women don’t have to have men provide for them! It seems like your daughter can take care of her own financial affairs and is cool with dating a man who makes less money than she does! Again, that’s her choice! Not yours! At all!

    You say this guy is nice. Treat him like the nice guy you say he is! You’re just going to end up driving your daughter away if you don’t.

    • I kind of assumed the type of lack of manners that the head of the department I did my grad work in had — a sweet, funny man, well-loved by professors, staff, and students, who was also appallingly loud and had, bar none, the worst table manners I have ever met on a human being. I am not excluding toddlers. I once sat next to him at a departmental dinner and watched as he somehow got chicken in his (short-cropped) hair. It was AMAZING.

    • Eh, I know some people who are nice but rude. Generally, it means they’re kind people but… self-centered? unobservant? Like, if they notice something, they’ll be nice about it but they’re unlikely to notice so they come off as rude. (Someone, for instance, who would stop and pick stuff up for a stranger if they dropped something in front of them but wouldn’t notice they let a door slam in your face until after it slams – then apologizes.)

      And, LW, I can totally see you being concerned if he doesn’t seem to be ambitious or if you think your daughter will end up supporting him – it can be scary to watch couples deviating from the “norm” because it’s hard to see how they’re going to make something work without traditional guidelines to lead them. Especially if what you value in a partner is ambition and politeness and other qualities he doesn’t seem to have – it’s hard to imagine someone (probably very similar to you) being happy with someone is so different from what makes you happy.

      But! A lot of times those relationships end up working out for the best, because they’re truly able to work with each other’s pros and cons. And your daughter can be very similar to you but be very happy with someone completely different. Just remember your end goal is for her to be happy and self-sufficient, right?

  19. Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

    Manners are very much a cultural construct – they aren’t universal, and will vary considerably even within the same culture. I’d suggest you look at the intent behind what he’s doing/saying. If he seems to be actively trying to be hurtful towards others, then yes, that would be a very bad sign. If, on the other hand, he’s just observing a slightly different set of social rituals to the ones you’re used to, then really, so what? There’s nothing inherently superior about the sets of behaviours one social group, or one region, choose to use over those you might see elsewhere, so if it turns out that on reflection you’re just reacting to difference, then I’d suggest trying to overcome that.

    Confidence is something that different people have to different extents, but I’m curious as to why you feel it’s a necessary attribute in a partner for your daughter? I’d suggest, also, that confidence isn’t always a positive – it’s entirely possible to be too concurrent, or confident in the wrong things.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by ‘personal motivation’, but my reading of your letter suggests you mean ambition; and specifically, ambition in a work or ‘making something of himself’ context. I think I’m reading it in this way because it’s clear yours is an entrepreneurial family where building up your business has been important. What I’d like to suggest to you, though, is that not everyone sees things in the same way, and that this is actually a positive thing. Rather than work or material success, some people have their focus on being able to spend time with their families, or pursue creative or sporting goals, or live sustainably, or a thousand other ‘or’s. Not only is there nothing wrong with being a person who aspires to nothing more than a quietly comfortable life; in a partner, this could be a real positive. Would you prefer your daughter to set up home with a super-busy man who’s materially and professionally successful but never there; or a modestly-achieving man who she gets to come home to every night, and who has time for her (and maybe, in the future, for their own family, if that’s something they want and are able to pursue)?

    Which brings us to the ‘strong confident man’ you’d like to see ‘provide’ for your daughter. Why? The thing with being the professional part-owner of a successful business is that you basically don’t need someone else to come along and be strong and confident and a provider for you, because you are already all of those things for yourself. You’ve raised your daughter to be strong and capable for herself – she doesn’t need (and apparently doesn’t want) someone else to take that over for her. It’s like your daughter is a knife and you’re expecting her to want to set up home with another knife – maybe a fork would actually be a better complement to her life?

    • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

      Too confident, even! (DYAC!)

    • misspiggy said:

      +1000000

  20. Jello said:

    Wow, this letter hits so close to home. 25 years ago, my partner and I got together. My family had money. His family was, and is, destitute. The very first thing my mother did was brand him as unambitious and trying to take advantage of me. This was laughably not true. My partner held three jobs in high school to financially support his family. It took him a decade to get his degree because he, and then we, paid for it one quarter at a time.

    However, to my mother, he was an uncouth and poor. He tried his hardest to work with her. He worked on her house, he gave them gifts. It was never good enough, and my mother was not shy about letting me know bluntly, and implying it heavily to him. It eventually came to a head, and I had to set some heavy boundaries about my life with my mother, because having her undercut my partner every single time we met was not acceptable.

    The funny thing to me, is he is now in a professional position with an awe inducing career title. Nobody would ever consider him unambitious, because you just don’t attain that level of eduction and professional success if you are unambitious. She will never know because she had been so horrible (and other things) that we haven’t had contact in years. She had refused to see what a kind, giving person my spouse is.

    To the LW: You can’t do anything about who you daughter falls in love with. You may not have chosen them for her. However, all you will do if you try to force a breakup, will be to foster resentment in your daughter. If he is truly a terrible person, she might stay with him longer with your pressure. That said, everyone has redeeming qualities. If you support your daughter, in her 30s, then support her ability to make a good decision, you will come off as a much better person if you are kind, and accepting of your daughters partner.

    • Jenny Islander said:

      My sisters got degrees and married up into successful, upper-middle-class lives. They had nurseries with themes. I married down into a mostly-blue-collar family that poured most of their pooled money into making sure that their disabled widowed mother could live at home for the rest of her life; my husband still had to spend his young manhood living with her because the family couldn’t afford a night nurse. The sisters have never quite let me forget their disappointment.

      • Proffie Galore said:

        “They had nurseries with themes.” Great turn of phrase. Speaking of nurseries, the LW should (re) read “The Velveteen Rabbit” and contemplate what is Real.

        Your husband sounds Real.

        • Jenny Islander said:

          Oh, my brothers-in-law are Real too. It’s just that my sisters’ definition of what is Real is not quite congruent with my life…

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      Really, if someone grows up poor even becoming relatively financially comfortable is indicative of pretty hard work. Our economic system is not designed for upward mobility.

  21. When I met him, my now husband was drifting thru a series of jobs in the ‘food service’ industry. He was good enough at them to be a shift leader or even manager…he just hadn’t found what he wanted to do with his life yet. He used to apologize a lot for not being very ‘driven.’ I knew from talking to him for more than 5 minutes that he was /very/ driven – just not, yet, by career ideas.

    5 years later, he’s now halfway thru a degree and pulling straight A’s while *also* being a full-time shift manager in a service industry. Somebody like the parents in this letter (or my parents) might have thought that I was dating somebody who would drag me down. They would be wrong.

    I’m not saying that your ideas about this person are wrong, Letter Writer, but I encourage you to a) trust your daughter b) get to know this man better and then c) continue to trust her and be kind to her boyfriend.

    Good luck!

  22. msethyl said:

    I’m surprised so many commenters seem to have my parents!

    LW, if you continue to think of your daughter as someone whose life you get a say in, you will alienate her and ruin your relationship. I hope you don’t mind 30 years of being shut out of your daughter’s life and having conversations mainly about the weather and whatever sportsball teams are local to you.

  23. I’m int he same position as the LW’s daughter. I’m a younger profession, with an older guy who yeah, is a bit unmotivated. You know, sometimes you’re just the kind of person who WANTS a cheerleader boyfriend.

    I know society demands men are breadwinner and career minded and all that, but maybe YOU don’t. Maybe you want a guy who’ll support you and help you out and cheer out on while YOU do the awesome career shit.

    • twomoogles said:

      This is me. I love having somebody to come to home to after work who takes care of most of the stuff around the house and will cook for me (I hate cooking). For some reason people think that’s odd because I’m female, whereas I feel like they wouldn’t really if I were a dude.

      • Mezzanine said:

        My friend wants to be a stay-at-home dad, a house husband, and design board games in his spare time. He’s excellent at caring for kids and running a household, but because he’s male, everyone thinks it’s a bit odd… *sighs*

        • Elizabeth said:

          I have a friend who is living exactly that dream, right down to the board game design. He was previously a philosophy professor. It can be done!

    • This is my lovely, successful, wonderful aunt. She has always dated men who were able to support her emotionally but couldn’t do so financially. That’s OK. She has no need for financial support; what she needs and wants is love, respect, consideration, and someone who is pleased to cheerlead her ambitious career goals.

      • Your aunt sounds like a person after my own heart!
        I am the breadwinner in my relationship, and people get a bit weird about my partner who has no career goals and indeed does not even hold down a job at the moment.
        I am unconcerned. The extra money would be nice, sure, but what’s really important to me is having someone to share my thoughts and feelings with, to have fun with, who will give me cuddles and pat my hair when I’m freaking out about my next achievement. My parents probably would have preferred me to find someone who could support me financially or who would keep a spotless house, but neither of those things would make me happy like my partner does.

        LW, maybe have a deeper think about what you’re really concerned about. Are you upset about your daughter’s partner because he is treating her badly and you can’t stand him, is there something just wrong that you can’t put your finger on, or are you upset because he doesn’t fit your idea of ‘what should be’? I hear some very traditionalist echos in your letter.
        If it’s the latter, please work through letting those feelings go. They won’t serve you or your daughter. And if this partner does end up being abusive and that’s what upset you so much here, disapproval isn’t going to help, only loving support will. And if you just can’t stand him because of personality clashes… sorry, but there’s not much to be done except choose a few safe topics to talk about with him and have a big bowl of icecream whenever his visits are over.

    • Jane said:

      Yeah. . .I don’t date at the exact moment, but I have a hard time figuring out how someone with big career ambitions would really fit into my life. I have a lot of travel/career plans for myself, so just *logistically* speaking, I think negotiating two very definite life plans would be difficult. And that’s aside from the fact that I think it can be hard to find an ambitious dude who has equal amount of respect for his female partner’s life plans as he does for his own . . . .

  24. Amy said:

    Oh boy, the hackles went right up reading this one.

    LW, what if your daughter has always wanted to find a less-career-oriented partner who is willing to be a stay-at-home parent? What if she has felt stifled all her life by the focus on “ambition” in her own family and being with him is the first time she’s felt truly relaxed and happy? What if she’s sick of the chauvinism she finds in men who are focused on “providing”?

    There are two questions to ask yourself when it comes to assessing your daughter’s partner. Does he treat her with kindness and respect? And does she seem happy when they’re together? If the answers are “no”, there is still nothing to be gained by interfering. Even the Montagues and the Capulets had figured out by the end of the play that interfering in your children’s relationships always backfires.

    If she is as great as you describe her, try to understand, and back up with your actions, that she knows what she wants and needs in a partner better than you do.

  25. One thing that stood out to me was the mention of the fact that ‘we, her parents’ built up the company that the daughter is now part owner of. Firstly, as you describe the boyfriend as unmotivated, while your daughter is a professional woman who owns a small business, you are implying how motivated she is…and yet the company was actually created by you and your partner. She has inherited part of it from you. You don’t see how she has been given this advantage where your daughter’s partner quite probably never was? I mean, I don’t know, was he offered the chance to part-own a small business by his parents but he turned it down just to be unmotivated? I somehow doubt it. It’s easy to be motivated when something’s handed to you. I’m not saying your daughter doesn’t work hard because I’m sure she does, but there’s such a thing as hard work AND an advantage given to you through parents.

    There was a letter on this site I’d encourage you to read, LW, it was letter number 533. It’s a parent writing in about a son who is possibly in an unhealthy relationship. You give no evidence about your daughter’s relationship being unhealthy so ignore that part of things, but in the response the Captain talks about the possible consequences for your relationship with your child if you refuse to accept their partner. Have a look. Don’t hurt your daughter, LW.

