“I really don’t like my son’s boyfriend. I’ve gotten over the initial shock of my son dating a man, but his boyfriend just doesn’t seem like the best fit. How to I tell my teenage son I think this isn’t a healthy relationship without seeming homophobic?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Cornelia Prior
With the benefit of hindsight, I am sometimes furious at my mother and sister for not alerting me to quite how terrible some of the people I dated were. But let me assure you, any fury I could muster for these two people — who I must say, really were just allowing me to make, and learn from, my own mistakes — could not match the sheer horror of being told what to do, by my family nonetheless! Because I was a teenager, and when teenagers lives are interfered with, they are usually indignant.
I understand it can be scary. When children are growing up you worry about grazed knees, playground bullies, and getting lost on their walk home from school. Now that your son is approaching adulthood, you have to start worrying about him realizing, to borrow Sylvia Plath’s phrase, “how frail the human heart must be.” But what I think is really important to understand is that it’s okay to feel this way, but it is not okay to expect that he will date someone else at your behest.
This is of course, a difficult pill to swallow: here you are, watching your son make a choice you don’t necessarily agree with, and something about this relationship isn’t sitting right with you and you want to let him know how you feel. But there really are only two possible outcomes to this scenario. The first: you tell him what you really think of his boyfriend. He feels hurt and he becomes defensive, because he likes his boyfriend and you are supposed to defend people you like, especially if their only crime is dating your son (which really isn’t a crime at all). He continues to date his boyfriend, but now with more animosity in your house and in your interactions with one another. The second: You don’t tell him and they continue to date. He has the reassurance from you that he can have honest, open interactions with you about his boyfriend, about what relationships can look like when they are healthy, and he doesn’t have to hide anything from you. And, and this is an important ‘and,’ if he is truly terrible, his friends will let him know, in a way that is hopefully supportive, and less confrontational than any conversation between a parent and teen.
From your question, it doesn’t sound like there are any sirens whirring about your son’s safety, but just in case, I want to make some suggestions if you feel as if your son is in physical or emotional danger. Abuse, whether emotional or physical, is really common, and happens irrespective of sexuality. If you fear that someone you know may be experiencing intimate partner violence, there are lots of resources, helplines, and groups who will be able to help, offer advice, and importantly, lend an ear. The NHS has some useful advice on how to identify whether someone you know might be in an abusive relationship, as well as providing recommendations on what to do if a friend or family is in that same circumstance. Broken Rainbow and LGBT domestic abuse forum both specialize in offering advice about intimate partner violence within the LGBTQ+ community, and if you fear that your son might be in danger, I encourage you to seek help from one of these organizations.
However, if this doesn’t sound like something your son is experiencing, but you feel a little uneasy with his first relationship, I’m afraid all you can really do is be cordial while his boyfriend is around and be there for him if or when the relationship reaches its conclusion. And hope, that in the meantime, you can come to dislike him a little less.
Cornelia Prior is a Writer and Communications assistant by day and Cultural and Critical Studies student by night. I currently work at the Whitechapel Gallery creating content for the website, blog and social media. I was Culture Editor of The Leopard Newspaper from September 2014-July 2015, where I commissioned, edited, and wrote pieces that delved into local culture, from fine art to food and from book reviews to restaurant reviews. I have written about art for The Flaneur and Best for Film and about LGBTQ issues for My Kid Is Gay. When I’m not busy being 25 years late to the Judith Butler party or frequenting art galleries, the theatre, the cinema and other things that classify as either “Critical,” “Cultural,” or both, I can be found reading, swimming or admiring lighthouses.
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