Emily Rizzo

May 1998

How Can I Help My Lover?

Q. I have been in a relationship for over a year; my lover's parents have a very hard time with her being gay. They have known she was gay for approximately five years now and up until a few months ago, her previous lovers were never allowed in her family home. I have now been invited by only when her father is not there. My lover has now stopped seeing them at their home because I am not welcome. She feels if her father cannot accept and try at least once than there is no reason to pretend that they have a true unconditional love for each other. Is there anything I can do? Is my partner wrong, is she being selfish? What advice can we give her parents?

A. The situation you describe is unfortunate to say the least.

Your lover seems to have already come to a decision on how to handle this and so your decision is really whether or not to support her. In other words, you can't control what your lover does, only what your reactions to her actions are.

That said, I think your lover is handling the situation in a mature and responsible way. She has evidently decided that she will only have a continuing relationship with her parents if they are willing to accept her as she is, not as they would wish her to be.

Five years is enough time for parents to "get over" having a gay child. At that point, they've either moved toward acceptance or are hopelessly stuck in some stage of denial. The only way to get them moving again is to give them an ultimatum, which is what your lover has chosen to do. The ball is now in her parents' court, they either accept their daughter's partner or they risk losing her entirely.

This may be just the push her parents need to get them to seek out help with a PFLAG chapter. I remember one couple who came to our meeting after 8 years of knowing their son was gay but never really dealing with it. There was a family wedding upcoming and their son had told them quite plainly that either he came with his lover or he wasn't coming at all. Well, that was enough to drive them to PFLAG where they did start dealing with their own feelings. The story did have a happy ending too, their son and his partner came to the wedding, there was a brief flurry of gossip and then everything went fine. No one had a heart attack, fainting fit, or hysterics.

Another one of our long-time members told me once about the first time her son brought home a lover. She was so nervous and didn't think she could face it but her son insisted and when she met the young man she discovered she liked him a lot and everything was fine. As she said "it's amazing what you can't think you can do but really isn't so hard after all."

There's a lot to be said for trying to put a relationship between parents and adult children on an honest, open footing. Your lover might make clear to them that she wants them to meet you because you are part of her life and that it's important for her that they see her whole life, not just the censored bits. If she can't talk about you or the other "gay parts" of her life, eventually there will be nothing else to talk about but the weather.

Has your lover tried to get your parents to a PFLAG meeting or gotten them some literature? Perhaps her mother would go alone? There is nothing like being in a roomful of other parents who have gone through exactly what she is going through now. For a complete list of PFLAG chapters go to www.pflag.org. You and your partner might consider attending your local chapter as well -- you can get some good practical advice from the parents there and chapters always need gay people. After all, we need to hear your stories to help us understand our own children.

Please send your questions to er5@nyu.edu. All questions will be answered.

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