  26. Anyanka said:

    LW, there are a lot of things that could be really wrong with this guy, and I don’t have any way to tell if your complaints are snobbery, other worries expressed badly, worries masking a Darth Vader boyfriend, or anything else.

    But I can tell you three things:
    1) If it is a Darth Vader boyfriend, then pushing him away will push your child away too,
    2) If there’s nothing wrong with him except for being kind of unambitious and/or boring, then even so he can make your daughter happy. Some people want partners that are stable and unlikely to also have grand economic adventures. Two of my cousins are married to fairly generic, boring white guys, and are happy.
    3) And if there’s nothing wrong with him but you disapprove, then even so, I think you should accept that your child is a person. An adult, even, and even if you don’t like who she’s picked, it’s her choice, and she deserves parents who accept her choice and remain good & supportive parents to her.

  27. Marie said:

    I once dated a guy who *did* see me as a meal-ticket. My parents’ obvious dislike of him did absolutely nothing to help me break-up with him. I only thought they were unjust in their judgement, and he made sure to use that to make me feel sorry for him.

  28. ijm52 said:

    Ok, I have a similar situation to the LW that I’m struggling with. Daughter is in a relationship with a guy my spouse and I don’t particularly like. Dude is a former narcotics user, who we suspect may not be so “former” anymore. Dude moved in with daughter, to the home she bought on her own, with his two young children (who are lovely by the way). Dude also has a child abuse conviction that went down after daughter started seeing him – the conviction, not the offense – which daughter defended him to the wall on and did most of the legwork with lawyer/court etc. Dude’s ex had a no contact order against him. Dude’s ex is supposedly “certifiably crazy” (although someone had to have raised the kids right…and Dude wasn’t allowed to see them until recently). But maybe the ex is unstable, and maybe she exaggerated stuff to get the no contact order, and maybe the child abuse thing was really a misunderstanding/overreaction. I’ve been trying to keep an open mind for daughter’s sake and the sake of our relationship. I do trust her judgment, she’s smart and responsible, and she knows him better than we do. However. I also think love is blind sometimes. Dude recently lost his job because he can’t make it to work on time, so he can’t pay his portion of the bills, and then he lied to her about it.

    All over daughter’s FB page right around the time she first told us about him and we expressed our reservations are “I don’t have to live my life to make anyone else happy” and “If you don’t like it eff off” type of postings.

    Here’s the thing. Even with everything I mentioned above, I agree. She *doesn’t* have to live her life according to what anyone else, including her parents, want. I even told her that myself. “Don’t live your life based on what you think will make your parents happy.” She says she’s happier with him than she’s ever been with anyone. Not that it matters or not, people can know their own minds at any age, but she’s 23. She says he treats her great, they don’t fight, they have fun together. I’m all for that. I think a commenter above (or maybe in the linked column) hit the nail on the head, her dad is very driven and possibly she loves the more relaxed persona Dude has. I don’t have to live with the guy, if she’s happy, good. I’ve done the welcoming thing, the try to make him comfortable thing, the “Spouse, back off so she still wants to be here” thing. So after many conversations with daughter focused on concern for her well-being and her future, my husband has backed off. He’s making an effort too. I know she still knows we’re not thrilled, and I’m sure Dude does too. He’s very hard to talk to, he gives one-word answers, and I’m tired of carrying the conversation. He calls his ex, the mother of his children, “The succubus.” He said his stepmother isn’t part of his family. (I’m a stepmother. Daughter is my stepdaughter.) I just don’t. Like. Being around him. I fucking dread it. So I’m in a place where I don’t feel like I should have to live my life to make anyone else happy either. I don’t want to have to be around this guy. I *hate* it. I hate nodding and smiling as she talks endlessly about how “he did this” and “he said that” in order to put him in a good light. She so desperately wants us to see what she sees in him. I can see she feels that way about him, and that’s fine. It’s her life. I just don’t want to be subjected to him. I don’t want to alienate her, and I’ll nod and smile and what have you because I love her and I especially don’t want this to jeopardize her relationship with her dad, but I’m almost to the point where I’d be ok seeing her less if it meant not having to be around him.

    Anyway, I’ll check out letter 522. I guess I just could use some hints or tips on how to deal at this point. Thanks all.

    • misspiggy said:

      Wow. He lied to her. That, especially as it was about something financial, is hard to see as anything other than a red flag. At this point, is there any way you can hang out with just your daughter more often?

      • ijm52 said:

        She has come over a couple of times without him, which is nice…and she was very upset about the lying but it sounds like she’s giving him another chance. Which, totally her choice. She’s also talking about “if we’re going to be married I have to be committed to working through problems like this.” Noooooooooooooooooooo..

    • Lundy Bancroft points out that the “crazy” ex with an order of protection was usually abused.

      You and your husband are doing the right thing keeping lines of communication open. Your daughter will need you when he starts showing his other side.

      • ijm52 said:

        I thought that too, frankly. Thank you for the insight and support that we are hopefully doing the right thing!

      • ijm52 said:

        I thought the same thing, frankly! Thank you for your support & validation that we are hopefully doing the right thing. And, to all, apologies if I have hijacked this post in any way..LW, best of luck to you and your family as you deal with all of this.

        • You are doing the right thing.

      • He also has a great list of resources for families of those experiencing domestic violence that you might want to look at, ijm52. It’s in the back of my edition of ‘Why Does He Do That?’ which I also strongly recommend. I hope I’m wrong, but your story is just…red flags. Red flags everywhere. Sounds like you’re doing a kick ass job at keeping your daughter in a place where her relationship with you, at least, is easy and supportive.

        • Also, if you get that book for yourself — do you have bookshelves that your daughter browses occasionally? Having an obviously-worn-out-totally-not-aimed-at-her copy in those shelves…without saying anything, of course…well. It’s there if she finds it.

        • ijm52 said:

          Thanks, T O Alice and mrsmorleytea! I will check that out. I so agree about the red flags. Tried to gently point them out when she first started seeing this guy but she’s on Team Him. Asked some gentle questions when we found out about the lying and the job, such as “What are you going to do?” and “Do you think he could be using again?” and tried to remain neutrally supportive. We told her we would stand behind her no matter what she decided. The good news is she wasn’t excusing the lying or the fact that he lost his job for entirely preventable reasons.

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        Yeah I will never believe a guy who talks about his crazy ex based just on his word. I think even if he was a close friend I’d probably have a bit of side eye and wondering, though I’d be less likely to say so.

    • rydra_wong said:

      I think your situation is disimilar in a key respect, since the LW doesn’t mention seeing any actual red flags, whereas unfortunately your daughter’s boyfriend is festooned with them.

      Also unfortunately, your options are as limited as the LW’s: keeping on trying to make your daughter ditch this guy is likely to alienate her further, as you’ve already worked out.

      Maybe he’s really a wonderful guy, and his ex really is evil, and the child abuse conviction is all a big misunderstanding, and … it’s not especially likely.

      The Darth Vader Boyfriend tag may be your new friend. There are various posts from people worried about a friend or relative who seems to have a Darth Vader Boyfriend (or Girlfriend, or partner of other gender), and a lot of good scripts for communicating your love and concern and keeping lines of communication open, while respecting their autonomy:

      https://captainawkward.com/category/darth-vader-boyfriend

      Particularly relevant:

      https://captainawkward.com/2011/01/17/reader-question-4-my-friend-is-dating-someone-terrible-or-secrets-of-the-darth-vader-boyfriend/
      https://captainawkward.com/2012/06/19/272-when-you-see-darth-vader-coming/
      https://captainawkward.com/2012/07/10/294-my-daughter-is-in-a-dysfunctional-relationship-how-do-i-help-her/
      https://captainawkward.com/2013/02/22/454-darth-vader-is-a-tricksy-hobbit/
      https://captainawkward.com/2014/04/28/565-when-your-friend-gushes-about-her-new-boyfriend-and-all-of-her-cute-stories-are-actually-horrifying/

      The one major factor in your situation that’s not covered in these posts: kids. Your daughter’s boyfriend’s kids are now living in her house. He has a child abuse conviction. Hopefully the fact that apparently he has custody means that we’re not talking about sexual abuse, and that it’s not thought likely that he’ll abuse his kids (again?), but courts can sometimes make really shitty decisions.

      It is possible that the abuse may occur again, and/or that the kids will suffer the indirect effects if your daughter’s relationship with her boyfriend turns abusive (whether physically or emotionally). In that case, she (and you, if you’re aware of it) have an obligation to protect them as well.

      • ijm52 said:

        Thank you so much for taking the time to find & post all those links. I will read up on all of this. The abuse wasn’t sexual, it was allegedly when he was disciplining one of them, and to my knowledge it only happened once. When we met his kids I was watching them like a hawk to see how they were around him, and they seem not to be afraid of him, so there’s that. He fought for shared custody, which entailed having to go to parenting and anger management classes, and going through a period of supervised visitation. Which he did. We’re trying to focus on the positive and, I don’t know, remain fair? Unbiased? Open minded? But it’s pretty tough. Especially when I agree with your “..it’s not especially likely” statement.

        • As an aside, the odds of his getting a conviction after ‘disciplining’ a child once are slim. Also, I would wonder what actions ‘disciplining’ covers. I

          • slythwolf said:

            Considering how hard it is to get a child abuse conviction in cases of actual abuse, and how underfunded and understaffed the government departments that deal with it actually are…

      • In that case, she (and you, if you’re aware of it) have an obligation to protect them as well.

        I want to clarify this a bit. Of course, as decent mammals we want to protect baby mammals, but ljm52’s daughter doesn’t need to protect the kids at her own expense. If he starts abusing her, or the kids again, she shouldn’t have to stay to protect them. Pushing her to do so is likely what he will do.

        • rydra_wong said:

          No, I agree, she should absolutely not stay in order to protect them. I was thinking in terms of being willing to contact child protective services if she witnesses abuse. And also, not thinking she’s protecting them by staying if he starts abusing her in any way — IIRC the evidence is that kids suffer a lot from being in a situation of domestic abuse, even if they’re not directly targeted themselves.

          • Oh yes! That makes total sense. Thanks

    • Oh god this sounds like an amalgamation of all the Darths I have seen in my life. If it’s his own kids he was accused of abusing, then they should not be in that living situation oh god.

      I don’t have any solutions. I just hope someone is keeping an eye on those kids and that he mysteriously disappears one day never to be seen again.

    • rhythla said:

      You are doing all that you can in the best way that you can, in my opinion. I wish my parents would take a page out of your book.

      When my sister was doing through the death-throes of her last relationship, our parents did not handle it very well, especially at the end. They had always liked the ex (at least my mom did), but he was definitely showing some red flags towards the end. But every single time I saw my parents, they would comment on my sister’s relationship and their concern, recount their latest conversations with her, etc. It was tiring on my end, but my mantra to them was, “well, she is a fully grown woman who is fully capable of making her own decisions. If you try to force her, you will end up losing her.” (I know it is tough, but I think that if you force it, you will damage your relationship with your daughter severely and likely permanently.)

      I finally had to sit my dad down one day and explain to him why “I wasn’t doing anything [about the situation]” with my sister’s ex. I told him that ex wasn’t showing red flags of abuse (still wasn’t a great guy, but at least not abusive), so the only thing I could do was listen when my sister called crying about something he said/did and offer support if asked for. I told him that I wanted her to feel un-judged and supported so when the time came that she finally dumped him, or if something went horribly wrong, she would at least call me and ask for help. He finally got it, and that was when he finally stopped voicing his concern to my sister constantly.

      I probably should have sat down my mother too because later, when we were LITERALLY helping my sister move out (which is what you wanted, right mom?!), my mom threw a fit. She was upset because my sister wanted to spend one last night with her ex (he ended up dumping her, actually) and my mom was super pissed. My dad had her on speaker-phone, so I overheard the whole thing. When their conversation was done, I snapped at my dad when he tried to defend what mom had said. I told him in no uncertain terms that my sister was capable of making her own decisions, and if she wanted to spend one last night with the ex, then FINE. At least she is finally leaving him! Isn’t that what you two have been campaigning for? And how dare mom threaten to not help with the financial part of the move after PROMISING she would. She has pulled that nonsense on me twice in the past, which I reminded dad of, and told him that the best way to guarantee that neither of us talk to either of them again is to renege on their promise of help. Fortunately, he understood and did not relay the conversation to my sister. I did, however, warn my sister to never accept money from them again for any reason if she could help it and gave her the bare bones of what mom said.

      So not only did my parents almost alienate my sister, but they did alienate me (due to other past things, not just this). My parents would be the last people I’d call if I break up with my boyfriend – and they /never even said they don’t like him/ – I have just seen how they will act by watching what happened with my sister. They have ended up poisoning two wells at once with their behavior. Your situation is definitely more dire because your daughter’s boyfriend is showing some really serious red flags, but she’s just not ready to see them, and nothing you do can make her see them until she is ready.

  29. TO_Ont said:

    One of the wonderful, excellent, amazing benefits of having a good career is that you aren’t forced out of economic necessity to limit your choices in dating or ‘marry for money’. You can date the person you actually WANT to, which in this case seems to be this ‘nice’ and ‘unmotivated’ guy. He sounds relaxing and fun to be around. She’s lucky she’s in a position where she can be with whoever she wants.

    • entendante said:

      Oh, hey, that’s a much more succinct version of my word-vomit below. Yes, LW — what TO-Ont said!

    • Morticia said:

      I have said for a long time that I am similarly fortunate. It is wonderful to be able to marry for love. We have been together for seventeen wonderful years, and we are complementary to each other, compensating for each others weaknesses and bolstering each other’s strengths. He’s not the breadwinner, but he’s the reason I can win it. I am also fortunate that my parents see that, and it is the only thing that matters to them.

      LW, if he makes your daughter happy, and she doesn’t need his help financially, then you should be happy that she is happy.

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      That’s the thing that always gets me about guys who talk about how women should stay at home and be mega-traditional, but think it’s shallow for women to be at all concerned with how much money their partner makes. If my options as far as money goes were limited to the amount my partner made, you’re damn right I’d be concerned about their fiscal situation.

      • Myrtle said:

        I recently became aware that the reason one of my elderly female relatives stays with her emotionally abusive spouse is she (America) has no Social Security benefits, from living with several partners as the non-breadwinner. Her Darth also has polished her into a perfect Stormtrooper who’s also attacked me so, not needing to rescue her anytime soon.

  30. Eureka said:

    LW, It’s entirely possible that your daughter’s boyfriend is a sack of Evil Bed in a charming Darth Vader suit. It’s also entirely possible that he’s simply exactly what you’re daughter wants and needs right now for reasons that you don’t know because you are not her. In either case, there is one single script that will serve you.

    “We love you and want you to be happy.”

    Memorize this and repeat as necessary.

    See, IF he really is going to fill their house with bees, the last thing you want to do is alienate your daughter. If she can’t count on you to have her back, she won’t turn to you if things go badly. And if you’re wrong and the bees never materialize, you don’t want to miss all the good things like grandkids and new holiday traditions and summer evenings around the bbq pit.

    I say this as a daughter who married a Darth Vader. I knew my parents weren’t happy about it, but they never tried to stop me or make choose between that first desperate love and them. They simply told me, over and over, “We love you and want you to be happy.” So when things fell apart I could admit it was a bad decision, ask for their help, and accept it as gracefully as possible.

    It’s one thing to offer an opinion or suggestion when asked. “Well, honey, now that you mention it it would be nice if he’d take his hat off indoors.” And certainly find something nice to say. “He obviously adores you,” is a classic for a reason.

    But your go-to is “We love you and we want you to be happy.”

    • ijm52 said:

      This is perfect. I’m totally using this.

      • ijm52 said:

        AND I will totally mean it. This helps me a lot with my feelings about my daughter’s boyfriend, red flags and all.

  31. Dear LW:

    Essentially, the message you have been getting here is: stay out of your grown daughter’s personal life.

    I agree with this, and yet, I wonder something.

    Are you concerned that Daughter will give some of FamilyBusiness to her partner? Are you afraid that he’ll ruin the business? I ask, because that could be a separate conversation. If that’s your fear you could try something like

    “Daughter, as you may know, we always hoped that your life partner might also be your business partner. We hoped that because it worked so well with us.

    Your partner, a lovely person, doesn’t seem very interested in the business. So we’d like to hear about how you’ll be running it, if you run it alone. And how you and your partner see your future.”

    Then listen to her about her partner. Let her talk about how she perceives her life. Maybe from that you’ll hear things that ease you a bit. Maybe you’ll hear disquieting things. I certainly don’t know what you’ll hear.

    Even so, I am sure that if you listen to your daughter you will hear things about her relationship and her life that will give you clarity.

    And no matter what she says, she’s a grown up. Give her a little room

    • Muffin said:

      AHA. Bingo. I think you hit the nail on the head here: if this is about What Will Happen to the Company, rather than whether Daughter is happy… well, it makes more sense that the parents are upset, even if it’s for a selfish reason.

      I agree about having that conversation with the daughter, and I would add that it’s important, LW, *before* you have that conversation, that you be honest with yourself about (a) what it is you want this guy to do / fear he won’t do and then (b) how much of that is any of your (literal) business.

    • gmg said:

      This was my thought as well. I also agree that it’s fair to attempt this conversation, conducted in this open-minded and open-ended way, given that the business is LW and her husband’s life’s work that they (I assume) handed down to Daughter and, it sounds like, still have an ownership interest in. But it’s unlikely that she will respond well if it bleeds over into becoming an indictment of him as a person overall. LW, if we’re barking up the right tree here and you decide you want to have this sort of talk, it needs to be about the business and ONLY the business. The rest of your daughter’s life is HER business.

  32. entendante said:

    A lot of the stories here seem to go along the lines of “partner didn’t seem ambitious at first, but now look what a high-earning prestige job he has!” (Is it wrong that I have “Sk8r Boi” stuck in my head?) LW, I’m here to tell you a story that doesn’t go like that.

    My husband is not ambitious, in any traditional sense. I’m not criticizing him (as you’ll see), nor am I describing him in a way that’s any different from how he describes himself. I’m just stating a fact: his career goal is to have a good enough job that the family finances work out ok, but that isn’t so emotionally or intellectually taxing that he doesn’t have any juice left at the end of the day.

    I am… somewhat more career-oriented. I have a master’s, with my sights set on another, and work a minimum of 10 hours a day (sometimes more like 16) in a super-intense managerial position (that’s actually multiple super-intense managerial positions combined) at a non-profit that does amazing but emotionally grueling work. I come home late in the evening, and basically all I want is comfort: my knitting, my Netflix, my dinner, and my sweet, easygoing, devoted husband.

    My husband is not especially confident. He has wicked social anxiety, and is therefore unlikely to sweep the room up in the tidal wave of his charisma – he’s more the “draw you in closer and closer so you can hear what he’s saying sotto voce” type. I’m… well, a former professional performer, is the easiest way to summarize that. A nationally- and internationally-ranked debater. Pathologically extroverted, some have even said.

    Here’s what all of that description misses: my lifestyle certainly enables him to skip over most of the things that are hard for him and live a life that works for him; and the way he lives has the exact same benefit for me. I earn enough money that he can work four days a week at a job below his skill level; he’s got the home front under control (because he’s around so much more) so that I can work obscene hours and not have to worry about how I’m going to feed myself when I get back. I put myself out there as the social buffer between him and the chatty, boisterous world; he’s the still spot that I come back to when the whirlwind spits me out. He’s never going to be Don Draper, or Matthew Crawley, or Eric the Vampire, or even the Sk8r-Boi-who-finally-becomes-a-star. And that’s a really good thing.

    I invite you to consider, LW, that maybe – just maybe – the quiet, shy, not-inordinately-driven fellow she’s found herself is exactly what she needs. Not everyone wants to be half of a high-flying power couple, and not every contribution to a relationship looks the same.

    (And yes, my mother’s snark about how he isn’t “pulling his weight” is at least part of why I don’t talk to her anymore. So there’s that, too.)

    • Copcher said:

      I love this comment so much.

      • entendante said:

        Aw, thanks. Any day I can sing his praises *and* work in both True Blood and Avril Lavigne is a pretty good day. 😉

  33. percysowner said:

    I was a parent in this situation. My daughter was dating a guy who didn’t bother to look for a job, stated he would love to be a stay at home dad even though he didn’t like children and refused to do chores. When the aunt he was living with moved, I agreed that he could move in with me (my daughter was in Grad school and couldn’t afford her own place). Then I pretty much shut my mouth and let her see what living with him would be like. The only time I said anything was when he left for a while. I had asked that he do dishes if he were living with us. He would load the dishwasher, not wash counters and not unload the dishwasher. I simply asked my daughter that if he returned we needed to make it clear that doing the dishes meant more than just getting dirty ones in the dishwasher.

    My daughter was smart and perfectly capable of deciding if she wanted to spend the rest of her life with the guy. I’m going to assume that the daughter in question is similarly smart and capable of deciding if this guy is a good match for her. Maybe she wants someone low key. Maybe she would like a stay at home person to do chores, take care of kids and be a support system. Maybe he gives her a lot of emotional support that she needs. If none of this is true, she’ll figure it out. The only time I would interfere was if I thought a boyfriend was being abusive. Even then, I wouldn’t tell her he was a bad guy and she needed to leave. I would ask about how she was being treated, if she was happy and let her know that if she ever needed a little time to reflect she could come home to me. Pushing your kid to see someone they love as “wrong for them” only pushes your kid away from you.

  34. OK. Since your daughter is an adult and you don’t really get to approve or disapprove of her personal life choices, I think the most constructive thing you can do is focus on your own feelings: why do you feel this way and what can you do about it?

    What’s your main concern here? Is it about your daughter’s happiness? I hope it is, and if indeed it is then perhaps you do her a disservice – even an insult – by implying that at 32 years of age she isn’t capable of figuring out for herself what will make her happy. Trust me, she is the best person to decide that. A lot of parents sometimes lose sight of where they end and their children begin. It can be helpful to take a step back and remind yourself that your daughter is an individual adult who is not part of you, is not the same as you and might sometimes make choices that you wouldn’t make yourself. I’m emphasising this point because my own mother was very bad at that, gets angry and resentful when I choose different life paths from her (and often tries to stop me) and as a result I hardly speak to her and we are not at all close. I don’t think you want that, LW.

    In fact, I now have a daughter myself and there are exactly two criteria I would want to see in any life partner she has: 1) that they are not in any way abusing her or putting her in danger; 2) that they are a person my daughter has chosen to be with because they make her happy. Beyond that, I absolutely do not care who or what they are. I think that will probably make both me and her happier. If her partner makes her happy then they are definitely good enough for her and I’d guess that me trying to come between them would make her far unhappier than being with someone who wasn’t rich or whatever it is you’re looking for. If I were you, I’d be proud to have raised a daughter who isn’t too shallow to be able to appreciate a nice person over one who’s well off and ambitious. There’s a positive to focus on!

    Like other commenters, I’m puzzled about the whole “providing for her” thing. If she’s a partner in a successful business and he’s nice to her, what exactly does he need to provide her with? I wonder if it’s because she’s a woman and you’ve always lived with the idea that a woman needs a strong man to support her. In that case it might be a good idea to try and accept the idea that things have changed for the better so women, like your daughter, are now seen as capable of providing for themselves (and even for men, if they need it!). Isn’t that another positive and something to be proud of your daughter for?

    I wonder if one of your concerns might be about what you suppose others may think of your daughter’s relationship? It’s none of their business. And of course it’s not about you, either. It’s about her, and him, and whether they are both safe and happy with each other and give each other what they need emotionally. That’s the ONLY thing that matters when it comes to an adult relationship. It’s not her partner’s job to provide for her financially if she’s financially successful herself. She’s an independent adult.

    You say the relationship is fairly new, so perhaps your anxieties are mostly about WHAT he is or isn’t, rather than WHO he is. If he is “nice” then do him the courtesy of giving him a chance. If you genuinely don’t like him as a person, that might be the best thing you can do. I’m afraid you can’t come between two adults in a relationship just because you don’t like one of them. After all, it’s your daughter he is in a relationship with, not your daughter and you.

    I hope everything works out and you grow to be fond of the chap. You might be surprised. And your daughter will be much happier than if you outwardly disapprove: if you do, it’s you she’s likely to push away, not him.

    • Good point about wondering what others will think. I’ve taken actions (nothing significant or anybody else’s business) and received “What will I say to my friends?” Who knows. Who cares. Not my problem, and frankly what I do is none of my mother’s business anyway.

      Also, LW, beware of applying double standards. My best friend in my hometown is gay. My family went to their commitment ceremony, my mother often commented on how it was the most wonderful day, was genuinely delighted for them. Then once, on a trip home, she asked me whether I was seeing anyone. My reply began “actually, there is this girl who…” before I was cut off by a barrage of OhMyGoodness DontBeRidiculous WeWillNeverTalkOfThisAgain. Right. Apparently a same sex partner is “good enough” for my friend, but not for her daughter.

      So, LW, think about whether your daughter’s partner, who you describe as being nice, could be ever considered a good partner “for the right person”. If you can envisage that he would be a very nice partner… For someone else… Then consider that he could equally be a good partner for your daughter. Even if he’s not the type you imagined her settling with. Be careful not to set an overly high expectation for your daughter. Let her set her own principles and standards.

  35. Taz said:

    This part of the letter really rubbed me the wrong way: “Her boyfriend is 36, a nice unmotivated man who seems to us to be looking for an easy deal…We doubt that he could really ever provide for our daughter…”

    By your own description, your daughter is a smart professional woman. Why does she need someone to “provide” for her? Perhaps it’s just concerns about them relying mainly on her income, but the phrasing of this really struck me. You don’t really list any basis for why you think he’s looking for an easy deal. Is it just that he makes less money than she does? Has less education? A less prestigious career? Or does he sit at home unemployed making no attempt to look for a job (and is not unable to do so because of health, etc.)? The letter isn’t detailed enough to know either way, but the impression I got was more the former than the latter.

    This is my own experience with this sort of situation. I’m in my mid-twenties with a master’s degree (though no stable career yet) and my partner is in his late twenties with a high school education. He too may seem from the outside to be “unmotivated,” but he doesn’t just rely on other people to provide for him. He sees his job as something he does to make money to live on, and not a Career. And you know what? It’s worked out very well for us. Because he’s not tied down to any specific thing, he’s been able to move across the country with me while I am pursuing my own career. And he’s the sweetest, most supportive person I’ve ever met.

    Luckily, neither one of my parents ever said anything derogatory about this (they really like him, in fact), nor has anyone else ever said anything outright. But I still feel that faint tinge of defensive hackles rising when a well-meaning relative or acquaintance inquires about “what he does” and reacts to the answer with politely suppressed surprise. I guarantee you that if my parents HAD attempted to talk me out of the relationship, it would not have been my relationship with my partner that would have been strained as a result.

    Trust your daughter, LW. Unless this guy is ringing your alarm bells for reasons OTHER than his “lack of motivation” and “confidence” (in which case the Captain has suggested some strategies above), at least muster up politeness for him. If you value your relationship with your daughter, treat her like an adult capable of making her own choices, because she is one.

  36. Wonderlust said:

    Working on a generous interpretation of the LW, I actually was in the daughter’s position at one time in my life. At 26 I was dating a man ten years older than me, with lots of insecurity which meant he was abrasive, since he was constantly trying to show everyone how smart he was. He also made poor life decisions (dropping a job while pursuing a degree), which meant that I, a student with zero income, ended up paying for lots of things I shouldn’t have paid for. He assumed he was always welcome at our house (I lived with my parents at the time), that he could come on family trips, and his presumptuousness really rubbed my parents the wrong way.

    My Dad mostly stayed out of it, but I remember my Mum trying to make her opinion known more than once. It didn’t go over well. If I’m honest, at the time I knew that what she was saying was grounded in truth, but I needed to see the relationship through. (I knew at the time it wasn’t forever.) My mother only made an already hard time in my life that much harder by pressing her opinion.

    Looking back, I now see much more clearly what they were seeing. They love me and they desperately wanted someone who is ‘worthy’ of me. And it didn’t help that we were all living together (so they had to see him all the time). I get that now, but it was a lesson I needed to learn for myself. LW, trust that you’ve been a good parent, raised a good kid, and let her make her own mistakes, or, if she decides this man is for her, try to trust her judgement on that.

  37. Anyanka said:

    Also, two things I forgot to mention in my above comment:

    1) I really disagree with the Captain about the ‘they’re making their own family together’ idea. That’s false; they’re becoming a part of you & your daughter’s family. Which is why it’s important to be respectful and civil, even if you don’t personally like him (and you don’t have to), similar to how you at bare minimum tolerate family members you don’t actually like that much.

    2) One of my dad’s brothers brought his now-wife to my dad’s wedding to meet his family. Upon first seeing her, my dad’s mother burst into hysterical tears and didn’t stop crying for an hour. This has made not just the relationship between my now-aunt and my paternal grandmother kind of fraught, but also the relationship between my uncle and my paternal grandmother. He’s not even a little close to her anymore, and she’s often sad about it, but the thing is that when she made it a ‘be close to me or to your wife’, he chose his wife/the mother of his kids.

    LW, I don’t think you want to do the same.

    • ijm52 said:

      Oh. No. How awful. I’m so glad he supported his wife in this. And, I think what a lot of parents don’t consider is, they are putting their own loved one in a completely untenable position. Right smack dab in the middle. Whichever way they turn, someone’s relationship is ruined. Heck, maybe both relationships are ruined – the familial one and the romantic one. Why do that to a member of your family?

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        I can imagine that if he later broke up with his wife for any reason he could easily still hold that against this mother, for example. The thing about having to choose between people is that you don’t have to choose one – you can walk away from both if you want.

        • Light37 said:

          Good point. Even if things didn’t work out with his wife, he might well say, “Mom is toxic,” and cut ties anyway.

  38. randomcheeses said:

    We doubt that he could really ever provide for our daughter, and hate to see her waste time waiting for him to kick in. We have been very patient with our daughter in the past, always hoping she would find a strong confident man for a life mate.

    LW, you appear to think you are living in the 1950s. You are not. Please, please treat your daughter like an adult capable of providing for herself.

    • wondering said:

      So much this.

  39. VG said:

    “Manners” are incredibly subjective. My late husband told me once that I wasn’t respectful enough to the older people in his family. I asked him if he could give me an example of something rude I had done, so I could avoid doing it again, and he said “It’s not that you’re rude, it’s that you talk to them like you’re their equal.” I was totally at a loss as to how I could change that, because not having been brought up in their culture, I had missed being taught whatever subtle behavior would convey “we are not equal” during a conversation–I could see literally no difference in the way he talked to them and the way I did, although I’m sure it was there. So even if the daughter’s boyfriend were told that his manners weren’t up to the LW’s standards (which to me would be much ruder than whatever it is he’s doing) it might not be something he could change even if he wanted to.

    • TO_Ont said:

      And it might not be something he did want to change. E.g., in you example, I would lose consider it extremely rude and offensive to expect another adult to speak to you as less than an equal. I might go along with it for the sake of getting along with an elderly relative, but I would feel like I was putting up with their poor manners and disrespect, definitely not improving my own manners.

    • John H said:

      “…and he said ‘It’s not that you’re rude, it’s that you talk to them like you’re their equal.'”
      Uh, in most senses other than age and possible skill/knowledge specializations, you ARE their equal (and they inevitably are not your equal in any number of ways, as well). People who demand deference never, ever deserve it. Respect is earned, not owed.

      • TO_Ont said:

        ‘People who demand deference never, ever deserve it. Respect is earned, not owed’.

        SO true, and so succintly put.

  40. Anna Sthetic said:

    LW, you’ve clearly rubbed everyone up the wrong way a bit.

    If you’re still reading: you’ve got two choices. You can be in your daughter’s life as a source of joy, or you can be in her life as a source of stress.

    What you can’t control is your daughter’s reaction should you choose to be in her life as a source of stress. It’s possible (but not likely) that she will leave her partner as a result of you pressuring her. It’s possible that she will tolerate your negative attitude. It is also eminently possible that she will just give you up.

    Remember that her partner is somebody that she, as an adult, has chosen to join her life with, regardless of your objections (which she will know about, whether or not you have voiced them). You have been around longer, but that is by no means a guarantee that she will choose you if you make her life into an emotional tug of war.

    Be a source of joy, if you want a continuing joyful relationship with her.

  41. misspiggy said:

    LW, could this be partly about your hopes/ambitions for your family? You made a success of your business and maybe saw your daughter uniting with a similarly driven and dynamic man and his go-getting family. Social and financial standing would go from strength to strength.

    If something like that was your vision, you could be blaming the boyfriend for blocking off the route to such a legacy. It might be time to focus on the good things in your family’s situation, live your own life to the full, and try to let expectations for other people’s futures go.

  42. Joan of anon said:

    I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt and assume this isn’t a class issue, but that he really is rude, lazy and boring.

    I still don’t think voicing your concerns would be wise. She’s 32 and I think it’s over-parenting at this stage to assume she really wants or even cares about your opinion. But – I think you should try to get her to talk about him more. Get an idea of what’s good in the relationship, what she loves about him, what she hopes for in the future. Maybe she’ll bring up concerns you can have a genuine conversation about herself. Maybe she’ll talk about him in a way that helps you understand why she’s with him. Even if he’s not who you’d choose, I think you’d find it easier to be supportive and welcoming if you can see what he does that makes your daughter happy. Also do keep trying to get to know him – he may be a slow burn kind of guy with hidden depths. Your daughter loves him for a reason and you might discover that reason and love him too.

    Finally – either their relationship is going to work or it isn’t, and that is literally nothing to do with you. So be kind and nice and work out how to get along with him in case it does, but also don’t go driving yourselves up the wall with worry about how he will raise your fictional grandchildren because there’s still a huge chance this guy won’t be around for a long time. The most important thing is to maintain your relationship with your daughter – and be an avenue of support, not ‘I told you so’, if the whole thing goes tits up.

  43. Okay, let’s turn this around a bit. You say this man lacks manners (although you don’t say how – does he eat with his knife; is he deliberately rude in hurtful ways; or does he just not know what to do with an oyster fork?). You say he lacks confidence and personal motivation. However, how about we turn this around and say possibly that he is uncertain around you, that he may be awkward and uneasy at being constantly judged and found wanting, and that he doesn’t display his motivations in a way you recognise? Would this be a fair assessment?

    I’ve been in the position of being judged by a partner’s parents and feeling as though I’ve been found wanting. It isn’t a pleasant feeling, especially when it tangles up with my own existing insecurities. About the only cure for it, really, is time and getting to know the person. In our case, it took over a decade before I was able to relax and actually get to know my in-laws (not helped by living on the other side of the country for about eight years). These days, we actually get along quite successfully.

    LW, trust your daughter to know her own mind. She may well have chosen her partner for precisely the reasons you disagree with him – she’s chosen him because he isn’t strong and confident and ambitious (and therefore likely to demand she support his ambitions at the cost of her own). She may have chosen him because he’s quiet and reserved, and supportive in private. Have you asked her what she likes about him?

    (PS: your comments about a “strong, confident man” made me think of all the various posts on this site and any number of others around the internet pointing out essentially just how bad actually living with various romantick heroes would be. You might want to check them out yourself).

  44. Tonia said:

    These are really frustrating comments to read for the most part. I think the reason the LW is referencing the prior letter is because she is asking, “how do I talk to my daughter about my concerns when she doesn’t want to hear them?”

    The answer may be “don’t,” but the question is entirely reasonable. Love, like politics and religion, is sometimes a thing you don’t get a say in. The LW isn’t necessarily a horrible, snobbish person because she has concerns.

    I read “lack of manners” as mildly disrespectful, and what constitutes mildly disrespectful may be cultural. If “lack of manners” = not part of my social class, then the many commenters who have already told you to butt out are right, but if “lack of manners” = “he subtly disrespects me and my daughter,” then I think you are right to be concerned. Whether or not you have the right to say anything, I don’t know. I think it might clear the air a bit to say, “Daughter, I want to like Boyfriend because I know you love him, but oh. my. god. the way he chews with his mouth open? I can’t stand it.” Daughter is presumably aware that you don’t like Boyfriend, so some reasons might help. “Mom hates the way you chew” is a lot easier to overcome than “Mom hates you.” (Or, it may make things worse. I don’t know).

    “Lack of confidence” I don’t know what to do about, other than Boyfriend is presumably aware that you don’t think he is good enough for Daughter, so a lack of confidence is probably better than over-confidence (and lack of self awareness)? Does “lack of confidence” mean he always puts himself down? Does it mean he is a wallflower? Does it mean he “yes, dear”‘s your daughter? There are some huge cultural divides in confidence (and humility), so it may be worth taking a look at that as well.

    “Lack of personal motivation,” too, can mean different things. Does it mean he has a job that is comfortable, and he is uninterested in climbing the corporate ladder (see the many commenters above)? Or does it mean that he has no job, little education, and no plan to move forward? Or is it bigger than professional motivation? “Personal motivation” can also take the form of taking care of oneself (and loved ones), planning for contingencies, and having personal goals and milestones.

    Think about whether you can come up with two or three of the biggies, and stop yourself there. If you can, maybe you can talk to your daughter about your concerns, ONCE. You should probably promise upfront that you will never mention this again, and you’ll need to do exactly that. Expect her to get defensive, and don’t make it into a big deal. Clearing the air might help. Harping on his lack of suitability will most certainly not. If you do say something, say it once, only comment on two or three things, and then let it go. She will never come to you with her own concerns if you keep it up. But think hard about whether you can do it in a way that is productive.

    Finally – I don’t think it’s wrong to want your daughter to be with someone who CAN provide for her, should circumstances require it. I do think (and this too is cultural) that if your daughter and boyfriend are happy with their arrangement, where daughter is the breadwinner, then that’s okay and should be respected (and there are several success stories above about these types of arrangements). But wanting your daughter to be with someone who COULD provide for her? I think it’s okay. It almost certainly doesn’t need to be said.

    • Marmot said:

      This is great.

    • Jane said:

      This letter simultaneously reminds me of:

      A. My dad, who, though he has supported me in getting two difficult degrees, still seems to hope in his heart of hearts that first, I will get married; second, it will be to a Manly Man who has a Very Important Job; third, that this will then become the center of my existence and all my travel and work ambitions will become moot; fourth, I will rearrange my life and my personality to have children with the Manly Man. If I took his expectations seriously, they would be crushing; as it is, I completely cut him out of that part of my life. He will know if I am dating someone if we get engaged.

      B. This letter to Dr. Nerdlove: http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2015/07/ask-dr-nerdlove-boyfriend-wont-look-for-work/

      This particular letter is from a woman who is dating a Very Nice Young Man Whom She Loves Very Much, who plays video games all day instead of doing housework or looking for a job — doubtless in part due to anxiety and depression, but possibly also because he is a leech? HARD TO SAY FROM A DISTANCE.

      You (LW, sorry) can have very legitimate concerns; you still have no control — not even over whether your daughter listens to your concerns! And I think it’s important to realize that your relationship with your daughter up to this point is probably going to determine whether she listens to you bringing stuff up, far more than the legitimacy of your worries. My dad has a history of interrupting me and talking over me when I try to tell him what’s important to me, so I don’t trust him with that information anymore; he also generally makes fun of me whenever any mention of me dating comes up*, so he also doesn’t get to have knowledge of that. My mom, on the other hand, has gradually changed how she talks about these things with me as I’ve set boundaries and had discussions with her, so she gets limited insight into my dating life.

      I am a bit skeptical of your (LW’s) relationship to your daughter, given the whole “we’ve been very patient” line, which bespeaks a lifetime of not-so-subtle criticism and judging of fairly inconsequential choices. But, it’s possible that you’ve been very good at keeping your concerns about her dating to yourself — I have an aunt and uncle who are very skilled at not sharing their not-so-positive opinions about their older daughter’s boyfriends with her, for example, and thus they are very much plugged into the family life. (By contrast, my aunt has always been very critical of everything about her younger daughter’s preferences and personality, and thus she doesn’t share ANYTHING with her mom.)

      But I would certainly ask yourselves this before you even ask if she wants to hear your concerns: is your relationship with your daughter good enough to support this implied criticism, particularly in this area? It might not be.

      * side note of total frustration: can anyone explain the motivation for this??? HE’S SO DISAPPOINTED THAT I AM SINGLE, AND YET WHY IS HE SURPRISED, WHEN HE HAS MADE ME FEEL BAD EVERY TIME I’VE EVER EXPRESSED INTEREST IN ANY PERSON EVER. argh. ????

      • Man, if I could figure that one out for myself, and it applied to anyone else at all, I’d shout it from the housetops. I’m dating a really wonderful man. He’s good to me, we have a million shared interests, we love spending time together…all things that, after my husband died, I thought I’d never find. I spent five years dating after he died, and made it to three months or more with precisely one person, who then cheated on me so I dumped him. My parents, who were deeply suspicious of my husband and made no bones about their dislike of him while he was alive, then acted as though they were sincerely attached to him. I’ve been dropping subtle mentions of my wonderful boyfriend for a few months now in texts, and neither of my parents have responded in any way to any of them, to the point that if I send a text that only mentions my boyfriend and something we did together, it ends the conversation because they won’t respond.

        I don’t know what they want from me. I’ve never known, and they’ve never made it clear, except that it’s always something other than what I actually do (and am, and feel, and think). So I don’t have answers, but I have a lot of sympathy.

        • Jane said:

          In all fairness, I think that *if* I were to find someone who I fit really well with, I could bring the parental units around with, “Well, I’m happy, so that’s what matters!” But my dad could definitely use a come-to-Jesus moment along the lines of, “When you make it a big joke that I could possibly be attracted to anyone, or that anyone could be attracted to me, what are you trying to accomplish? When you make these horrible predictions of how my life is going to be ~when~ I get married, has it ever occurred to you if those are things I actually want? Do you think I’m going to bring someone home if you’ve given me every indication that you’re going to be rude and disrespectful to him?”

      • thegirlfrommarz said:

        A couple of things spring to mind:
        1. He likes the idea of you being with someone but when it comes to the reality of it, he doesn’t actually like it, so is giving you very mixed messages about his hopes for you.
        2. He is awkward about thinking of his daughter as a person with sexual desires and reacts by making fun of the people you’ve chosen to date. Or even just that he thinks he’s being funny by joking about your love life and doesn’t see the effect it has on you. Have you told him that it bothers you when he makes fun of your dates (I know you said he talks over you, so it isn’t easy)?
        3. He has internalised some cultural bullshit about the kind of person you “ought” to be with and real human beings can’t live up to that idealised image – but he still wants you to be with someone, so keeps bugging you about it, even while telling you all your dates aren’t up to scratch.
        4. He wants a specific type of son-in-law for some reason (to enhance his social standing? As a replacement for a son he didn’t have? Because he wants a friend?) and your type isn’t his type, if you see what I mean!

        It does sound like he has an image of the kind of man he wants you to be with, which is not be the kind of man you want to be with. I suspect he doesn’t see/doesn’t want to see how his behaviour has made you anxious about dating and the connection between that and you being single! Perhaps if you could tell him frankly that he’s hurting you by behaving this way, he might back off? It’s your life and your choice – he doesn’t get to pick your boyfriend.

        • Jane said:

          Maybe the answer is “all of the above!” . . . all of those things sound pretty reasonable. I admit that I am pretty anxious about setting boundaries in that area, as I have had a couple attempts blow up in my face. HERE’S TO TRYING AGAIN.

          My theory is that my dad wants me to end up with someone like him! . . . driven, single-minded, very conservative, a little goofy. Which, okay, I understand how he could come up with that idea. It’s just. . . not going to work out like that.

          It’s funny, because I had a conversation with my mom a couple years ago that basically went, “If I bring someone home, he won’t be conservative, and there’s a not insignificant chance that he won’t be white. I’m not sure I want to deal with getting my dad on board with that.” And she basically reassured me that he realized that if they vocally disapproved of my romantic choices they just wouldn’t get to see me. But . . . I’m not sure he really truly realizes that he doesn’t get input.

          • Bashelor said:

            When I was in my early 20’s, my grandfather started in on the “now is the time in your life to be married! You need another person to pay the bills!” stuff. I was confused by this stand. I had not brought anyone for him to meet at a holiday dinner or something (he didn’t live with me). Did he expect the two of us to stake out a local 7/11, pick a number between 1-10 and throw a bag over whatever man walked out that was age appropriate and had no wedding ring? Shotgun wedding, Raising Arizona style! Was there some sort of Husband Shoppe that he knew about that I didn’t? Then my sister got married under… Not Good circumstances (but no, she wasn’t up the pole) and moved away leaving a lot of damage in her wake. Mysteriously *cough* the talk about how I should be married stopped. I don’t think he had ever considered that bringing another person into the family might mean that I would move away. It was like he had this concept in his mind that A Husband would miraculously appear, but he would be like a giant mannequin who had no opinions and stayed in a box somewhere but coincidentally just happened to have a lot of money (somehow). When I did finally introduce someone to him, he was bizarrely not pleased and pretty much ignored my Darth. I think the message must have developed in his mind that if I fell in love with someone, I would have less time/energy/love/whatever for him… and that wasn’t as cool as he thought it was originally when A Husband was just an animated walking wallet with a magic amber in the bottom of it.

            So Jane, choose who you makes you happy and complements you, don’t ignore red flags or brush under the rug bad behaviour and damn the torpedoes of your dad’s parental disapproval. Odds are, no matter who you pick, he won’t like them. And there’s nothing you can do to change that.

      • Leonine said:

        * When I’ve seen (and *blush* done) stuff like that in the past, it’s come from a place of discomfort with the emotional intimacy and vulnerability required to discuss or even acknowledge intimacy or vulnerability.

        A: I met someone cute and I really like hir.
        C: *quietly panics*
        C: Oooh, are you going to have a million of hir babies?!?!
        A: . . . Um, okay, so. I’m having dinner with hir later this week.
        C: *tries not to run away/hit something/cry*
        C: Weren’t you seeing someone before? Chris? Kris? Chryss? What every happened to Khrrhyysse?
        A: Chris moved to Toronto. That was two years ago.
        C: Well, I’m sure Kkhriysss has tears in hir beer over you, you heartbreaker! Are you going to break this one’s heart too?!?!
        A: . . .
        A: You’re a jerk. I’m leaving.
        C: *weeps with relief on the inside*
        C: Aww, come on! Where’s your sense of humor?

        When I did stuff like this, I was repeating patterns I learned around emotional vulnerability. Authenticity was weakness in my family, and weakness was belittled and contemned. This is not to excuse C, only to explain C. YMMV.

        • My mom is the queen of the “teasing” horrible cutting remark, and because I was raised by someone who ceaselessly belittled me at every turn and someone else who had an instant reason why anything I wanted wasn’t feasible, advisable, or possible, I had some pretty serious issues with how normative people (which I very much wanted to be) should express ease and intimacy in a normative way, which meant that occasionally and–oh god–almost always in public, I would blurt out something absolutely *horrible* to or about people I was actually friends with, sometimes hurting them very badly. Even once I realized it wasn’t the way good people act, well, socialization is a very powerful force and it took some serious work to keep a lid on the tendency for something mean to slip out–because in my family, “love” was like a finger endlessly poking a bruise, and if that’s all you know, it takes a while to reverse it.

          • JenniferP said:

            I resemble this remark. ❤

          • Wow, yeah. My mother makes endless streams of belittling, mocking digs at me and if I react in any way at all, she starts with “Oh for goodness’ sake, what’s wrong with you, I’m only joking! Can’t you lighten up? You’ve no sense of humour at all…” etc.

            I used to sit, mystified and thinking “But…she was shouting at me/we were in the middle of a fight/she was trying to make a point at the time. How could I know she was joking?” It took years for me to realise she was gaslighting me.

          • This is my dad. I recently was reading an article* which suggested when this happens you say “Kidding/joking implies that both people are having fun. Now that you know I am not having fun I’m sure you won’t do it again.” I have not had a chance to use this in the wild, but it seems like a good line to have in your back pocket for these “But I was only joooookiiiiiiiiiing” types.

            * the article was about talking to toddlers. Yup, because that behavior demonstrates the same maturity as a toddler.

    • Aurora said:

      I’m definitely seeing a rebellious-teenager vibe from the comments. There seems to be an awful lot of “fuck the parents, the children can do whatever they want as adults and no one even gets a fucking opinion about it.” Is my family weird in that we actually respect the elders and hear them out, even if we decide to not do what they ask of us? Is there some sort of mandatory silence on part of the parents?

      • Leonine said:

        Wow! You know, I never thought about it that way! Here I thought I was a forty-year-old, happily married professional and mother of two looking back with an eye of experience and dare I say wisdom and relating my life to that of others, but it turns out that I’m just a superannuated snotty mall rat who needs to adjust her attitude and keep a respectful tongue in her head! Gosh, I really do learn so much here, especially when there are superior people from superior families around to set me straight! Thank you! So! Much! 😀

        • I think it’s super cute when someone’s mad I’m not a conventional 40-year-old living a conventional life. I didn’t start out conventional and, fates willing, I won’t end that way either. 🙂 If my failure to adhere to convention makes someone else question their unexamined beliefs in ways that make them uncomfortable, well, they are very welcome. 🙂

          • Leonine said:

            You know, I’m always happy to see your comments. You’re one of my favorite commenters on this page. 🙂 I didn’t mean by any of the above to mean that I’m conventional, that I prize conventionality, or that I take pride in the conventional aspects of my life. A lot of my life is pretty unconventional, and I am extremely well-pleased with that. What I meant was that I am a grown-ass woman who has seen some things, knows some stuff, and isn’t here to be told how to be. In the future, I will try to do better to say what I mean. 🙂

          • Thank you! No, I was agreeing with you in a sarcastic way–that was all about Aurora, who really does seem to get super mad when people aren’t conventional (I’ve noticed from other comments).

            I’m so sorry that I made you feel like I was criticizing your comment, which I thought was brilliant and very much on point!

        • Leonine said:

          Your super-wise, uber-respectable, amazing Buddha-Groot elders have done an extra-shiny job of raising their youngers to be excellent double-deep limpid pools of sympathy who consistently test negative for smugness, judgment, bad breath, self-doubt, and cognitive dissonance. Mazel tov, aloha, shalom, ahoy, and me encanta to them!

          • Leonine said:

            I’m gonna stop now, but seriously? Gimme a break.

          • Epiphyta said:

            *stares at “Buddha-Groot” in wonder and delight, runs off with the term, leaves cookies in its place*

          • Leonine said:

            Mmmmm. Cookies. *om nom nom*

        • entendante said:

          You have awakened in me a life goal I didn’t know I had. I now dream of one day being able to refer to myself as a “superannuated snotty mall rat.” (How old does one have to be for that to work?)

          • Leonine said:

            Thirty five. Same as the President.

          • entendante said:

            Woohoo – the countdown begins!

      • You see rebellious teenager–I see people who’ve been through the wars with parents who are toxic, controlling, or abusive, and are eager to help others like them find the road that leads to the Fuckits, a wonderful place to live if you have parents who are toxic, controlling, and/or abusive.

        I can’t speak to the oddity of you or your family, but I can say that “respecting your elders” is made all but impossible when your elders are neither your wisers nor your betters.

        • entendante said:

          +1.

          There’s a meme I’ve seen floating around the interwebs recently, which points out that some people use “respect” to mean “treat as an equal human being” (let’s call that “respect_1”) and some use it to mean “defer to as an authority” (“respect_2”) I think a lot of the commenters here are more than a little reluctant to respect_2 their elders when those elders aren’t even willing to respect_1 them.

          Or, to be more blunt and less of a former-professional-semanticist… I don’t let my friends rule on who I should be dating (though their occasional observations are welcome, within more or less the same parameters that other commenters have presented). And these are people I choose to have in my life, because I believe they’re smart, lovely people who mostly share my values and have my interests at heart. There is frankly no way I’m going to give greater latitude to people who are around merely by accident of birth, whether or not we have any kind of worldview in common.

        • THIS THIS THIS

          I respect all people regardless of age. I do not make any special attempt to treat people older than me with extra respect and deference due to age alone.

      • Season said:

        It is hardly a rebellious teenager vibe, but if you want to insult an entire page of commenters, you do you.

        See, adults DO get to make their own decisions in life and other people actually DON’T have any real say about those decisions, no matter who they are or how many hours of labor they went through. (That’s the one my mom uses.) The LW’s daughter is 30-fucking-2, and the LW is the one acting like the daughter is a petulant child who doesn’t want to do what she is told. There is no real (apparent) substance to her complaints, the LW just isn’t getting her way. No one is duty-bound to hear a parent out in that situation. No one. And it wouldn’t be respectful to hear her out, either. It would be pandering.

        If my mom wanted me to hear her out about something she has experience with, fine. But neither my mother nor the LW has any experience with the boyfriend in question. And something tells me the LW’s daughter has more than enough experience hearing ALL ABOUT how she isn’t doing things properly.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Well, yes, frankly what you’re suggesting sounds very disturbing to me. ‘Respecting your elders’, for real? No, of course no one should ‘respect their elders’ more than they respect their youngers or their peers. And yes, I do think it’s very unreasonable to expect to have any say in another adult’s personal choices. To _have_ opinions is just a fact of life, but to expect others to listen to your opinions on their life? Of course not.

        We speak of teenagers being ‘rebellious’ when they expect to be treated as adults despite not being adults. Someone who actually IS and adult is just… being an adult.

        • +1. I never did understand why we were expected to respect people who didn’t respect us, just because they’ve had more time to do shitty things. Despite what some people think, respect is not and can never be unconditional. Love, maybe. Respect? Nope, not how that one works.

          Now I’m old enough to tell younger people to respect their elders and you know what? I never have. Instead, I start by approaching THEM with respect and treating them as, well you know, actual human beings and equals. And guess what? Young people respect me right back. Funny that.

        • aebhel said:

          Yeah. When I was 15 and still living with my parents, when they were financially, socially, and legally responsible for me and the consequences of my bad choices, they got a say in how I lived my life. I didn’t always like it and certainly disagreed with them at loud volumes on more than one occasion, but you know, that was their prerogative as my parents. Deciding to sneak out on school nights or fuck around with my stereo at top volume while my dad was trying to sleep was me being a rebellious teenager.

          Now that I’m 30, my parents have no financial, social, or legal obligations to me beyond those that arise out of affection and the desire to have a good relationship with me. The flip side of that is that they don’t get a say in how much I sleep or what I eat or who I choose to have sex with. They can express their concerns, if they have them, and since we have a good relationship I will generally at least hear them out…but they earned that right by treating me with respect as an adult. If they treated me as though I was still 15, I would not listen to any commentary they had on my life.

      • Anyanka said:

        Other commenters have pointed out how we’re not actually teenagers that hate our parents.

        I offer up: have you ever considered that perhaps the reason why some teenagers hate their parents is because their parents are terrible?

        • TO_Ont said:

          I never hated my parents. I still found them frustrating at some points, because it took both of us time and effort to make the transition from a child-adult relationship to an adult-adult relationship.

      • gmg said:

        Elders’ life experience can be amazingly valuable and, I fully agree, worthwhile to listen to — but it’s a two-way street. Elders such as the LW are almost always going to find that they get a better response when they share their views with the young’uns in a way that in turn respects the autonomy of said young’uns. Your family may be fortunate in that the elders share their views in this way as opposed to a “it MUST be like this because it always HAS been like this and also I am OLDER than you and I SAY so.”

        But this commenter community has become a comfortable gathering place for many people who are not so fortunate to have respectful elders, and if you find yourself repeatedly complaining about that here, then perhaps that whooshing sound you hear is the larger point flying over your head …

      • aebhel said:

        When we call a teenager rebellious, it’s generally because they want to be treated as an adult despite not actually being one–i.e., they want the respect without the responsibility. When an adult wants to be treated as an adult, that’s really not the same thing, and if parents insist upon treating their adult offspring as teenagers, they’re not likely to maintain a good relationship with them.

        • My mother being a case in point. I’m 33. She claims that all parents always treat their adult kids as kids. I disagree, because I sometimes actually leave the house and see how other people interact. If I point out that she is being patronising, she tells me that she should be because that word comes from the Latin word for father or parent, i.e. she is treating me as if she were my parent, which she is, therefore it is OK.

          This is one of the reasons why I only speak to her about twice a year if I can help it.

          • The best part here is that she’s not very correct! Patronize is from Old French patroniser “to give regular business to” which itself is, yes, through two steps, from the Latin for father (pater), but the meaning is very much diluted by the point it reaches English–the more pertinent forebear meaning-wise is Latin patronus, a protector or *patron*. Etymology is fun!

      • Mattie said:

        Yes, truly it is the height of teenage entitlement to want a life of your own and basic adult autonomy. /(sarcasm)

        Also, some teenagers come from really fucked up families (as other commenters have related). “Teenage rebellion” isn’t always wrong or negative.

        • TO_Ont said:

          Even if the family is healthy and functional.

          We complain about teenage rebellion and certainly it can be stressful for all involved, but how many parents would be happy if their children still hung on their every word like little kids when they were in their 20s or 30s? Most would find that disturbing and sad, not good. And somehow that transition has to happen, sometimes smoothly, sometimes less smoothly.

      • Light37 said:

        I very much doubt that Daughter has no idea how her parents feel about her Beloved. The letter isn’t that subtle.

        And you can respect your parents and not want to have a discussion that has no point. She’s not going to change her mind and neither are the parents.

  45. minuteye said:

    LW, my parents found themselves in a bit of a similar position with a relationship my older sister was in. Due to some medical problems (and possibly some motivation issues too, I don’t know him well enough to tell) he’s never graduate high school, has trouble keeping a job, and will almost certainly never be able to contribute as much financially to the relationship as my (generally pretty capable, high-functioning) sister.

    I wouldn’t say they tried to ‘sabotage’ the relationship, but they were pretty hostile to him, spoke openly to me and other relatives about how worried they were about her ‘settling’ for someone like him, and generally made no secret of how desperately they were waiting for the relationship to be over. There was yelling, tears, and the rest of us were forced to sit through some unpleasantly tense family gatherings (on the plus side, there are a lot of sitcom jokes about Thanksgiving that I understand now).

    It’s been about five years now; they’re still together. What did all that hostility and anger accomplish? Absolutely nothing. All it did was sour their relationship with a man who will probably wind up their son-in-law and father to their grandchildren. I also wouldn’t be surprised to find that it’s harmed my sister’s ability to talk to trust them with private information. I brought it up with my mother recently, and apparently the new family narrative is that they adore him, have always adored him, and my memories of “the shitstorm” are gross exaggerations… in other news: We have always been at war with Eurasia.

    Not being a parent myself, I can’t really empathize with having to sit back and watch while your children make what you see as mistakes (which is what I’m assuming you’re feeling right now). But as an outsider looking in on a similar dynamic, I would just like to reiterate that:

    1. You cannot choose who your adult daughter dates.
    2. You cannot push her to break up with someone you don’t approve of.
    3. Trying to do either 1 or 2 will accomplish nothing except harm your relationship with her, REGARDLESS of what happens with the romantic relationship you so disapprove of.

    You raised her to adulthood, so you’ve now done all you can. Now do her the courtesy of believing in her good judgment and respecting her ability to make choices.

  46. MamaCheshire said:

    My mom, circa 13 years ago, could have written a very similar letter. (Except I was 24 and Spouse-to-be was not yet 21.)

    Some of what bothered her was legitimate, and some of it was not. Dealing with the part that was legitimate actually took LONGER because I felt so pressured to side with my then-fiance over my mother’s only-partially-legitimate criticism.

    Spouse has been unemployed for the vast majority of our 11-year marriage. He struggled to get through undergrad, then failed out of a grad program and dropped out of a second grad program due to a combination of physical and mental health issues. He then fell prey to the belief that “nobody will hire me because I have no recent employment references, so it’s totally okay if someone is exploiting me in unfair ‘consultant’ gigs that in the end pay less than minimum wage” – and I got all angry and “NO FUCK YOU PAY US” about it and he went out and got himself a fully legitimate job, paying considerably above minimum wage, doing a thing he’s good at.

    But during the approximately 10 years he was not “employed”? Spouse became part of the proud 3-ish percent of foster care alumni who finish a bachelor’s degree. He was the primary parent to our two kids and did an amazing job with it despite childhood abuse-related PTSD (and he took full responsibility for doing the work needed to minimize the impact of that ON our kids, which meant lots of medication trials, many hours of therapy, and a few inpatient stays). He served as my “backup brain” so I could combine work and graduate school and parenting time and not have a complete ADHD-related meltdown my own self.

    But still, some people saw “no job” and wrote him off as a loser, a bum, a freeloader. To the extent possible, those people are not in our lives, but it rears its head in the damndest places. 😦

  47. monologue said:

    LW I can understand where you’re coming from. My sister is dating a guy that was unemployed and not looking for the last few years and then kind of fell into a job at his brother in laws semi legal company. He also has an unresolved medical thing he won’t go to the doctor for, has never done any cooking or housework of any kind in his life and has to be told not to smoke ecigarettes at the dinner table in someone else’s home. I’m really worried my sister is going to end up basically taking over all his food and housework from his mom and also contributing more financially. But there’s no signs he’s abusive so my opinion only matters in this situation if my sister asks me for advice on a specific issue.

  48. Bunny said:

    LW, Not everyone needs their partner to be a “provider” in the sense that you mean.

    In my relationship with my partner of now almost 13 years, I’ve been the main – and sometime sole – provider most of the time. I have better qualifications, more portable skills and a mental health that is more robust when dealing with the stress of daily employment than he does. So for the most part, while he takes on part-time work here and there, I am the main source of income. Actually, we tried it the other way around – not on purpose, but redundancy and a crap job market meant that there was a point where I was unemployed and he was the sole earner. It was terrible for both of us – emotionally and mentally.

    That does not mean he gets an easy ride. Far from it – I’m living in luxury! I am woken each morning by a cup of tea made ready for me. When I get home from work I get another cup of tea and a patient ear willing to listen to me grumble about my day. The laundry is always clean and dry and away, the kitchen is clean, the pets are well-cared-for and there will often be a carefully curated set of amusing or cute links to things saved in a chat log on my computer, that he happened to come across during the day and knew I would enjoy.

    We’re different, but we’re compatible. We fill in the spaces that each of us struggles with – He’s nurturing, loves the security of the home environment and great at horrible jobs like dishes and hoovering. But he struggles with the mental drain of working in the kind of jobs he’s qualified for – mostly customer service-oriented roles. In contrast, I’m driven, love maths and am well suited to the office jobs I thrive in, but have been known to be so scatterbrained I’ve left my house-keys in the fridge and tore through the seal on the washing machine by putting something inappropriate in there. We’re complimentary.

    Maybe your daughter is just like me, and wants a partner who can fill in her gaps, too.

    • jdrives said:

      “Not everyone needs their partner to be a ‘provider’ in the sense that you mean.” Word. “Provider” can include a broad range of things. In your case, your partner is “providing” you with care, love, and lots of help with household tasks. One could argue that your partner’s thoughtful attendance to your needs (the links thing is seriously adorable) helps make you more successful as the “provider” in the more traditional sense by easing the mental burden of chores, giving you emotional support from work stress, plus concrete things like you have clean dishes for takeaway lunches and your work clothes are clean and folded and ready for the day.

      • Bunny said:

        Exactly! Both partners being career people works for some. For us, if by some miracle we found a full-time job he could do that wasn’t a drain on his chronically-depressed brainmeats, the end result would be neither of us having the energy to take care of the home. We’d both come home to dirty dishes, dirty laundry, full bins and chores that needed doing, instead of what I have now, which is me coming home to a comforting and safe haven from the world, which allows my anxiety-ridden brainmeats to recharge so I can go back out to work again the next day.

        (And yes! I know! King of small gestures that make the world awesome. He also keeps an eye out for fresh feathers on his daily walk to entertain the cats, brings the crow near us a daily treat of cooked meats and plain nuts, and rescues tired bees and brings them into our garden where we have a bee feeder and shelter set up. He is Best At Being A Person)

        • Luminous said:

          Awww, Bunny, that is the most adorable sweetest story! This make me so happy!

        • jdrives said:

          Shooooot that is hella sweet! Way to go, Bunny’s Partner!!

        • CaityB said:

          Oh my gosh, from the way you talk about him, the love and sweet admiration you have for him is palpable. It’s really touching. Can I just say, I’m a little bit in love with your partner now too. Your post really brightened my day.

  49. HerTinkness said:

    Mom? Is that you?

    I’m only kidding a little. I’m in a situation similar to the LW’s daughter. My parents do not approve of my partner at all, for similar (superficial, from my POV) reasons. They say they don’t know him, and actively make efforts to assure that never changes- they never speak to him, they never visit, and they have a conveniently-editable memory. I have a running tally of the times that Mom has asked me what his religious background is.

    For all of their efforts, this has not changed my opinion towards my partner. However, it has made me realize that my parents lack any respect for my boundaries, and I have to enforce them with prejudice every time we’re in contact, or cut ties entirely.

    Think very carefully- do you want a work/weather/what I had for dinner relationship with your daughter? Or do you want one where she trusts you enough to come to her if her partner is actually as horrible as you think he is? If it’s the former, be critical of her and her partner, and that’s what you’ll get. But if you want a real relationship, be supportive. Be accepting of her. If you are confused about her values are, try asking her instead of telling her what they should be. Love your real daughter, not the one you wish you had.

  50. RodeoBob said:

    If you’re still reading, Letter Writer, I’d like to help you with some tactics aimed at the problems you mention in your letter.

    1.) You don’t like your daughter’s partner, so for now, minimize “family events” that would involve the four of you. I’m not saying don’t invite this person (that would be rude) but pick events that allow for a minimum of interaction. Going to a movie – good, because you all sit in the dark together. Going to the state fair? Good, because you can split up and do your own things. Prolonged family dinners with lots of conversation? Not so good.

    2.) Make some one-on-one time with your daughter. Go for massages, or pedicures, or some other fun, self-care-type activities that help show your daughter you still value your relationship with her, even if you’re not sure about her partner. Do not discuss your daughter’s relationship; if the subject comes up, listen with as much of an open mind as you can, but otherwise don’t engage.

    3.) You mentioned a small business you built that your daughter is a part-owner of. One conversation you have with your daughter and your spouse is what expectations you have for the next few years, and the years beyond that, for the business and her role in it. Do you envision your daughter continuing to work the business, or even taking over? If an opportunity to sell the business came up, would this be something you would consider, something your daughter would want? Is this business part of your retirement plans? Is it intended to ensure your family will always have an option for gainful employment?

    Reading your letter, it seems clear you know what your expectations and hopes are, but there’s a very real chance that your daughter’s expectations and hopes don’t necessarily align with those. If your hopes are that she takes over the business, and her hopes are to leave the company and start her own project in four years, that’s a conversation that would be better had now than in four years. If your plans are that the company provide a nice retirement for you, and her plans are that she doesn’t ever need to find another job, that too is a conversation that maybe should be had sooner than later. It’s quite possible that the partner-question is only the most visible example of where your daughter’s plans for her future diverge from yours.

    • Myrtle said:

      Yup yupyup to your great analysis, esp your Point #3, as that caught my ear too. Is the worry that the man may force a sale of the business in a divorce? What interest would children of this union have in the business? Maybe some of this hand-wringing is better spent in a lawyer’s office, to better spell out what the daughter actually owns or will pass to her in the estate.
      PS to LW: feel free to enlighten us with updates!

    • Beth B said:

      In reading the letter, I wasn’t quite sure what the LW was asking for, because the start of the letter reads as “I know it’s my daughter’s choice who she dates, but I want some scripts for how to keep things going smoothly when she’s dating someone I don’t click with (or actively dislike) and I want to keep the peace.” And then the end of it reads as “How can I make sure my daughter dates someone I approve of? I just want what’s best for her, and I’m pretty sure know what that is better than her!” which is the part the Captain answered.

      That suggests to me that maybe the LW meant to ask the first question (and knows that’s what the question ought to be), but their real feelings are more towards the latter one, which is why it crept through. Anyway, assuming that at least part of the question was for scripts, I think these are all really good tactics.

  51. Clarry said:

    I’ve had some time to mull this over, and like the last few posters, I’ve also had time to soften a bit towards the LW. My advice now is to state your complaints about your daughter’s partner in terms of specific actions, not your conclusions about what this means. Change “lack of manners” into “he came to dinner party wearing cut-off shorts and a t-shirt”. Change “lack of confidence” into “he mumbled a reply when asked his opinion on whether pure breed dogs make better pets than mutts from the shelter”. Change “lack of personal motivation” to “he quit the college class he was taking halfway through when he realized he was going to have to write an essay for the exam”. Change “he seems to be looking for an easy deal” to “he quit his job parking cars when our daughter started paying the bills, plays video games all day, and does no housework.”

    My point is that you may have legitimate complaints– and you might not. It really depends on what’s on that specific list. You may have interpreted his actions correctly– or you might not have. It really depends. In my examples above, many people would be fine with whatever someone chose to wear, and they might interpret a mumbled answer differently in that it could be a kind effort not to offend. Trying a number of college classes is sometimes a good strategy as students discover their interests and talents, or maybe he knows that he’s not a good writer. For me, playing video games all day, doing no housework, and leaving the partner to pay bills is a dealbreaker. To me, that’s not treating a partner well.

    But these are all my made-up examples. What are yours?

  52. Loubeelou said:

    My mom once expressed her to concern to me that my at-the-time partner “didn’t seem to be my intellectual match”. I was totally offended, but alas she was right. I just wasn’t ready to confront that reality yet or understand how that fit into what I wanted in a longterm relationship. My point? You may be right about him! BUT – I had to come to that in my own time and – outside of that comment – my mom was really supportive, or at least neutral. Don’t set up a situation where she’s going to push away because of the “I told you so” factor. I highly recommend googling the phrase “unconditional positive regard”, reading up, and really authentically engaging in conversation with your daughter about her hopes and dreams, free of your agenda (no matter how well-intentioned).

  53. wondering said:

    Frankly, I think it is acceptable for a parent to voice their concerns about the partner of an adult child ONCE. And do it in a tactful way, after due consideration of the following:

    1. Is the person causing physical harm to your adult child?
    Hell, yes, speak up – tell your child that you noticed and that you will support them in any way they need.
    2. Do you feel the person is at risk for causing physical harm to your adult child?
    Yes, speak up, and explain why: (anger management issues or whatever)
    3. Do you feel that the person is causing physical or emotional harm to your child?
    See point 1!
    4. Does the person speak negatively of or to your child in public, or privately to your or others?
    Yes, speak up, explain, and give concrete examples
    5. Have you caught that person lying (And not some little fib or white lie) or stealing?
    Yes, speak up, again, with examples.
    6. Does the person appear to be paid less or be less ambitious?
    Suggest a separation of bank accounts, with a joint one for household expenses, if desired. That’s it. No more on this topic.
    7. Are they a slob? Are they rude? Do they have poor table manners? Drink too much?
    Keep your mouth shut. Your adult child has noticed, and is either working that out with their partner, approves of it, or thinks they can change their partner for the better.
    8. If your comment is about race, gender, class, appearance, age (except for in the case of minors!), sexual orientation, relationship status (for example, open or poly), religion, politics, culture, ANYTHING like that:
    Keep your bigoted comment to yourself. There is no faster way to drive a wedge in the relationship between you and your adult child then by showing off your prejudices in regards to their chosen person.

    • jdrives said:

      I think these are really good guidelines. I propose that they be translated into a flowchart, which is then magically handed to parents whose child starts dating for the first time.

    • wondering said:

      Pt 2 should be “psychological or emotional harm”.

      Thanks, jdrives!

      • wondering said:

        I mean pt 3. Jeepers.

  54. Linden said:

    Bankruptcy attorney here. A person of little economic stability latching onto a person of greater economic stability and draining them dry is a thing that happens. A lot. I’ve seen it.

    If the parents helped to build up the business, and daughter is now helping to run the business and doing well at it, they may have legitimate concerns that a new person of little business acumen coming into the family will exert enough influence, through daughter, to destroy what they’ve built. People who haven’t run their own business often think that the money just appears magically, when it’s really the result of an incredible amount of hard work. None of that has anything to do with class or status; people raised in upper classes can suck at business (George Bush), and people from working-class backgrounds can be brilliant at business. Sounds like a lot of frank conversations need to be had, and maybe a prenup agreement. If boyfriend is interested in daughter only, then setting some boundaries around the business shouldn’t bother him.

    • RodeoBob said:

      The line about building up the business caught my eye too, and I wondered how much of a concern it really was. There’s a big difference between “I think your boyfriend is a slob” and “I’m afraid your boyfriend might drive our retirement-nest-egg-business into the ground”.

      What do the parents expect of their daughter as far as the business goes? What do the parents expect of the business, as far as their own wealth and retirement plans go? What does the daughter expect as far as being involved with/invested in/managing the business? There are important questions regardless of who the daughter partners up with, so I would advise the LW to have these conversations without mentioning the partner at all.

      If the parents have given their daughter a job and a share of ownership in the family business in order to give her income and support until a “strong, confident” life-partner comes along, there may be trouble brewing no matter what the current partner situation is. And to be blunt, I would be just as concerned with a charismatic charmer with all the markers of grooming and success who was interested in the family business as I would a slacker who has no interest in the family fortune.

      In other words, Letter Writer, there are some conversations you should have with your daughter, but maybe they’re not the ones you thought you needed to have.

  55. So, let me expose my biases: my parents are horrible and controlling and so I am instantly on your daughter’s side, LW. But you should be on your daughter’s side too. If she thinks he’s a mistake, she will take steps to remove the mistake from her life. If she likes him, if he makes her happy, if she has different priorities for what a happy adult life looks like than you do, all of those things are things SHE gets to decide.

    You don’t get to decide for her what her life should look like. You can be a part of her life and deal with what she wants it to look like, or you can be a shit to her chosen partner and get locked out. Those are your choices. Choose wisely.

  56. Heina said:

    Heh, this reminds me of my own relationship. Granted, my parents are not terrible people like the LWs, but my partner is disabled and unemployed and was homeless until I was able to support him. We eloped about 2 years ago and it’s a secret to everybody until we were able to move in together. When I told my mother, she looked sad and said she’d wished that I’d told her about marrying him back when we had decided to get married. I responded, “What could I have said? Hey, Mom, I’m marrying my disabled homeless jobless penniless boyfriend, but I have to keep living with you and Dad until I’m able to afford rent and living expenses for both of us?”

    She had nothing to say to that.

  57. Boy howdy am I torn on this one. On the one hand, LW, you sound like you have some (to put it succinctly) retrograde ideas in your head about relationships and the sorts of romantic ones your daughter should be in. It’s 2015! Your daughter is helping to run a business that you helped to create, and by your account, she’s quite good at it! Yay for the first stages of removing barriers and evidence supporting their continued wreckage!

    On the other, I suspect my dad could have written this letter a mere three or four years ago. Because with the exception of that whole “providing for my delicate little flower” (okay, so I hyperbolized a little) BS, you kinda sound like you’re describing my ex-boyfriend. Objectively, there wasn’t really anything wrong with him. He just couldn’t find a job. Not even as a waiter, because the restaurants in our area all required previous experience (uh-HUH). And he couldn’t let silence just exist without filling it in with his own ceaseless babbling because, well, actually, he never did provide an explanation for that one. And he couldn’t seem to do household chores in spite of the fact that he insisted on doing them because apparently I *couldn’t* do them right until I actually threatened to do them myself, and only then could he be arsed to get up and run a load of laundry or wash dishes because…again, your guess is as good as mine.

    All of which I throw out there because I didn’t realize just how little my family cared for his freeloading pomposity until shortly before I dumped him, which I was about the time I was starting to realize how much I disrespected and disliked him myself. Had they actually sat down with me earlier and told me why they found him unbearable, I might have taken their words into consideration and thus saved myself two years of continuous dull yet noticeably pulsing headaches.

    So I would think carefully about the real, truthful reasons you don’t like your daughter’s boyfriend. If it’s actually, as CA and your very letter seem to suggest, a matter of outdated notions about gender and class, I’d stick with presenting a polite and gracious front when you visit with the happy couple. If, however, you have a nagging suspicion that the boyfriend is doing some kind of weird passive-aggressive control freak thing and/or really isn’t lifting a finger to help your daughter in any way, either emotionally or financially (seriously, I would’ve been content if my ex had managed to find a waitstaff job that required less experience than every restaurant in central Denver apparently did!), well…it might be worth having a quiet talk with your daughter, then accepting whatever she has to say on the matter and saying no more about it unless she does.

  58. AnotherLiz said:

    Question here… more general than this specific scenario. Is there a way for the mom to spend time and have a relationship with her daughter without necessarily having to spend time with a guy she doesn’t like. Sometimes liking someone’s (even your child’s significant other) cannot be forced. Is there a script to preserve the relationship without forcing all of this pretense and togetherness?

    • Aris Merquoni said:

      I think that it’s really the same as any relationship you want to keep open with a person who is dating someone you don’t like, whether that person is a friend, sibling, parent or child.

      “[X], I’d like to spend some time together that’s just us!”
      “[X], can we catch up with Y and Z, no spouses/SOs allowed?”
      “[X], I’d really like to hear about [thing in life that doesn’t involve X’s SO]”

      Follow that up with being polite if you are in the same space with SO, not making judgmental comments aloud, and if necessary extending the olive branch invitation if there’s going to be a large gathering. You’re going to have to invite him along and see him at events where everyone’s bringing their partners, so brace for it and have exit strategies prepared. But he doesn’t have to come along to every single event, especially parent/child bonding time, so try to schedule regular times to get lunch or dinner or coffee (or Skype chats) without him.

  59. CaityB said:

    I come from a family with some strong and strange values. It took me into my 30’s to realize, oh hey, my family, they’re kinda sorta batshit crazy, in both the best and worst possible ways, at the same time. I now carefully vet how and when they are allowed to have a vote in my life, emotionally, financially, or otherwise. And the money vote was one of their strongest power plays.

    I get a strong whiff of the Money Vote off this letter. The parents started a business, and the daughter is in the business now, “part owner of a successful small business that we, her parents built.” I’m feeling the unspoken implication that “her part ownership is in name only but she continues to defer to us in all business things (as we’d strongly prefer her to do in her personal choices about whom she sleeps with).”

    Money Vote people do not see this about themselves. They NEVER see it about themselves. The Money Vote force is especially strong where family business is involved. Family businesses are notoriously ripe stages for dysfunction to play out on.

    If there is any chance the parents want a “confident” dude with bigger moneybags (or the cahones to be a go-getter and go get future moneybags) who will somehow Alpha-prove himself to them and win away the daughter, there is a possibility the daughter is viewed as a prize, a site of control, a venue on which to exercise and enact power plays, and not an differentiated independent adult person, regardless of naming her age. And the only control some Alpha people will recognize is another Alpha winning their prize away from them.

    It’s also highly likely the daughter knows this. Whether she’d say it to her parents or not. Whether she’d put it in those unflattering terms or not. She may be exhausted with their control, but for whatever reason has not extracted herself from it up to this point in her life. Maybe she didn’t high tail and run in her 20’s, establishing her own domain, even if that was a crummy apartment with roommates in a bad part of town, and pay her own bills until her parents would approach her as equals. Or maybe a divorce, disabilities, or a host of other reasons brought her back or kept her close instead of getting her out from under their thumb.

    LW, consider the possibility that she has her own strongly held opinions about how power and consent should be exercised in a relationship, ones which she is announcing loud and clear in her choice of a partner. She is actively choosing a less “confident” (read: less aggressive, less traditionally masculine) partner who is more content being passive. “A nice unmotivated man” who may never “really ever provide for our daughter” because that is exactly what SHE wants, and perhaps she has a lifetime of her very own big and private REASONS.

    I think the parents are correct in feeling some discomfort about this guy, because he seems like a referendum on their style of marriage and business. He is making them look at themselves, and they don’t like it, so it’s easier to down him. (Unless he really is a Darth, then all Darth warnings apply. But in this case, I might apply the Darth warnings as stickers on the mirrors in the parents house so they have to read them instead.)

    The daughter may genuinely be attracted to and desire a Beta, having survived a childhood of All Alpha All the Time, and having to currently navigate it while in business with these Alpha parents. A caring, loving, supporting Beta who treats her well and shows her courtesy, care, and kindness can be catnip for someone who survived a childhood of such incredibly high expectations and standards, and who currently navigates them in business with the same people.

    In short, he may be exactly what she needs. And he doesn’t have to win your consideration, your hearts, or your minds, because she isn’t a chip or a prize, he only has to win hers.

  60. Hey parents! As a very confident and career-driven woman, I actually really like that my boyfriend is not as overtly ambitious as me. He’s got dreams that I hope he achieves, but right now it’s pretty mellow, and both of these things are great. I’ve dated really career-driven men and it brought out competition and general moaning. I’ve got friends and colleagues for sharing the work side of me. He provides for me emotionally, and reminds me of all I am outside my career. He’s no slacker with support – it just doesn’t come from income, but life is actually richer that way. I feel protected and cared for in a way that is totally incidental to any career he does or doesn’t have. On a practical level, it is a relief that his career isn’t in conflict with mine right now. One day it may be, but we’re a team, we’ll work it out. Is your daughter happy? Does her partner support her in ways that matter to her? Then be happy for them, and seek out the value that she puts in this man.

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